Bolster your body’s natural defences
While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body’s natural defences and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.
Here are tips to help strengthen your immunity naturally.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely tied. Sleep is a time when your body produces and distributes key immune cells, heals and regenerates. Adequate sleep is critical for a healthy immune response.
In fact, inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness.
Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness.
Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle – although you can actually turn the blue lights off in settings.
Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a eye mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly. There are many natural ways to help you sleep like vitamins and meditation.
Eat Whole Plant Foods
Foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds etc are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens.
The antioxidants will help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels.
Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers.
Meanwhile, the fibre in plant foods feed your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract.
Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
Eat Healthy Fats
Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, salmon and chia seeds, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system.
Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses
Eat Fermented Foods Or Take Probiotics
Gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract. These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto.
Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms.
If you don’t regularly eat fermented foods, probiotic supplements are another option.
Limit Added Sugars
Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet.
You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
When It Comes To Alcohol, Practice Moderation
Drinking high amounts of alcohol is associated with a range of negative health effects, including lowered immune function. When you drink high amounts of alcohol, your body is too busy trying to detoxify your system to bother with normal immune system function.
Engage In Moderate Exercise – (Outside When Possible)
Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost.
Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases, as well as viral and bacterial infections.
Exercise also increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure) making it a great way to manage stress. Since stress negatively impacts our immune system.
Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems.
Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.
Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness.
To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Water is recommended because it’s free of calories, additives, and sugar.
While tea and juice are also hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar content.
It’s important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately. Older adults need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
Keep Stress Under Control
A positive mindset is vital for health and well-being. Research shows that positive thoughts reduce stress and inflammation and increase resilience to infection — while negative emotions can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu.
Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health. Long-term stress not only promotes inflammation, it creates imbalances in immune cell function.
There are many effective stress-reduction techniques; the key is to find what works for you. Meditation (apps like Headspace and Calm can help), journaling, mindful practices like yoga and any activity that you enjoy (such as fishing, playing golf, or drawing). Try to do at least one stress-reducing activity every day. Short on time? Start small. Set aside five minutes at some point each day for fun and increase it when you can.
Your body absorbs and uses vitamins and nutrients better when they come from a dietary source. While vitamins and supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up on essential nutrients is to get them straight from food.
Saying that, if you do choose to supplement, here is an indication of supplements which may strengthen your body’s general immune response:
Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken and cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna. Vitamin B6 also is found in green vegetables and in chickpeas, which is the main ingredient in hummus.
Vitamin C. - is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, a lack of vitamin C can even make you more prone to getting sick. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli. Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce or store it. Taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day can reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
Vitamin D - a deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect – Sunshine also boosts vitamin D in the body, and you require approximately 30 minutes per day.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds and spinach.
Zinc - supplementing with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33% - although too much can be detrimental.
Elderberry – few studies have found that elderberry could reduce the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections. You can get this in a syrup, drizzle it over porridge or youghurt.
Echinacea. Those who take echinacea have been known to recover from colds slightly more quickly than those who do not. You can even get it in a sweetie form!
Garlic. A high quality, 12-week study in 146 people found that supplementing with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by about 30%.
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Eat Infection-Fighting Foods
Your body (including your immune system) runs on the fuel you put into it. That’s why eating well, along with several other good-for-you behaviours, is so important.
Put simply, it’s your immune system’s job to defend your body against illness and disease. The complex system is made up of cells in your skin, blood, bone marrow, tissues, and organs that — when working the way they should — protect your body against potentially harmful pathogens.
It’s also important to know that you build a strong immune system by maintaining healthy eating habits over time. You can’t just eat four oranges at breakfast and expect to be protected that day against catching a cold!
Below is a selection of foods to help maintain and improve a healthy immune system:
Blueberries contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties that can help boost a person’s immune system. Researchers found that people who ate foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection, or common cold, than those who did not.
Dark chocolate contains an antioxidant called theobromine, which may help to boost the immune system by protecting the body’s cells from free radicals.
Free radicals are molecules that the body produces when it breaks down food or comes into contact with pollutants. Despite its potential benefits, dark chocolate is high in calories and saturated fat, so it is important to eat it in moderation!
Turmeric is a yellow spice that many people use in cooking. It is also present in some alternative medicines. Consuming turmeric may improve a person’s immune response. This is due to the qualities of curcumin, a compound in turmeric.
Salmon, tuna and other oily fish are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Broccoli is another source of vitamin C. It also contains potent antioxidants, such as sulforaphane. For these reasons, it is a good choice of vegetable to eat regularly to support immune system health.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, a type of antioxidant that gives the skin of the potatoes its orange colour.
Beta carotene is a source of vitamin A. It helps to make skin healthy and may even provide some protection against skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Spinach may boost the immune system, as it contains many essential nutrients and antioxidants, including:
flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E. Research also indicates that flavonoids may help to prevent the common cold in otherwise healthy people.
Nutrition guidelines recommend adults consume 3 servings of dairy products per day. Low-fat yogurt can help meet your daily requirement for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and vitamin B2. Adequate levels of vitamin D and other nutrients are necessary for robust immune function. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidus. These strains boost immune function and may even help reduce both the length and severity of colds. Probiotics even help reduce eczema symptoms in babies.
People use ginger in a variety of dishes and desserts, as well as in teas. According to a review, ginger has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties and is likely to offer health benefits.
Garlic may help to prevent colds. Garlic is a common home remedy for the prevention of colds and other illness.
Green tea contains only a small amount of caffeine, so people can enjoy it as an alternative to black tea or coffee. Drinking it may also strengthen the immune system.
Watermelon is an immune-boosting fruit. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has 270 mg of potassium, 30% of the daily value of vitamin A, and 25% of the value of vitamin C. Calories in watermelon aren't much at all. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has just 80 calories. Watermelon also provides vitamin B6 and glutathione. The body needs these vitamins, nutrients, and compounds like glutathione for proper immune function.
Kefir is a fermented drink that contains live cultures of bacteria that are beneficial for health.
Sunflower seeds can make a tasty addition to salads or breakfast bowls. They are a rich source of vitamin E, an antioxidant.
Almonds are another excellent source of vitamin E. They also contain manganese, magnesium, and fiber.
Acai berry is a black-purple fruit that is derived from the acai palm tree in Brazil, Trinidad, and certain parts of South America. The fruit is high in anthocyanins. These flavonoid molecules are very potent antioxidants. They combat oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals. Antioxidants are credited with boosting immunity and lowering inflammation in the body. There's never been a better time to enjoy an acai bowl!
Oranges or kiwifruit
Oranges and kiwis are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is the vitamin that many people turn to when they feel a cold developing.
Red bell pepper
For people trying to avoid the sugar in fruit, red bell peppers are an excellent alternative source of vitamin C.
Mushrooms are high in selenium and B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin. These minerals and vitamins are necessary for the immune system to work in tip top form. Mushrooms are also high in polysaccharides, sugar-like molecules that boost immune function.
Pomegranate extracts have antiviral properties against the flu, herpes, and other viruses. In addition to fighting bad viruses and bacteria, there is evidence that pomegranate extracts promote the growth of beneficial gut flora that boosts the immune system including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
Here are some foods to consider when battling certain symptoms:
Bananas, and rice are known to soothe an upset stomach and curb diarrhoea. Black and green tea contain catechin, a phytochemical purported to have natural antibiotic and anti-diarrhoea effects, along with blueberries which are also high in natural aspirin, which may lower fevers and help with aches and pains.
Cranberries may help prevent bacteria from sticking to cells lining the bladder and urinary tract
Chilli peppers, mustard and horseradish may help break up mucus in air passages and lungs, whilst onions contain phytochemicals purported to help the body clear bronchitis and other infections.
Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
Like alcohol, cigarette smoking can also affect immune health. Anything that’s a toxin can compromise your immune system.
In particular, the chemicals released by cigarette smoke — carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides, and cadmium — can interfere with growth and function of immune cells, like cytokines, T cells, and B cells.
How to say “cya” to a cold quicker & relieve symptoms...
Know When Not To Treat Symptoms
Believe it or not, those annoying symptoms you're experiencing are part of the natural healing process -- evidence that the immune system is battling illness. For instance, a fever is your body's way of trying to kill viruses by creating a hotter-than-normal environment.
Also, a fever's hot environment makes germ-killing proteins in your blood circulate more quickly and effectively. Thus, if you endure a moderate fever for a day or two, you may actually get well faster.
Coughing is another productive symptom; it clears your breathing passages of thick mucus that can carry germs to your lungs and the rest of your body.
Even that stuffy nose is best treated mildly or not at all. A decongestant, like Sudafed, restricts flow to the blood vessels in your nose and throat. But often you want the increase blood flow because it warms the infected area and helps secretions carry germs out of your body.
Blow Your Nose Often (The Right Way)
It's important to blow your nose regularly when you have a cold rather than sniffling mucus back into your head. But when you blow hard, pressure can carry germ-carrying phlegm back into your ear passages, causing earache. The best way to blow your nose: Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other.
Treat That Stuffy Nose With Warm Salt Water
Salt-water rinsing helps break nasal congestion, while also removing virus particles and bacteria from your nose. Try mixing 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Use a bulb syringe or nasal irrigation kit to squirt water into the nose. Hold one nostril closed by applying light finger pressure while squirting the salt mixture into the other nostril. Let it drain. Repeat two to three times, then treat the other nostril.
Stay Warm And Rested
Staying warm and resting when you first come down with a cold or the flu helps your body direct its energy toward the immune battle. This battle taxes the body. So give it a little help by resting.
Gargling can moisten a sore throat and bring temporary relief. Gargle with half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces warm water, four times daily.
To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle - such as tea that contains tannin - to tighten the membranes. Or use a thick, viscous gargle made with honey or honey and apple cider vinegar. Seep one tablespoon of lemon juice in two cups of hot water; mix with one teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling.
Drink Hot Liquids
Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. If you're so congested that you can't sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy. Make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot (about 1 ounce) of whiskey or bourbon. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol will inflame the membranes and make you feel worse.
Take A Steamy Shower
Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and may help you relax. If you're dizzy from the flu, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby and take a sponge bath.
Use A Salve Under Your Nose
A small dab of mentholated salve under your nose can help to open breathing passages and restore the irritated skin at the base of the nose. Menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor all have mild numbing ingredients that may help relieve the pain of a nose rubbed raw. However, only put it on the outside, under your nose, not inside your nose.
Apply Hot Or Cold Packs Around Your Congested Sinuses
Either temperature works. You can buy reusable hot or cold packs or make your own. You can apply heat by taking a damp washcloth and heating it for 55 seconds in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it's not too hot.) A small bag of frozen peas works well as a cold pack.
Sleep With An Extra Pillow Under Your Head
Elevating your head will help relieve congested nasal passages. If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
Don't Fly Unless Necessary
There's no point adding stress to your already stressed-out upper respiratory system, and that's what the change in air pressure will do. Flying with cold or flu congestion can temporarily damage your eardrums as a result of pressure changes during take-off and landing. If you must fly, use a decongestant and carry a nasal spray with you to use just before take-off and landing. Chewing gum and swallowing frequently can also help relieve pressure.
The Bottom Line
You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes today to strengthen your immune system.
These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing your stress levels.