THE BEST AND WORST THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
A natural tendency is to only pay attention to boosting the immune system when it’s down. Sore throat? Sniffles? That’s when people typically start loading up on vitamin C and the like. Perhaps now more than ever before, it could be a good idea to pay attention to the lifestyle habits and other factors that can make or break a strong immune system.
The elusive immune system doesn’t live in one place; it is all over the body. “White blood cells and their T cells are the natural killer blood cells that are responsible for fighting any attack on the body. These are the soldiers of your immune system,” says Alise Jones-Bailey, M.D. and CEO of Buckhead Functional Medicine who is trained in both Western and Eastern medicine.
Generally speaking, the younger you are, the stronger your immune system. Signs of a strong immune system include having good energy, not getting sick and recovering quickly when you do (“down for a day or two instead of a week,” explains the doc). Jones-Bailey adds that if you get the flu at the same time every year, have a few cases of strep annually or get sick as soon as you come into contact with a snotty kid, your immune system could use a boost.
Lifestyle habits and external factors that can sabotage your immune system include smoking, taking drugs, parasites from eating raw foods and toxic environmental exposure to chemicals such as phthalates in personal care products and mercury in food or water. “Your immune system will respond to any kind of toxic exposure or foreign invader to keep you healthy,” says Jones-Bailey. The more it is fighting these things for your body on a regular basis, the less power it has to fight sickness.
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best immunity strategies. “Specifically, one that’s plant dominated with fruits and vegetables because there are so many good nutritional things in plants. Mushrooms in particular, such as reishi and cistanche, have shown to support immune function. Green, leafy vegetables have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help in a preventative sense,” says Jones- Bailey, who also advocates staying hydrated to flush out toxins.
Additionally, make sure you’re getting zinc through a quality multivitamin or foods such as seaweed, nuts and shellfish. “A multivitamin offers immune support from antioxidants like vitamins C, A and K as well,” says Jones-Bailey, who recommends brands Life Extension, Ortho Molecular or Pure Encapsulations that screen raw materials for contaminants and therefore produce higher-quality supplements.
Exercise is equally important. “You want to keep the circulation going and move those T cells to get where they need to go in your body. Some component of cardiovascular for 20 minutes, plus 20 minutes of weight bearing exercises and 20 minutes of stretching would be ideal,” Jones- Bailey says. While a lot of people skip it, stretching is important because it releases muscle and fascia (connective tissue) tension, encouraging blood flow. What’s more, exercise helps control weight. “To be overweight can be a risk factor for challenges with your immune system.”
Completing the wellness circle, the next item on Jones-Bailey’s list of immune system must dos? Adequate sleep. “Rest regulates cortisol, which manages stress levels. We need at least eight hours of sleep for restoration and to reboot the immune system,” she says.
For a bonus, natural-healing therapies are designed to support immune system function through better circulation, says Jones-Bailey. Acupuncture and reflexology, for example, help restore blood flow, energy and “fire up” the nerves, removing blockages.
Whether you need immune support or not, giving this all-important system in the body a little extra help certainly can’t hurt right about now.
BUCKHEAD FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
3193 Howell Mill Road N.W., Unit 316
Managing Editor and Wellness Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Blogger at Badass + Healthy.