Key Elements For Healthy Immunity, part 1Mar 04, 2023
Did you miss me last week? In early February I took a ski trip out to British Columbia–and we had a great time with beautiful snow and lovely views of the mountains–one of my happiest places. But living more closely to a number of people than I’m used to, I came down with some kind of bug that has lasted at least as long as the trip itself even after I got home. This meant that this past week I knew I needed to listen to my body and take the week off to rest and restore.
And this got me thinking again about my immune system. What steps do I regularly take to ensure that it stays healthy, so that I can continue to spend my days and my life the way that works for me?
Healthy immunity depends on several factors, including the health of your various bodily systems and the efficiency with which each of them works.
The good news about this is that it provides steps that you can take to support you to have better immune function and to be proactive with your own health.
This means you have power now. Take a look and start slow – pick one step, view the suggestions, and give one a try. Once you have that mastered, try another. Slowly build your immune knowledge and find the strategies that work for you.
And trying new foods and activities can be fun. The foods, spices, herbs, and other suggestions are not all that you can do – there’s more, but it’s my goal that this inspires and empowers you to take charge of your health.
Understanding a Healthy Immune System
Supporting the immune system is not about taking one supplement or avoiding certain foods. There is no quick fix. It’s about a comprehensive strategy to provide your body with what it needs to function at its best.
Poor diet, stress, lack of sleep and too little exercise all have an effect and can lower the body’s ability to fight infections and viruses. Along with nutrient-dense foods that help the immune system to be strong, there are other dietary and supplement considerations.
And there are a couple of factors that are critical to a healthy and robust immune system.
When the immune system fights pathogenic bacteria or viruses, it can recruit many elements in its arsenal to neutralize the problem. Inflammation, either localized or throughout the body, is part of the tools your immune system uses to help fight anything it sees as harmful to you. And in the case of viruses and pathogens, this is a good thing, something not to try to reduce. That’s why a minor fever will actually help you overcome an illness sooner.
The problem occurs when there is too much inflammation or when it creates a case of allergy or autoimmunity. And too much inflammation can sometimes cause severe damage. For example, if there is too much inflammation in the lungs, breathing can be impaired, which can be life-threatening.
This means that one of the challenges for your immune system is supporting and teaching it to fight off viruses and pathogens while not letting it get out of hand. Many people are chronically inflamed. Should they contract a virus or bacterial infection, even more inflammation is going to occur, increasing the risk of a serious outcome.
The gut, and the good bacteria that reside there, are major players in a healthy immune system. You can’t be healthy without a healthy gut. Unfortunately, it’s complicated, but there are foods and supplements that can help, and working with a health practitioner can help should you need a more comprehensive strategy.
See more in my previous articles here.
What Can You Do to Support Your Immune System?
STEP ONE: Eat a balanced, Real Foods diet to support the health of the immune system and the gut and to help lower inflammation.
Add more nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Variety is the key–eat the rainbow! And as well include healthy proteins that provide amino acids, the building blocks of the immune system. Healthy fats are key components of many tissues including the brain. Complex carbs like grains and legumes provide substantial energy that the body needs to function properly. Vitamins and minerals are catalysts for all body functions, especially the immune system.
Nutrients the immune system loves (and these are just a few suggestions):
Ideally, you should choose to buy organic. Lowering your exposure to toxic chemicals is just one way to lower inflammation and take some pressure off the body and the immune system. Do the best you can.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Found in chia, flax, hemp, cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna, butter, eggs, raw nuts, and seeds
- Vitamin A-Rich Foods: Eggs, butter, cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna, squash, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables
- Vitamin C–Rich Foods: Citrus fruits, carrots, kiwi, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and other berries, broccoli, cabbage
- Vitamin E-Rich Foods: Olive oil, avocados, sunflower seeds, walnuts, salmon, turnip greens, mangos
- Vitamin D-Rich Foods: Cod liver oil, salmon, mushrooms, milk or fortified milk substitutes, eggs
- Zinc-Rich Foods: Meats, lentils and legumes, dairy products, vegetables, oysters, sesame seeds, cashews and other nuts, legumes, chocolate and cocoa, baker’s and brewer’s yeast
Consuming foods that have been studied to have anti-inflammatory properties is a good idea:
- Omega 3-rich foods such as cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, chia, hemp, flax
- Herbs and spices: Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, black pepper, cayenne pepper, sage, rosemary, basil, peppermint, coriander, cilantro/coriander
- Many vegetables have phytonutrients that are anti-inflammatory: Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus
- Many fruits have anti-inflammatory phytonutrients: Berries, pineapples, papaya, citrus fruits, apples, cherries, avocado, sea buckthorn
- Hemp oil extract or full-spectrum CBD oil – has anti-inflammatory properties
Avoid any known food sensitivities. This can also increase inflammation if you are reactive to specific foods. However, don’t look at lists that claim certain foods are “inflammatory.” Reaction to foods is an individual thing – the inflammation that a person may experience belongs to the person, not a food. The sensitive food is the symptom, and the cause is gut health issues. If you think this may be an issue for you, experiment by removing the food for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference.
The simplest way to start is to feed the gut the food good bacteria love and remove the food it doesn’t. Fortunately, good bacteria, just like the immune system, love foods that are full of nutrients. That’s not a coincidence. Adding foods that contain good bacteria also helps.
Here are some examples of foods that help the gut:
Probiotic and/or Fermented Foods: Contain good gut bacteria that affect the adrenals, the thyroid, the liver and how our hormones function
- Cultured vegetables, miso, tempeh, sourdough, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, wine (red or white), unpasteurized beer
- Raw honey contains 10 strain of good bacteria and has antimicrobial properties
- Fermented foods also contain prebiotics so win-win.
Prebiotic Foods: Feed our residential good bacteria and aid good gut bacteria
- FOS and inulin foods: Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, bananas, blueberries, almonds, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, radish, chia, flax, tomatoes
- Pectin foods: Apples, pears, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi
- GOS foods: Dairy products, legumes
- Resistant starch foods: Wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, barley, oats, corn, brown rice (and cooled white rice), potatoes, sourdough, quinoa, sweet potatoes
Supporting other aspects of the gut
Bone broth provides amino acids that help the intestinal wall lining. Colostrum, aloe vera and collagen also help nourish the gut lining, and all have some anti-inflammatory properties.
Ode to Mighty Mushrooms: Mushrooms are immune system stars. They have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they are all prebiotics, so they feed good gut bacteria. They’re available both fresh and dried (be sure to rehydrate dried by soaking in water for 30 minutes). Extract powders can also be added to recipes and smoothies or made into teas and supplements. Several companies have created products that contain several types of mushroom combinations and are available as tea or liquid extracts.
So start here with your food, and I’ll review more steps next week!
Home Practice This Week ~
It starts with awareness, without any need to change something right away, until you are ready. Take a look at what you eat each day and note how often you include the immune-boosting foods. And then start to include more of the following–so that over time you’ll naturally reduce what’s not so healthy for you.
- Eat a balanced, Real Foods diet to support the health of the immune system and the gut and to help lower inflammation.
- This includes foods that are rich in essential fats, clean proteins, and lots of vitamins and minerals.
- Plus foods that help reduce inflammation and support gut health.
For more info on this and other natural health topics:
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