Over the last few years, there has been a lot of discussion about the immune system. We are told to believe that pathogens (germs) are the cause of disease. Some may say this is a myth that has been promoted for decades by traditional medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, revealed that pathogens were not the cause of disease. Pasteur acknowledged that the condition or environment of the body was the primary cause of the disease process and that pathogens were secondary.
The immune system, a complex system of organs, cells, and proteins, is designed to seek out and destroy pathogens and maintain balance if it has what it needs to function properly. So, the number one defense against disease and one of the most important things you can do for optimal health and longevity is to enhance your immune system function.
Immune System 101
The immune system is a complex, intricate, body-wide system that is utterly amazing! But it needs your help to keep it functioning properly and to defend the body against pathogens day after day. When pathogens are present, they can multiply quickly, leaving you vulnerable to many diseases. Imagine there’s a daily battle going on inside your body where pathogens represent the “bad guys” and the “good guys”—you guessed it—are represented by the immune system. With all its different cells, organs, substances, and chemical communications that exist primarily in the gut, this amazing system is designed to stand guard over the whole body. The immune system is the first line of defense against “foreign invaders” (viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, and cancer cells) that are just waiting to multiply and take over the body.
When the immune system is functioning properly, you do not even notice it. On the other hand, when its performance is compromised, you will face illness. Dozens of factors can compromise the immune system; a less-than-ideal diet, consuming too much sugar, and chronic stress, just to name a few. In addition, studies have found that individuals who suffer from chronic inflammation or low body temperature will also experience low immunity. To enhance the immune system, look to these foods, herbs, supplements, and lifestyle habits.
- Bone Broth: Supports immune function by promoting a healthy gut and reducing inflammation. The amino acids and collagen found in bone broth help to seal openings in the gut lining and support its integrity. Since gut health plays a crucial role in immune function, consuming bone broth is an excellent immune system booster.
- Ginger: Due to its warming effects, it is believed that ginger helps to break down the accumulation of toxins within the organs. It is also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, helping to rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. Ginger is also considered anti-inflammatory and is known for its ability to treat disorders caused by infectious agents, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
- Green Tea: Contains antioxidants and immunomodulatory properties. It works as an antifungal and antivirus agent and may be helpful for immunocompromised patients.
- Vitamin C Foods: Improve the health of the immune system by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The best vitamin C foods to add for a strong immune system include:
- citrus fruits, including orange, lemon, and grapefruit
- black currant
- green and red bell pepper
- Beta-Carotene Foods: Beta-carotene has potent antioxidant activity, which fights against oxidative stress and helps reduce inflammation. Researchers suggest that beta-carotene can promote health when taken at dietary levels by eating foods rich in carotenoids vs. supplementation. The richest sources of beta-carotene foods are yellow, orange, and red fruits and veggies and dark leafy greens.
- carrot juice
- sweet potato
- red bell peppers
- collard greens
- Astragalus Root: A plant within the legume family with a long history as an immune system enhancer and disease fighter. This root has been used as an adaptogen in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. A recent review has demonstrated significant improvement in the toxicity induced by drugs such as immunosuppressants and cancer chemotherapeutics. Additionally, researchers concluded that astragalus extract has a beneficial effect on the immune system, and it protects the body from gastrointestinal inflammation and cancers.
- Elderberry: Has been used as medicine for thousands of years. Even Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” understood that this plant was vital for enhancing the immune system. Elderberry’s health benefits include its ability to fight the common cold, the flu, allergies, and inflammation.
- Ginseng: The roots, stems, and leaves of the ginseng plant have been used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness and infection. Ginseng improves the immune system’s performance by regulating each type of immune cell, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells, and B cells. It has also proven to possess antimicrobial compounds that work as a defense mechanism against bacterial and viral infections.
- Echinacea: The chemical constituents in echinacea are powerful immune system stimulants that can provide a therapeutic effect. Research indicates that echinacea has several benefits, including immunostimulation, especially in treating acute upper respiratory infections.
- Probiotics: Beneficial bacteria that help you digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of the colon and support the immune system. Leaky gut is a major cause of a weakened immune system, food sensitivities, and autoimmune disease making probiotics supplementation and consuming probiotic foods advantageous.
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity and susceptibility to infection. Research shows that vitamin D works to maintain tolerance and promote protective immunity.
- Zinc: Often used as an over-the-counter remedy for fighting the common cold and other illnesses. Zinc can also help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of such things.
- Selenium: This mineral is essential for immune health. It is vital for boosting immunity and regulates excessive immune responses and chronic inflammation.
- B Complex Vitamins: These vitamins, including B6, B12, and folate (B9), are all essential to immune health and unfortunately, many American adults are deficient in them.
- Exercise: Incorporating physical activity into your regimen improves lung function, cardiovascular health, and energy levels while reducing inflammation. Be sure to include 20–30 minutes of moderate levels of exercise daily to support overall health.
- Reduce Stress: Chronic stress can suppress protective immune responses, increase inflammation, and exacerbate pathological immune responses. One way to help reduce stress is to keep a positive mindset. Keep a gratitude journal to write down the things you are grateful for during the day, or set a timer on your phone to remind you to practice a moment of gratitude daily. Furthermore, you can engage in uplifting activities such as dancing, playing with your kids or pets, watching a comedy, listening to music, reading your favorite book, or anything that brings joy.
- Improve Sleep: When you’re not getting enough sleep, the immune system will not be able to function properly. To improve sleep patterns, develop a nighttime routine that supports relaxation, and be sure to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day to help your circadian rhythm. To regulate immune function, aim for 7–8 hours of sleep.
- Sauna Use: Sitting in a sauna is designed to make you sweat through exposure to heat. Perspiration is one of the best ways to eliminate toxins from the body. The benefits of regular sauna use are countless: detoxification, improving immunity, cardiovascular health, reducing stress, and enhancing energy, along others.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: Consuming too much alcohol can certainly impact immune function. Alcohol negatively impacts gut health, decreasing immune function and making the body more susceptible to harmful pathogens. Limit alcohol consumption to 1–2 drinks a week.
The immune system protects the body from various environmental challenges encountered daily, and even the healthiest of people get sick every now and again. It is important to consider what you can do to help take stressors off the immune system to allow it to function optimally. You can help support your immune system’s defenses against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens by fine-tuning certain aspects of your health routine, such as diet and stress management. Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.
April Beaman, RDH, CTT, medical thermographer, is certified by the Professional Academy of Clinical Thermology and a professional member of Breast Thermography International. Beaman has worked in the wellness industry for over 17 years and provides medical thermal imaging and wellness support for both women and men. She is the founder of CT Thermography, located in Farmington, with satellite offices in Glastonbury, Hamden, Westport, CT, and Hadley, MA. Connect at 860.415.1150 or CTThermography.com