'Tis the season for germs, germs and more germs. But, is it the germ we should be worried about or how prepared our Immune System is to handle that germ?
This discussion is highly debated (germ theory vs. terrain theory) and while I believe in one more that the other, why not focus on both, just in case:) So, wash your hands before you eat or if you have been out and about in high traffic areas. That makes sense. And, do some of the following to make sure that your immune system is primed and ready for any germ that comes its way!
Do you catch colds or flu easily? Do you catch colds or flu more than 3x per year? Do you suffer from chronic infections? Do you currently have, or have you had cancer?
Is it cold or flu season where you live?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to focus on boosting that immune system so it can do its job.
Truthfully, everyone should include many of these immune boosting strategies into their lives to have strong, robust immune systems.
Role of Immune System
Before we dive into those strategies, let's look at what exactly our immune system does and why it is so important.
Our immune system is one of the most complex systems in our bodies and one of the most important.
The main tasks of the body’s immune system are
to fight disease-causing germs (pathogens) like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, and to remove them from the body
to recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment
to fight disease-causing changes in the body, such as cancer cells.
The immune system is composed of:
Lymphatic vessels and organs - spleen, thymus, tonsils and lymph nodes
White blood cells - lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes etc.
Specialized cells - macrophages, mast cells etc.
Specialized serum factors
A healthy immune system is always at work. It protects you from infections through highly complex and adaptive processes - identifying and destroying harmful microorganisms.
Your immune system also helps you build immunity - when you encounter certain invading germs again, you can fight them faster the next time around, often without even getting sick at all. It is amazing!
How we can support it
Unfortunately, there isn't a magic formula to restore immune function or a pill to take to say - yup, I am covered - sorry. Your immune system is a complex system and a holistic approach is best here - a comprehensive plan involving a healthy, immune boosting diet, targeted supplements and the use of herbal/botanical medicines, lifestyle and stress management strategies, exercise (exercise is ALWAYS on the list) and the avoidance of toxins.
This is a big plan, but well worth it, don't you think? Start small, you will get there.
In this Blog we will concentrate on one aspect of the plan - immune boosting foods and herbs.
Diet and Nutrition and the Immune System
Food contains the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your immune system needs to function correctly. But you need the right foods - the foods that will help your your body get ready to defend itself against incoming pathogens - instead of the wrong foods that will actually make things worse.
We have all heard that Vitamin C will help you fight a cold - and that is the truth! Vitamin C is an amazing immune supporting nutrient. It may help you avoid infection and even shorten the duration of a cold.
Vitamin D, A, E and folate all offer immune support and minerals like zinc, iron and selenium are all key to immune health.
We should also include foods with high anti-oxidants, those that are antiviral and that have special compounds that help to enhance immune function.
So eat a variety of healthy foods that help to feed your immune system. Below are a few key ones to get you started.
Immune Boosting Foods
1. Vitamin C rich foods
Bell Peppers - Bell peppers - all the colourful ones - are jam packed with vitamin C (and beta carotene) - even more than the vitamin C rich citrus fruits. For example, a medium red pepper has about 152 mg of vitamin C, and a large yellow one has around 342 mg - the recommended daily intake (RDI) is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.
When I think of colds I think of orange juice and grapefruits - that is what my mom always gave me - just watch the sugar in the juice!
A medium orange has nearly 83 mg of vitamin C, which is close to the RDI.
Lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, and clementines are also great immune system boosting options.
2. Sulfur containing foods
Garlic - is super potent and rich in allicin and other sulfur compounds that support immunity. Eat it raw or cut it up and let sit for at least 10 minutes before cooking.
Onions - contain some of the same sulfur compounds as garlic, including allicin. They are also loaded with unique antioxidants that support overall health and immune function and are a good source of folate and vitamin C.
3. Foods with antiviral properties
Ginger - has powerful anti-microbial properties (anti-viral) and is full of antioxidants and
special compounds (gingerol) that have an anti-inflammatory effect and can enhance immune response. Fresh ginger root instead of dried is the way to go for immune support.
Honey - Raw honey is filled with nutrients, antioxidants and has anti-bacterial properties. But it needs to be raw honey. Most honey that you get at the grocery store is processed and this 'process' gets rid of most of the good properties of the honey and just leaves the sugar. Find somone locally, the farmer's market is a good place to start, who has bees and sells raw honey. It usually tastes so much better too:)
My kids ask for a spoonful of honey - not to make the medicine go down - but to soothe a sore throat. I like it in warm water or in tea when starting to feel under the weather.
4. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Broccoli - is filled with immune-supportive nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, selenium, and folate - with almost 70 mg of vitamin C per a one cup serving and plenty of antioxidants.
Broccoli is anti-viral and anti-bacterial due to a compound called glucosinolates. The best way to consume broccoli and benefit from these compounds is to steam it.
Kiwi - contain many essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, Vitamin A and K and tons of Vitamin C. Eating one or two a day offers a lot of support to your immune system and may even help prevent or shorten the symptoms of respiratory infections.
Turmeric - has received a lot of attention for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also one of the best foods for healthy immunity. It contains a plant compound called curcumin that has pronounced anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties along with other immune boosting benefits.
Berries - packed with vitamin C and super antioxidants, like flavoids, berries are a great way to keep your immune system singing. Flavonoids support a healthy immune system and seem to have a special link to respiratory health.
Elderberry - This is an imporant berry when talking about immunity. Eldeberries are anti-viral, full of antioxidants and vitamin C. They work as a preventative measure as well as to help reduce the duration of a cold or flu.
Eldeberry syrup is a great one to find for kiddos too.
Papaya - Papaya is a nutrient powerhouse - vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, potassium, carotenoids and beta carotene! Papayas also contain the digestive enzyme papain, which benefits gut health and offers added immune support.
Almonds - are a great immune boosting food because of their excellent vitamin E content. Just a half-cup serving provides about 100% of the RDI for vitamin E - an antioxidant that is critical for the immune system and can help you body fight off infection.
Sunflower Seeds - I love these seeds! They are great as a snack, yummy in a salad or a nut bowl mix and they have so many immune supporting benefits like Vitamin E (1/4 cup almost meets your RDI) and selenium.
Spinach - Did you ever see Popeye with a cold? Well, that is not proof, but there are many reasons to eat more spinach and immune support is one of them.
As well as being super high in vitamin C, this leafy green is filled with vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), folate, and antioxidants - specifically, carotenoids and flavonoids - two types of antioxidants that are beneficial for immune health.
Orange Veggies - like pumpkin and sweet potatoes, are rich in the antioxidant beta carotene, a major immune supporter and they also contain other essential nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium. Bonus - these yummy veggies are seasonal right now (Fall in Ontario) when your immune system usually needs a boost!
Immune Boosting Herbs
These herbs have been around for many years - are some of the oldest natural immune supporters on record - and should be part of your immune boosting aresnal.
Echinacea is probably the most common herb that you have heard of for cold and flu. It has many immune boosting phytonutrients and is very easy to find in teas, tinctures and other combination remedies.
Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb long used in traditional Chinese medicine for many things including immune support. You can simmer the root in water to make a tea or a broth or it can be purchased as a tincture. It does NOT taste good in tincture form, but it is my go to when I start to feel under the weather!
Medicinal mushrooms like turkey tail or chaga contain plant compounds and antioxidants that support immune health.
Gut health isn't just important for digestion - our immune system relies on a healthy gut microbiome and Probiotics (here is the skinny on these helpful guys https://www.restoredvitality.ca/post/nutrient-news-probiotics ) will help with that. Probiotics have been shown to support immune function and potentially lessen the risk of certain infections, including respiratory illnesses.
Probiotics promote the production of antibodies and important immune cells, which can strengthen your overall immunity.
Choose to eat probiotic rich foods like organic plain yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut. Many of us need to eat these foods along with taking a good quality probiotic supplement.
Immune booster drink recipe
1 small orange (add 1-2 more oranges for added sweetness / omit and add another lemon for less sweetness!)
2 small lemons (add 1-2 more lemons for more acidity / reduce by half and add another orange for less acidity!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh turmeric (peeling optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger (peeling optional)
1/8 tsp fresh black pepper
1/4 tsp oil (such as extra virgin, optional / to help improve turmeric absorption)
Or for an easy, soothing immune boosting tea - add 1 tsp raw honey, 1 - 2 tbsp of freshly juiced lemon, a piece of ginger root and 1 tsp cinnamon to a cup of boiling water. Stir and steep covered for 10-15 min. This is great for kids too - adjust for their own taste as the ginger can be a bit 'spicey' and the cinnamon a bit overwhelming.
The Wrong Foods
No surprises here - crap foods are the wrong foods for your immune system. You can't eat junkie food and then expect your immune system to work optimally. Cut out the processed foods - those high in sugars, pesticides, rancid oils, artificial sweeteners, dyes, refined carbohydrates, chemicals, all the artificial stuff....
Sugar is a big probelm when it comes to our immune system - eating sugar will actually inhibit your immune function, putting your white blood cells in a temporary coma. So if you are fighting something or need your immune system firing on all cylinders, cut the sugar for a bit, or at least reduce it significantly.
The Bottom Line
Give your immune system the things that it needs to function optimally - clean water and good food - and take a way the things that it doesn't need - crappy food and toxins.
Maintain a postitive emotional state, live a healthy lifestyle, keep stress in check, maintain a healthy weight - these, as well as diet are all essential to a healthy immune system.
For help with a personalized Immune Boosting Plan book a session with me https://l.bttr.to/lVNBH - either virtually or in person at the Sunflower Shop in Brighton, Ontario.
I would love to help!