Boost Your Immune System Naturally
Updated: Mar 24
With Coronavirus (Covid-19) spreading everywhere and making headlines in the news, many people and governments are taking extra precautions to help limit the transmission of the disease. This is especially important for the vulnerable sections of society, such as the elderly, the very young, those with weakened/compromised immune systems and the disenfranchised. Here are some basic protective measures everyone needs to practice:
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water: This is just common sense and you don't need special soap. Wash your hands before and after preparing food, eating, using the toilet, touching an animal (or animal waste or food), handling garbage, treating the sick or wounded, blowing your nose (as well as sneezing and coughing), when your hands are visibly dirty and anytime you go out in public and touch things. The length of time you wash your hands is important, at least 20 to 30 seconds according to the CDC. To time it, sing the alphabet song, Happy Birthday twice, or to jazz it up, sing one of the songs from this list. Wash all surfaces of your hands, including under the nails and up the wrist and lower arm and dry with a clean towel. When we were sick my Mom would give us a towel that was our towel to dry ourselves with, and we were not allowed to touch any other towel to help limit contamination.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth: Your hands touch many surfaces throughout the day and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth which can then can enter your body and may make you sick.
Maintain a social distance: Keep at least 2 meters (6 feet) distance between yourself and someone that is coughing or sneezing. Even if they don't look visibly ill, it's still a good idea to keep this distance between yourself and strangers whenever possible.
Practice good respiratory hygiene: When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or into a tissue, then dispose of the tissue immediately.
If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical help: Stay at home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance to allow your health care practitioner to direct you to the right health facility. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
Clean high-touch surfaces frequently: Areas such as light switches, door knobs, phones, remotes, toys, toilets, taps and faucets should be cleaned frequently with soap and water, diluted bleach, hydrogen peroxide, etc.
So if you follow common sense and practice all this, what else can you do to boost your immune system naturally? Here are a few ideas:
Reduce your stress levels: Chronic stress suppresses the immune system by releasing cortisol, which interferes with different aspects of the immune system. You many not be able to rid yourself of stress, but you can learn to manage it better by practicing meditation, slowing down, taking time to do things you enjoy, unplugging from technology, being in nature, exercising, stretching and perhaps going for counseling.
Exercise regularly: Working out regularly at a moderate intensity has been scientifically proven to boost the immune system, as well as boosting your sense of well being and mood. People who regularly engage in this type of exercise tend to have less systemic inflammation and fewer illnesses. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight, maintain weight loss or have specific fitness goals, you may need to ramp up your exercise for longer periods of time.
Eat a healthy diet: Eating a diet rich in antioxidants really helps support your immune system. Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables, especially berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, kale, green tea, kiwi, sweet potatoes and carrots. Other immune boosting foods include ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions, mushrooms (like shiitake and turkey tail), fermented foods (such as sauerkraut and kefir) and healthy fats from flax seed oil, salmon, sunflower seeds and almonds. Drinking lots of water helps your body to operate efficiently and eliminate waste. Avoid foods that are unhealthy, especially when you are sick, such as sugar, refined foods, deep fried foods and excessive alcohol.
Get good sleep: Not getting enough sleep (7-9 hours) or having a poor quality of sleep can lead to higher levels of stress hormones and can lead to more inflammation in your body. A study of over 22,000 people found that those who slept less than six hours per night or who had a sleep disorder were more likely to have colds and other respiratory infections. A lack of good sleep can also cause muscle and joint pain, an increase in irritability, lack of focus, headaches and a depressed immune system.
Stop smoking: Smoking not only increases the risk of cancer and other diseases but it also impairs the immune system, making your body less able to fight disease. It can also compromise the balance of the immune system, which increases the risk of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds, many of which can interfere with the immune system. Vaping or e-cigarettes also disable some immune cells in the lungs and increase inflammation.
Herbs: Herbs such as elderberry, echinacea, astragalus, eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), lemon balm, etc., can all help to boost your immune system and overall health. They can be drunk as a tea, used in tinctures or added to foods. (As with anything, always consult with your qualified Health Care Practitioner before consuming, especially if pregnant, breast feeding or have health conditions. Always leave at least 3 hour between consuming and any medications to help prevent any possible interactions).
Fresh air and sunshine: Getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine have significant health benefits; it can reduce the risk of disease, reduce stress, increase your vitamin D levels, increase sleep duration and reduce high blood pressure. Airing out your house and bedroom can make it feel fresher and cleaner too. My Oma always believed that by taking the blankets off your bed every morning, opening the window wide and airing out the bedroom at all times of the year helped to "kill off bugs." This may not be scientifically proven but it does make the room and me feel better to do so.
It is clear that eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, getting sufficient sleep and reducing stress will go a long way to ensuring your immunity is maintained. Illnesses cannot be completely avoided but by following the above steps and trying your best to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy, you stand a much better chance of staying healthy.