How to keep your immune system running strong

By Emily Dawson, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

During this time when the Novel Coronovirus COVID-19 is spreading with such haste around the world, peoples’ stress has been spreading just as quickly.

As increased stress takes a hit on your immune system, I thought it would be good to share some great information that will help you and your loved ones to not only support and boost your immune system, but at the same time, enjoy the process.

Here are some dietary, lifestyle and supplementary recommendations that you can quickly incorporate into your life, so you can continue to remain strong throughout.

Diet Recommendations

When it comes to supporting the immune system, my first recommendation is to keep processed foods to a minimum. Instead, it is best to opt for a diet rich in whole, nutritious foods, including a variety of high-quality proteins, fresh produce, whole grains, fibre and healthy fats.

Enjoy ample amounts of colourful, antioxidant-rich fruits, such as berries, pomegranate and citrus, as well as dark, leafy, greens such as kale, spinach and collards. These leafy green vegetables get their colour from the nutrient chlorophyll, which has many known benefits when it comes to supporting immune health. Sea vegetables such as spirulina and chlorella are also rich in chlorophyll and make a great addition to smoothies! (You can find my favourite immune boosting smoothie recipe later on this page)

You should also incorporate lots of fresh ginger and garlic. As two of the best immune boosting foods, they are often used in fighting off the common cold and flu. You can make your own immune-boosting elixir by adding raw ginger directly into a smoothie, or by steeping ginger slices with hot water and lemon. Garlic can be incorporated in all kinds of dishes and has been used as a medicinal food for centuries – Its anti-microbial properties make it highly beneficial in killing off unwanted bacteria. If you don’t enjoy the taste or have difficulty with digestion, garlic extract supplements are always a great alternative.

FiberRich Foods, such as legumes, whole grains, ground flax seeds, chia seeds and psyllium husk are another great addition to an immune-supporting diet. Fiber plays an important role in our detoxification process by binding to toxins and promoting their elimination through regular bowel movements.

Adequate protein intake is another important element, as proteins contain the building blocks for our disease-fighting antibodies. It is best to include a protein source at every meal, incorporating a mix of organic, grass-fed animal proteins, as well as plant-based proteins such as nuts, legumes and pulses.

Finally, limiting processed sugar is crucial for supporting immunity. In fact, sugar acts as an immuno-suppressant, and studies have shown that just 1 tsp of white sugar can suppress the function of our immune cells for up to five hours. This is extra important when it comes to protecting our kids – Do your best to swap their sugary cereals, candy bars and sodas for fresh or frozen fruits, homemade fruit juices and smoothies, but definitely still keep it to a moderate level of intake during this time.

Lifestyle Recommendations

Aside from supporting our immune systems through the diet, there are many lifestyle factors that are directly associated with the state of our immunity.

Firstly, reducing stress and thus activating the parasympathetic nervous system is one of the best ways that we can support a healthy immune system. The parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is our “rest and digest” system, and is in constant fluctuation with our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is active when we are under stress (often called our “fight or flight” system). When we are in a relaxed or resting state, our PNS is active and the body is able to focus its energy on healing. However, as soon as we experience stress (whether it be psychological, physical or emotional), our SNS takes over and all of our energy is re-directed towards fighting off that perceived stressor. As a result, our immune functions are halted, delaying our recovery and making us more susceptible to getting sick. See https://www.moodmetric.com/chronic-stress and https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/10-immune-system-busters-boosters#1 for more information about how stress plays a role in how your immune system functions.

I know that it can be difficult to remain calm with all the chaos taking place around us, but we need to remember that panicking will do us more harm than good. Turn off the news for a minute, collect your thoughts and try some deep breathing techniques. Meditation can also be quite helpful.

Obtaining proper sleep (7 to 8 hours per night) is also very important. Not only does sleep deprivation make us more susceptible to getting sick, it also slows our rate of recovery. This is because sleep is the time the body uses to heal: Our energy is no longer being utilized for thinking, moving, feeling, stressing or digesting and instead, can be focused on fighting off illness and recovering. Our parasympathetic nervous system is also the most active during sleep. Moreover, research has shown that sleep actually improves the function of our T-Cells (a type of immune cell that fights against viruses like the flu) and decreases our production of the stress-hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, thereby reducing  overall inflammation in the body.

See https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-sleep-bolsters-your-immune-system#The-importance-of-T-cells and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323 for more information.

Incorporating low-intensity exercise like yoga and light walking can also be beneficial. These exercises enhance the production of endorphins and promote better sleep.

Supplement Recommendations

Vitamin C is a potent Antioxidant that we often associate with Citrus Fruits. I recommend supplementing with 3 grams, 3 times per day (a total of 9 grams per day) to support and boost the immune system.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-benefits#6.-Boosts-immunity-

https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/colds-flu-immune-system#1

Vitamin D is another great supplement that can be highly beneficial during cold and flu season. Our levels are generally quite low during the winter months, which increases our susceptibility to infection. I recommend supplementing with anywhere from 1000 to 2000 IU’s per day. Liquid forms are best!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/

Zinc is an antioxidant and another great addition to your immune-supporting protocol. I recommend supplementing with 25-30mg of Zinc per day.  

Garlic Extract supplements (5 mg per day) can also be used to boost immunity. As previously mentioned, Garlic contains antimicrobial compounds that have many beneficial effects when it comes to preventing inflammation and fighting a cold or flu. 

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/garlic-fights-colds-and-flu

Finally, 70% of our Immune Function takes place in the Gut, so including a high-quality probiotic is going to be very important for boosting immunity. I recommend supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic with at least 20 Billion active cells. Always opt for the brands found in the refrigerated section! Dietary sources of probiotics are also highly recommended. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, pickled vegetables, kefir and kombucha.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-health-benefits-of-probiotics#section7

Emily Dawson BAH, RHN

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