Your immune system is a network of cells that help to protect you from bacteria, chemicals, viruses, and allergens. It can remember every germ it has encountered and can quickly remove it with antibodies if the immune system has been exposed to the germ before. Chronic exposure to pathogens, such as the cold or flu, can lead to: infections, chronic inflammation, allergies, and/or autoimmune disease.
We have now learned that 70-80% of your immune system is based in the gut – so what you eat plays a big role in your ability to stay healthy. Trillions of bacteria reside in your gut – even more than the number of cells we have in our bodies! There are both helpful and harmful bacteria in the gut – so, we want to keep and maintain a healthy number of the helpful bacteria. The helpful bacteria keep the harmful bacteria in balance, produce vitamins and feed the cells in the intestinal barrier.
Here are seven things you can actively do to keep yourself healthy:
Sleep: Immune function can be affected when you don’t get enough sleep. Your body is actually doing work when sleeping – repairing tissue, breaking down old cells and making new ones, and making hormones and neurotransmitters that you need for the next day. Sleep can be disrupted by stress, blue light from electronic devices, work schedules, or eating a heavy meal right before bedtime. Ideally, you want to shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Stress management: Have you ever become sick after a stressful deadline or exam? Stress can weaken your immune system by increase the hormone cortisol – putting you in fight or flight mode. Short term stress is OK and healthy – but when you live in a state of constant fight or flight, you’re increasing inflammation and decreasing production of white blood cells that can fight off infection. Common stressors include: anxiety from work, financial stress, taxed relationships, poor blood sugar control and inflammation. Ways to decrease chronic stress include: meditation, prayer, breathing, and yoga. Getting exposure to natural sunlight daily before 10 a.m. also helps to reduce stress and improve the immune system.
Hydrate: The human body is made up of about 60% water and it facilitates circulation, temperature (through sweating and respiration), metabolism, digestion, and absorption of food. Water transports nutrients and oxygen to the cells through the lymphatic system and is necessary for the kidneys to remove toxins and wastes. It also helps to flush out harmful pathogens that can cause illness. A good rule of thumb is to try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
Exercise: Physical activity helps to flush out pathogens from your body by moving blood to send oxygen to your cells, which removes wastes out of the body. Exercise can help lower stress hormones and decrease inflammation. Sweat is another way to move toxins out of the body, so you have to drink more water to replace your fluid level. Remember to pay attention to your body, as too much exercise can actually have the opposite effect by making you prone to injury, feeling fatigued, and affecting your performance and mood.
Eat a balanced diet: Consume unprocessed foods such as nuts and seeds, legumes, a rainbow of fruits and veggies, lean meats, and fish (humanely raised), and grains like rice. Your plate should be at least half-full of veggies and about a quarter of your plate should have a healthy protein. Eat in moderation and stop eating when you are about 80% full. Overeating puts stress on your body to digest the extra food.
Some foods to eat: If you come down with a bug, include the following as you recover –
Bone and/or vegetable broth
Mushroom teas (chaga and reishi)
Electrolytes: coconut water; a pinch of Celtic sea salt added to your drinking water
Golden milk latte with turmeric and raw honey
Lots of veggies
Orange juice – high in vitamin C
Broccoli – rich in antioxidants and fiber
Eliminate wastes: When you poop every day, you remove wastes from your system, you’re less likely to develop food sensitivities, and it keeps your healthy bacteria in check. Daily bowel movements help keep the nervous system functioning well and promotes lower stress. Chronic constipation or diarrhea are both signs that something may be out of balance with your immune system. Eating whole, unprocessed foods with fiber helps you to stay regular.
Invest in your health today, and you will be more likely to stay well this winter. Remember, WHEN IS NOW!
Dr. Monica, ND
Sr. VP, WHEN HEALTH
WHEN Health & BEING Advisor
If you want to talk about what is going on in your current situation, professionally trained WHEN Advisors are available to schedule individual advising sessions that can help you get through these uncertain times. Call 855-943-WHEN (9436).
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.