Our immune system is a complex system that is designed to protect our body from invading pathogens, like bacteria and viruses. While the system is complex, helping it to function at its best is simple. You just have to build the foundation to be strong, and your body will take it from there, naturally. Here are a few tips to help you build a strong foundation for a good immune system.
1. Nourish your microbiome —Our digestive tract is often the front line of our immune system. When you ingest any pathogenic bacteria or virus, your digestive system will either absorb it or it will continue to pass through the system without causing any harm.
The way to help your body to avoid absorbing these “bad” bacteria is to make sure that your digestive system is filled with healthy microbes to crowd out the bad guys. You can do this by actually providing more healthy (aka probiotic) bacteria by eating foods like yogurt, sauerkraut (the non-pastuerized kind!), kefir, and miso or taking a probiotic dietary supplement. You can also help to maintain these healthy microbes by eating lots of prebiotic fibers from foods like apples, bananas, asparagus, onions, chicory root, gum acacia, etc. Prebiotics are basically the food for healthy bacteria, so incorporating lots of them into your diet helps to keep your microbiome filled with good bacteria rather than bad.
2. Eat lots of polyphenols and antioxidants—our immune system relies heavily on antioxidants to keep it going and these are provided by our diet. The best sources of these immune-nourishing compounds are brightly colored fruits and vegetables, teas and coffees and standardized dietary supplements, like olive leaf extract.
3. Get enough sleep—important compounds that are involved in targeting infection and inflammation are produced and released during sleep. When you are sleep deprived, your body doesn’t make enough of these compounds. There’s lots of research to show that people who are chronically sleep deprived get sick more often, so snuggle up and catch more z’s!
4. Stress Less!—this may be easier said than done, but a body that is in a continual state of stress does not respond to immune challenges as well as it could. Plus, high stress often leads us to do other unhealthy behaviors like drinking excessive alcohol and not sleeping enough. Try to incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, walking or just talking to someone (great friends and/or a therapist are great ways to help with stress management).
Try incorporating some of these healthy behaviors into your life and see how you feel. As with most elements of wellness, there isn’t one single thing to eat or do that will fix your immune system, so start simple and build a good foundation.