November 8

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Take Your Immune Health to the Next Level!

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

November 8, 2020

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Let’s talk immune health. We’re coming into cold and flu season…as if we didn’t have enough to worry about already.

I’m not going to bore you with COVID-19 or flu facts. We’ve been bombarded with enough information to last a lifetime. What I will tell you is that they both activate the immune system. And this kicks off the inflammatory response.

In an already impaired body, more inflammation isn’t good. An impaired body would be someone that currently has a diagnosed condition or illness. Type 2 diabetes, cancer, autoimmune conditions, or high cholesterol to name a few. Or they could just be in overall poor health.

Instead, I’m going to tell you which foods and nutrients help reduce inflammation and protect your immune system during this tricky time. And where you can get these in your diet.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Diet

When I use the word diet, I’m not talking about being on a diet but rather general nutritional intake.

Your diet is exceptionally important when it comes to inflammation and immune health. If you want to improve the immune system, you’ve got to eat immune boosting foods. You can read about food and inflammation here.

If you did nothing else during this period, maintaining a healthy diet can go a long way. And many foods have immune bosting nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties as well.

Best immune boosting foods:
  • Red bell peppers are packed with vitamin C and beta carotene – both help boost the immune system
  • Like bell peppers, spinach contains C and beta carotene – steam lightly to enhance the absorption
  • Garlic contains allicin, a sulfur compound – eat raw for an extra punch for the immune system
  • Broccoli is another great choice containing A, C, E, fiber, and antioxidants – eat raw or steam just a hair for maximum benefits
  • Almonds contain quite a bit of vitamin E (and healthy fats) which is known to boost the immune system and ward of viruses
  • Foods high in selenium but also not inflammatory like brazil nuts, shitake mushrooms, and organic firm tofu help boost the immune system
  • Fermented foods are great for enhancing your immune system – most of your immune system lies within your gut and a healthy gut = healthy immune function

Along with immune boosting foods, it’s a good idea to eat anti-inflammatory foods as well.

Foods that reduce inflammation:
  • Cold water, wild-caught fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, etc) – shoot for 2 servings or more per week
  • Berries – start your morning with a cup or more! Or nosh on that as a low-calorie snack throughout the day
  • Bell peppers – these suckers are high in vitamin C and quercetin, which helps quiet inflammation in the body
  • Grapes contain resveratrol – a potent antioxidant
  • Use turmeric to spice up your dinner – consuming about ¼ tsp daily is all you need to lower inflammation
  • Ginger works as good as traditional NSAIDs at reducing inflammation – read here to combine both ginger and turmeric for a massive anti-inflammatory punch!
  • Broccoli can boost your immune system AND reduce inflammation

There are so many more foods that boost the immune system and lower inflammation! Focus on eating whole foods, mostly plants and you’ll be headed in the right direction!

Now, if your diet is great and you’re looking to take your immune health to the next level…let’s talk supplements.

Supplements

You can’t out-supplement a nutrient-poor diet. If your diet isn’t great, you’re probably not going to see benefits from taking immune boosting supplements.

Why? Because when you’re lacking nutrients in your diet, those supplements are going towards replenishing your body and allowing it to complete basic functions. There aren’t enough nutrients to go around.

When you have a solid diet and a healthy functioning body, additional supplements are going to boost certain areas…like your immune system!

So, if you’re reading this…focus on eating those foods first before supplementing with anything. And, as always, work with a professional before taking supplements because they can interact with medications. And, some supplements can backfire on you if you’re not taking the right ones for your body!

Favorite immune boosting supplements:
  • Zinc – should always be taken short term (less than 90 days)
  • Selenium – you can easily get this through your diet
  • Vitamin D – you can my in-depth blog on vitamin D here…but most of the population should be taking a vitamin D supplement (this can be a game changer against COVID-19)
  • Vitamin C – food is best here because there are so many healthy foods packed with vitamin C and too much can make your digestive tract angry
  • Elderberry syrup – this is great to take at the onset of a cold but should be avoided in people with autoimmune conditions
  • Fire Cider – not a well-researched item but it tastes good nonetheless – read about it here
  • Probiotics – I’ve written several blogs on this topic because it’s just not cut and dry

Regardless of what you do, start with food first and then add in the supplements. Now, let’s chat movement.

Exercise

I know I didn’t mention this at the start, but exercise can boost your immune system! Not only that, it can lower inflammation and reduce stress as well.

Now, you don’t need to run out and get a gym membership or start pounding the pavement for miles on end. You just need to move! And you need to move long-term. Meaning doing it for the winter isn’t going to boost your immune system. Long-term consistent exercise will do the trick!

Exercises like walking, yoga, pilates, and weight lifting pack the same benefits as running and HIIT without the extra joint strain (if you’re careful). Although, if you enjoy HIIT or running, you CAN do those activities!

I hate all forms of exercise. I have to mentally pump myself up daily to get moving. I’ve accepted this fact about me. But, I do it for a few reasons:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Reduced stress – it’s one of the few moments during the day I can shut off my brain!
  • Muscle growth/tone for bone health – because I’m not getting any younger!
  • A mood boost – it helps my brain take a break from spiraling at times
  • Improved immune function
  • Reduction in inflammation

I do have some significant injuries I’ve acquired throughout life. So, I do what I can. Some days I can only walk. Other days I can lift weights and do HIIT. Regardless of what the day poses, I listen to my body and do what I can. And you should do the same.

It’s recommended that you exercise for 30 minutes or more daily. But did you know you can break that apart? You can do 3 – 10 mini sessions each day and still get the same benefits as a full 30-minute session.

Summary

If you want to lower your risk of viral infections, you need to focus on your immune health and inflammation. And you can do so by incorporating some of the foods we discussed in this blog.

Eating anti-inflammatory foods and immune boosting foods is a great starting point for all. Adding in some extra supplements like vitamin D will make things that much better. And rounding everything out by adding in exercise is key!

None of these things should be short-term though. You should make a plan and start making lifestyle modifications today. Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you love…it just means that you have to have those things in moderation.

Interested in maximizing your immune health during the winter? This is especially important if you have digestive/ gut health issues or a diagnosed condition like high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or other health conditions. I offer a free 20-minute phone chat. Click HERE to book yours now!

References:

Barak, Vivian et al. “The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines.” The Israel Medical Association journal : IMAJ vol. 4,11 Suppl (2002): 919-22.

Campbell, John P, and James E Turner. “Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 9 648. 16 Apr. 2018, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

Huang, Zhi et al. “The role of selenium in inflammation and immunity: from molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities.” Antioxidants & redox signaling vol. 16,7 (2012): 705-43. doi:10.1089/ars.2011.4145

Jayawardena, Ranil et al. “Enhancing immunity in viral infections, with special emphasis on COVID-19: A review.” Diabetes & metabolic syndrome vol. 14,4 (2020): 367-382. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2020.04.015

Lee, Ga Young, and Sung Nim Han. “The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity.” Nutrients vol. 10,11 1614. 1 Nov. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10111614

Nieman, David C., and Laurel M. Wentz. “The Compelling Link between Physical Activity and the Body’s Defense System.” Journal of Sport and Health Science, Elsevier, 16 Nov. 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005.

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