5 Ways to Protect and Boost Your Immune System

A little TLC goes a long way.

By Lauren Zielinski, MSN, CNM
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Ed. note: With ever-growing concern surrounding the new coronavirus, we are taking every precaution and washing our hands constantly, practicing social distance, etc., but somehow it still feels like it’s not enough. I know I’m not alone when I say that I want to take every measure possible to protect and boost my immune system in an effort to not contract the virus. This post was originally published in August of 2019, but we wanted to pull it out of the archives as it has tons of helpful tips and tricks for how to boost your immune system (and protect it), naturally.

The immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and tissues that work in tandem to protect the body from infection. While genetics play a role, we know from studies of twins that the strength of our immune system is largely determined by nonheritable factors, according to this New York Times article.

The germs we are exposed to over a lifetime, as well as lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, diet and exercise all play a role in the strength of our immune response.

The bottom line is that there is no magic pill or a specific food guaranteed to bolster your immune system and protect you from the new coronavirus. But there are real ways you can take care of yourself and give your immune system the best chance to do its job against a respiratory illness. And, getting your body into a routine now that protects and builds your immune system will pay off over time. Remember, a little TLC goes a long way.

image : urban outfitters

1. Sleep

Don’t skimp on shut-eye! Get in the habit now of turning in early so you can catch between 7-8 hours of zzz’s every night. Your body will thank you – literally –  for the rest of your life.

While you’re sleeping, your body releases important immune proteins called cytokines. These guys act as immune messengers, and when you’re exposed to a bug or on the cusp of getting sick, cytokines tell your immune cells to ramp up in number in order to fight off that bug before you physically get sick. Not getting enough sleep means not having the cytokine stores to fight off a bug in the first place.

Additionally, long-term lack of sleep (routinely less than 7-8 hours per night) has recently been linked to an impressively increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Whoa!….Totally worth it for the short and long term to turn in early, Oh and just an FYI – sleep researchers say that “catching up on sleep” after you’ve worn your body down is actually not a thing that works – the only way to reap the restorative benefits of sleep is by getting your time in – every night! Beauty sleep has never felt less indulgent – it’s amazing for you!

2. Sunshine

Get cha Vitamin D my friends! Proper stores of Vitamin D have been directly linked to lower rates of the flu and other illnesses. If you’ve never heard – your body needs sunshine in order to synthesize vitamin D and the majority of us – due to our largely indoor culture – lack the correct levels. Take a break from quarantining inside and spending 20-30 minutes per day in the sun (while still practicing social distancing, of course!)

If you don’t have the bandwidth in your schedule for daily sun baths or the weather is cold and gray, order a supplement from your local health food store, and take 2,000 IUI’s of D3 per day. I personally love this brand for their simple clean ingredients.

image: hazel and folk

3. ‘Shrooms

Did you know that mushrooms are actually amazingly healing and not just a recreational weekend music festival drug you’ve heard about from your hippie co-worker? They have been getting a lot of recent attention in the health-nut community for their ability to increase immune system cells that are responsible for attacking illness. In a recent study published by the national institute for health, women who were on chemotherapy and had very weak immune systems were given shiitake and maitake mushroom therapy and had increased rates of survival due to their stronger immune systems….Very legit!

So where do you get these healthy mushrooms? For daily immune support during flu season, check out your natural health food store. I also personally really enjoy the taste and convenience of the spray bottle in this brand.

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4. Destress

Everyone knows stress is no bueno – but did you know chronic stress may actually weaken your immune system? Chronic stress increases a hormone called cortisol – sustained elevation of this hormone suppresses the immune system after time. If you notice that stress levels have been in high gear for longer than normal, perhaps brainstorm on some ways you can insert self care to counter balance, your immune system will thank you. In other health research news – yoga is actually proven to lower cortisol levels, wink wink.

5. Booze Less

We live in a pretty drinking-centric culture these days and often times we don’t think twice before saying yes to a glass of wine or a happy hour invitation. Because of this its good to know that well established research shows that after getting “tipsy” or “drunk” your immune system is drastically lowered for up to 24 hours after consumption, leaving you vulnerable to illness at a higher rate than if you watched Netflix at home with your cat instead.

Research also shows that people who consistently use alcohol use have higher rates of respiratory illness over time – hence daily doses of boozing at home can also be an issue.

If you’re really worried about your immune system or know you’ve been around a lot of sick people recently, think twice before drinking alcohol. Need some great mocktail recipes to get you through the quarantine, without impacting your immune system? We’ve got a list of great recipes to make at home here.