By Ashley Powell, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
Our immune system is constantly at work for us, defending our bodies from foreign invaders and striving to keep the peace internally. While immunity has been increasingly top-of-mind for the past couple of years, we must remember that the vitality of our immune systems is very much within our control – various lifestyle factors can have a tremendous impact in arming our bodies with the tools needed to flourish and thrive. Being vigilant with the following influences will set you up for a robust and healthy immune system.
1. How to Combat the Affects of Stress on your Immune System
There is no greater hindrance to the immune system than stress. Since the immune system cannot function optimally when there are signalling issues from the brain, prioritize strategies that help you deal with stress.
Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night
Schedule relaxation time into your day, even just 15 min to take a break, be present and calm your nervous system – this will help you to be less reactive!
Take a walk in nature
Read a book that you enjoy
Practice some simple breathwork such as the “4-7-8 breath”. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, exhale gently through the mouth for a count of 8; repeat 4 times. This will help move you into a parasympathetic state (“rest & digest”) where your immune system is happy!
2. Nourishing Immune Cells
Be mindful of your food choices and eat whole, unprocessed foods that are as close to nature as possible. Think “natural, alive and good quality” to give your immune cells the very best building blocks possible. Decrease your alcohol consumption, processed foods, sugar and anything you may be sensitive to. Focus on getting high-quality protein, healthy fats and fiber that comes mainly from vegetables at each and every meal. More information can be found in the "Level-up your Health with Steady Blood Sugar".
Move and exercise to assist lymphatic circulation – the lymph is the immune system’s network throughout the body. Walking, lifting weights, stretching, yoga, cycling… any and all movement is the key to stimulating circulation. Rebounding on a mini trampoline is also an exceptional exercise benefiting the lymphatic system as is dry brushing and massage therapy. Consider one of the massage treatments offered by Thrive that combine the modality of massage with either dry brushing or Gua Sha for an added boost to your immune system.
4. Rejuvenation Through Sleep
Prioritize your sleep hygiene! Get to bed early - the hours of sleep that you get prior to midnight are much more rejuvenating than those in the early morning hours. Turn off devices and dim the lights in the hours leading up to sleep, take the time to unwind from your day with a bath, hot shower, comforting mug of herbal tea and/or a good book. Make sure that your sleep environment works in your favour – it should be devoid of light (use a sleep mask if necessary), cool and comfortable. When you wake up in the morning, expose yourself to natural light to set yourself up for a healthy sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.
5. Consume Immune-Supportive Nutrients such as Vitamin D, C, A, Zinc and Quercitin.
Vitamin D has many roles, including reducing the spread and reproduction of viral cells. It is advised to have your blood levels of vitamin D tested to know for sure where you stand – supplementation is often necessary (you should work with your health care provider on this). General guidelines for vitamin D3 supplementation suggest that adults should take 2000 IU daily as a maintenance dose; 400 IU daily for children. Maximize your absorption of vitamin D by taking it with a meal containing healthy fat since it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Food sources of vitamin D include salmon and other fatty fish, cremini and Portobello mushrooms, egg yolks, cod liver oil and tofu.
Vitamin C increases the activity of white blood cells so be sure to eat plenty of vitamin C-rich foods such as red peppers, cucumber and shiitake mushrooms.
Vitamin A supports healthy mucous membranes and stimulates white blood cell production; best food sources include leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables.
Zinc is critical for the thymus, an organ that plays a starring role in the immune system. Food sources of zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, chickpeas and cashews. Zinc lozenges or spray are also available from any health food store.
Quercitin, an anti-viral and and antioxidant plant pigment, works synergistically with other immune-boosting nutrients and can be found in capers, red onion, shallots, red apples and grapes.
6. Gut Health
Since so much of the immune system resides in our gut, consume foods that are supportive of healthy bacteria levels and gut health such as:
Probiotics (sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha)
Prebiotic fibre (bananas, artichokes, onions and garlic)
Stay hydrated! Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of filtered or spring water (70 ounces or just over 2 L for a 140 pound person). Remember that herbal teas count towards your water intake and can also provide great nutritional benefits (e.g. ginger, Echinacea, lemon balm and Holy Basil/Tulsi tea).
Being intentionally mindful of all of these factors will encourage the optimal growth and function of your immune system and set you up for sustained overall wellness!
TRY THIS delicious and supportive Immune-Boosting Tea!
2 cups of filtered water, boiling
1 organic ginger tea bag (or a ½” slice of fresh ginger root, grated)
¼ tsp ground turmeric (or a ½” slice of root, grated)
1 tsp raw honey, Manuka honey or maple syrup (vegan option) – to taste
1 lemon - juice and zest
1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (optional)
Pour the boiling water over the ginger, turmeric, and optional coconut oil. Let it sit for a few minutes before adding the honey as well as the lemon zest and juice. Enjoy!