As we continue through this season of life with the threat of getting sick, and people begin to go back into their offices for work or send the kids back to school, I wanted to take a minute to talk through how we can support our bodies for optimal immune function. I hope you find this helpful and implement some of these behaviors into your lifestyle or are able to minimize some of the behaviors that weaken us. Stay well, friends!
What helps boost your immune system?
- Sunlight & Vitamin D absorption
- Proper Nutrition & Gut Health
- Efficient Sleep
- Exercise – may help increase glutathione levels, but overtraining paired with a poor diet and not enough sleep will put stress on your body and deplete your levels.
Continue down below to read about how each of these lifestyle factors can help you, as well as tips on how to incorporate them.
What weakens your immune system?
Below are some lifestyle behaviors and factors that have been proven to weaken the immune system. You’ll want to avoid these if/when possible, or try and adjust your lifestyle to increase things like sleep and vitamin D.
- Eating too much sugar
- Not getting enough sleep
- Vitamin D deficiencies (can be detrimental)
- Excessive Alcohol
- Taking unnecessary medications
If you think about when you’re most likely to get sick, it’s typically during the winter when you’re not exposed to the sun as much, therefore when you’re likely to have lowered vitamin D levels. Summer is typically the least sickly season due to higher levels of the population getting more sun exposure. About 40% of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency.
When you expose your skin to the sun without a protective barrier like sunblock, sunscreen or clothing, your skin is able to absorb the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which hit cholesterol in the skin cells, and provide energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.
Vitamin D is important for controlling infections and lowering risk for flu and the common cold. Research shows supplementation in high doses lowers the risk of respiratory illnesses and lung infections in elderly by 40%.
Sunlight is possibly the best way to get Vitamin D, as there are very few foods that contain vitamin D naturally. Those foods are cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and sardines. Depending on genetics, some people are unable to absorb vitamin D efficiently from supplements, so back to the sun we go! The sun is such a gift.
The best time of the day to get vitamin D from the sun is midday, which is perfect for a lunch break! At midday, the sun is at its highest point, so you will need less time in the sun, making it safer.
Everyone will need different amounts of time to absorb the proper amount of Vitamin D. Lighter skinned people need less time and darker skinned people will need more time in the sun, as they have more melanin, which is a compound that protects their skin by reducing the amount of UVB light absorbed, therefore causing lower vitamin D levels.
You can download the Dminder app on your phone to find out the best time of the day and length of time you should be out in the sun based on your skin type, geographic location and time of the year.
When getting tested for Vitamin D, many doctors suggest a healthy range is between 60 ng/ML to 80 ng/ML.
Proper Nutrition & Gut Health
Eating a diet full of wholesome foods can be beneficial in supplying your body with the right nutrients it needs to maintain proper immune function. When you eat fresh, whole food sources like fruits, vegetables and properly raised meats, your body absorbs the nutrients more efficiently than supplements and processed foods. Try to include as much variety as you can and make your plate colorful.
Nutrition plays a vital role in viral infection prevention. There are a few key nutrients that are known to be immune-boosting and help fight against infections.
Since white blood cell production is key to fighting infection, you’ll want to eat plenty of vitamin C. You can find high levels in citrus fruits, strawberries and kiwi, and in vegetables like sweet red peppers, broccoli and kale.
You’ll also want to make sure your antibodies are responding efficiently to toxins (i.e. a virus). Anti-inflammatory vitamins such as Vitamin A can help with this, and beta-carotene converts into Vitamin A. Eat vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato, squash and kale, and the following fruits – apricots and cantaloupe to get your beta-carotene in. You’ll want to pair your beta-carotene foods with healthy fats to help your body absorb the vitamin A, so mix in or pair some avocado or olive oil with the foods mentioned previously.
Another helpful vitamin in supporting your immune system is Vitamin E. Be sure to include avocado, spinach, nuts and seeds in your diet.
Keep your gut healthy with natural probiotics by eating yogurt (organic, full fat), kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso (organic), kombucha (look for low-sugar), and pickles to name a few. You can also take a probiotic supplement such as Just Thrive.
Maintain your vitamin B-6 levels, as they help form new, healthy red blood cells and aid in keeping up your lymphatic system. Eat bananas, chickpeas, chicken, turkey, wild-caught salmon and tuna.
And finally, be sure to include zinc in your diet! If you like oysters, then you’re in luck because they contain the highest amounts of zinc naturally. You can also eat other shellfish, red meat, beans and poultry as natural sources.
Based on all of these foods, you can see how a diverse diet can really help support your immune system and provide the different nutrients your body needs to fight off the bad guys. Be sure to take time to enjoy your meal and appreciate each bite – the practice of mindful eating can help you de-stress, as well as cause you to slow down and allow recognition of when you’re getting full.
As you know, when you get sick, you feel tired and that’s because the immune system stimulates the sleep system as a natural way to make you rest so that your body can battle the infection. Reduced sleep can strip your body of immune resilience.
In a study done at the University of California, San Francisco, 150 men and women were injected with the common cold virus. The doctor separated the groups based on how much sleep they had had the week prior, and found that the less sleep the individual had, the more likely they were to catch the cold. Those who had slept 5 hours on average had an infection rate of almost 50%, and individuals who had 7 hours of sleep on average had an infection rate of just 18%.
Skimping on sleep can definitely cause immune deficiency, and studies show even just one bad night can reduce immune function. Prioritize 7-9 hours of sleep every. single. night. If you know you take a while to fall asleep or wake up some throughout the night, you’ll need to increase your window that you are in bed to compensate for the time that you’re not actually sleeping. For example, my sleep data from my Oura ring (and previously fitbit) show that I’m awake on average 30-45 minutes, so I know I need to aim to be in bed for at least 8-9 hours to get more than 7 hours of quality sleep.
Sleep tips include:
- Expose your eyes to sunlight outside in the morning even if only for 10 minutes – this helps regulate your circadian rhythm (go for a short walk outside or drink your coffee outside, weather permitting of course)
- Incorporate movement throughout the day
- Avoid blue light in the late afternoon and evening (laptops, phones, tv, etc) – wear high quality blue light blocking glasses
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon + evening
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime
- Keep your room clean so that it’s a relaxing environment
- Stop eating a few hours before bed
- Keep the temp cool
- Block out all light in your bedroom including electronic devices by using black out stickers, or wear an eye mask
- Go to sleep + wake at the same time each day
- A few sleep enhancers include chamomile, lavender essential oil, magnesium and CBD among others
Movement helps support the lymphatic system, which helps eliminate waste products, toxins, cancer cells, and other substances and is closely tied to our immune function.
The lymphatic system produces, stores and carries white blood cells in lymph fluid throughout your body. Because your body doesn’t naturally pump the lymph fluid through your body, the lymph system depends on your movement to squeeze it through the body.
Activating the lymphatic system through movement allows the white blood cells and other immune cells to properly move through your body and do their job.
Some examples of exercise & movement that help with immune function are:
- Rebounding (essentially jumping on a trampoline)
- Dry Brushing
- Deep-Breathing Exercises
Adequate water intake helps your body to remove toxins from the body and helps with the lymphatic system as well. If you’re lymphatic fluid becomes too thick from not being hydrated, it has a hard time moving through the body to help get those white blood cells and immune cells to where they need to go, which makes it hard to get rid of and infection.
Water also moisturizes our eyes and mouths, which can help prevent infection from getting into our bodies and attacking our immune system. Think about how washing our hands works, the water helps wash away the bad stuff, so we want our bodies to naturally be able to do the same. Even using a saline nasal spray is helpful to potentially wash out viruses and bacteria that might be breathed in upon exposure.
Tips for if you’re exposed to someone with illness or feel like you’re getting sick:
- Get sunlight or take cod liver oil supplements for Vitamin D
- Increase Zinc supplementation
- Increase Vitamin C supplementation
- Eat Raw Garlic
- Drink Lemon Water
- Utilize Oregano oil from a trusted source
- Take Elderberry supplements (some include C and Zinc, so be mindful not to double up if taking separate sources)
- Avoid Sugar
- Increase water intake to help your lymph system get your white blood cells to where they need to be in your body to fight infection.
- Increase Glutathione (a very important antioxidant) Levels by doing the following
- Consume sulfer-rich foods to help promote glutathione production such as such as beef, fish, poultry, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, watercress, mustard greens, garlic, shallots and onions.
- Increase Vitamin C intake by eating Strawberries, citrus fruits, papayas, kiwis and bell peppers. This will help maintain your glutathione levels.
- Eat Selenium-Rich foods to help maintain your glutathione levels. Foods include beef, chicken, fish, organ meats, cottage cheese, brown rice and Brazil nuts.
- Eat foods that are naturally high in glutathione like Spinach, avocados, asparagus and okra because supplemental glutathione is not fully absorbed by the body.
- Milk thistle supplements may be helpful
- Turmeric Extract may increase glutathione levels
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid Alcohol intake
- Avoid taking Tylenol if possible, as it depletes glutathione