It stands to reason that you would want to maintain top-notch immunity as it serves as your main line of defence against disease. This is particularly true during the cold and flu season and as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks continue to spread across the nation.
Everyone has a unique immune system that they are born with, but there are some things you can do to attempt to boost it, according to Julia Blank, M.D., a family medicine specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Taking good care of your body is essential for maintaining a strong immune system," she explains.
What exactly is the immune system's mechanism?
According to Dr. Blank, your immune system is actually composed of "many layers of defence." She says that this includes natural defences like your skin, the cilia (small, hair-like structures) that line your airways, and specialised cells that can identify and combat alien objects like viruses and bacteria.
"Some of these immune cells attack anything that seems strange and are not particular. According to Dr. Blank, other cells create antibodies that recognise and attack protein markers, or antigens, on the surface of pathogens.
Additionally, your immune system is capable of quickly mounting a defence against infections you've already come into contact with. Dr. Blank explains, "This is why humans typically don't get sick after being exposed to a pathogen we've already encountered and fought off in the past.
How to Improve Your Immunity
You can increase your immune system in a few ways that are supported by science, and the majority of them are advised for general health:
1. Limit your alcohol consumption.
According to Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers, "high alcohol intake has been demonstrated to impair immunological function." Additionally, alcohol "may dehydrate, and hydrated is crucial for warding off sickness. ” According to Cording, when you're dehydrated, your cells can't operate at their best, which can make you more susceptible to illness.
Drink alcohol in moderation if you don't want to entirely give it up. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that entails having up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
2. Lessen your level of tension.
Once you've dealt with your anxiety, stress may seem harmless, but research has shown that it can "weak or suppress the immune system and make us more prone to infection," according to Dr. Blank.
Research has discovered that stress specifically triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which can increase inflammation in the body—a precursor to many diseases. Chronic stress may also hinder your white blood cells' ability to fight infections, increasing your risk of getting sick. Can't relax? Check out these stress-relieving techniques supported by science.)
3. Consume a lot of fresh produce.
According to Beth Warren, R.D., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl, including a variety of fruits and vegetables on your plate can do your immune system a world of good. According to her, "fruits and vegetables help provide your body with antioxidants it needs to battle oxidative stress, which includes getting sick in your body."
Uncertain of the quantity required? According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults who consume 2,000 calories a day should have 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. Leafy greens, bell peppers, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, and berries are a few excellent choices.
4. Consume lots of vitamin D.
According to Cording, vitamin D is essential for immune system support because it encourages the body to develop antibodies that can fight disease.
According to Warren, "active vitamin D is transported to various parts of the body, such as the bones, intestines, colon, brain, and immune cells, where it connects with the receptors on these cells and ultimately turns them on.
The worst part is that most people don't consume enough. The sunshine vitamin is largely produced by your body via exposure to UV rays from the sun, but you may increase your intake by consuming foods high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and shellfish, mushrooms, eggs (don't skip the yolk), and fortified meals, advises Cording. Consult your doctor before taking a supplement if you believe your vitamin D consumption is inadequate. To determine your ideal dosage, he or she can perform a blood test.
5. Put sleep first.
Dr. Blank affirms that increasing sleep duration is important. Getting adequate sleep, according to her, "helps our bodies recover from daily stress—both physical and mental—and promotes greater immune system functioning."
When you don't get enough sleep, your body may produce less cytokines, which are protective proteins that your immune system needs more when it's stressed out and battling an infection or inflammation.
How much sleep are we actually talking about? According to the National Sleep Foundation, persons up to the age of 64 should strive for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while adults 65 and over should aim for between seven and eight. (Rolling on the bed? See our comprehensive guide to getting better sleep every night.)
6. Constantly wash your hands.
According to Dr. Blank, routinely washing your hands can help keep germs and viruses out of your mouth, nose, and eyes, which will benefit your immune system. According to her, "this lessens the type and amount of bacteria we are exposed to and prevents our immune system from becoming overworked."
The time it takes to hum "Happy Birthday" twice from beginning to end is the minimum length of time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises for washing your hands with soap and water.
7. Maintain a regular exercise schedule.
According to the National Library of Medicine, being physically active can aid in keeping viruses out of your lungs and airways, reducing your risk of contracting a cold, the flu, or other ailments. White blood cells and antibodies may circulate more broadly throughout your body as a result of exercise, making them more likely to identify diseases than they would otherwise.
8. In case you haven't already, stop smoking.
You already know that smoking is terrible for your health in a variety of ways, but according to Dr. Blank, it can also cause havoc and "direct damage" to some immune system components.
Smoking, for instance, immobilises cilia, the hair-like structures in your airways that assist in "sweeping" bacteria out. According to Dr. Blank, these cilia serve as the body's initial line of defence against respiratory infections. Germs can "far easier access" your lungs when they're immobile, she says. Bring on the sneezing and coughing.
Bottom line: Your immune system can be strengthened by incorporating specific lifestyle practises.
Of course, you might follow all the appropriate steps and still fall unwell. But by making an effort to strengthen your immune system now, your body will be better equipped to handle any infections that may come your way later.