Immunity Part 2:
How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally through Diet and Lifestyle
by Dr. Anna Gold
Traditional Chinese medicine has always taught that eating the right foods and a moderation in daily habits make for health and longevity. Health is a state that is often taken for granted until one becomes sick.
Here are some guideline to add into your daily routine to keep your immune system strong:
Tip #1 Boost Your Immunity through FoodEat vegetables and fruit of different colors.
In TCM, there are five elements that are associated with the 12 organ systems. To feed each system, one should eat at least one fruit or veggie from each color of the five elements per day. Here are a list of the elements and the color associated with each one:
- Wood (LV/GB) - Green
- Fire (HT / SI / PC/ SJ) - Red
- Earth (SP/ST ) - Yellow
- Metal (LU/LI) - White
- Water (KD/UB) - Black or Dark Blue
Eat foods to feed your microbiome.
In my last blog post about how the immune system works, I wrote about the importance of the microbiome to the immune system. Fruits and vegetables and whole grains contain fiber that help regulate metabolism and benefit the gut microbiota, which can help a person’s ability to ward off illness. Eat fermented foods for the probiotics to add to the variety of good bacteria in the microbiota. Reduce packaged foods which often have additives and preservatives that contribute to chronic inflammation.Incorporate antiviral foods in the kitchen.
Here is a list of common herbs and spices used in everyday cooking that can be incorporated into foods to boost immunity:
- Green Onions
- Green Tea
Tip #2 Boost Immunity by Reducing Stress
The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress over a long period of time, can contribute to anxiety, depression, insomnia, which further depletes vitality and opens susceptibility to getting sick.
In our modern ways of life, there will never not be stress, How we encounter those difficult situations and the frequencyat which we reset our nervous systems will dictate how we contribute to our wellbeing. Here are some practices to incorporate into our regular routine for self care:
Helps to reset the nervous system. Acupuncture gets the body out of sympathetic (fight or flight) and into parasympathetic (relaxation) dominant mode. Studies have shown that acupuncture reduces inflammation, promotes relaxation, helps quality of sleep, and helps the body ward off colds and flus.
- Deep breathing
Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm's range of motion, and is the kind of breath the body automatically defaults to when it is in fight or flight mode. The lowest part of the lungs doesn't get a full share of oxygenated air, which in turn can make a person feel short of breath and even more anxious.
Taking a few moments to breathe deep abdominal breaths encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. This can slow the heartbeat, stabilize blood pressure and balance the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the body.
Exercise incites the body to produce adrenaline and dopamine contributing to a person’s feeling of happiness. These feelings boost the immune system. It also promotes good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Exercise can include cardiovascular exercises like running or biking. Exercises like yoga, taichi or Qi gong which combines physical and mental practices can be even more beneficial.
- Interactions with Nature
One study revealed that just a twenty-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels. But if you spent a little more time immersed in a nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking, cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate.
Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levells of cortisol and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.
In Japan, healthy elderly people have shown significantly increased bone mineral density and improved moods after once-weekly therapeutic laughter exercise sessions of 30-minutes for three months. Iranian doctors who studied the effect of laughter therapy on elderly subjects have also concluded that it improved general health. And research on US cancer patients has linked induced laughter to increased Natural Killer (NK) cell activity. These cells are instrumental in fighting disease, and that same boost was seen in NK cell activity when laughter was induced in healthy patients as well.
Tip #3 Boost Immunity by Sleeping Well and Sleeping Enough
Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond.
Stock Up on Naps
To stay healthy, especially during the cold season, everyone should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep at night. This will help keep your immune system strong and also protect you from other health issues including irregular periods, mood swings, heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a stressful week, try to make up for the lost rest with naps during the day. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.
Tip #3 Boost Immunity by Not Smoking
Studies show smoking nicotine is related to the development of brain, respiratory, cardiovascular diseases, infections and cancers. It has been implicated in the production of many immune or inflammatory mediators, including both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Studies have also demonstrated that cigarette smoking has far-reaching effects on chronic inflammation and autoimmunity at a systemic level including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lupus.
Tip #4 Boost Immunity by Reducing Alcohol Intake
Alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.
The gastrointestinal system is typically the first point of contact for alcohol as it passes through the body and is where alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of this, alcohol can affect the structure and integrity of the digestive tract.
Studies show that alcohol alters the numbers and relative abundances of microbes in the gut microbiome, which support function of the immune system. Alcohol disrupts communication between these organisms and the intestinal immune system and damages epithelial cells, T cells, and neutrophils in the GI system, disrupting gut barrier function and facilitating leakage of microbes into the circulation. As a result, leaky gut syndrome can develop. The leakage of bacterial products from the gut activate the innate immune system in the liver, triggering inflammation.
In the lung, alcohol consumption can disrupt ciliary function impairing the function of immune cells, and weaken the barrier function of the epithelia in the lower airways Often, the alcohol-provoked lung damage goes undetected until a second insult, such as a respiratory infection, leads to more severe lung diseases than those seen in nondrinkers.
Incorporating a variety of whole foods, prioritizing sleep and eliminating negative lifestyle habits like smoking are natural ways to boost immune function.
In my next blog post in this blog series on immunity, I will discuss vitamins and herbs to support immunity.