As a pandemic sweeps the world, it is especially crucial that we take precautionary measures to strengthen our immune system in both defensive as well as offensive ways. Arm yourself with the knowledge of which foods to avoid, which foods to incorporate, and herbs for prevention, as well as herbs for onset.
Incorporate into your daily routine these simple tips to strengthen your immune system by supporting digestive health, improving detoxification, and promoting lymphatic drainage.
What to avoid
Of course there are foods and herbs that support your immune system, but there are also foods that can weaken your immunity. In terms of staying healthy and taking preventative measures, it is important to know which foods to limit, or even eliminate.
Added Sugars: Yep, you guessed it. Loading up on cookies and ice cream is probably not the choice you should make. A high-sugar and refined grain diet predisposes individuals to meta inflammation and chronic inflammation, which can suppress immune system functioning. Excess sugar intake can also lead to bacterial overgrowth and increase the likelihood of developing a bacterial infection.
Alcohol: While moderate intake of alcohol (particularly organic red wine) can reduce inflammation and improve responses to vaccinations, heavy drinking is associated with decreased immune function.
Studies show that frequent alcohol consumption alters both innate (immune cells that are immediately available, but not very specific) and adaptive (immune cells that remember previous bacterial and viral infections) immunity.
Dietary guidelines define moderate drinking as one drink per day for women, and two drinks daily for men. In terms of supporting the immune system, it could be argued to further reduce the amount to three to four per week or less.
It should also be noted that studies show excess salt, fried foods, and processed foods containing added flavors and colorings may also have negative impacts on the immune system. Strive to consume these in moderation, or limit the amount of consumption when possible. Okay, now for the good stuff!
What to incorporate
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Hydration plays a key role in many bodily functions, and aids the body in detoxification of unwanted toxins, foreign invaders and cellular waste products. Dehydration impacts immune system functioning by lowering the capabilities of a variety of immune cells.
While age, climate, body size, gender, physical activity and health status all play a role in how much water a person needs, I generally recommended that an individual strives to drink at least half of their body weight in ounces, daily! For example, a person weighing 120lbs would want to drink at least 60oz each day (and potentially more if physically active).
What to drink?
For most people, plain, clean water is sufficient for hydration when added to a diet rich with fresh vegetables, dark leafy greens and some fruit. For athletes, adding electrolytes, particularly salt, potassium and magnesium, can benefit performance and recovery.
To add natural sources of electrolytes, throw into your water bottle: cucumbers, berries, mint, lemons, limes, oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, coconut water, and chia seeds!
There are many herbs that pack a powerful immune-boosting punch. Incorporate a medley of these into your daily routine to help fight off anything that might try to slow you down.
Astragalus: Astragalus root has been an essential herb in a variety of remedies commonly used in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Among its diverse clinical applications, astragalus root balances the immune system, acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and has shown some anticancer effects. You can find astragalus in capsules and tinctures and it can be used frequently for prevention and immune support.
Green Tea: From matcha to jasmine, this incredible leaf modulates a healthy immune response, while greatly impacting both the innate and the adaptive immune cells, especially in relation to autoimmune disorders. By simply drinking 3 cups of green tea per day, you can elevate your immunity, and help prevent the development of immune-related disorders.
Oil of Oregano: This little herb has truly potent properties! While it is commonly known for its antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, essential oil of oregano demonstrates powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and cancer-suppressing qualities. This therapeutic spectrum provides great immune-related support, while also promoting overall health. While its tincture form is effective, it can create a slight burning sensation in the mouth and throat, so the capsule form may be preferred.
A note on Elderberry: Unfortunately, this berry has recently gotten a bad reputation in the last few months in relation to COVID-19. Here’s why:
Elderberry is known for its incredible support to the immune system by providing a powerful antiviral defense. It protects against viral and microbial invasion in a number of ways, one of which is to produce more immune-communicative cells called cytokines.
Scientists have seen that, in some extreme cases, COVID-19 also tends to increase the body’s production of cytokines. While some cytokines are good, large amounts can potentially lead to what is called a “cytokine storm,” which can potentially damage lung tissue. For this reason, many people have completely removed elderberry from their herbal protocols, even when taken for preventative measures.
It is advised that if you are immunocompromised, to avoid using elderberry, especially if you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.
However, for healthy individuals, elderberry extract is still an effective immune-boosting therapy. Use as a preventative measure and stop use if experiencing any flu-like symptoms.
Garlic: The medicinal properties of garlic have been widely known and used for centuries—it is l antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial. Garlic also modulates cytokine secretion and promotes homeostasis of the immune system, making it a powerful agent for keeping the immune system balanced and functioning properly. You can easily activate the most powerful component in garlic, allium, by pressing, chopping, and letting sit for ten minutes before adding it to foods or sauces while cooking.
Adaptogens & Nutrients
What are adaptogens? These wonderful herbs help your body to “adapt” or find homeostasis (balance) when it comes to fighting off viruses or bacteria. Adaptogens may help the body’s immune response be just strong enough to protect against infection, but not so strong as to be “overactive,” which can be also be dangerous.
Some of the most immune-supportive adaptogens include: Ashwagandha, tulsi, reishi and other medicinal mushrooms such as turkey tail. You can find these in teas, powders, capsules, and tinctures.
Immune supporting nutrients are essential for a properly functioning immune system. These nutrients provide antioxidant activity, support healthy growth and nourish multiple detoxification pathways that allow for the body to excrete any forieign invaders.
A few of the most important nutrients for immune support are: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium. These nutrients can be found in dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds, organic and pasture-raised meat and dairy products, as well as brightly colored vegetables and berries.
Immune-Supporting Lifestyle Applications
Draining what now? The lymphatic system is a colorless organ that circulates fluid and white blood cells throughout all tissues in the body. The lymphatic system works closely with the circulatory system as well as the immune system, and helps to rid the body of toxins, cellular waste byproducts, and foergin viral and bacterial invaders. It is a nearly invisible highway that patrols the body and keeps our cells working in tip-top shape, and if something were to try and “break in,” it helps sound the alarm!
As the lymphatic system works so closely with our immune system, it is important to keep the fluid flowing smoothly throughout the body.
One simple way–to reiterate–is to stay well hydrated. Since lymph is largely made up of water, it relies on maintaining its viscosity in order to properly flow through the body from cell to cell. Therefore, proper hydration is key.
Another easy technique for helping your lymphatic system is called dry-brushing. Dry-brushing is an ancient, ayurvedic ritual where you take a soft bristle brush and gently sweep the bristles on your dry skin in pressurized motions leading towards your heart. This gentle, yet effective, practice stimulates lymphatic drainage by encouraging lymph towards your heart. This allows for toxic waste to enter circulation via the blood-stream and to then be eliminated from the body.
For more great information about body brushing, check out the article here.
Lastly, and my personal favorite, TRAMPOLINE JUMPING! That’s right, it has been proven that the consistent rebound motion can motivate lymphatic circulation and draining. So go ahead, embrace your inner child and elevate your health.
Move, Rest, & Digest
In terms of optimal health, movement is key. It plays a role in healthy weight maintenance, circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your cells and supporting healthy immune system functioning.
At the very least, allocate 15-30 minutes each day to find gentle and enjoyable movement, such as walking, hiking, biking, swimming or yoga. Consistency is key, and daily movement can truly lubricate your body–and your life–in so many ways!
Reducing stress and prioritizing high quality sleep can also impact the efficiency and effectiveness of your immune system. Rest is the time the body has to rebuild and repair itself.
Herbs to support balance and promote sleepiness are: ashwagandha, tulsi, kava, valerian, california poppy, and skullcap. L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes a relaxed state of mind, and magnesium is a mineral that relaxes the muscles and supports a calmed state of being.
The last important piece of the puzzle is digestion. As our digestive system is closely intertwined with our immune system, it is imperative that we maintain digestive wellness. A few favorite at home hacks are:
1) A splash of apple cider vinegar (or squeeze of lemon) in a little bit of water sipped 10-15 minutes before each meal.
2) Incorporating probiotic rich foods daily (such as organic kefir, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, tempeh, kim chi, miso and other fermented foods)
3) Incorporating some raw fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every meal.
These easy-to-apply tips will help to stimulate the cephalic phase of digestion–basically telling your body that it is time to eat–while also re-inoculating your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria that support immune health. Applying these tips will also increase digestive enzymes with each meal that will help to break down ingested food and increase the absorption of nutrients.
From what to avoid to what to include, you now have an entire tool-kit of immune-specific-boosters to protect and defend your body from any foregin invader that may come your way. Please stay healthy, respect the social distancing ordinances set in place and share this information with friends, family, and the community around you.