Our immune system does many things, but most importantly it fights off illness and foreign invaders. We can support our immune system in various ways, including consuming foods high in nutrients that play significant roles in our immune health. Let’s discuss this topic in more depth.
Why We Should Focus on Supporting Our Immune Systems
Pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, are always circulating in the environment and are present throughout our system. Living a fast-paced, stressful lifestyle where health isn’t our main priority can lead to a weakened immune system. Remember, just because you’re exposed to a pathogen doesn’t mean you’ll feel sick. How well we take care of ourselves and how strong our immune system is at the time will determine whether that pathogen gets the better of us or not. The more we all focus individually on our health and immune systems, the higher chance we’ll have of collectively keeping everyone healthy and safe.
Here are some causes that can lead to a weakened immune system:
• Excessive stress
• Inadequate sleep/rest
• Excess alcohol intake
• Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
• Not eating enough calories, including protein, carbs and fat
• Inadequate nutrients, especially vitamins A, C, D and the minerals iron, zinc and omega fatty acids
What Does Our Immune System Need?
First of all, for any system in our body to function optimally, taking care of ourselves is essential. Prioritizing eating well, drinking adequate fluids, managing stress, sleeping seven to eight hours each night and being physically active will support a healthy immune system. When any one of these components is disrupted, it will decrease our natural immunity. Getting adequate exercise every day has been shown to enhance white blood cell function, increase circulation of white blood cells and antibodies and even help flush bacteria out of the lungs.1 And since excess stress can weaken our immunity, managing and relieving stress is also key.
Meditation is a growing technique people are using to destress and sleep better, which helps support a strong immune system. Besides meditation, simply making time weekly to do something you love and having time for yourself can help relieve stress.
Foods to Support Your Immune Function
There are certain nutrients that the immune system relies on to carry out its major functions. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, often comes to mind, but the omega fatty acids, vitamins A and D, and the minerals zinc and iron are also essential for peak immune system function. Ensuring that we get enough of all the essential nutrients our immune systems require is a great way to keep our immune systems strong. Here are some examples:
• Fresh bell peppers, strawberries and citrus fruits like oranges: High in vitamin C, which can help reduce inflammation in the body and can also support phagocytosis, the process by which our cells literally eat harmful pathogens.
• Fatty fish like salmon, and shitake mushrooms: High in vitamin D, which has been shown to help activate immune cells like white blood cells and T cells.
• Orange vegetables like butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes: High in vitamin A, which helps keep protective mucous membrane barriers strong.
• Oysters, red meat, baked beans and pumpkin seeds: High in zinc, which helps in the development of many immune cells like neutrophils and T & B cells.
• Beef, lentils and spinach: High in iron, which helps supply oxygen to cells in the body, including cells of the immune system.
• Bone broths: Many ancient forms of medicine used bone broths to support immunity by extracting nutrients from the marrow of animals.
• Grass-fed meat and dairy as well as fatty fish and hemp seeds: Sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which can increase phagocytosis.
Remember, prioritizing your health is what you should do daily. If you nourish your body appropriately, it will function at its best. Viral and bacterial illnesses peak around college finals, the start of school in the fall and the holidays. These are very stressful times, so managing stress and supporting your immune system during these times is key. When temperatures fluctuate widely or drop too low or too high for extended periods of time, this also puts added stress on our bodies. Stay warm in the winter, keep cool in the summer and follow these immune-supporting tips as part of a healthy routine to keep your immune system strong and ready for action. Remember, don’t just sit there…be healthy!
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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.