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Boosting Your Immune System: You Can Start Today

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: By Julie Hill, RD, LDN, IFMCP, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and Register

A Look at Your Body's Natural Defenses

With all the concern about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and other viral infections like the flu, we need to look at what we can do to support our natural defense system.

This is the time to look at your lifestyle and see what you are capable of changing. Proper hand sanitation is the number one method of control, but what else can you do?

Let’s take a look at what the functional nutrition approach to immune support looks like:

Let’s Talk Food

Food items to avoid: Alcohol, fried foods, sweetened foods or beverages, and over-consumption of food in general.

Alcohol uses up several antioxidants to get properly detoxified from our body. High sugar or high carbohydrate foods severely tax our immune system and can cause inflammation, which increases our body’s consumption of vitamins and minerals. 

We need to keep all the nutritional power toward our immune system for incoming pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.

Food items to consume: Choose local, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. They have natural Vitamin C, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help to support our immune cells and protect them from getting damaged. 

The fiber in vegetables and fruit helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which is where 70 percent of your immune system resides. Vegetables can be cooked or raw. 

  • For optimal nutrition aim for these daily: 2 cups of colorful vegetables, 2 cups of leafy greens*, and 2 cups of cruciferous* and thiol* vegetables, and a rainbow of 1-3 colorful fruits
  • Mushrooms: Try a variety of cooked mushrooms -- they help increase macrophages (immune cells) around our nose and mouth. Mushrooms are also a natural source of Vitamin D. Avoid mushrooms if you have mold allergies or are allergic. 
  • Remember to use fresh herbs. They contain natural antimicrobial properties and are power-packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Make sure to use produce. Wash all fruit and vegetables (including organic) because of pesticide and herbicide residue, which can increase the need for more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
  • Remember to increase high fiber foods slowly over 1-2 weeks to avoid gastrointestinal complaints.

Nuts, seeds, and fat from plant sources are high in minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, iron, and many other vitamins and antioxidants. Try to include a small handful of nuts and seeds as a snack daily and try to add a plant based fat to at least 1-2 meals per day such as avocado or olives.

Probiotic foods help to increase the beneficial bacteria counts in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics also help to maintain your gut-barrier and avoid “leaky gut.” A good bacterial balance in the gut helps to regulate immunity in rest of the body by managing inflammation.

  • Aim for foods that are natural probiotic foods: kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, cultured pickles, organic-grass-fed dairy yogurt (plain), cottage cheese, or kefir (plain).  Remember to avoid excess sugars to avoid inflammation and stress on the immune system. Try adding fruit to naturally sweeten plain items
  • Prebiotic foods feed the existing flora and help them remain abundant and include bananas, garlic, onion, whole grains, chicory, leeks, beans and legumes, asparagus, and honey

Sleep, Sleep, and More Sleep

Experts recommend 7-9 hours for adults, and you may need even more than that if you have chronic health concerns. When our sleep is compromised, we are putting our immune system in danger of not being able to restore itself. Poor sleep quality increases our natural stress hormone cortisol, which increases inflammation.

Poor sleep can also lead to increased hunger and caloric consumption because of energy needs.   

  • Sleep helps the body repair all cells (including those in the immune system) and reduces inflammation that supports your body’s capacity of maintaining good nutritional status.

Light Exercise

Light exercise within your comfort and ability helps support the immune system and flushes the lymphatic system -- another source of surveillance for our body. Don’t overdo it, though. Excessive exercise can harm your immune system and cause fatigue.

If you’re involved in excessive training, support your system with your nutrition and other lifestyle measures. 

Watch that Stress

Monitor your stress and take a break once in a while! Chronic stress weakens the immune system and puts you at risk by reducing nutrients needed to support your healthy cells. 

Ideas for reducing stress:

  • Limit TV, especially if you feel it’s impacting your sleep or stress throughout the day
  • Try relaxing exercises such as yoga, swimming, and walking
  • Read a book, magazine, complete a puzzle or coloring book
  • Meditate, prayer, or mindfulness
  • Take a nap
  • Talk to a friend (preferably about happy things!)
  • Conduct positive self-talk

With these tools in hand you should have the confidence and the opportunity to build and support your immune system.

One last note: While supplements can be helpful, you should talk to an expert first since they will recommend what might help on an individual basis. Remember, we can’t supplement ourselves out of a poor food plan and lifestyle. 

If you would like further recommendations for a comprehensive approach to supporting your immune system, please contact our scheduling line for a consultation with our Functional Nutrition Practitioner at: 239-424-3120.

*Servings of vegetables is: 1 cup raw, or ½ cup cooked = 1 serving
*Thiol vegetables: onions, leek, garlic, scallions, chives, daikon radish, shallot
*Cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish, sprouts, red radishes, kohlrabi, arugula
*Leafy greens: spinach, kale, beet greens, Swiss chard, cilantro, microgreens, parsley, radicchio

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