Ways to Support a Healthy Immune System

With the heightened awareness surrounding how to prevent illness, we’ve rounded the best ways to strengthen the immune system and fight off infection.

Get The Sunshine Vitamin, Vitamin D: 

Vitamin D is a unique vitamin that can be produced by our body with exposure to ultraviolet lights.  However, cloudy and cold days or the risk of sunburn can often impede getting enough sun exposure to produce enough, making it important to get through our diet.  Food sources include dairy products, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, mushrooms and eggs.  Not only is vitamin D integral to our bones, but it is vital for our immune system.  Vitamin D works by helping our white blood cells produce compounds to fight invading pathogens, as well as may reduce disease-causing inflammation in our bodies.  Studies have shown vitamin D has a positive impact on preventing and lessening symptoms of respiratory viruses, may decrease our risk for autoimmune diseases and may improve response to antiviral treatments.

Balance Your Gut With Fermented Foods:

Our immune system and reducing inflammation in the body is often top of mind, especially during sick season. The gut plays an integral role in protecting against pathogens and viruses. Just as your skin protects you against foreign invaders on the outside, the gut lining protects the inside. We know that 70-80 percent of the (immunoglunlin-producing) cells that make up the immune system are located in the gut, making it the body’s largest site of immunological response and build up a protective barrier against pathogens.  Therefore, when our microbiome is out of balance, known as dysbiosis, that imbalance may adversely affect our immune system leaving us susceptible to infections and disease.   Research also shows that probiotics have a positive impact on the health of people with flu-like respiratory tract infections by boosting the immune system and response. Probiotics through fermented foods such as kefir, may help balance our microbiome, making them a vital part of our immune-boosting toolkit to keep us healthy.

Get Your Fill Of Antioxidants:

Antioxidants are select vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (flavonoids, polyphenols, and carotenoids) found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well in dairy and animal products.  They include vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene, selenium, magnesium, just to name a few.  Antioxidants work to round up free radicals in our body, which are unstable molecules that cause cell damage, increasing our risk of disease and inflammation.  Each antioxidant serves a different purpose in the body, and many of these nutrients also play a role in building immunity and in our immune response, such as vitamins C, A and E. Eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as proteins, encourages a rainbow of antioxidants in the body to help build a strong immune system.

Be Sure To Get Enough Zinc In Your Diet:

Zinc is an important mineral that our body needs for a strong immune system.  Not only does zinc play a role as an antioxidant in the body, but it is also integral for wound healing and immune function.  Zinc is critical for the normal development and function of our immune cells, including macrophage development, phagocytosis, and cytokine production, all-important for combating invading pathogens.  When zinc deficiency occurs, the body’s immune cells can’t function properly to fight disease and inflammation.  While many Americans get enough zinc, those that are vegetarians, pregnant or have inflammatory bowel disease may need to pay special attention to their intake.  Zinc can be found in animal products such as beef, poultry and fish, dairy products and enriched whole grains and cereals.

Consume Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, And Whole Grains:

The staples of a healthy diet are rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.  Not only do they provide a slew of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals to support a healthy immune system, but they also provide our body with dietary fiber.  Insoluble and soluble fiber offer a slew of digestive and heart health benefits, but the insoluble fiber is really what helps to feed our microbiome as a prebiotic.  Probiotics depend on prebiotics, which hare non-living, non-digestible carbohydrates naturally found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The body actually can’t digest prebiotics, rather they’re what probiotics feed off of to remain actively working in your digestive system and also help the digestive system by promoting the growth of good bacteria, as well as support a strong immune system.

Include Fish In Your Diet:

Fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, are sources of important vitamins and minerals including vitamin D and E, that are important for our immune system.  Even more, consuming fish gives us an extra immune boost with omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).  Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids boost the activity of our B cells, which are white blood cells important in our body’s immune response to fight disease.  These fatty acids also play a role in keeping our heart and cognitive function healthy.

Stay Hydrated:

It goes without saying that water is a vital part of life.  It’s the most abundant substance in the human body, making it our body’s most essential nutrient.  Every part of our body needs water to function properly – our organs, cells, tissues and life-sustaining processes, including our immune system.  Water transports nutrients along with oxygen to our cells and carries waste and toxins away.  Proper hydration also helps our body’s digestive system as well as preventing pathogens from getting into our nose, mouth and eyes.  Without enough water in our body, our systems will not work properly to stay healthy.  Be sure to drink water and consume food throughout the day.  Our bodies need water before that signal of thirst arrives.

Try To Get Enough Sleep:

Sleep plays an important role in our immune function.  During sleep, the body produces cytokines, which is a type of protein that targets pathogens and reduces inflammation in our body.  Sleep deprivation causes a decrease in cytokine production, as well as infection-fighting antibodies leaving us susceptible to flu, colds, and viruses.

Stay Active And Exercise:

Not only does physical activity promote heart health, a healthy weight and sleep, it also supports a healthy immune system.  Research has shown that exercise improves anti-pathogen activity of macrophages (cells that fight pathogens), as well as enhance circulation of disease-fighting and anti-inflammatory proteins, including immunoglobulins and cytokines.  Exercise also increases the circulation of our white blood cells that include neutrophils, NK cells, cytotoxic T cells, and immature B cells which are important for fighting invading pathogens. 

Wash Your Hands:

This may be the single most important thing we can do to prevent catching and spreading communicable diseases.  Washing our hands with soap and water works to destroy germs on a microscopic level by prying apart the lipid membranes that envelop microbes and viruses, destroying them in the process. The Center for Disease Control recommends to first wet hands, then scrub hands (front and back) for at least 20 seconds with soap, and then rinse well under clean, running water.  If no soap is present, an alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizer can be used in its place. 

Immune Health Staples In Your Quarantine Kitchen

Kefir Immunity

Foods For Gut Health:

Stock up on foods that are natural sources of probiotics to help maintain a healthy and balanced gut, where 70-80 percent of the (immunoglunlin-producing) cells that make up the immune system are located. Kefir, farmer’s cheese, yogurt with live and active cultures, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented beverages are all good sources of immune-boosting probiotic cultures.

Nuts And Nut Butters:

Nuts and nut butters are excellent sources of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals important for immune system functions, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E and magnesium.  Nuts are also a good source of fiber, which serves as a prebiotic to feed the probiotics in our gut to create a balanced microbiome and support a healthy immune system.

Frozen Or Canned Fruit And Vegetables:

While fresh is delicious, it’s important to note that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are picked and packed at peak ripeness, giving you the same taste and nutrition benefits.  Not only are fruits and vegetables excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals for immune health, but they are also an excellent source of insoluble fiber which feeds the probiotics in our gut to balance our microbiome.

Frozen or Canned Fish:

Fish contains essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids essential for our heart health and our immune health.  In addition, they are good sources of essential vitamins and minerals that keep our immune cells functioning, such as vitamin E and D.  Canned or frozen fish are long-lasting, easy and economic kitchen staples that are great for a variety of recipes.

Whole Grains:

Whole grain foods include a variety of kitchen staples, such as barley, oats, whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice and bulger.  They are an important source of nutrients our body needs for immune function, including iron, B vitamins, selenium, potassium, and magnesium.  They are also high in fiber to feed the probiotics in our gut to support a balanced microbiome and a healthy immune system.