Originally Posted April 2016
Updated March 2020
Having a healthy immune system translates into better protection from disease and an overall sense of well-being. Our immune system requires ongoing maintenance to function properly. A weakened immune system can open the way to various illnesses and infections. It can contribute to poor sleep, depression, excessive muscle pain, slow-healing wounds, fitness limitations, and a general feeling of fatigue and lethargy.
What can you do to actively support a healthy immune system? Read on for ways you can improve your immune system!
1. Keep a Healthy Diet
Processed foods including refined grains, sugar, excessive alcohol and fast food will always determine a weak immune system, because they don’t provide the nutrients for health and cause a high level of toxicity and inflammation in the body. Keep it simple by choosing to cook from scratch, as much as possible, with high quality, whole ingredients like organic protein, fat and vegetables.
2. Maintain Gut Health
The average human being is composed of approximately 100 trillion cells. Some researchers suggest that of the 100 trillion cells of our body, about 90 trillion are parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses and other organisms! A healthy body has a symbiotic relationship with such organisms. But when the ecosystem of your body is out of balance, these organisms multiply, thrive and get sustenance by robbing the body of nutrients and causing a low immune system.
A comprehensive gut-healing plan will consider eliminating pathogens and food sensitivities. Continuing to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in foods that will encourage the growth of healthy bacteria is essential. Taking probiotic supplements and consuming fermented food will help ensure and restore proper colonization of gut microflora. In addition, replenishing the digestive system with sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid and enzymes is many times needed.
3. Limit antibiotic use
Antibiotics destroy beneficial bacteria in the human body. They change bacteria, viruses and fungi from benign to pathogenic, giving them an ability to invade tissues and cause disease.
Sometimes antibiotics are necessary, but avoiding the overuse of antibiotics is important since these eliminate not only harmful bacteria but also the healthy kind. If you must take antibiotics for an infection, taking additional probiotic supplements and eating traditionally fermented food can help prevent yeast infections and overgrowth of bad bacteria in the digestive system.
There are also many natural alternatives to antibiotics, which proved for a long time to be highly efficient with no side effects. These include: oregano oil, olive leaf extract, propolis, Manuka honey, to name just a few.
4. Keep Exercising
While exercising, cells that promote immunity circulate through the system more rapidly, and they’re capable of killing both viruses and bacteria. Exercise has been shown to increase the production of macrophages, which are cells that attack the kinds of bacteria that can trigger upper respiratory diseases. Too much exercise, however, could have the opposite effect and reduce immunity. Heavy, long-term exercise could increase the amount of white blood cells and increase stress-related hormones.
Choose the best type of exercise for you, be it yoga or light jogging or a dance class, or any other form of exercise that you like! It’s important to have fun and look forward to it, rather than regard it as a chore.
One reason your immune system function is so closely tied to your sleep is that certain disease fighting substances are released or created while you sleep. Blood counts of T-cells and levels of proinflammatory cytokines are high during the night, while leukocytes and the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 goes up during daytime. Your body needs hormones, proteins, and chemicals to fight off disease and infection.
Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night and children and teens need more ranging from 9 to 11 hours. Consistency is the key to good sleep hygiene and support of your immune system.
6. Lower Stress
When long-term stress becomes chronic, it affects many systems in the body. When you are stressed, your body produces more cortisol, a hormone that interferes with immune function.
One of the best ways to relieve stress and help your immune system is to exercise. When you get your heart pumping during exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals, like serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins, which give you a feeling of euphoria.
Other great stress relievers are deep breathing exercises and meditation, which help the mind relax and focus. They lead to the relaxation response that lowers your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your breathing rate, relieves anxiety and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
Also, consider the social aspects of your life: try to bring balance into your life by choosing healthy relationships, a job you like, and a positive attitude.
7. Reduce Environmental Toxins
Environmental toxicity is one of the most common causes of chronic illness in the world today. Over 80,000 man-made chemicals have been added to our environment. Most of them are toxins and many are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
Toxins now pervade the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the seemingly endless array of body care products, food packaging and delivery containers, industrial pollutants, home cleaning products, etc.
To minimize your exposure and help your immune system, eat organic, whole food, use organic or non-toxic personal care and home cleaning products, spend time outdoors in nature, use when possible, natural and non-toxic materials in your home.
Strengthening Your Immune System and Overall Health
Having a greater understanding of the things that strengthen the immune system allows you to better support and appreciate your body’s front line of defense. Actively taking steps to improve immune function through optimizing your diet, reducing stress levels, and engaging in exercise can go a long way in improving both immunity and overall health.
Recognizing the importance of the immune system and all that it does will hopefully inspire you to pursue greater wellness through improved immunity.