4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Immune System
You notice when a virus makes you sick, but what you probably don't know is most important.
You wear a toque in the winter, and eat your vegetables, but there’s more you could be doing to boost your immune system and prevent viruses, like influenza, from making you sick. Hold on! How healthy is your immune system, these days? If you’ve been feeling tired, eating out, or stressed, it’s likely your immune system isn’t at its best, leaving you susceptible to disease. Here’s what you need to know about your immune system and virus prevention.
4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Immune System
1. Take a snooze
2. Eat Microbes
3. Seek out Plants
4. Crack a Smile
How does the Immune System Work?
There’s three parts to your immune system. Mucosal and skin cells act as a physical barrier between you and the outside world. It’s your first line of defense. If a virus, or another pathogen, manages to invade these defenses the body’s the innate immune system kicks in. This second layer of defense involves macrophages, a type of white blood cells, in the mucosal and skin. When a macrophage recognize proteins on a virus or pathogen, it activates a domino-like set of signals that spread word to various parts of the immune system to launch an inflammation-based attack. If the virus or pathogen evades this second line of defense, the adaptive immune system is ready. This third line of defense can provide a tailored response to rid the body of an invading virus or pathogen. The adaptive immune system uses special immune cells, called T and B cells, which use antigens (markers on foreign invaders) to launch a targeted attack. A whole army of defensive specialists are recruited, including helper-T cells and macrophages, which destroy and eliminate an invading virus.
When the body becomes infected with a virus, the central nervous system responds by increasing body temperature, a symptom we call a fever. This adaptive change, along with fatigue and sleepiness, aid in recovery from infection.
Why do you get a cough or runny nose with a virus?
Pass the tissues! The throat and upper respiratory tract are lined with a mucosal layer. Its function is similar to that of sticky fly tape – it traps pathogens. Sometimes it is effective. Some viruses, such as influenza, can evade this defense. Influenza has the ability to break down parts of the mucosal layer so it doesn’t become trapped. If a virus reaches the epithelium (body cells that lie beneath the mucosal layer) it can invade a cell, using it like a manufacturing plant to create more copies of the virus. Oh, no! Achoo! And, with that sneeze, the virus gets the chance to transmit to another person and the process starts all over again.
4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Immune System
It is possible to boost your immune system. This can help the immune system do a better job of preventing virus infections. Boost your immune system with these 4 easy healthy lifestyle tips:
1. Take a Snooze: Virus Prevention
Many of us don’t sleep very much, or struggle with sleep disturbances. That’s concerning since getting enough sleep boosts your immune system’s ability to defend off viruses. When a study gave a group of tired American adults a viral challenge, the researchers found they were more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections (e.g. the common cold, influenza). Not getting enough sleep not only increases your risk of infection, researchers have found it can make your infection outcome (how sick you get and for how long) worse. Do you get enough sleep? Insufficient sleep is a widespread and prominent problem in the modern 24-hour lifestyle.
Yes, you can hit the snooze button one more time. According to the Center for Disease Control, adults need to sleep 7 or more hours a night. The best way to do that is go to bed earlier. It’s worth it! (Netflix will still be there tomorrow). Not only does insufficient sleep causes a weakness of the immune system, a significant amount of evidence shows it derails almost all the body’s systems. Not getting enough sleep is linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in United States, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and obesity. This makes bedtime look like it should be a bigger priority.
Way to Fall Asleep, Backed by Science
Do you have trouble sleeping? Try adjusting some lifestyle factors that may be a problem: reduce caffeine, earlier bedtime, and limit light in the evening. Reducing stress and increasing daily physical exercise can improve your ability to sleep. There are some natural medicines that help with sleepy time troubles. Research shows magnesium, melatonin and GABA help reduce the time needed to fall asleep. Well, all that’s left to say is, “Night-night!”.
2. Eat Microbes: How Probiotics Boost the Immune System
Does microbes sound gross? This might change your mind. Clinical trials have shown positive effects of probiotics (good microbes) on commonly occurring respiratory tract infections, such as the flu and the common cold. Experts are even reporting the consumption of good microbes, could significantly reduce pressure on the health care system and boost the economy. The science is still new, but probiotics are a natural product that may help ward off the flu and common cold.
Kids are the ones most commonly seen with runny noses and upper respiratory tract infections. In a review of 23 clinical trials involving over 6000 children, beneficial gut microbes, called probiotics, were effective in the prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections. Check this out, parents! Compared to kids who didn’t supplement with probiotics, the kids who did missed fewer days of school and spent less time sick with respiratory tract infections.
How do probiotics in your gut help infections in your throat and airways? The largest part of your immune system is situated just near your gut lining. The microbes that live in your gut thus are in close proximity to have a major influence on the body’s immune system status. Large numbers of studies have concluded that the beneficial microbes in the gut have a positive effect on the strength of one’s immune system, and can even influence the type of response the immune system has to a pathogen. Perhaps that helps you want to put microbes on your menu.
3. Seek Out Plants: Natural Immune Boosters
Naturally rich in nutrients, plants are worth seeking out on a daily basis. Your immune system needs lots of nutrients to create the cells and important messengers vital to the highly complicated and finely coordinated assault it launches against a virus. You probably already know that onions, citrus, and berries help boost your immune system. Medical experts suggest it’s also worth learning about other nutrients, such as vitamin B-6 (chickpeas, green vegetables, cold water fish) and vitamin E (nuts, seeds, spinach) as all essential nutrients are needed by the body for it to be at its best. Conveniently, eating a wide variety of plants, in their whole food form, is an excellent source of essential nutrients. Reach for vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans often. In particular, some natural foods get top marks for their immune boosting ability, including turmeric, garlic, ginger and echinacea. Astralagus has also been used in herbal medicine to help maintain a healthy immune system, and for frequent colds. Vitamin C, D, echinacea zinc have significant research showing they support the three main parts of the immune system (physical barriers, innate and adaptive). Seek out plants and nutrients that help you and your kids naturally boost your immune systems, and stay healthy!
4. Crack a Smile: How to Avoid Infection
Does smiling really help you fight off a virus? Mental health affects how well your immune system works. Happiness is more than a feeling. Positive mental health causes a cascade of biological responses in the body that includes cortisol, a hormone that beneficially effects the immune system.
A significant amount of research has looked into the effects of a person’s psychological wellbeing and their body’s resilience to infection:
- A mother’s kiss makes a child feel better. Clinical evidence has found that empathizing with a child who is sick has a positive psychosocial impact that causes a beneficial biological response; a decrease in the child’s inflammatory markers.
- When listening to some music it’s hard not to tap your toe and find your mood improves. When cancer patients participated in music therapy, there was an increase in their body’s levels of many factors involved in boosting the immune system’s response.
- Studies of patients with HIV/AIDs found that when their positive wellbeing increased from supportive group therapies, the activity of their natural killer cells increased. Natural killer cells are the ultimate, bad-guy destroying superheroes of your immune system.
What To Do When You Get Sick
If you become sick, seek advice of a qualified health professional. And, remember that Grandma was right: get some rest and drink water. When you are suffering from a respiratory track infection using a humidifier to add moisture into your dry, winter bedroom can help you feel more comfortable. As for natural remedies, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) can be helpful when you get sick. Supplementation with elderberry was found to reduce symptoms of cold and flu symptoms in over 180 participants in clinical trials. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) has traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve cold symptoms Mushrooms, in particular the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), contain beta-glucans which are one of the most studied immunomodulators. Studies have shown beta-glucans boost the immune system and enhance its ability to ward off infections of the upper respiratory track.
Natural Remedies for the Common Cold and Flu Backed by Science
When your immune system is strong your body has a better chance of fighting off an infectious disease, such as influenza or other viruses. Lifestyle choices, such as getting enough sleep, and working on your mental wellbeing can also help. Plus, you can boost your kid's immune system and yours by eating plenty of plants in their whole food form, and using natural medicines.
Written by Allison Tannis MSc RHN
Science geek turned writer, this mom is one geeky gal you’d want to have dinner with. The author of 5 internationally sold books on health and wellness, you can catch Allison's latest blogs at www.allisontannis.com and daily antics on social media @deliciouslygeeky.
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