It’s vital to tune immunity so that you are not susceptible to pathogens. But you also need to regulate your immune system so it doesn’t over-react when it faces a challenge. You want it neither weak nor aggressive. For example, you want to be fit enough to fight off COVID-19, yet not have such an antagonistic response that it precipitates a cytokine storm. In other words, you don’t just want to boost immunity, you want to balance it.
Hydration is Your First Defense
#1 Drink plenty of pure, clean water. No, I don’t mean start drinking water when you get a sore throat. I mean keep your mucus membranes hydrated all the time. Before you even activate that part of your immune system that creates antibodies, a germ first has to get past the nasal passages, the throat, the lungs, and the gut. These are all lined with special membranes designed to provide you protection at the site of first contact with pathogens. Your mucosa is the largest component of your immune system. If you are drinking more soda, juice, coffee, tea, and alcohol than pure water, you are compromising your protection!
The pillars of restorative sleep, frequent movement, and copious amounts of fresh air are foundational for immune balance. However, they are also the most-compromised health tenets in our society today.
#2 Sleep: You know high-quality sleep is vital to wellness. While your body is lying still on the outside, inside it is processing toxins, repairing damaged tissue, generating white blood cells for immunity, and eliminating the effects of stress. Unfortunately you may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. The best advice I can give is to make bedtime earlier! That includes an hour for switching gears by turning down lights, dampening the stresses of the day, and stopping stimulating screen time. Aim for hours (plural!) of sleep before midnight.
#3 Movement: Your lymph system requires muscle contractions for good flow. Of course, you need good lymphatic function to release immune cell “soldiers” that monitor and destroy invaders. It stands to reason that more consistent movement throughout the day is better than working out for an hour, then sitting the rest of the day. Such a pattern amounts to movement only 6% of your waking hours. Make a point to walk more, bend more and stretch more throughout the day.
#4 Fresh air: Indoor air can become quite toxic due to outgassing from textiles and chemicals and building materials. This is especially true during the cold months, even in our own homes! Taking away unnecessary burdens from your body helps it maintain an appropriate response to true threats.
Tune Immunity with Vitamins
#5 Take your vitamins. I’m not talking about Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. Those are secondary nutrients. Nourish yourself with a full spectrum of these primary nutrients: Vitamin J (joy), Vitamin P (play), Vitamin Q (quiet) and Vitamin T (touch). Without them, we stay predominantly in a sympathetic nervous system mode of fight-or-flight, which suppresses immunity. How can you thrive if you are surrounded by drudgery, stress, noise, and isolation. While I don’t suggest a hedonistic lifestyle, there must be a balance of recreation and pleasure to rejuvenate you from the necessities of providing for yourself.
Tune Immunity with Breath
#6 Mindful breathing. The fastest way to increase immune cells is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Mindful breathing is the key to accessing the this nervous system mode. While you may not be able to meditate or do yoga every time you trigger your fight-or-flight nervous system response, you can always deepen your inhales and lengthen your exhales. That simple act of mindfully shifting away from short, shallow breaths brings you back into a more calm, restorative nervous system state. The more time you spend in parasympathetic mode, the healthier your immune system will be. So, make a point to check and adjust your breath frequently throughout the day.
HRV Reflects Immune Balance
#7 Increase your Heart Rate Variability. What’s that? Heart Rate Variability, or HRV, is how much change in time there is between all the heart beats in any given minute or hour. For example, 0.9 seconds might elapse between two beats, then 1.15 seconds between two other beats. This is a great way to measure your ability to switch out of fight-or-flight into “rest-and-digest.” That’s because your heart rate variability will not increase if your body does not feel safe enough relax.
Dr. Marcelo Campos explains, “If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the autonomic nervous system the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience….A low HRV is associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.”
So, how do you tap into a higher HRV? Stimulate your vagus nerve regularly! This wandering nerve that connects brain to larynx, heart, lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines, is the messenger that tells your organs whether to gear up for battle or gear down for healing. You can stimulate it by singing, gargling, laughing, snuggling, praying, getting a massage, expressing gratitude, or engaging in other health-supporting activities outlined in this post.
Tune Immunity with Supplements
#8 Supplement with zinc and omega-3 fats. There’s been much debate about the efficacy of Vitamin D. But no one is debating that your immune system needs zinc to function optimally. Yet, zinc continues to be one of the top nutrient needs in America, along with omega-3 fats, which are vital to having anti-inflammatory action in the body. Additionally, scientists have found that these essential fatty acids actually signal immune cells to behave in certain ways. With a deficiency of these two imperative nutrients, you are much more likely to have an out-of-control response to a pathogen.
Contact me to learn what forms and doses of these supplements to use.
Tune-up Systemic Imbalances
#9 Address your body’s imbalances. No system in the body works in a vacuum. Digestion, immunity, neurotransmission, detoxification, metabolism, and hormone balance all impact each other. When one system is skewed, the other systems have to compensate. So if your blood sugars aren’t balanced, if your thyroid function runs on the low side, if you don’t have a smooth bowel movement once a day, if you function under stress all the time without appropriate breaks, then you are “going into battle wounded.” I suggest you work with a functional practitioner to assess and normalize these functions so that your immune function isn’t pulled out of kilter.
Don’t Forget Your Produce
#10 Your immune system is a nutrient hog! It needs much more than carbs, fats, and proteins. It depends on micronutrients, especially polyphenols. These are a family of more than 8,000 plant chemicals that offer their protective qualities not only to the seeds, fruits, shoots, and roots they are found in, but to you as well! Make sure that you are getting a diverse, copious intake of fruits and vegetables. Challenge yourself to eat a rainbow of natural colors every day. From personal experience, I feel my very best when I get 3 servings of vegetables at every meal.
Of course, we are all at different points in our health journey. You may already be implementing some of these 10 tips. You may feel overwhelmed at implementing others. No one is perfect at doing all of them all of the time, and no one can change all of their weaknesses at once. Start where you are, pick the most attainable or most needful area, and work on that. Any improvement to one area will bring greater resiliency to your immunity and your other body systems as well.