How to Support a Healthy Immune System

How to Support a Healthy Immune System

How to Support a Healthy Immune System

A healthy immune system is more than just taking the right supplements. Since we are in the thick of cold and flu season and COVID19 is still on our minds, I thought it would be a good time to discuss immune health and how to support it. So, what can we do to boost our immune system and what should you do if you get sick with a virus or bacterial infection this winter? First let’s discuss what a healthy immune system looks like. a healthy immune system is a detective looking for stranger signals and mounts a response if it identifies a signal as dangerous. It is also homeodynamic and tightly controlled by genomic and enzymatic mechanisms to keep tight regulation. Healthy immunity is restorative and able to repair damage from injury. And lastly, a healthy immune system is tolerant or actively unresponsive to substances that enter the body that are not dangerous like food, healthy bacteria, and our own tissue and cells. When the immune system is activated, inflammation is occurring and while we hear all the time that we need to reduce inflammation, and that is true, we do need some inflammation to help us fight off infections, wounds, and injuries. So while too much inflammation is bad, turning off all inflammation is also not a good thing. 

Now that we have covered what a healthy immune system is, let’s discuss what we can do to keep it functioning optimally. I bet you can list at least a half dozen supplements you’ve seen in the headlines but my first advice is to go back to the basics. Lifestyle choices we make have a far greater impact on our immune systems functioning than any supplement we can take (and trust me, there are good supplements that I will recommend in my post next week!).

  • Sleep: This is probably the single most important thing to focus on. Sleep is a natural anti-inflammatory. Even just one poor night sleep can lead to an impaired immune response if you encounter a virus or infection this season. Aim for 7-8 hours per night and try to maintain the same sleep and awake times as much as possible.
  • Nutrition: Food is information, and it can either fight inflammation or contribute to inflammation with a direct response to our immune system’s ability to right off viruses and bacteria. For example, eating foods that are high glycemic (think high sugar, refined carbohydrate foods) has a direct correlation with inflammation in the body that we can see on laboratory values. Conversely, a diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables is associated with a decrease in inflammation.  We are what we eat (and what our microbiome eats). It should go without saying but eating a well balanced, healthy and diverse diet supports a healthy microbiome which in turn supports your immune system in so many ways! There was a study from 2021 that looked at the diversity of the microbiome and found that the lower the diversity the increased severity of COVID19 symptoms. Food matters! To support the microbiome it is important to incorporate a variety of probiotic foods (yogurt, kefir, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha, fermented cheeses) and prebiotic fiber (green-ish bananas, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, oats, apples, flax seeds) and phytonutrients from a rainbow assortment of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise: Exercise can have a profound effect on our immune system’s ability to function optimally. It has been shown that prolonged periods of intense exercise can depress the immune system but moderate intensity has been found to be beneficial. Exercise reduces systemic inflammation and reduces the risk of infection by increasing circulation of infection-fighting while blood cells and antibodies, improves overall circulation and decreases stress hormones. Another large study looking at COVID19 and exercise,  showed that physical inactivity was associated with more severe outcomes with SARS-COV-2 infection including hospitalization, ICU admission and death. Those who exercised 150 minutes per week had the most protection but even those who exercised for just 10 minutes had some degree protection. So get in some regular, moderate intensity exercise, preferably outside in the sunshine so you can get some natural Vitamin D synthesis!
  • Stress reduction: Sympathetic activity (aka fight or flight mode) suppresses the immune system and it is not uncommon these days for individuals who are chronically stressed to be in a constant state of fight or flight which can suppress the immune system, making it more likely to get sick. Practicing meditation or mindfulness, connecting with loved ones, and exercising can all help to reduce chronic stress. 

Here’s a list of my favorite natural remedies for upper respiratory symptom relief if a cold does hit:

  • Running a humidifier, especially at nighttime
  • Neti pot or Neil-Med sinus rinses for nasal congestion
  • Menthol rubs or essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus)
  • Salt water gargling for sore throat
  • Steamy showers to open up the airways
  • Honey- preferably raw -is helpful for coughs and sore throats, reduces inflammation of mucous membranes and has antioxidant properties 
  • Soothing teas: peppermint or chamomile (Pique tea has a Mint Green Tea that I love)
  • Maintaining good hydration helps to loosen up secretions
  • Bone broth/soups – offer hydration and good nutrition and they are easy to consume when sick. Sipping on a hot broth acts as a natural decongestant 

Stay tuned for next weeks post when we will dive into my favorite immune boosting supplements!

To make sure your immune system is on track this winter, book a free 15 minute discovery call today to see what Wild Rice Wellness has to offer!


To learn  more about Alison Percowycz, MSN, FNP and Functional Medicine visit our ABOUT page! 


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