We know that certain times of year and certain activities can expose us to more germs and illnesses. But did you know that certain behaviors and phases of life can also lead to a weak immune system?
It’s true. And since its safe to say that a strong immune system is something we all want right now, it’s helpful to know as much as we can about how to support our systems. Because if we arm ourselves with knowledge first, we can arm our bodies for the inevitable germs that come our way. Yes, there are plenty of things we can’t control, but good diet and lifestyle strategies are well within what we can, and are the best ways to build your immune system.
So, let’s learn about what can weaken your immune system and how to be proactive to help give your body a fighting chance. Because the best defense is a good offense, right?
The Stress Factor
Moderate levels of stress are normal and can be managed by the body. But in our overscheduled society in which we all face far too many competing priorities, stress can easily become chronic. When your body is in a constant state of stress – the “fight or flight” mode, your body shuts down its less critical systems and your adrenal glands release cortisol. The result is a weak immune system which is less willing and able to fight off illness. In addition, stress often leads to sugar cravings, and sugar is certainly not supportive of the immune system.
On the other hand, when we take steps to manage stress and give the body positive experiences like a hike with a friend, laughing with your spouse, or playing with your pet, our bodies secrete endorphins. Endorphins have been shown to lead to an improved immune response.
Balance Your Gut
We know that 70-80% of our immune system is in our gut, and intestinal dysbiosis or poor gut flora can lead to a weak immune system and leave you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.
Many things can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, like chronic stress, antibiotic use, or a diet full of refined sugars and grains. You might feel symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive discomfort. Focus on a healthy whole foods diet with plenty of probiotic and prebiotic foods for optimal gut health, and of course seek out the advice of a trusted practitioner as needed.
Improve Your Diet
Just like a car, your body needs fuel to run smoothly. But we don’t run on gas, we run on nutrients! Our bodies need macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to keep its systems operating. So, it’s obvious one of the best ways to build your immune system is to improve your diet.
You’ll find the nutrients your body needs most abundantly in whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. But if you aren’t consistently eating these foods (and you aren’t supplementing appropriately) you can put yourself at a higher risk for getting sick. Even more, a diet high in sugar, refined grains, processed foods, and industrial seed oils will not only zap you of energy and contribute to inflammation, it can lead to a weak immune system.
Improve Your Sleep Quality
Getting adequate sleep is a critical component of optimizing your immune function. Studies have shown that just a few nights of inadequate sleep can elevate inflammatory markers and can contribute to a weak immune system. You’ve heard it before – aim for eight hours!
It’s a double whammy – when the weather turns cold or when long stressful days at the office keep you inside, you’re not only faced with more germs, higher stress, and maybe even less sleep, you’re also probably not spending much time outside in the sun. Why does this matter? Because one of the best ways to build your immune system is with vitamin D, and one of the best sources of vitamin D is the sun!
Vitamin D helps to build your immune system and several studies have shown that daily vitamin D supplementation supports respiratory tract health and reduces the incidence of infections. Aim for 10-30 minutes per day of direct sun, and if that just isn’t feasible, consider a supplement or check your multivitamin to make sure it contains at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 alongside vitamin K2. Of course, if you think you’re already depleted, check with your health practitioner to get tested and determine if higher levels of supplementation are needed.
Practice Optimal Habits During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, a mother’s body changes and adapts in a number of ways to accommodate a growing baby. In addition to physical and hormonal changes, the body’s immune system changes throughout pregnancy. It’s a complex system that allows the mother’s body to protect the baby from disease, but it can also leave the mother more susceptible to certain viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. The best defense? Sufficient sleep, a nutrient dense diet, movement, mindfulness, and a quality prenatal vitamin!
Power Up Your Defenses
While we can all try to limit risk from lifestyle factors, the reality is there are always phases of life and times of the year when our immune systems need a little extra love. Do what you can to rest, de-stress, and eat well! And when you can’t do it all, know that you can support your body and immunity by filling gaps with a daily multivitamin or a superfood boost, supporting a healthy stress response with adaptogenic herbs and extracts, or by boosting your defenses with a powerful immune supplement.