When we are confronted with challenges beyond our typical daily trials and tribulations it is especially important to be armed with a strong healthy immune system.
While, a robust immune system cannot protect us from everything, there are ways we can strengthen and maintain its optimal effectiveness.
1. Get Good Quality Sleep. Good quality sleep is important for a variety of reasons including improving your immune system. In a 2017 study at the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center where 11 pairs of identical twins were studied, researchers found that those with shorter periods of sleep had weaker immune systems.
Similar studies have shown that a lack of sleep negatively affects all systems in the body including the brain, heart, lungs, and the immune disease-fighting function. While you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines (proteins produced by the body that help fight infections) that are needed to fight infection, inflammation, and stress. Sleep deprivation decreases the body's production of cytokines.
2. Be More Active and Exercise. There is no question that exercise enhances the immune system. According to Dr. Eudene Harry, medical director at Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Florida:
"Researchers found that not only did exercise increase immunity up to 10 times immediately after exercise but, in the hours following exercise, the immune cells seem to be sent to areas of the body that are more likely to get infected. Talk about intelligent design-something that we can easily do every day can help us boost our immunity."
Exercise also promotes the rapid and efficient circulation of immune cells (such as white blood cells) which allow the immune system to identify and protect against aggressive, harmful bacteria or viruses.
3. Maintain a Healthy Diet. One of the most balanced and immune- enhancing diets is the Mediterranean diet. According to a 2014 article published in the journal, Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders – Drug Targets, the Mediterranean diet "could counter the effects of several inflammatory markers."
The diet consists of an abundance of olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, as well as nut and seeds. Wine is also frequently, yet moderately consumed, as well as moderate portions of fish, seafood, cheeses, poultry and eggs. Red and processed meats are limited to small amounts.
The Mediterranean diet boosts the immune system's protection against several diseases associated with chronic low-grade inflammation such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis.
4. Consume Alcohol in Moderation. Many of us enjoy that glorious glass of wine with dinner as well we should; however, consuming alcohol in excess can deplete your immune system. According to a review published in Alcohol Research in 2015, high levels of alcohol consumption can weaken your body’s ability to fight infection as well as slow down your recovery time. When you drink high amounts of alcohol, your body is so busy detoxifying your system that it leaves little resources for normal immune system function.
5. Get some sunlight. Sunlight, as well as boosting your mood, is the best source of vitamin D to strengthen your immune system. The Cleveland Clinic recommends 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure two to three times a week. The sun is your friend in reasonable doses.
6. Manage your stress levels. According to the American Psychological Association, there is a huge correlation between stress and the immune system. Stress weakens the immune system!
From an evolutionary standpoint, stress hormones (such as cortisol) were only meant to be activated at the point of serious threats otherwise known as the 'fight or flight' response. However, when chronic stress exists, lower levels of these hormones are available to circulate in the blood thus stimulating chronic inflammation in several organs. The result is a weaker immune system.
7. Laugh more. According to Lee S. Berk, who has been studying the impact of laughter on mental and physical health since 1988, laughter decreases cortisol and conversely releases the brain's feel-good chemicals such as endorphins.
Laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, all of which improve your resistance to disease.
8. Manage your emotions. There is no question that emotions play an integral role in the health of your immune system. According to a 2018 study published by Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, negative moods can adversely affect immune system functions and increase the risk of inflammation.
Studies conducted at Pennsylvania State University have found that negative moods can change how the immune system responds. Through the study, it was discovered that individuals who were consistently in negative moods tended to be at higher risk of inflammation (a clear biomarker of a weaker immune system). Conversely, those participants who exhibited a good mood showed decreased levels of inflammation in the blood.
Negativity and the stress that comes with it have been shown to affect certain stem cells that cause changes in the brain. Prolonged exposure to cortisol, the stress hormone, leads to damage in the hippocampus.
By contrast, positive emotions such as hope, love, confidence, joy and laughter boost the body’s immune system. When the mind is calm, the brain releases dopamine and nor-epinephrine along with endorphins which allows white blood cells to fight off of harmful bacteria and restore immune resilience.
9. Reduce sugar intake. Although we don't typically think about how much sugar intake affects the immune system, it is important to know that it depletes cells in the body that fight off bacteria.
to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum: "A
12-ounce soda suppresses immunity
by 30 percent for 3 hours." If you happen to consume a lot of sugar
regularly, you could be depleting your immune system.
Similarly, a 1973 study done by Loma Linda University in California, found that when you consume 100 grams (3.5 oz.) of sugar, your white blood cells are 40 percent less effective at killing germs. It can deplete your immune system’s ability to fight off attacks for up to 5 hours after eating sugar.
A wonderful aternative to sugar is honey which is not only tasty, it has many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep you healthy and actually boost your immune system.
Maintaining a strong healthy immune system is paramount for defending against autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, infections and other serious conditions.
It is now more important than ever to practice the basics of good healthy living including a balanced diet, good quality sleep, proper exercise and a balanced lifestyle.