By Tracy Shields
1. Eat Right
You’ve heard it all before. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats (like olive oil, fatty fish and nuts) are the fare that keeps you fit. But did you know that a variety of healthy foods also ward off disease, allergies and the common cold by helping your body filter toxins more efficiently? The old solution to fighting off a cold was to load up on thousands of milligrams of vitamin C. But because the immune system is so complex and includes many other systems (digestive system, lungs, kidneys, etc.) ingesting only one specific vitamin or mineral may not be the answer. Eating a variety is.
Some specific foods, all on their own, are crazy good for the immune system because of the amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients within. In no specific order
- Shitake mushrooms (amazing immune system benefits)
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, chard, endive, spinach)
- Yogurt (probiotic effects for better digestion)
- Red bell peppers
- Traditional green tea (rich in antioxidants) helps protect immune cells
- Citrus fruits (vitamin C)
- Oysters, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds (all have zinc)
- Vegetable oils
- Almonds and walnuts
- Wild caught Salmon (great source of omega-3s)
- Fiber foods (whole grains, fruits and veggies)
2. Take a good multivitamin
If you’re not getting all your nutritional needs met via your diet alone, a good multivitamin is crucial for preventing nutritional deficiencies. According to Harvard University Medical School, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and zinc have all been found to impact your immune system positively.
Likewise, herbal remedies may also protect against infection and disease. While it is still relatively unknown if there is any scientific certainty that herbs can boost immunity, researchers are beginning to understand that “we should [not]discount the benefits of all herbal preparations. Everyone’s immune system is unique. Each person’s physiology responds to active substances differently.” Some herbs that are presently showing significant effects on the study of immunity are aloe vera, Echinacea, garlic, ginseng and probiotics (which help you digest foods). The best thing to do regarding herbs try them. Your body may respond positively to their effects.
3. Go to Bed
There’s no doubt about it: sleep is extremely important for a healthy immune system. If you’re addicted to late night fun, or if you simply stay up late into the night to “wind down” you could be seriously compromising your body’s ability to fight off infection and repair the day’s damage. Because the body relaxes, renews and repairs while sleeping, experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night, so that the body can do its job and rebuild strength and immune cells. As the deputy editor of Harvard Magazine puts it, “sleep is not merely “down time” between episodes of being alive.” Believe it or not, your body is hard at work doing all the jobs that it can’t do while you’re awake. So keep this in mind: better sleep (or rather, healthier, deeper sleep every night) equals a better you.
4. Watch your Stress
When I think of my own health, I tend to be most susceptible to colds and infection when I am under stress. Not just a day’s worth of stress and/or anxiety, but the kind of stress that seems to linger for a week, a month or more. Stress seems to have the most direct, measurable impact on health and wellness, despite years of Western docs denying the mind-body connection. And yet, with the increased popularity of Integrative, holistic medicine, scientists and medical doctors are taking the causes and effects of stress on health and immunity more seriously. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The final component for fine-tuning your immune system is reducing the stress in your life by achieving a higher level of spiritual harmony. Altered mood states such as depression, anxiety, and panic are harmful to the body in many ways.”
Much like spiritual harmony, using relaxation techniques daily to help combat stress can help too. Yoga, meditation, guided imagery, sex, love and even music can do wonders to soothe the mind and thus, allow the body to get back to its immune-building job.
The lesson learned here is, listen to your body. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re probably not feeling well. If you’re under stress, you’re probably chipping away at your body’s ability to take care of itself. And if you’re taking in only the smallest amounts of good, life-strengthening nutrients, it may be time to reassess your diet and lifestyle. Your immune system protects you. In turn, you need to protect it.
Tracy Shields is co-owner and Marketing Director of N3 Oceanic, Inc., maker of Res-Q products, and Nature’s Shield, a subsidiary of N3. She is a writer, a triathlete, a nutrition junkie and a devoted mother of two boys.