Boosting Your Immune System Through Diet and Nutrition
Updated: Apr 23
COVID-19 is bringing a lot of uncertainty into our lives at the moment. As we’re not sure what is coming in the weeks or months ahead, it is a good idea to invest in yourself and do everything you can to support and strengthen your health. Two important things you can do right now are to support your nervous system and your immune system. Diet and nutrition are effective and simple ways to do this. And don’t forget that 70% of your immune system lives in your gut – so keep your microbiome healthy!
Support Your Nervous System
Your nervous system is comprised of two main divisions – the sympathetic division (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic division (rest and digest). Feeling stressed, fearful or anxious puts us in the fight or flight mode, which prepares the body to react to a threat or stressor. Our muscles contract, blood vessels constrict and blood flow moves into our limbs giving us the energy to escape from the threat. Digestion, reproduction and the immune system essentially shut down, as these are not important in fight or flight mode, staying alive is.
The parasympathetic division is the opposite of the sympathetic division. It controls the body at rest. It causes the muscles to relax, heart rate to decrease and helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Without stressors or threats, the body is able to efficiently digest food, maintain hormonal balance and a safe place to create and grow a baby, and maintain a strong immune system.
In order to support and strengthen the immune system, it is imperative to spend more time in the parasympathetic mode. As government guidelines are encouraging us to stay at home, work from home and self-isolate, make sure your new routine reduces stressors in your life.
Yoga, meditation, a warm bath with Epsom salts, or walking in nature (if you can get outside) are great ways to encourage the parasympathetic system. Consistent, good quality sleep is equally as important. Finally, cut back on caffeine as this can engage the fight or flight system.
Support Your Immune System
Your diet is the simplest way to encourage a healthy immune system. Not only are there simple changes you can make, these changes will have an immediate effect on your immune system.
Firstly, remove foods that trigger a physical response such as a headache, brain fog, bloating, fatigue, or produce that crash and burn feeling. You should feel energised and light after eating a meal, not heavy and bloated.
Removing dairy, gluten, sugar and reducing caffeine will help to strengthen the immune system. Focus on a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, good quality proteins and healthy fats. Microgreens are especially fantastic as they are high in immune boosting nutrients – a little goes a long way.
Next, there are certain nutrients that support and strengthen the immune system. Consider supplementation if your diet doesn’t include a variety of the foods below.
Vitamin D – salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mushrooms, fortified milk/ yoghurt, eggs. However, it can be difficult to get a sufficient amount from food, so it’s best to get tested and supplement if you’re low (most of us are in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year)
Vitamin C – bell peppers, citrus fruits, pineapple, dark leafy greens, sweet potato.
Vitamin A – foods high in beta-carotene which should convert to the vitamin A (but doesn’t always) include carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, dark leafy greens, grapefruit. Foods high in vitamin A are meat, fish and liver.
Zinc – pumpkin seeds, oysters, beef, lamb, hemp seeds, nuts, lentils and mushrooms.
Prebiotics / Probiotics – kefir, sauerkraut, oats, artichokes, garlic and onions.
Omega-3 – oily fish including wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring.
Finally, include these other immune boosting foods in your daily meals. Garlic, ginger, medicinal mushrooms and turmeric are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and boost the immune system. Begin each day with an immune-boosting drink.
You could make a cup of homemade tea by boiling water with 1 inch of chopped ginger and adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and a touch of raw, organic honey (manuka honey is best).
Or you could crush and chop a garlic clove and let it sit for 10 minutes before swallowing it with a glass of water (if you chew it you’ll taste and smell like garlic all day!).
Another option would be to make a medicinal mushroom drink. Reishi, chaga and turkey tail are a few of the fantastic mushrooms that are anti-viral and support the immune system. Four Sigmatic as well as Na’vi Organics make fantastic mushroom powders that can be mixed to a cup of warm water. Add some coconut or almond milk for a creamy, smooth finish.
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