Along with 3 other doctors, I shared my best tips on how to strengthen your immune system in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle. During the current pandemic, keeping your health in tip top shape is essential.
One thing to note—immune boosting often be misunderstood. One’s immune system is developed mainly during the earliest part of life, starting with immunity conferred by mother to child during the third trimester of pregnancy and later through breast milk and challenges to the adaptive immune system into adulthood through which the body fights and learns (read “strengthens”) throughout the remainder of life. The idea that we can take a Chevy and turn it into a Ferrari is not possible…yet. But have no fear, we can definitely assist it with the tips below.
“Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet,” Shannon Sovndal, M.D, shares. “It really comes down to fundamentals—the things your mom and grandma told you. Eat healthfully. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid stress (as much as possible). Don’t put your hands in your mouth (or nose). And for God’s sake, wash your hands!”
“Regular sleep—seven to nine hours nightly—and during roughly the same period, daily exercise and proper nutrition (including hydration) are keys to maintaining health and a well-functioning system.” Dr. Sovndal’s adds.
Eat foods that are shown to boost your immune system. Dr. Raphael Kellman lists lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, organic eggs and poultry, and wild-caught seafood as options. He also suggests natural probiotics like sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir, unsweetened greek yogurt, and fermented vegetables. Along with those foods, natural probiotics are also a good food, as they nourish the healthy bacteria. Dandelion greens, asparagus, garlic, jicama, and Jerusalem artichoke are all sources of natural probiotics.
While it is usually a good idea to stay away from processed foods, it’s extra crucial when it comes to taking care of your immune system. “Processed foods lack nourishment and can take the place of nourishing foods that would support the immune system,” Dr. Joan Ifland Ph.D. says.
While it’s okay to slip up from time to time, Dr. Ifland warns not to make it a habit. “When it happens frequently and the immune system is habitually deprived of nutrients, then the immune system cannot function to fight off viruses. When this happens, instead of having a mild case of the flu where symptoms are contained by your vigorous immune system, you could end up in the hospital because the virus has overwhelmed a weak immune system. When a powerful virus like coronavirus is on the loose, we all want our immune systems to be in top condition.”
While supplements can be helpful when one is deficient, they are not miracle workers. “A lot of people have tons of suggestions based on vitamins, herbs and supplements, but none have consistently shown to give any real benefit if you’re living the lifestyle above,” Dr. Sovndal explains. Dr. Parikh agrees, “No supplements have been linked to immune boosting, but you should take vitamin D if you are low or deficient, as low levels can affect your immune system.”
There’s been evidence that links gut health to brain health, emotional health, cardiovascular health, and more. Not only that, but your microbiome is linked to your immune system. Keeping fiber in the diet helps not only maintain healthy bowel habits, it can help keep the flora of the bowels (aka the microbiome) healthy, promoting the growth of ‘good’ bacteria that support the immune system. Good bacteria in the bowels not only help the immune system through promotion of general health, but the good bacteria directly affect the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria.
Want more tips? Check out our other article on immunity boosting.