Since the year 2020, our culture has had a heightened awareness around the impact of health on our communities. More and more people are now looking for natural ways to boost their immune system in order to combat exposure to any virus or illness. Please read the following for science-based, helpful information on how to keep you and your loved ones safe.
Ways to Counteract Illness according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Reduce Stress: One can never underestimate the role that chronic stress can play on the body. This includes disrupting the immune system which can result in making you more likely to get sick. It’s helpful to identify personal strategies for stress reduction and to practice these routinely.
Improve Sleep: How well you sleep has a huge impact on your immune function. Promoting better sleep habits can help maintain consistent sleep and can facilitate healing and repair. Some habits include reducing screen time at night, setting a reminder to help yourself go to bed on time, and move to a room that is cool, dark, and quiet.
Exercise: Physical activity can help promote immune activation by increasing levels of white blood cells and antibodies (to help fight off infection), increasing blood circulation, and decreasing stress hormones. Following a consistent exercise program can help prevent respiratory infections as well as improving mental and physical health.
Real Food: Research shows that having a diet rich in brightly colored fruits and veggies can promote a bigger boost to your immune system than most supplements. Aim to eat 2-4 servings of fruits and 5-7 servings of vegetables per day – including 2-3 servings of fermented vegetables and other probiotic foods.
Boost Immunity Naturally
If you take a look at most over-the-counter medications, you’ll notice that their claims only treat the symptoms of viral infections. This means the majority of these meds don’t actually help the immune system fight the infection. Although there are differentiations whether you’re fighting off a bacterial or viral infection, the following are natural ways to address not only the symptoms you’re experiencing but also assist in boosting your immune system if you do come down with an illness:
Promote Self-care: When battling most infections, top priorities should be an abundance of rest and hydration. Drinking plenty of fluids, including homemade vegetable or bone broths can be extremely valuable. Other ancient tools that can be used at your disposal are teas and tinctures. Some options that help with hydration symptom reduction include ginger, peppermint, eucalyptus, chamomile, cinnamon, or hot water with honey and lemon.
Sore throats: One of the best ways to remedy a sore throat is gargling with salt water. This is great for warding off bacterial infections and loosening mucus. Hot teas and lozenges containing slippery elm, zinc, and elderberry are excellent demulcents – they help relieve pain and inflammation from mucous membranes. One to two tablespoons of local honey in hot water with a lemon wedge should be another staple that soothes the throat while also decreasing pain and inflammation. Other teas that you may find helpful are peppermint, chamomile for soothing, ginger or turmeric for decreasing inflammation, or marshmallow and licorice root as demulcents.
Lung and sinus congestion: For the lungs there are a multitude of different methods to help decrease congestion.You may notice decreased congestion from humidifiers, vaporizers, steam inhalers, hot showers with shower steamers or hot baths with a bath bomb. Incorporating decongestants like eucalyptus, menthol, peppermint, or frankincense can help break down mucus. You could also use nasal irrigation bottles, neti pots, or even xylitol nasal sprays to help with sinus congestion. And buffered saline can help reduce irritation to mucous membranes.
Food and Nutrients to Support Immune Function
There are a multitude of real foods, plant-based botanicals, and supplements that can boost immune function and provide symptom relief during illness. These methods can also shorten the duration of illness. For preventing and treating viral/bacterial infections during colder months, consider some of the following:
Honey: Honey, preferably raw and/or local to the region where you live, is a good demulcent (which relieves minor pain and inflammation of mucous membranes), has antioxidant properties, and has some antimicrobial effects. It is helpful for coughs and sore throats and can be added to hot tea with lemon or ginger.
Garlic: Garlic contains a plethora of compounds that can improve immune function. Some studies have shown that both fresh garlic as well as aged garlic extract (and other garlic supplements) may reduce upper respiratory infection severity as well as function in the prevention of infection with viruses and bacteria that can cause colds.
Probiotic Foods: Probiotic foods contain “good bacteria” that not only support the health of the gut but also increase immune system functioning and signaling. Studies have also shown that probiotic use can decrease the number of respiratory infections in children.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C may help to prevent infections, including those caused by bacteria and viruses. Regularly administered vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of colds, and higher doses of vitamin C during an illness can also act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D, which some refer to as the “sunshine vitamin,” is one of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting our immune systems. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin D helps reduce the risk of colds and flu. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the population is deficient, so daily supplementation (ideally in the form of vitamin D3) offers the best protection.
Vitamin A: Particularly for those with moderate vitamin A deficiency and for short-term use, supplementation can be extremely helpful in supporting the body’s ability to fight infections, especially regarding respiratory infections.
Zinc: Zinc plays a significant role in boosting immunity. Often available as lozenges, zinc can help to reduce the frequency of infections as well as the duration and severity of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of onset.
Selenium: Selenium is another key nutrient for immune function. It is an antioxidant that helps boost the body’s defense against bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Selenium can also be particularly helpful to protect against certain strains of flu and coronavirus. Selenium is easily obtained from foods, with the richest source being Brazil nuts.
* This document is intended to identify modalities that may boost your immune system only. This document is in no way meant to recommend any treatments. Always consult your physician or healthcare provider prior to using any of these modalities. For up-to-date information and guidelines, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.
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