If you’re trying to strengthen your immune system, know there’s much more you can do than just drink a glass of orange juice. According to holistic pharmacist and author, Sherry Torkos, people looking to keep their immune system in good shape should evaluate their everyday lifestyle.
“I think it’s important for people to do not just one thing for their immune system, but look at this as a whole lifestyle approach,” says Torkos.
Are you living a lifestyle that supports a strong immune system? Read on to learn more about how to help keep your immune system strong
Don't Fall Short of Immune-Supporting Vitamins C&D
Your immune system will thank you for stocking up on vitamin C and D. These vitamins are well-known to support the immune system, especially if you’ve been exposed to winter weather or stress. “With vitamins C and D, neither of these ingredients are going to cure cold or flu, but they do play an important role in prevention,” says Torkos.
A key player to your body’s defense team, vitamin C not only fights inflammation, but also helps with the production of white blood cells that protect your body from infection. Torkos recommends taking a vitamin C supplement daily with food and adding vitamin C-rich foods like berries and citrus to the diet. It’s hard to get too much vitamin C — as a water-soluble vitamin, it is easily flushed out by the body, and it is also depleted by stress, smoking, and drinking alcohol.
You also don’t want to miss out on getting enough Vitamin D, which is vital to the function of the immune system. Vitamin D facilitates multiple biological processes in the body, including regulating the immune system. Deficiency is common, as 42 percent of U.S. adults don’t get enough, according to a 2010 study in Nutrition Journal. You may have a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency if you lack sun exposure, avoid meat and dairy, or have medical conditions affecting absorption in the gut. If it is difficult to integrate vitamin d-rich foods like salmon, sardines, cod liver oil, and eggs into your diet, consider taking a vitamin d supplement.
Be Good To Your Gut
The benefits of having good gut health go way beyond smoother digestion. Researchers studying the gut microbiome call the digestive tract an essential component of immunity. In fact, 70 percent of the immune system resides in the walls of your intestines.
Adding a probiotic to your vitamin regimen is one way to invest in your gut health. “We do see benefits with probiotics because probiotics help support and strengthen gut health,” says Torkos. “By boosting levels of beneficial bacteria, it helps to keep levels of pathogenic bacteria and substances out of our system, crowding out the bad stuff.” When it comes to adding gut-friendly food on your plate, look for fiber, yogurt with live or active cultures, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and fermented soybeans.
The human microbiome plays a huge role in your overall health, so be weary of factors that negatively impact it too, like stress and lack of sleep.
Less Stress and More Zzz’s
“Stress and lack of sleep are two things that can affect your microbiome and immune system negatively,” says Torkos.
Sleep can affect your body’s ability to defend against infection, according to a 2019 study conducted by a team from Germany’s University of Tübingen. The study found that a good night’s sleep can boost the effectiveness of T-cells, the soldiers of the immune system which seek and destroy invaders. Be sure to clock in the right amount of sleep you need (adults need between 7-9 hours) to avoid inadvertently suppressing your immunity.
If life gets in the way of getting a good night’s sleep, don’t discount the benefits of napping to help your immune system rebound. Two half-hour naps after a sleep-deprived night may have stress-releasing and immune supporting effects, suggests a 2015 study. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study restricted 11 men to only two hours of sleep. Before the recovery day, all subjects measured higher levels of stress hormones, norepinephrine, and cytokines in blood and urine samples. The following day, researchers gave one group naps and the other no naps. After the recovery day, the nap group’s stress blood biomarkers returned to normal while the no-nap group experienced increased afternoon levels of epinephrine.
Keep it Clean
When it comes to hygiene, remember you’re better safe than sorry. There are a few key tips to avoid coming into contact with harmful germs and pathogens. First, avoid touching your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth at all times. Wash your hands like you check your phone: closely and constantly! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds (and don’t forget the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under the nails.)
The CDC also recommends carrying disinfectant wipes or spray to disinfect frequently touched objects like desks, doorknobs, and gym equipment.
Pro tip: if you don’t already, clean your phone regularly; researchers say your phone is likely 10x dirtier than most toilet seats. The best way to do this is to simply dip a cloth into a combination of 60% water and 40% rubbing alcohol, according to experts.
Just thinking about getting sick can be stressful in itself, so don’t overthink things. Instead, focus on practicing these immune-supporting habits every day and the odds should be in your favor.