What are the fundamental steps to building a stronger immune system?
It’s a good question that we posed to a few trusted physicians with decades of experience in natural medicine. Drs. Fred Pescatore, Armen Nikogosian, and John Thomas each offered great insights into the steps people can take to optimize immune health, and put them in the context of the lifestyle most of us are managing today.
We summarized these insights into five steps and called it: S.E.T.U.P. For Immune Health
It’s easy to overlook the critical role GI health plays in our immune systems. Gastrointestinal microbiota have a far reaching impact on the systems in our bodies, and a variety of factors can push them out of whack. Poor diet, and stress are just a few causes of sub-optimal gut health, which allows harmful bacteria to put strain on our immune response. Many functional medicine doctors say probiotics can help “good” bacteria thrive in the GI tract.* This complex system aids proper digestion, helps remove toxins, and supports the overall immune system.*
Probiotics are mostly composed of lactobacillus and Daptobacter bacteria, along with their different strains. Those bacteria essentially set the immune tone for our bodies because they are the ones that interact with our immune system the most. You can set the tone higher by using probiotics, particularly if you have dysbiosis, according to Dr. Nikogosian of Southwest Functional Medicine.*
Focus on eating a well-balanced diet that contains plenty of vitamins and minerals, and don't overlook probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha,miso, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir. If you don’t like the fermented flavor of these foods, consider taking supplements instead.
The old saying is true – you are what you eat. About 80 percent of your immune system resides in the GI tract, so it's essential to pay close attention to what's on your table as you strive to maintain optimal immune function.
When certain items are scarce in the aisles, look for foods that are nutrient-dense as possible, as opposed to those with empty calories and high in simple carbohydrates. Beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and vitamin D are essential for supporting the body's immune defenses, and there are plenty of foods loaded with them.*
Here are a few known immune-boosting foods you can add to your diet:
Try to avoid foods that come in a box and make an effort to reduce your sugar consumption. If the produce selection is limited, canned or frozen vegetables are still much better than most processed foods. As an aside, alcohol doesn't do our immune system any favors, so it's a good idea to limit its intake.
To SETUP your immune system for optimal function, you should “take time for exercise.” Your mind and body will thank you! Moderate amounts of physical activity will help you reduce stress, improve your mood, and support your immune system by increasing white blood cell production. Physical activity can also help clear the lungs and airways of foreign pathogens. Getting fresh air is ideal. It gives you a break from screen time and helps keep your "biological clock" on time for better, more restful sleep.
Give yourself 20-30 breaks a few times per day to go out for a quick walk, or head-out for a jog or bike ride while maintaining your local social distancing protocols. You also might consider preparing a garden or doing some yard work. Connecting with nature is proven to reduce stress –which directly impacts our immune health.
If the weather is crummy or you prefer indoor activities, you have many options for great at-home workouts:
If you haven’t exercised in a while, moderation is best for now. The goal is to maintain your current level of fitness and not overexert yourself. If you are completely sedentary now, take small steps to get your blood moving with some light exercise
Most of us are getting more than our share of screen time right now, and it's easy to forget how light from electronic screens can mess up a good night's sleep. Blue light from smartphones, laptops, TVs, and other devices can suppress melatonin, the hormone that manages the sleep-wake cycle
They also throw off your circadian rhythm and confuse the body about when it's time to fall asleep and when it's time to be alert. The timing of that internal clock depends on natural light, which is why you feel sleepy when the sun goes down and recharged when it rises. Artificial light isn't the only issue, either
Scrolling through your email or social media feed before bedtime increases the possibility you will see something that creates an emotional response, making it harder to fall asleep and get that precious REM sleep we all need.
It's hard to overemphasize the importance of getting quality sleep. Your health depends on it, especially when you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. So, here are a few things you might try in place of Netflix and Facebook:
Read a book. Somewhere on you’re shelf, there's a paperback you've wanted to get to for years. What better time to treat yourself to a good old-fashioned story told on paper?
Most of us are leading a digital lifestyle right now. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but a strong immune system depends on maintaining some boundaries. Know when to say when, and get some rest.
It's important to get your stress under control for optimal immune health.
Easier said than done, right?
Even so, high cortisol and increased stress weaken the immune system, a challenge for adults even under ordinary circumstances. Meditation and breathing exercises are great for lowering cortisol, and there are several apps and methods that will help.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is one of the most effective ways to get started:
Steady breathing patterns are a central component of yoga and meditation for good reasons. It helps the body and mind relax and control anxiety. Try practicing this technique twice a day for a few weeks and see how you feel.
The best way to take care of yourself is to focus on what you can control. Right now, try working on your breathing. Like most aspects of wellness, immune health isn’t something you “switch on” when you need it. It’s a long-term commitment to yourself. By making incremental improvements to your diet, nutrition, activities, sleep, and stress management, you are building a foundation that allows your metabolic pathways to function at the highest level they can. And there’s never been a better time to get started.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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