The immune system is an impressive force; it is capable of complex functions that science still cannot understand. We generally recognize the immune system as the disease prevention and fighting system, so the gut feeling is to “strengthen” it in times of illness or when we want to steer clear of an infectious disease.
However, sometimes our immune system can become too powerful and actually turn on the body, causing painful inflammation and autoimmune disorders. So while our culture is used to prescription solutions and quick fixes, it’s important to understand that the immune system is very detailed. It takes more than just increasing the amount of cells to really improve and protect our health. We can’t just take something to boost the immune system. (1)
But we can identify what steps to take to help the immune system function more efficiently and what drags it down. I like to call it bolstering the immune system.
Hindering The Immune System
At its peak levels, the immune system picks out viruses and diseases to be deactivated or destroyed and removed from the body. After recognizing an invasion, increased fluids carry white blood cells and immune cells (T-cells) to attack it, together with a fever locally or throughout the body. In this context, inflammation is actually a good thing.
The immune system can be made hyperactive or its responses can be slowed, so its ability to target and attack real threads can be subdued.
What Main Factors Inhibit Effective Immune Responses?
- Poor diet
- Mental and emotional stress
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Inadequate sleep
Lifestyle factors, both physical and mental, can also affect the immune system. Closely linked with neurological and hormonal functions, immune response is altered when we are under heavy stress or are not recovering well with good sleep habits. (2,3) A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to sluggish body systems, and the immune system is no exception. (4)
The human body processes, distributes, and responds to everything that we consume. One classic study, in particular, demonstrated the effect that sugar consumption has, especially on the immune system.
When sugary drinks were consumed, the immune system operated about half as well as it should have, and this deficiency extended for at least five hours after the sugar was consumed. (5) Similarly, an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, found in processed carbs and meats, can produce inflammation throughout the body, causing pain and inflammatory disease. (6)
Strengthen Immune System
When the immune system overreacts, it attacks healthy tissue with inflammation. Immune response is definitely an example of a case where you can have “too much of a good thing.” When we say we want to strengthen our immune system, what we really mean is that we want to support the immune system and its healthy responses. Just as diet and lifestyle can alter the immune system negatively, we can use those same principles to find simple ways to bolster the immune system.
Your Immune Boosting Toolbox
A Nutritious Diet
Nutrition is the first tool to put in your toolbox for a balanced body and healthy lifestyle. Paying attention to the food and drink you consume can make or break your immune responses when cold and flu season arrives and you are exposed to more illnesses. Minimize sodas, sugars, and other processed carbs to keep your immune system alert and focused on threats of disease. To maximize immune-boosting antioxidants and keep your body balanced and fed, add these healthy foods into your diet (7):
Getting a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, with high quality meats only a few times per week, can also help to balance omega-3 and omega-6 to keep inflammation away. (8) The state of bacteria in the gut is another diet factor that can contribute to immune health. Having enough good bacteria to balance out offending bacteria can help the immune system to function well. (9) Gut health can be improved by consuming high-fiber foods, taking probiotics, and avoiding processed foods.
A Healthy Lifestyle
The way we treat our body helps to determine how the body can work for us. We run ourselves ragged with too little sleep, too much stress, and inconsistent exercise, but by making a few simple changes to improve these habits, we can make great strides in immune efficiency.
Managing Stress Levels
Stress is a major culprit of immune inhibition. (10) In the Western world, our bodies react to perceived stress as though we are fighting for our lives, but the problem might actually be financial, interpersonal, or simply not giving ourselves a break. In order to lessen this perceived stress, try the following:
- Practice mindfulness
- Incorporate meditative relaxation methods, such as yoga
- Create a more balanced schedule
- Prioritize adequate sleep
Without enough sleep, we don’t allow the brain and immune system enough time to interact. (11) Simply creating a period of restfulness before bed and enjoying a full night of sleep can help to bolster the immune system, particularly during times when illness is more likely.
Exercise is a factor in immune health, but it is another area where balance is important. Very strenuous exercise can be too hard on the immune system, while a sedentary life can slow it down. On the other hand, moderate exercise helps to keep the body running smoothly. (12) Consistency is more important than harsh or heavy calorie burning, allowing your body to adapt to the habit and utilize the efforts most efficiently. Examples of good consistent exercise are walking, jogging, swimming, and yoga, but choose what is most enjoyable and sustainable for your life.
Of course, vitamins, minerals, and herbs have been used for generations, and even centuries, to help bolster immune system effectiveness. Along with balancing the diet, reducing stress, recovering with sleep, and energizing with exercise, consider these quality supplements for their stress-reducing and immunomodulatory effects:
When you need an extra immune oomph – my DIY Immune Boosting Shot works wonders!