Having a healthy immune system prevents germs from entering your body, builds up your resistance to viral infections and even protects your body from cancer progression. While immune health often calls for more complex solutions, there are several simple dietary and lifestyle changes that can build up your body's natural defenses. But with all the snake oil 'cures' out there, it can be hard to find viable and effective options. So let's review what you can do to boost your immune system.
Immune system function
Your immune system is made up of different organs, cells and proteins that work together to protect your body from outside invaders. These invaders include germs such as bacteria, toxins, viruses and fungi.
There are two main parts of the immune system:
- The innate immune system. You are born with this. It's the first to respond when an invader is found, using cells (called phagocytes) to surround and kill it.
- The adaptive immune system. You develop this over time as your body is exposed to harmful microbes. Your body makes special proteins (called antibodies) to protect you from more specific invaders.
While vitamins and nutrients have a role in the immune system — in both innate (general) and adaptive (specific) immune responses — supplements aren't intended to replace food. Let’s take a look at proven ways to boost your immune system.
How to boost your immunity
- Ditch your vices. Many of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke can cause your immune system to work less effectively. Similarly, alcohol impairs the function of immune cells. Quitting smoking and cutting back on drinking will help to strengthen your immune system.
- Get a good night's sleep. When you sleep, your body produces proteins (called cytokines) that target infections and inflammation, creating an immune response. Sleep will also help you produce white blood cells, which play a critical role in your body's immune response to infectious diseases like COVID-19. Read our article on getting a better night's sleep.
- Stay social and minimize stress. It goes without saying that the right kind of socializing can leave us feeling happy and rejuvenated. But on top of improving overall quality of life, having meaningful social interactions can reduce stress and help you avoid anxiety and depression. All three of these factors — stress, anxiety and depression — result in chronic levels of cortisol, which can compromise your immune system.
- Stay up to date on your vaccines. This is where the adaptive immune system comes into play. If you recall, after your body has been exposed to harmful microbes, the adaptive immune system creates antibodies that are designed to protect you from those pesky microbes. Vaccines imitate an infection and work with the adaptive response to develop immunity. There is a common misconception that vaccines weaken the immune system by imitating an infection, but the fact of the matter is that they work with your immune system to make it stronger. Schedule a vaccine appointment with El Camino Health today.
- Eat immunity boosting foods. Some vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to improve immune cell production include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron and protein. These nutrients are found in a handful of plant and animal foods. Keep your immune system function up with a balanced diet of whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Keep reading for a detailed look at immunity boosting foods.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity can help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing your risk of cold, flu and other illnesses. Exercise also contributes to general good health, which is an essential pillar of a healthy immune system.
The pandemic may have put an emphasis on immune health, but our immune systems help us fight off much more than COVID-19. Keeping your immunity high is among the best things you can do to stay healthy. Before making any drastic changes to your lifestyle, it might be helpful to speak with your primary care doctor to see where you stand. If you don't have a primary care physician, we've got you covered. Click here to find a doctor that's right for you, or to make an appointment today.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.