Surefire Ways to Boost Immunity, Say Virus Experts
Your immune system fights hard to protect you from sickness and infections so taking steps to ensure it stays healthy is vital for your overall well-being, especially now during the pandemic. People with weaker immune systems are at greater risk for COVID and damaging long-term effects from the virus, so boosting your body's natural defense is a critical component of health. Eat This, Not That! Heath spoke with experts who share ways to build a strong immunity and why it's so important. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Get Vaccinated. And Why It's Important to Have a Healthy Immune System
Ramzi Asfour, MD Board Certified in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine, Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner, California Center for Functional Medicine explains, "The immune system is a complex and interconnected network of organs, cells, proteins and chemicals that work to keep the body healthy by defending against illnesses. A healthy and fully functioning immune system can combat pathogens including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It can also attack cancer cells. Having a healthy immune system is particularly important to protect the body from COVID-19. Those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to severe COVID-19, as well as repeated cases of COVID due to impaired ability to mount an adequate response to the virus." And get vaccinated. "For the best protection, everyone 6 months and older is recommended to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, which includes getting boosters if eligible," says the CDC.
Sunjya Schweig, MD Founder and Director, California Center for Functional Medicine and Founder and Executive Director, The Functional Medicine Research and Technology Center says, "Eating a healthy, whole foods diet rich in nutrient dense proteins, with as many different vegetables as possible helps to bolster a strong immune system. A whole-foods diet consists of foods that are not processed or refined, foods that are eaten closest to their natural state, and foods that do not contain synthetic chemicals, additives, artificial sweeteners, preservatives or artificial colors, antibiotics, hormones, and have not been genetically modified. As a general rule, these are foods that do not come in a package and will rot if left on your counter for a few days. Healthy fats and whole plant foods are rich in antioxidants and nutrients that can help decrease inflammation and protect against pathogens. Fruits and vegetables not only contain vitamins and minerals, but also contain important phytonutrient compounds. These compounds actually strengthen our body by stimulating enzymes that help our body get rid of toxins, boost our immune system, improve hormone metabolism, promote strong cardiovascular health and protect against cancer cells. Each phytochemical, or color, has different health benefits. For example, yellow/orange vegetables such as yellow peppers can help prevent colds. Focus not just on food quality but also food variety, and try to eat the rainbow."
Gita Castallian, MPH Director of Programs with The Functional Medicine Research and Technology Center states, "Regular exercise can help to boost the immune system and plays a key role in illness prevention. Studies have even shown that just a single moderate exercise sesion boosts the effectiveness of vaccines for those who are immunocompromised. Consistent exercise can reduce inflammation, aids in immune cell regeneration and increases circulation of immune cells throughout the body. This helps the body to prepare for future illnesses or infections and helps the body to detect pathogens sooner. Studies have suggested that moderate-intensity exercise is best for inflammation reduction and immunity. Exercising at a moderate intensity for 60 minutes or less is ideal for immune-boosting benefits. If this is continued daily, the immune and metabolic systems continue to strengthen, building over time. Some time in the sun, which will also serve to boost your vitamin D levels can be very helpful as well."
Castallian explains, "While staying hydrated doesn't directly protect you from outside pathogens, it helps to create optimal health overall and therefore benefits the immune system. The importance of hydration for optimal health cannot be overstated. The average human body is 60 percent water. Water is essential to life and many significant body functions. Staying hydrated flushes toxins out of the body, prevents buildup, and therefore prevents many diseases. Drinking water and eating more water-heavy foods can also help promote the healthy growth, survival, and reproduction of your body's cells. We recommend consuming half of your body weight in ounces of water a day. We also recommend the use of a high quality water filter to decrease contaminants."
Get Good Quality Sleep
According to Dr. Schweig, "Sleep and immunity are closely linked and focusing on getting deep, restorative, quality sleep can help to strengthen your natural immunity. Poor sleep quality has been linked to a higher risk of getting sick. In fact, routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system to such an extent that it more than doubles your risk of cancer. Disrupted sleep and not getting enough sleep has profound implications for our overall health and sleep deprivation leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which can shift body temperature and compromise immune function. These physiologic changes illustrate the vital role that sleep plays in our immune response. We recommend aiming for 7 or more hours of sleep a night. Limiting screen time for an hour before bed and having a completely dark room can help to keep the circadian rhythm balanced."
Dr. Schweig shares, "Prolonged stress over-activates the immune system, causing imbalance between inflammation and anti-inflammation. With chronic activation of the long-term stress response, we see the body staying 'revved up', on high alert, like the foot is always pressing down on the gas pedal. If we are unable to release the gas and use the brake (the parasympathetic nervous system), there can be a persistent release of hormones like epinephrine and cortisol. In this scenario, the body may be experiencing allostatic overload (which we will review later in the presentation), causing an impaired stress response and greater risk for the development of disease through immune system suppression. Balancing your stress response can help to boost your immunity and move towards optimal health. Some stress management practices we recommend that can help to elicit the relaxation response include acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, meditation, tai chi, qigong, and yoga. True relaxation can also be achieved by removing yourself from everyday thought and by choosing a word, sound, phrase, or by focusing on your breathing. The best time to practice these stress management recommendations is first thing in the morning for ten to twenty minutes or before bed. Practicing just once or twice daily can be enough to counteract the stress response and bring about deep relaxation and inner peace.
When under stress, especially for prolonged periods, key nutrients are used up more quickly so working to get good levels through diet and or dietary supplements is a priority.
Of particular importance are:
Adaptogenic herbs can also be very beneficial for coping with times of additional stress."
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