Studies have found that Vitamin D is very important in signalling the immune system. Since regular sun exposure is one of the easiest ways to increase active Vitamin-D levels in your body, it can help strengthen your immune system as well. Inadequate levels of this vitamin have been associated with an increased rate of infection and cancer. In the summer it takes only about 10 minutes a day of unprotected solar exposure on a small area of skin to produce around 5,000 IU of vitamin D, which is enough for most people. Even older people, who have a slightly reduced capacity to make vitamin D.
I suggest a free app that you can get on your phone called D Minder, it allows you to put in your age, location and skin type. It will then notify you when it is solar noon (this is when you get maximum Vitamin D from the sun) and will tell you when to get out of the sun before you start to burn. It also shows you how much Vitamin D your body absorbs during each session and tracks the data from month to month.
Probiotics is a term used for a wide range of bacterial species that offer several health benefits. When you supplement with probiotics, or eat probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt or kefir, it is likely that you will have a digestive tract that is highly populated with beneficial bacteria, leaving little room for salmonella, e.coli, or colostridium difficile to grow. Probiotics have little tolerance for disease-causing bacteria, and can produce chemicals known as bacteriocins that are highly toxic to its competitors. Furthermore, probiotics directly stimulate antibody production, natural killer cells, T-cells, and phagocytes to eradicate infectious viruses and bacteria. To back it all up, probiotics have been clinically proven to significantly decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, food poisoning, and diarrhea. Probiotics also regulate inflammation, and as a result, positive results have been observed with respect to allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Stress Less!
A little stress never hurt anyone. In fact, a little stress is what gets us out of bed each morning to eat breakfast and then head to work. The body’s response to a stressor (stress trigger) consists of 3 phases. First, the alarm phase signals that we must act (a tiger jumps out at you). Second, the resistance phase involves continuous energy put forth to handle the stress (running from the tiger). Lastly, the exhaustion phase occurs when the body has expended its resources and cannot cope with the stressor any longer (falling down and being eaten by the tiger). While it is unlikely that any of us will ever have the need to run from a tiger, the same principles apply to our lives. Stress puts a significant strain on our body’s immune systems and produces inflammatory chemicals that create further impairment.
Today, we tend to feel pressured into doing absolutely everything until our body’s stress mechanisms fail (exhaustion). The key to managing stress is making it a priority to rest or engage in stress-relieving activities, even if it means cancelling a meeting, turning off the news, or taking a break from social media.
- Catch plenty of ZZZ’s
The process of sleep is pure and simple: it is the time when energy is diverted away from the brain and the muscles to produce new healthy cells or repair or replace old ones. The spleen, bone marrow, thymus gland, and lymph nodes are the 4 primary factories for our immune cells that fight infectious diseases, control inflammation, and combat cancerous cells.
When the body is under constant pressure or stress to the point that sleep becomes compromised, crucial processes that are essential to the production, repair, or replacement of immune cells become limited, resulting in an immune system that is ill-prepared to handle the stress of infection. Furthermore, a chronic lack of sleep can impair the immune system to the point where severe inflammation begins and the body’s own immunity mechanisms end. Aim for at least 6-8 hours of quality sleep per day.
- Eat and drink well
Our immune system has needs, just like all of our other bodily systems. Aside from basics such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water, some of the key nutrients that have been shown to increase immune system effectiveness are antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules such as vitamin C, beta carotene, or resveratrol (from red wine) that neutralize disease-promoting molecules called free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals have the potential to weaken the immune system and damage vital organs and cells.
Fresh, frozen, or (freshly) juiced/pressed whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are by far the best sources of antioxidants, contributing copious amounts of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin E, selenium, and other flavanoid antioxidants
Did you know that a 2% reduction in normal body fluid levels can result in symptoms of dehydration including fatigue, irritability, headaches, depression, and lowered immunity? The body perceives dehydration as a state of emergency, and the resulting stress routines (alarm, resistance, exhaustion) can have a negative effect on the immune system. Furthermore, dehydration can promote allergic and asthmatic symptoms through the release of histamine; an automatic response to dehydration. Drinking plenty of fresh water helps to flush the system of toxins which could otherwise disrupt natural immunity.
- Move Your Body
The impact of exercise on immunity has both direct and indirect effects. First, the lymphatic system acts as both a factory for immune cells and a method of transporting metabolic waste. It relies on kinetic energy through movement to transport immune cells and waste through the lymphatic channels. Even a brisk, bouncy walk or light jog can accommodate this need and be a breath of fresh air for a lymphatic system that’s been parked in an office chair all day.
Second, a good bit of exercise stimulates immune cell production, and evidence indicates significant reductions in upper respiratory infections can be obtained with moderate exercise. The process of sweating also acts as a channel for toxin excretion which further reduces stress on the immune system.
- Practice Gratitude
Grateful people are more optimistic, a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function. In one, researchers comparing the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress found that, by midterm, students characterised as optimistic, maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.
Gratitude also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health. In separate studies, patients undergoing cancer treatment, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of gratitude and optimism.
It has been found that those people who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind; have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health. Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviours like regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular physical check-ups.
In times such as these it is important to look after ourselves and keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Practicing all of the above will ensure that you have the best opportunity to stay healthy and fight off any viruses or infections that may come your way.