As this pandemic continues, we all want to stay safe and healthy. That means not only taking as many measures to avoid contact with the virus (or other people) as possible. It also means that more people are interested in improving their immune systems.
We’ve all been effected by this in some way during the past year. By now, we’re likely acutely aware that viruses like COVID-19 can invade anyone, regardless of their current health state. The severity of symptoms, however, depends greatly on how much stress your body is already under, and the strength of your immune system. So how does one go about improving their immune system?
The bad news is that you can’t improve your immune system overnight.
There is no magic wand or bullet that you can use to suddenly be the health equivalent of Superman. A vaccine will probably help most people where this particular virus is concerned, but it certainly won’t improve your overall health or make you less likely to suffer from any future illness. That kind of immune system support, we’ve got to take control of that with our own choices.
There are lots of supposed tricks out there, but sadly, eating more garlic and onions will not boost your immunity to anything except possibly vampires. It just doesn’t work like that. The state of your immune system is the result of what’s happened over the course of your whole life. A lifetime of cause and effect can’t be undone in a week. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
The very good news is that we can indeed do a lot to lessen the burden on our own immune systems.
There are practical steps that we can take to lower our chances of getting seriously ill from this virus, as well as similar situations in the future. Here are some tips for how to improve your immune system over the long-term.
1. Talk to your doctor about alternative options if you’re on immunosuppressant drugs.
This may seem obvious, but immunosuppressant drugs, such as Prednisone or biologics, lower your chances of fighting off a virus. Your immune system is suppressed and as such, your body’s ability to fight off any illness is diminished.
There are situations where these drugs are non-negotiable, such as after an organ transplant, but they’re often prescribed for auto-immune conditions when other treatment options may be just as effective. When there’s a deadly virus on the loose, the threat from outside is more urgent, and your doctor may be willing to work with you on other options so that your immune system can work at its full capacity right now.
2. Get more sleep.
Even one night of sleep deprivation (3.5 hours of sleep) has been shown to decrease our vital T cells, the first line of defense for the immune system, by 70%.*
Sleep is crucial to the regulation of hormones and immune responses in your body, so even if you don’t feel very tired, your body still needs rest. Seven hours seems to be adequate for producing all the necessary healing and hormonal effects most of us need each night. The key is, go to sleep in time to get at least seven hours. If you find yourself going to sleep at midnight and waking up at at 6 without an alarm, don’t panic. Some people do just fine on less than 7 hours. Just let your body tell you. Don’t stay up so late that you have to force yourself to wake up. That’s going to impair your ability to fight off illness.
3. Eat more healthy fat.
Healthy fats, from naturally oily things like avocados, olives, coconuts, or animals, are essential for a healthy immune system. Part of immunity comes from being able to fight off foreign invading pathogens, but the other part of it is repairing any damaged cells. That’s where the fat comes in handy. Cell walls are made of fat. Cholesterol, to be precise. If your body doesn’t contain enough of this important nutrient, you won’t be able to repair your cells as quickly as you should.
4. Don’t put inflammatory things into your body.
Adding more “healthy” things to your diet won’t help if you don’t stop taking in the unhealthy things. It’s obvious that smoking and hard alcohol are good steps to take, but for some reason we’re taught that food is all okay. We’ve been conditioned to think of food as just different amounts of calories, when in reality, calories have less impact on our health than almost any other aspect of food.
If you want to give your body the best chance to fight off outside invaders, it’s good to start by not invading yourself. Cutting back as much as possible on canola oil, sugar, white potatoes, wheat, and processed meats are all great places to start. These are all highly inflammatory to your digestive tract. They are all common triggers for autoimmune conditions, which means they’re adding to the work your immune system already has to do. Replace them with foods that have been shown to support a healthy body and immune system, such as the healthy fats mentioned above, herbs like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, fermented foods, or simple foods like leafy greens or root vegetables. The less damage you’re doing to yourself, the more your immune system can focus on fighting outside invaders like a virus.
Ultimately, social distancing, anti-bacterial soaps, wearing your mask, and/or the vaccine are likely the most effective measures to keep you safe right now. But wouldn’t it be good if we could learn more about how to improve our long-term health from this troubling experience? Our immune system is here to help us, but it can’t live up to its full potential if we aren’t supporting it day after day with a healthy lifestyle.
Our Reframe Wellness team is always available as a resource for any questions about improving your immune system and other health-related questions. Just reply to this post or reach us through our “Contact Us” page.
*Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Jul2012, Vol. 1261 Issue 1, p97-106.
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