By Rachel Gargano MS, RD, LDN, CSSD
Do you catch every cold? Come down with frequent infections or just feel under the weather more than you like?
It is normal to catch a cold, an infection or a flu every so often but when these states of sickness become the norm it can be a sign that your body is not getting what it needs to thrive. Our immune system is made up of a network of organs, cells and systems such as our skin, large and small intestines, and numerous lymphatic organs such as bone marrow, spleen and tonsils among others. That means that our immune system relies on the health of our whole body to stay well.
I know this can sound overwhelming, but in reality focusing on the health of our whole body is easier that it sounds! There are some key things that really take a toll on our health and that means also run down our immune health and make us more prone to sickness. Here are the top five factors that compromise our immune function:
Sleep is key for every system in the body and that’s especially true for your immune health. When we experience deep sleep — that is uninterrupted, quality sleep — our body essentially goes under construction healing and repairing any needed areas. This is also a key time for immune health as quality sleep improves our bodies ability to fight infection and produce adequate antibodies so we can fend off colds, flus and other seasonal infections. More on sleep and why it’s more important than you think!
The immune system requires consistent fuel to run effectively first and foremost. Without adequate calories, our body does not have the energy reserves to produce key antibodies and fight off infection. However, beyond adequate calories there are specific nutrients that when deficient can negatively impact immune health. The top nutrients are zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C and E. Eating a varied diet of nutrient dense food such as colorful fruits and vegetables ensure that your body is getting a plethora of nutrients to avoid any specific deficiency. Here are 6 simple immune-boosting foods to get your immune system up and running!
Stress stinks and the same is true when it comes to how it impacts immunity. Chronic stress, that is consistent long-term stress, can impact our physiological function in many way such as causing stomach aches, hives and even heart disease. Cortisol, the stress hormone, decreases our immune health and make our bodies more susceptible to illness. Chronic stress can also impact the duration and quality of sleep, diet and even exercise frequency which also all impact immune health. The best medicine is to find an activity or practice that makes you feel at ease and do it daily. Discover more strategies to reduces stress.
Movement benefits the health of our whole body and that means it also contributes to the health of our immune system. Movement improves circulation in our body, which allows cells of the immune system to move more efficiently throughout the body and have a better role in surveillance to fight pathogens and infections. Aim to move for at least 20-30 minutes every day or at least 150 minutes throughout the week to get the most benefit from movement!
This may not be rocket science, but smoking and drinking in excess are both detrimental to health and most significantly immune health. Cigarettes and alcohol suppress the immune system as these substances are toxic to our bodies immune cells. Excess intake of alcohol or even occasional smoking are known to damage dendritic cells, the immune cells that search for unfamiliar pathogens and signal the body to respond to these invaders. This depressed response puts our bodies at risk for infection and illness. Quitting smoking, even social smoking, and consuming alcohol in moderation or abstaining all together are the best ways to promote immune health.
Our best defense is to be on the defense! Boost the amount of nutrient dense foods in your diet, aim to get into bed a little earlier each night or focus on making time for movement or stress reduction — aim to address what you need more. Start today with one step at a time to build up your immune system and be less susceptible those pesky colds, sniffles, fevers and flus that linger during the fall and winter.
Not sure where to start? A Guided Reboot will kick-off your defensive line against getting a cold or flu.