Whether it is confidence, mood, or metabolism, as a society, we’re always looking to “boost” something. “How to boost immunity” tends to be one of the most searched questions, not only during COVID-19, but especially during cold and flu season.. There are many products that claim to boost/increase/support the immune system, but that begs the question: can you really boost your immunity?
Can You Improve Your Immunity?
The immune system itself is comprised of many different parts working together as a whole to protect our health. There are still many unknowns about the intricate connectivity of the immune response, and there are few scientifically proven links between any of the claimed “boosts” and enhanced immune function. Therefore, the idea of “boosting” the entire system falls flat. However, you can still support your immune system by providing an ideal and harmonious environment for it to function at its best. There are several ways you can do this.
Improving Your Diet
As you’ve probably heard before, what you eat has a huge impact on your health. Taking steps like drinking less alcohol and limiting added sugars can start building the immunity environment necessary to maintain a healthy life. Additionally, malnutrition can inhibit the immune system from functioning at peak performance. Therefore, choosing a variety of foods each week from all the food groups, including a protein source with every meal and most snacks, and eating regularly throughout the day is critical.
Some foods contain certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can feed your immune system and help create an optimal environment for immunity function. We’ve gathered a list of foods that contain some of the important nutrients for a balanced immune system.
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens
- Collard greens
- Root foods
- Fermented foods
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Nuts & seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Green tea
- Healthy fats
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
Making a Lifestyle Change
As with many aspects of improved health, there usually needs to be some form of lifestyle modification. Exercise is the common suggestion and is thought to promote the healthy turnover of immune cells. It’s thought that dehydration can make you more susceptible to illness, so drink plenty of water. A few other suggestions include:
- Don’t smoke/quit smoking.
- Reduce/relieve stress.
- Sleep well.
- Build and nurture your interpersonal relationships.
- Take a supplement.
It’s important to note that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to decreased immune function. It can be difficult to get the amount of each nutrient your body needs to function at its best. Therefore, many healthcare professionals recommend taking daily vitamins and supplements to deliver those necessary ingredients (Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, folic acid, selenium, zinc, copper, and iron). Multi-vitamins and probiotics are common suggestions, but it’s best to consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your daily routine.
Consistent hygiene is another important factor for immunity. It’s difficult for your immune system to function at its best if it’s under constant siege from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants. The most obvious is to wash your hands, especially:
- Before and after handling or eating food.
- After sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
- After shaking hands with another person.
- After using the bathroom.
- After touching an animal or handling animal waste.
- After using public transportation.
- After handling garbage.
- After treating a sick person.
Cleaning commonly touched surfaces helps to keep your external environment clean while building the optimal internal environment for your immune system. Your skin is actually part of your immune system, so it’s important to clean and cover any cuts, scrapes, burns, or other injuries to prevent infection and promote healing. Avoid touching your face to help keep the germs on your hands from entering your body. Finally, take time to recover after being ill to give your immune system the time it needs to help rid the body of the impurity and recover properly before encountering a new invader.
While there are no direct ways to improve your immune health, you can start taking steps today to create a more harmonious environment conducive to a healthy and high-functioning immune system. These are great ways to give your immunity all the tools it needs, but this doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Always stay vigilant and take the proper precautions recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“One thing I do warn against is when people feel like they’re protected. They shouldn’t feel empowered to go out there and, you know, start having parties.”
– Akiko Iwasaki, immunologist at Yale University