#1 Cut out Sugar – Did you know that sugar consumption literally shuts down immune function? It’s no wonder that, as a population, we’re sicker than ever – sugar is in everything and it has been linked to everything from poor immune function, to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Check the label of your foods and emphasize whole, naturals foods making up the bulk of your diet. Shop primarily around the perimeter of the grocery store where you’ll stock up on produce, eggs, poultry, meat and fish. Veggies and fruit are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which help you look and feel young, regulate digestion and fight disease. Protein from fish, poultry, meat and eggs, form the building blocks of immune cells, regulate blood sugar, repair muscle and help keep you satiated between meals.
#2 Move Your Body – Your lymphatic system is like the waste collection system for your immune system. The lymph nodes form a complex network throughout your body and are designed to carry waste to the blood stream to be filtered out. When muscles contract, they squeeze the lymph nodes and help move waste along the lymphatic system helping to help you detoxify. While burpees and lunges are great for moving lymph, even a brisk fall walk or a massage can do wonders to give your lymphatic system, and immune system, a boost.
#3 Sleep Well – Did you know your immune system is hard at work when you sleep? That’s when the body recovers, makes new cells and repairs any damage incurred throughout the day. Immune cells take advantage of the natural fasting state that the body is in at night and do their best work at this time. When we’re well, we should be getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night, so most of us need to be in bed by 10pm. When we’re sick we need even more sleep, because the immune system is working harder. Melatonin (our sleep hormone), peaks around 10pm, so if we don’t catch that wave and stay up past 11pm, sleep can be a struggle, especially for those who are prone to a busy mind at night. Naturopathic doctors have natural and effective tools to help with sleeplessness.
#4 Heal Your Gut – It is estimated that 70-90% of your immune system activity is in the circulatory system located behind the gut barrier. Most of us have some degree of damage to the gut barrier (a.k.a. “leaky gut”), from the accumulation of damage from certain medications (like antibiotics, NSAIDs, and proton pump inhibitors), and it can play a role in food sensitivities, digestive issues, mood and hormonal disturbances, and most importantly, immune function. The gut barrier is there to prevent pathogens from entering the blood stream and producing and immune response – so, a tight gut is a healthy gut. Autoimmune issues such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Grave’s disease and Celiac disease, which predominantly affect middle-aged women (us!), begin from damage to the gut barrier. One great way to protect and repair the gut is to add fermented foods and bone broth to your daily diet. [As an aside, if eating fermented foods, or taking probiotics give you gas or bloating, that’s a sign of a very common gut infection called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and should be treated by a naturopathic doctor.]
#5 Take Vitamin D – Every cell in the body has a receptor site for vitamin D3, which speaks to its importance for immune health, including prevention of cancers, autoimmune diseases and of course, colds and flus. Everyone should be supplementing at least 1000 international units (IU) of the sunshine vitamin every day of the year. Although we make vitamin D with sun exposure, most of us don’t get enough unprotected mid-day sun, especially in Canada. The most accurate way of knowing how much you should be supplementing is to have your MD or ND test your vitamin D3 levels. Our levels are generally highest at the end of summer, and lowest in May.