By Caroline Mackey, RNCP, CNP, PTS
It’s that time of year again where the sniffles, runny noses and coughs can return with a vengeance. We’re exposed to colds and flus every day at work, home, and school, but the good news is that you can do a lot to help your immune system function optimally to protect you from getting sick, or keep any illness to a minimum.
Some of the most basic things that you can do to support your immune system are to get a good night’s sleep consistently, exercise regularly, and manage your stress levels. Poor sleep (less than 6 hours a night) is associated with a lower immune system and a reduced number of the killer cells we need to fight germs. When your body is under constant stress this also lowers your body’s natural immune functions. Regular exercise and enough sleep (minimum 7 hours for adults) helps to combat stress significantly. Doing something to get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes several times a week, like a fast paced walk or swim, also gets your white blood cells working more optimally, helping your immune system to function better.
The foods we eat also play a major role in boosting our immunity. Most everyone knows that vitamin C is wonderful for your immune system and luckily it’s found in abundance in nature. Eat the ‘rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables, with foods particularly high in vitamin C being papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple (fresh not canned) and oranges. Vitamin D levels are also critical for immune function. In addition to getting vitamin D via the sun, you can also eat foods high in vitamin D including egg yolks and wild caught fish (salmon in particular). A vitamin d supplement is something to consider as you cannot get enough of what you need from food alone, and in Canada we don’t get enough sun exposure in the winter months. Consult with your healthcare practitioner on how much vitamin d it would be advisable to take; in the 1,000 to 3,000 IU range can be helpful.
Eating probiotic foods will help support a healthy bacterial balance in your gut, and a healthy digestion is paramount for healthy immunity. Good sources include organic tempeh and yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. You can also take a high quality probiotic supplement. Zinc is another key element to a good immune system, and protein-rich foods including organic meat, wild caught fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Include a source of protein with all your meals.
Finally, a key food that we ingest regularly can do a lot of harm to your immune system is sugar. Refined sugar and foods high in sugar content suppress the immune system. So try and switch out those sugary lattes for a delicious organic ginger tea, and those high sugar baked goods for fresh fruit. Your immune system will thank you for it!