Written by Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, Chief Medical Officer
Here are five simple ways that can help to help boost your immune function:
Nutrition mattersLoad up on antioxidants! Antioxidants are substances that protect every cell in our bodies from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells and facilitate diseases including cancer, heart disease and infection. Vitamin C, found abundantly in citrus, is a well-known antioxidant, in addition to Vitamin E, zinc and carotenoids. Plant based foods including boldly colored fruits and vegetables are also natural sources. As they say, “eat the rainbow.” Supplements are also available for those with limited dietary intake.
The Mediterranean diet, often favored for heart health and immunity, is also naturally high in antioxidants. Avoidance of processed foods, fatty meats and salt, with a keen focus on whole grains, fruits and veggies, is recommended.
While this may be surprising to some, the gut is a central site for immune function. Yogurt and other fermented foods will help to maintain good gut bacteria. Probiotics containing lactobacilli may also be helpful to boost immunity and aid in digestion, too.
Get good sleepSleep is when our bodies undergo cellular repair and regeneration. At least 7-8 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep is recommended nightly. In fact, studies have suggested that those who get too little or poor quality sleep are more susceptible to the common cold virus and may have a slower recovery from viral illness in general. Right now, you might be finding it to be more difficult to unwind from your day, so be sure to set aside time before bed to distance yourself from the news and social media. Try reading that book you’ve been waiting to get around to and sleep tight! Those Z's are a natural immune-booster.
We all have unavoidable stress in our lives. These days, this is an understatement. Significant and seemingly unrelenting stress causes our adrenal glands to secrete corticosteroids, constantly. This suppresses the immune response, specifically the ability of white blood cells to fight infection. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, paced breathing, and mindfulness are wonderful stress reducers. Take some time to try one, or several!
Avoid immune depressorsSmoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor dietary choices can depress immune function. Tobacco use increases free radicals and can cause cellular damage. Nicotine increases cortisol levels, which diminishes the immune response. Don’t smoke. Vaping may also damage lungs and increase susceptibility to infection.
Remember to get plenty of fresh air, as pollution is not immune friendly. Avoid excessive sun exposure, which can cause cell damage and have negative immune effects. Optimize your hygiene to boost your immunity. Good and frequent hand washing with soap and water works wonders. Establish these small adjustments as part of your daily routine and start improving your immunity.
Embrace family, friends and community
This piece of advice should come as no surprise. Loneliness can impair your immune system. One study suggested that even simply hugging someone can reduce stress and reduce susceptibility to illness.
And there’s more good news – sex can help boost your immunity, too. Researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania were able to show that college students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of a certain antibody compared to students who had sex less often. Sexual activity, whether alone or with a partner may help that immune system.
It’s time to get busy and focus on staying healthy! And remember, while we all are practicing some form of social distancing at the moment, there are still ways to surround yourself with friends and family, be it in person, or virtually.