Looking to rev up your immune system? Whatever you do, don’t wait until winter — and don’t wait until you’ve come down with the cold or flu. The key to warding off pathogens is to implement some tried-and-true immunity secrets in your life and stay consistent.
What are these little wellness and lifestyle secrets that pay big immune-enhancing dividends? If you want to be victorious against the bad guys, consider this your A to Z guide. All of these tips are easy, practical, and 100% natural. Check, check, and check!
An adaptogen is a natural substance considered to help the body acclimate to stress and to exert a harmonizing effect upon its many functions. Basically, an adaptogen “adapts” its functions according to what your body needs. One of the most well-known adaptogens is ashwagandha. Backed by an extensive and impressive track record of therapeutic applications in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, ashwagandha is well known for its ability to normalize mood and energy levels, thereby minimizing stress and anxiety. Studies in humans also have uncovered that ashwagandha increases the activity of immune cells that fight infection and help you stay healthy. You can take ashwagandha as a tea, powder, or daily herbal supplement; just remember to first talk to your doctor, especially if you’re currently taking medications.
Exercise can be your ally in preventing illness and maximizing the immune system’s powers. The release of endorphins that your brain experiences when you physically exert yourself is often referred to as a “runner’s high.” Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger. They help relieve pain and stress, but they also play a role in proper immune function. Most immune cells have endorphin receptors and rely on endorphins to perform optimally. Endorphins activate the immune system by triggering white blood cells — the cells that help protect your body against disease and infection.
You don’t have to be a runner to reap the benefits of these feel-good chemicals. Any aerobic workout, including tennis, cycling, or other exercise that elevates your heart rate, is going to fire up your endorphins.
A bright, bold root vegetable, beets are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need to help support a healthy immune system. They’re teeming with vitamin C, folate (vitamin B9), potassium, iron, and manganese, and high levels of nitrates. But, if you just don’t like the flavor of beets or don’t want the hassle of having to cook them, a quality beetroot powder is the way to go. You can easily incorporate beetroot powder into your morning smoothie or afternoon ‘green juice’ and still get all of the amazing nutrients.
Black Cumin Seed Oil
Extracted from the seeds of Nigella sativa plant, black cumin seed oil is a true superfood. It has a long history of being used as a digestive aid and as a therapy for colds, headaches, infections, and other conditions. Today, we know that black cumin seed oil contains more than 100 powerful nutrients — including omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids and amino acids, as well as an impressive array of minerals (calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and phosphorous) and vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and folic acid) — that may assist in alleviating a variety of health conditions.
Three of its active compounds – nigellone, thymoquinone, and thymohydroquinone – have been studied extensively for their extraordinary capabilities in the body. These and other compounds found in black cumin seed oil may be particularly beneficial for immune support, general health, and antioxidant protection.
Like beetroot powder, you can add it to your smoothies for an extra kick of immune support. Or, take a quality herbal supplement (under the direction of your physician).
Black Maca Powder
Antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense maca is a radish-like root vegetable native to the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia. Like ashwagandha, maca is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body maintain normal levels of functioning. Maca is known for its abundance of calcium, iron, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorous, and an assortment of vitamins including C, E, B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin). Maca also is known for its macamides, compounds which promote blood circulation throughout the body. This robust root is a complete protein, providing over 20 amino acids — including all eight essential amino acids that your body needs, but can’t produce on its own. For a quick fix, look for maca in a supplement or powder form, which can be blended into smoothies quickly. When shopping for a powder, look for one with no synthetic ingredients, preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
Curb Your Stress
Have you ever gotten a cold, flu, or infection following an intense bout of stress? Occasional stress is normal. However, too much chronic stress over time can squash your immune system’s ability to fight off invaders. While we can’t avoid stress, you can take active measures to mitigate it. Think of all the things that relax you. Is it reading? A game of golf? Walking the dog in the park? Painting? When the tension starts to rise, turn to one or more of your stress-busting activities.
Dump the Alcohol
There is evidence that drinking too much alcohol disrupts the body’s immune function and increases your vulnerability to illness, including pneumonia and other infections. These disruptions can weaken the immune system’s ability to defend against invaders and decrease your levels of T-cells, which are the body’s natural virus fighters.
Ease Cold Symptoms With Elderberry
Elderberry has been proven to help improve cold and flu symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat, and cough. For cold and flu prevention, as well as shortening the duration and severity of those illnesses, this herb is an immune-boosting powerhouse. Elderberry comes in both a supplement form and a syrup.
It’s true: healthier gut, better immunity. The good bacteria, or gut flora, that populates the intestines, plays a powerful role in the health of your immune system. In fact, your gut is home to about 50 to 80 percent of your immune system.
How can you nourish your gut in a way that will promote stronger immune function? Eat a variety of fermented foods. These are foods that enhance gut health by introducing healthy bacteria to the digestive system so they can defend against harmful bacteria or viruses. Some fermented options include kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
Get Your Best Rest
Less sleep and poor quality sleep can increase your risk of developing a cold. In one study published in the journal Sleep, the participants who averaged five or six hours of sleep nightly were four times more likely to catch a cold than people who slept at least seven hours per night. Listen to your body. If it’s crying out for more shut-eye, or if you’re feeling more run down than usual, turn out the lights and turn down the bed an hour earlier tonight.
Eat More Mushrooms
Mushrooms possess a number of immune-enhancing properties, including vitamins B, C, and D, and beta-glucans. A beta glucan is a natural polysaccharide that is classified as an immuno-modulator. This means it has the power to “modulate” or alter your immune system to make it as efficient as possible. Medicinal mushrooms like reishi and shiitake are great-tasting and make a flavorful addition to soups, omelets, and stir-fry dishes.
Turn to Turmeric
Characterized by its vibrant orange to intense yellow color, turmeric is a native Indian root. It’s most well known for possessing a polyphenol known as curcumin, a compound that helps tame inflammation in the body. Turmeric can be purchased as a spice for use in cooking. Because turmeric is fat-soluble, make sure to cook it with a healthy fat such as olive oil, nuts, avocado, or coconut oil. It can also be found as a supplement. If you choose to go the supplement route, be sure the formula contains black pepper, which is necessary for bodily absorption and for activation of the curcumin.
What’s Your Vitamin D Level?
Approximately 75% of Americans have less than adequate levels of Vitamin D , an important immune-supporting vitamin. According to research, a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity and an increased susceptibility to infection. However, it can be a challenge to eat your way to optimal vitamin D levels or to get it from the sun’s rays. If you’re struggling to get enough Vitamin D through your diet, ask your doctor about taking a high-quality supplement like Vitamin D3.
Robust Immunity Starts With You
Ready to ramp up your immune system? As you can see from this list, certain diet and lifestyle changes can give you the immunity advantage and send pathogens packing. Always talk to your doctor beforehand to confirm if adding an herbal supplement or medicinal mushrooms to your diet is right for you, especially if you’re currently using medications.