Every hour we touch hundreds of surfaces all of which are filled with microscopic organisms that our body has to fight off. Cell phones, for example, are seven times dirtier than a toilet seat. Our immune system is our body’s defense against invaders that it targets as foreign and potentially harmful. Our body attacks through a network of organs, cells, and proteins to create an immune response. Most commonly these invaders are either bacteria or viruses, although they can be other microorganisms such as parasites or fungi. If our immune system is weakened it can be vulnerable and overloaded by microbes that pervade our body causing what we call “being sick”.
It is only when the immune system is in a weakened state that people have symptoms of common illnesses like colds. A study by the University of Michigan infected 17 healthy people directly with a flu virus. Only half of the study participants exhibited symptoms of being sick. These results along with many other studies and homeopathic traditions show that boosting our immune system can make a significant difference in whether or not we become sick.
These five strategies can profoundly strengthen your immune system to avoid common illnesses. Practicing the steps outlined below will be sure to result in brag-worthy immune health.
Let's start simple. Exercising regularly dramatically decreases the likelihood of acquiring a virus. In one study, staying active cut the risk of having a cold by 50 percent. Why? Exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood achieving a more efficient immune system. In another more recent study, researchers looked at participants aged 55 through 79 and found that high levels of exercise decreased the negative effect natural aging has on the immune system. The study subjects who participated in high levels of exercise had stronger immune systems when compared to those in the same age group who were more sedentary. It is important to include plenty of high-intensity exercise to really get your blood pumping and your immune system firing on all cylinders no matter your age.
“Rest, rest, rest” is what mothers always say when kids come home from school sick. We live in a culture where people sleep less and avoid taking breaks. Getting adequate sleep is one of the best strategies for maintaining a healthy immune system. We can all recall times in our lives when we have pushed too hard and pulled one or two all-nighters only to end up exhausted and sick. Sleep is not only the perfect way to heal from an illness, but it is also actually one of the best ways to prevent one as well.
The power of sunlight
Vitamin D attaches to receptors on immune cells and is responsible for triggering and modulating key immune cells. It is not just a coincidence that in the winter months the rate of illness increases. Vitamin D can be absorbed through a chemical reaction that occurs with rays from the sun on our skin or absorbed through our gut when ingested. Foods extremely high in vitamin D include organ meat, egg yolk, fish liver oil, and salmon. Modern trends of spending more time indoors, combined with the dying trend of eating organ meat or fish live oil, has contributed to our less than ideal vitamin D status.
Even if you have been told by your doctor that your levels were fine, I would recommend pulling your latest lab work out and looking at the number again. This announcement published by Harvard School of Public Health recommended raising the upper-level Vitamin D goal in blood from 50 nmol/l to 75 nmol/l. If your levels are less than 50 nmol/l then don’t hesitate to begin taking 5,000 IU of vitamin per day in a supplement that is paired with vitamin A. There is supporting research that vitamin D is only effective in preventing and reversing colds and flu when combined with vitamin A. If you already supplement with vitamin D consistently but are still suffering from low lab values then your body is not absorbing it effectively and you may need to look at your gut health.
Changes and trends in food processing toward reliance on factory farms and packaged food have reduced the number of micronutrients naturally present in our food. Our food contains two types of nutrients. Macronutrients are the building blocks of food consisting of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Micronutrients are everything else like minerals and vitamins, many of which are essential for immune health. For many years in the United States and worldwide we have been suffering from depletion of nutrients in our soil on large farms, resulting in decreased nutrient concentrations in fruits and vegetables. Without good soil it is impossible for the plants to soak up the nutrients they would typically have. For example in the book “Grass, Soil, Hope” Courtney White cites that apples have lost 80 percent of their vitamin C and carrots have lost 99 percent of their vitamin A. Additionally, levels of micronutrients have dramatically decreased in our food since industrialization because many plant foods are sensitive to heat, light and oxygen that occurs when the whole food is processed. A great example of this can be found in prepared food pouches containing fruits and vegetables. In order to increase shelf life, many foods must be pasteurized at very high heat for long periods of time. This heat and pasteurization process destroys the majority of the micronutrients. The nutrients listed on the package are then added back into the food (often from poor quality, cheap synthetic powders). Micronutrients are essential for the function of our immune system.
Here are some key micronutrients you can take to boost your immune system.
Vitamin C: Food based supplements or liposomal vitamin C are the easiest for the body to absorb.
Zinc: This immune boosting supplement can be taken for periods of time when we are actively trying to avoid becoming sick. When reviewing the ingredient label on any zinc supplement, look for zinc gluconate or zinc picolinate. If you prefer to get nutrients from food, stick to eating oysters for their high zinc content.
Selenium: This nutrient is important for immune system regulation. Brazil nuts are a great naturally occurring source of Selenium. Consider grabbing 3-4 raw brazil nuts on the go, or adding Brazil nuts to a favorite morning smoothie recipe.
Ongoing, long-term immune health supplements
There are some supplements that can be taken regularly during cold and flu season to help boost immune system functioning. Great examples include:
Elderberry: This herb is very popular because it is effective on all strains of the flu virus and is recognized as safe for the entire family. Adults take one teaspoon a day for illness prevention and one teaspoon twice a day to combat early cold symptoms.
Echinacea: Echinacea is excellent at stimulating the immune system. It does not work quickly but when taken over time it helps to strengthen the immune system to ward of common illnesses, upper respiratory infections and recurrent infections.
Mushrooms: Combinations of mushrooms have been shown to increase immune system cells and immune system activity. Some of the best mushrooms for the immune system include: chaga, reishi, shiitake, and turkey tail. My favorite way to add these to your diet is to find a powdered immune health mixture and add it to foods like stir-frys, soups and chicken.
Fire-Cider: If you have come across a believer then you know the power in fire-cider. People swear they can recover from almost anything with it! It can be extremely effective at warding off nasty illnesses or giving your immune system a boost after coming in contact with someone who is “under the weather”. Fire cider can be found packaged for sale at health food stores or found in countless recipes online.
Short-term immune health supplements
The most common viral infections are the common cold, sore throats, and the flu. While the most common bacterial infections are strep throat and bacterial pneumonia. There are some infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infections and ear infections that could be either viral or bacterial. It can be very challenging to decipher if the illness is caused by a virus or bacteria and often a doctor's visit is required to help decide treatment. Try the supplements below when you are just beginning to feel sick, or if you have been around someone is sick and you want to bolster your immune system.
Ginger: Potent antiviral, especially for upper respiratory infections. Ginger can easily be added to food, taken in a capsule. My favorite way to incorporate ginger is by making homemade ginger tea. The recipe is simple: just take a 1 tablespoon chunk of organic ginger. Leaving to outside peel intact, slice into thin slices or grate into a mug. Pour boiling water over the cut root, cover the mug and let it sit for 15 minutes. This will be very strong and can be diluted with lemon and good quality honey for a spicy treat.
Garlic: Garlic is another natural bacteria killer. Garlic has the power to destroy many microorganisms that have the potential to make us sick. Garlic is most powerful if it is diced up and left raw. Oil infusion is a delicious way to get the benefits of garlic. Dice the garlic up and place it in a tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the container with a lid and let it sit for 5 hours. Then consume the oil and garlic on salad or other prepared food. Do not cook the oil or garlic. There are effective garlic capsules you can take as well.
Colloidal silver: Silver is an extremely old remedy used to stop diseases. It is a very strong antimicrobial agent known for killing both bacteria and viruses. It can be held under the tongue and then spit out or swallowed. Silver should be used only as needed and not taken more than 14 days in a row. Despite information on dr.google indicating that ingesting colloidal silver turn skin blue (argyria), this symptom only occurs when people take an extremely high doses of a poor quality products that contain ionic silver or silver protein instead of pure colloidal silver.
Oregano: Oregano oil is a medicinal-grade oil that is 1,000 times concentrated from wild oregano. There are over 800 studies on the medicinal benefits of oregano oil and researchers have found oregano oil can even kill antibiotic-resistant infections. Oregano oil is an antiviral as well helping you recover from an illness regardless of the cause.
With winter just around the corner remember to keep up the exercise and prioritize getting in adequate sleep. Combine healthy lifestyle habits with lots of Vitamin D, micronutrients, and immune support supplements to build and maintain an ironclad immune system. With these simple strategies you can look forward to enjoying the winter season without being slowed down by the persistent common cold.
Dr. Meghan Schoening is a Chiropractor who follows her love for functional nutrition and health to provide practical and relevant advice. Still a practicing chiropractor Dr. Meghan combines her passion for healing with teaching patients how to live a “balanced” lifestyle with her health and wellness company, B.Well.