The immune system is a complex system of offense and defense. To function, it requires both balance and harmony. As a whole, your immune system does an excellent job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes, it fails…a germ can invade and make you sick. So how can you improve your immune system, keep out these “invaders,” and keep it in balance?
Immune Boosting Diet
To help keep your immune system healthy all year long, focus on a balanced eating plan, get enough sleep, and work on stress management. Eating healthily can go a long way in keeping you and your immune system in fighting shape. Good nutrition is essential to a strong, resilient immune system. Here are some items to start including in your diet, to help boost your immunity:
Phytosterols: Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that resemble cholesterol (i.e. are structurally similar to cholesterol). When phytosterols are consumed, they compete with cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract, blocking it, and as a result, lowering cholesterol levels. Some studies have found that getting just two grams of phytosterols per day may help you lower your LDL cholesterol1 (Leech, 2019). Unfortunately, though, most people are not getting nearly this much in their everyday diets. Foods that contain considerable amounts of phytosterols include nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Protein: Protein is part of the body’s defense mechanism. Work on adding a variety of protein-rich foods to your diet, like seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps to regulate the immune system and protects from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy2 (Wolfram, 2017). Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs, or foods labeled “vitamin A fortified,” such as milk or cereal.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C protects your body from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Try adding foods like oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, and tomato juice, to your diet.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals to improve immune function. Vitamin E rich food include fortified cereals, almonds, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils like sunflower oil, hazelnuts, and peanut butter.
Zinc: Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts.
Less Stress and More Sleep
Stress and sleep also play a significant role in keeping your immune system balanced. Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because when under stress, the brain sends out defense signals, which then release an array of hormones that not only get us ready for emergency situations but depresses our immunity at the same time3 (Goliszek, 2019). Because the effects of stress are cumulative, even ordinary, day-to-day activities can eventually lead to more serious health issues. So it is important to be aware of our stress, and to find ways to mitigate it. It is difficult to set out a one-size-fits-all gameplan for dealing with stress, since what stresses one person out may not phase another, but there are certain things that are helpful for everyone. Meditation can help the body and mind to relax, and can act as a buffer to protect the body from the harmful effects of stress. Social support can help too. People with strong social support systems have better overall health and are more resistant to infections. Hold onto those friendships!
Poor sleep can affect your immunity as well. While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to a bad cold or the flu. To stay healthy, try to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. This will help keep your immune system in good shape. If you typically work late at work, or go out late a lot, try to make up for lost sleep with naps. If possible, take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon, which has been shown to decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system4 (National Sleep Foundation, 2019).
If your diet is lacking in the vitamins and nutrients mentioned, you can add a supplement to help bridge the gaps. There are also supplements that can help to balance your immune system. Look for one that contains plant sterols and sterolins in a ratio of 100:1, this has been clinically proven to help restore, strengthen, and balance your body’s immune system.
Keep your immune system strong by incorporating these healthy lifestyle habits and reap the benefits of vibrant health!
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.