Most of us actually already know how we can strengthen our immune system, by simply eating foods that are high in nutrients, getting regular movement and exercise, getting enough vitamins, and so on. We are living in a very toxic world and we need to protect ourselves and eliminate any disease by taking better care of ourselves. Sometimes it takes an extreme situation like we have right now to make us more aware of our health.
Viruses and bacteria are two types of potentially disease-causing (pathogenic) particles. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and can be transmitted in a variety of ways. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that usually cause mild illnesses, such as the common cold. However, certain types can infect the lower airway, causing serious illnesses like pneumonia or bronchitis. Most people will get infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives and the majority of these infections are harmless.
There are countless things that can weaken our immune systems and prevent our bodies from fighting off viruses. For example, being sedentary, consuming a lot of added sugar (such as in baked goods or sodas), being overweight, having type 2 diabetes or an existing disease such as heart or lung and respiratory conditions, autoimmune disorders, and issues related to gut health and nutrient deficiencies, especially protein, zinc, vitamin A and and vitamin D. All these high risks can weaken our immune system, as well as countless others including smoking, stress, and insomnia. In other words, a lot of people can suffer from a weakened immune system.
So how can we strengthen it?
Let’s start first with exercise. Even without going to the gym, just being active during the day will help you boost your immune system. If you’re able to get outside then, for example, simply going for a walk, maybe a 15 minute walk twice a day or a 30 minute brisk walk can have a very positive effect. If the current situation is preventing you from going outside then even in your home you can get some good exercise. You really don’t need equipment, your own body weight is more than enough. You can also be creative and instead of weights and gym equipment you can use things like water bottles, bags of cat foods, a chair, a cushion etc. Start looking at your home as if it was a fitness center and you will be surprised what you can do!
The second major factor is our added sugar intake. I have talked a lot about this in my previous articles as sugar is one of the most important factors that can affect our immune system by damaging the gut. And in addition, of course, overconsumption of added sugar, over long periods of time, is associated with being overweight or obese which are risk factors for a wide range of health problems. But even if you are not overweight, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate (monosaccharide) and also comes in many different forms including glucose (which occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices), fructose (which occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey), and galactose (which combines with glucose to form lactose). For example, eating a whole apple versus drinking apple juice will have two very different effects on the body (yes, eating the whole apple is definitely better!).
Other major factors include insomnia and stress, which are both equally important and really can not be separated from each other. When you are in high stress you will be restless and can often not sleep well either. On the other hand, if you have insomnia then eventually you will have stress by increasing cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone. When we stress the body we suppress the immune system because the body thinks that it’s the time to be alert, and not the time to repair and heal ourselves. When we are not getting enough rest or sleep, we can not repair our body to help keep it in balance or homeostasis.
What about nutrient deficiencies? Proteins are the building blocks that help our bodies repair. Protein deficiencies tend to be hidden for so many people, you may be thinking that you are getting enough protein but bioavailability (such as over-cooked plant based protein) or any digestion problems can impair the absorption. Finding yourself feeling tired often, or losing your hair, can be a sign of protein deficiency.
Zinc deficiencies are common, and zinc is necessary to build our body’s defenses, so a deficiency can increase the risk of infectious diseases. Also, zinc is necessary for the production of the hormone thymulin, which is important for the maintenance of various immune functions. Eggs, meat, shellfish and seeds are excellent sources of zinc.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin or hormone, has well documented benefits, such as improving our body’s defenses, enhancing vitamin A, improving gut microbiota, reducing systemic inflammation, improving mood and sleep, improving muscle strength and reducing respiratory infection. So make sure that you are getting enough sunlight, and in addition you may need vitamin D supplementation. Beef liver, fatty fish, egg yolks and cheese, and of course sunshine, are good sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining vision and promoting growth and development, and is also known as an anti-inflammatory vitamin because it plays an important role in enhancing immune function. You can find it in foods such as beef liver, salmon, sweet potatoes and carrots.
And selenium is another important nutrient that we should not forget. It is a potent nutritional antioxidant and strongly influences inflammation and immune responses. Brazil nuts, sardines, tuna and shrimp are high in selenium.
The bottom line is that we can not control what is coming from outside, although we still can have an enormous control of our health by taking care of our body and our mind. Don’t forget, taking action and preventing yourself from getting a disease or illness is so much better than waiting until you have something before you take action. We should all act now and change our lifestyle for better health.
Ayda Ersoy, Nutritionist (Dip.C.N., Dip.S.N.), Master Trainer (CPT ACE, NCSF, CanfitPro), Registered Yoga Teacher, Founder, Health Angel Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness, Founder, SMS (Stability, Mobility Strength) Intuitive Training System.