Functional Health and Wellness Coach Nikki Temkin shares tips and advice for how you can support your immune system by focusing on four key aspects: supplementation, nutrition, stress management and sleep.
Protecting and boosting immune health has been more important than ever over the past few months, and will no doubt continue to be a priority for us all for some time to come.
While it’s true that you can’t control the trajectory of a virus, you can take steps to control your internal environment through what you choose to put into your body, what you expose yourself to, and the lifestyle you lead.
Strengthening immunity requires a multifaceted approach that will improve its response and reduce your susceptibility to illness.
VITAMINS & SUPPLEMENTS
Even with a healthy, well-balanced diet, supplements are still recommended for maximum support. The following are suggested for immune support:
- Vitamin C
Contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of the immune system
- Vitamin D
Reduces viral growth and helps to prevent upper respiratory infections
For maximum absorption, take with a large meal, and increase the dosage in winter when there is less sunlight.
- Vitamin A
Acts as an anti-inflammatory, helps to enhance immune function, and supports the lining of the respiratory tract
Vitamin A also protects the integrity of the body’s mucus membranes (such as those in the gut and lungs), making it harder for infections to take hold.
Possesses strong antiviral properties
For maximum efficacy, take after a large meal
- N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)
Promotes the production of glutathione, a potent antioxidant that supports immune function
- Probiotics & Prebiotics
Create a healthy gut microbiome that supports and stimulates the immune system.
- Elderberry Extract
Packed with vitamin C, dietary fibre and antioxidants
Elderberry is most effective when used preventatively. Try to find an extract that has been produced through ultra-filtration.
A set of flavonoids found in turmeric that can help to reduce inflammation and decrease viral activity
Made by the pineal gland at the base of the brain, this hormone supports antiviral immunity, promotes restful sleep and reduces inflammation. You will need a prescription for this!
- Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms support the immune system thanks to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Try turkey tail and reishi for protection against infection.
- Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG)
This compound is present in high quantities in green tea, and helps to reduce inflammation and enhance immune functionality.
- Liquorice Root
This is one of the fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and works to reduce viral growth.
A polyphenol found in red grapes that can help to decrease inflammation
Beta-glucans are anti-inflammatory, and help to enhance immune function. They are especially beneficial for those with viral upper respiratory tract infections.
You can also try:
- Omega 3
- Alpha-lipoic acid
It is important to consult your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any kind of vitamin, mineral, mushroom or supplement.
The appropriate dosage will be different for everyone, and is affected by factors such as gender, weight, pre-existing conditions, pregnancy and any medication that you may be taking (such as birth control, antidepressants, antibiotics, etc.). Be sure to contact your healthcare provider to find out exactly what dosage you should be taking.
Your diet has a huge impact on your health, especially since a large majority of immune cells are located in the gut.
Keeping your gut happy will significantly increase your body’s ability to fight off infection. A healthy microbiome, the ecosystem of microorganisms in your gut, should contain a diversity of good bacteria. The best way to encourage microbiome diversity is to eat a wide range of plant-based foods that are high in fibre and feed good gut bacteria. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt with live cultures are also great.
SOME EXTRA TIPS
- Build your meals around inflammation-fighting foods such as olive oil, tomatoes, raw nuts, leafy green veggies, berries and fatty fish. You can’t really go wrong if you stick to eating lots of fresh fruit and veg, whole grains, healthy fats, plant-based proteins, and fresh herbs and spices.
- Make sure that you are getting the right amount of macro- and micronutrients. You can consult a nutritionist or healthcare professional to determine what these amounts should be for your age and weight.
- Incorporate ginger, garlic, turmeric and rosemary into your meals (these all offer antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory properties).
- Ensure that your diet is rich in plant-based polyphenols such as grapes, green tea, berries, kiwi fruit, nuts, apples, cherries, plums, legumes, peas, corn, cranberries, peanuts, flax and sesame seeds.
- Try to eat lots of nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and collard greens.
- For an indulgence, you can treat yourself to some high-percentage dark chocolate. It contains an antioxidant called theobromine, which may help power up the immune system by protecting the body’s cells from free radicals.
- Eat a colourful rainbow of foods every day to ensure a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
IMMUNE SUPPORT SMOOTHIE
Blend together: frozen blueberries, frozen banana, kale, avocado, almond milk, spirulina powder and any green alkaline powder
- High-sugar foods
- Processed foods
- Microwaveable foods
- Fast foods
- Deep-fried foods
- Saturated fats that promote inflammation
- Cured meats with nitrates, chemicals and other preservatives
- Too much alcohol
MANAGE YOUR STRESS
Stress is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. It’s your response to it that counts. Stress can be mental, emotional or physical. When it becomes chronic, it can damage your immune system.
The effects of stress can be direct, such as the release of stress hormones that can suppress an effective immune response. But they can also be indirect in that stress can interfere with sleep and potentially lead to unhealthy behaviours such as poor eating choices, excessive drinking and smoking.
Your body only has so much energy, and dealing with stress can be incredibly draining. The hormonal cascade of the fight or flight response can be useful for short periods of time (such as when you need to meet a deadline), but when prolonged, it could lead to a burnout of the biochemical immune system.
Manage Your Stress with:
Even just five minutes of movement a day will help to boost your mood and immune system. You’ll benefit from gentle exercise (such as yoga) as well as from high-intensity exercise such as aerobics or interval training.
- Relaxation Techniques
Try out practices such as mindfulness, visualisation, meditation, yoga, breathwork and other calming activities like arts and crafts.
Life and its many responsibilities can be very serious. Mark time off in your calendar to read, listen to music, engage in a hobby, talk to friends, do crosswords, visit an art gallery, do puzzles, play a board game – aything that engages you in the moment and takes you out of your head. It’s even better if whatever you’re doing gets you to laugh, as laughter triggers the release of endorphins to boost your mood and lower your stress levels.
- Social connection
Isolation and loneliness can have devastating physical ramifications, so it’s essential to make new social connections and maintain your relationships with loved ones (even if this is just over the phone or online).
- Get into nature
Being in nature is certain to lift your mood and promote relaxation. Furthermore, getting enough sun is super important, as sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, and can even help to energise T-cells, which are essential for healthy immune function.
TIP: To calm down instantly, try taking three deep breaths through your nose, and exhaling through your mouth. You can also check out the bhramari pranayama exercise in our breathwork feature in this issue!
Quality sleep is essential for warding off illness. During restorative sleep, blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax, blood supply to muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored, and the body works to remove toxins and waste products from the system.
While you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines and stimulates T-cell activity - both of which can help to strengthen your immune response. Sleep deprivation decreases production of these protective cytokines and weakens infection-fighting antibodies and cells.
For deep, quality sleep, adopt a sleep hygiene routine. This includes:
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption before bed
- Avoiding caffeine after 3 pm
- Getting seven to eight hours of good sleep each night (teenagers should get nine to ten hours, and young children at least ten hours)
- Setting aside all screens an hour or two before bedtime
- Implementing a relaxing bedtime ritual that includes things like meditation, reading, a warm bath, and essential oils (lavender, citrus, sandalwood and jasmine are all great for promoting sleep)
- Avoiding a big meal right before bed, as your body will have to work hard to digest your food while you’re sleeping
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikki Temkin is a functional health and wellness coach who helps her clients to recover from burnout and other imbalances to achieve harmony, joy and vitality. For more information or to get in touch, email [email protected], or follow her on Instagram (@nikkitemkinwellnesscoach) and Facebook (Nikki Temkin Integrative Wellness Coach).