May 20, 2024
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It was finals week in college, and I was in between apartments, crashing on my friend’s couch. Functioning on a few hours of sleep, cold pizza and adrenaline, it is no wonder that after finals were over and I moved into my new apartment, I ended up with an unrelenting cold. My immune system was run down, a scenario that is all too commonplace during the college years. Stress, lack of sleep and poor eating habits were contributing factors to my weakened immune system. While I wasn’t aware of it at the time, other factors that may have affected my immune system included lack of exercise, poor gut health, increased toxic load, dehydration, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. With new terms like “tripledemic,” discussed in a recent New York Times article, a term coined by public health officials to refer to this season’s simultaneous occurrence of flu, COVID-19 and RSV threats, now is a good time to review some strategies we can implement to create resilient immune systems.

Stress

Stress has a significant effect on the immune system by raising cortisol levels, which can suppress your immune system’s ability to combat unwanted germs. Instead of regulating the immune system and other important bodily functions like digestion, the body is forced to shift its resources into handling the stressor. Prioritizing the reduction of stress is a crucial part of maintaining a robust immune system.

Breathing activities Positive social connections
Caffeine reduction Yoga
Prayer Fresh Air/Nature
Meditation Hobbies
Journaling Exercise
Laughing, having fun Limiting use of social media
Talk therapy Following a routine
Increasing home organization Self-compassion

Stress Reducing Activities Include:

*Please note: Intense exercise can actually increase cortisol levels, so keep exercise at low to moderate intensity for the purpose of stress reduction.

Sleep

While 7-8 hours of sleep per night is recommended, according to a 2016 press release by the CDC, one-third of adults are not getting enough sleep. Poor sleep effects us more than merely decreasing our alertness. According to the Mayo Clinic, “…infection fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.”

Tips for a Restful Night of Sleep:

Quiet room or use a sound machine
Dark room/sleeping mask
Blue light glasses with screen usage
Avoid screens 60 minutes before bed
Happy lamp to regulate sleep cycles
Room temperature 60-67 degrees
Weighted blanket
Lavender aromatherapy
No exercising 2 hours before bed
Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed
Avoid alcohol before bed
Limiting caffeine to the morning
Stress reducing activities before bed
Decrease clutter in the bedroom
Turn your clock away from your view
Not sleeping with your cell phone

Diet

While a diet that minimizes processed foods and includes fruits, vegetables, lean animal proteins and/or plant based proteins and whole grains is ideal, there are certain foods and spices that can help boost our immunity. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, functional medicine practitioner of the Cleveland Clinic, the following foods and spices are beneficial for immunity.

Immune Boosting Foods Anti-Viral and Immune Boosting Herbs and Spices
Nuts Ginger
Seeds Garlic
Leafy greens Turmeric
Citrus fruits Rosemary
Broccoli Chili Pepper
Carrots Oregano
Sweet potatoes
Berries
Salmon (wild-caught preferable)
Chicken soup
(organic pasture raised if possible)
Olive oil

Immune Boosting Foods Anti-Viral and Immune Boosting Herbs and SpicesImmune Boosting Foods Anti-Viral and Immune Boosting Herbs and SpicesNuts GingerSeeds GarlicLeafy greens TurmericCitrus fruits Rosemary Broccoli Chili PepperCarrots OreganoSweet potatoes Berries Salmon (wild-caught preferable) Chicken soup (organic pasture raised if possible) Olive oil

Gut Health

Our immune system is directly related to the functioning of our gut. As a matter of fact, 70-80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut. Tips for maintaining a healthy gut include the following:

Address any damage to your gut lining as a result of leaky gut syndrome and/or SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth).

Eat foods rich in a variety of prebiotics and probiotics to ensure your body maintains healthy gut flora (beneficial bacteria) or discuss with your doctor prebiotic and probiotic supplementation.

Avoid artificial sweeteners which disrupt balance of gut flora

Additional Ways to Support Your Immune System

Our immune systems are quite complicated and there are many factors that can lead to less than optimal functioning. Additional ways to support your immune system include staying well hydrated and by investigating and addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies with your health practitioner. In addition, reducing your exposure to pesticides, a lesser known burden to the immune system, can further support your immunity as shown in numerous studies cited by the NIH (National Institute of Health).

I hope that this refresher on ways to boost your immune system was helpful Making lifestyle changes to improve health can be challenging. Remember that health is not an all or nothing; small changes do add up and make a big difference. Wishing you much health and wellness wherever you may be on your health journey.

The information provided in this article is a general overview and should not serve as a substitute for individual medical guidance.


Jill Friedbauer has been working in the field of health and wellness for 20 years. She is a national board certified health and wellness coach, licensed physical therapist, author of the book “Heal Your Soul, Heal Your Gut’’ and has a podcast “Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Soul” on Spotify. Jill is available for one-on-one health coaching, family health coaching and speaking engagements. To book a free 15-minute consultation, email Jill at [email protected].

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