How much do you know about your immune system? Chances are not a lot. It is one of the systems we take for granted, thinking it will always work for us, until it doesn't. How do you know if your immune system needs to be improved? First we need to look at how the immune system works.
HOW DOES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORK
The immune system is a complex network of cells where each cell has a job to do. Some immune cells are responsible for defending against parasites, some are considered housekeepers that clean up cellular debris. The Natural Killer cells are responsible for recognizing and killing virus infected cells.
In order for the immune system to work properly, it needs time and good nutrition to do its job. Sleep is when the immune system is most actively repairing the body. To have a strong immune system 7 hours of continuous sleep is needed. If your lifestyle does not allow for 7 hours of sleep every night, then make sure to carve time out on the weekend. Ask for someone to take care of the kids so you can achieve 7 hours of continuous sleep.
Good nutrition is needed for the immune system to do its job. Later in this article, what vitamins are good for the immune system will be covered. As far as food, what we eat is very important to the immune system.
Did you know that the immune system is almost immediately shut-down from 1 to 3 hours when we eat refined sugar? This is significant because the immune system cannot patrol and kill bacteria in our body after eating refined sugar. The average American eats 17 teaspoons of sugar every day, which is way more than the recommended guidelines. The American Heart Association recommends women eat no more than 6 teaspoons a day and men 9 teaspoons a day. (Source: Angeles Institute)
At any given time, our body only needs 2 teaspoons of sugar to effectively do its job. Eating foods like fruits and vegetables give the body enough natural sugar to run efficiently during the day. Not only does refined sugar shut the immune system down, refined sugar also feeds bacteria and yeast in the body.
SIGNS OF A WEAK IMMUNE SYSTEM
When bacteria and yeast are able to grow in the body, the immune system gets weak and immune system disease occur. This is beyond the regular cough, cold and virus that adults normally get throughout the year. While routine colds are annoying and can take up to 14 days to resolve, much more serious diseases can occur from a weak immune system. Here are the signs of a weak immune system:
Tired all the time. Lack of energy is a very clear sign that something is wrong. It could be you need to catch up on sleep or it could be something much worse. If you sleep but do not feel rested, your immune system may be to blame.
Under high levels of stress. When we are stressed, the adrenal glands release cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is used to help our body respond to stress. Unfortunately, the world we live in promotes constant stress, which means cortisol is constantly flowing in our bodies. When this happens, the immune system becomes resistant to cortisol and instead produces an inflammatory response which compromises the immune system. (source: NIH)
Frequent colds, illness and use of antibiotics. An immune system that is strong may still result in getting a cold, flu or virus but will recover by creating antibodies. If you need antibiotics to get well, that means your immune system needs help fighting the illness. That is OK as long as it is not every single time you get sick. A good sign when you are sick that your immune system is strong is pain. If you feel pain, that means your immune system is responding to the area that needs help. Pain is a good sign!
Food allergies or intolerances. The immune system is actively trying to fight a pathogen when a food allergy or intolerance exists. This fight can show up in a variety of ways. Fatigue, skin rashes, headaches, acne, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation, just to name a few. Why does this happen? Because 70% of the immune system lives in the digestive system. When a food is irritating to the gut, the immune system attacks.
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HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Luckily, there are steps you can take that will strengthen your immune system. While the list below may seem overwhelming, if you take small actionable steps, you will make lasting change to your routine. The key is finding a method that works for you.
Some people enjoy writing down their daily actions, making a checklist of healthy activities they are going to do that day. Some examples might be eat leftover vegetables for breakfast or drink 1 more glass of water than yesterday. The key to making the change work is to start slow and work the new habit into your routine. Don't get frustrated when life happens! Life will knock you off track and create feelings of disappointment. Just know it is OK and when you can, you will start your healthy routine again.
#1 EAT REAL FOOD
It may sound silly but do you think a box of mac and cheese is real food? It's not! Often we need easy and fast. Real food can be easy and fast. The ultimate fast food? A piece of fruit! It comes in its own package and is ready to eat without having to do much to it. Other foods can be made fast with just a little prep.
Cutting up carrot sticks and celery sticks for grab and go snacks. Pair them with premade individual cups of hummus. Make a large batch of vegetable soup over the weekend for quick nutrient dense heat and eat lunches or dinners. Then all you have to do is make a large salad to go with it.
To make real food satisfying, it is important to have carbohydrates, protein and fats at every meal. Our body craves this combination and does not want to swap one nutrient for another. Stir-fry's are a great example of a balanced meal.
If you eat meat, chicken or turkey is a great lean protein. If you are mostly plant based, beans, tofu or tempeh are great options. Carbohydrates are found in vegetables and whole grains. Using frozen veggies for stir-fry's make the meal come together that much faster! They are already cut and cook up fast. Healthy fats include the oil used for cooking and may be included in a sauce you are using.
#2 TAKE VITAMINS
What vitamins are good for immune system? Vitamin C and D are the best known vitamins for immune system support. Taking vitamins does not mean you have to take a supplement if you are eating a well balanced routine with plenty of fruits and vegetables (although most of us do not get enough real food in our day).
Vitamin C is water soluble which means any excess will be eliminated in our urine. High doses of vitamin C may upset the stomach, cause gas, diarrhea and/or nausea. The best way to find out how much you can take at once is by trying! 500 mg is a great place to start. Take it twice a day, once at breakfast and once at lunch for a total of 1,000 mg. If you wind up with digestive issues, simply reduce the dose to 250 mg each time you take the vitamin and increase the number of times you take it during the day.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it will not be easily eliminated from the body. The body will hold on to it. It is much harder to get vitamin D from foods because there are few foods that contain it. Salmon is one source that is high in vitamin D. Otherwise, taking a supplement is the best way to get enough vitamin D. I recommend at least 400 IU daily.
#3 DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
Hydration is a really important part of a healthy immune system. We are dehydrated every single day. Our immune system is highly dependent on the nutrients in our blood stream, and our blood stream is made mostly of water! If we don’t have enough water, we cannot properly transport nutrients to each organ system. (Source: Integrative Health Institute)
How much water do you need to drink? At least half your body weight in ounces every day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that means you need to drink 75 ounces a day. Coffee and tea can count towards your water intake but it isn't an ounce for an ounce. A 16 ounce cup of coffee counts for 8 ounces of water and a 16 ounce cup of tea counts for 12 ounces of water.
Regular exercise helps the immune system stay strong. Studies show that regular exercise increases the strength of the immune system which helps it fight viruses and reduces the amount of viruses a person gets over a lifetime. (Source: NIH) The exercise you choose needs to be something that you like and will keep doing regularly.
It doesn't have to be very intense to be effective. I recommend at least 3 days a week doing something that increases your heart rate for 20 - 30 minutes. Also, strength training is important to build muscles. The more muscles we have, the more fat we can burn. If you haven't been exercising in awhile, start slow and for a short period of time. It is better to take a brisk 10 minute walk a couple of times a week compared to trying to jump in aggressively and become frustrated with your progress.
The immune system is a complex system that needs to be nurtured to stay strong. Making lifestyle changes that focus on eating real food, taking vitamins, staying hydrated and exercising are a few ways that you can support the immune system. It only takes 21 days to make a new habit! Start today and in 21 days, the change will be routine.
Do you think you will try any of the above to strengthen your immune system? Let me know by leaving a comment below.