Your body has an amazing defense system which protects you against the onslaught of a multitude of bacteria, viruses and spores every day. If it’s truly healthy and you are unstressed, it generally handles whatever comes its way with grace and efficiency. But insufficient nutrition, daily stresses and age can crumble the defenses somewhat – and the time comes to provide your immune system with more support.
First Line of Defense – the Mind
As mentioned above, general health of the entire organism is key to a well-functioning immune system. Proper rest of 7-8 hours of good sleep every night, healthy, complex nutrition and adequate exercise combined with fresh air and relative freedom from pollutants such as environmental heavy metals, fumes etc. is your best bet in keeping long-term health. But even this apparent baseline may have a preliminary step: your long-term state of mind.
Studies as well as experience suggest that a mind which has been under undue pressure for a long time tends to lead to a body that starts ailing (ref,ref). It is important here to mention the word undue. Some people enjoy the slow life – they are fulfilled and flourish that way. Some people thrive under fast-paced, intense conditions and would be bored out of their skull – and very stressed – if life suddenly thrust them into a position where they’d have to slow down and spend their days doing something mellow and repetitive. All this is very subjective and everybody has their own “optimum stress level” – but too fast pace of life isn’t necessarily the culprit here and the automatic recommendation to “slow down and take things easy” may sometimes even make things worse. People are players and need their game, be it fast or slow – and enough people start to physically deteriorate when they retire and don’t fill their lives with enough activities they love, to suggest that enforced rest isn’t always the solution.
We’re not saying you may not need to take things more easy – perhaps you do. We often lose focus of other parts of our lives when we obsess about one specific one – work, most commonly. But even this situation would benefit from this: if you’re not doing as well as you’d like, take a good look at the people you are surrounded by and see if there isn’t one or two you might do better without. For instance, is there somebody who has a knack of making you feel guilty and like you always have to do more but can never match up, no matter what you do? Somebody who, when you part with them, mostly leaves you with the feeling that life sucks and things are bleak and going down? Somebody who subtly makes you feel like you’re substandard, not good enough, not smart enough, a bit of a failure? This may be obvious or it may not, but if there is somebody like this around you, you deserve for the situation to be handled. Often, a simple polite request and a bit of talking resolve the situation and improve the lives of both you and the person involved. Sometimes just drifting apart without much explaining handles things without undue hassle. And sometimes you have to remove yourself or the person fully to get rid of the stress – finding another job for yourself or firing them, whatever the circumstances may be, dropping all contact if they’re an acquaintance or “friend” – see whatever feels right for you.
If you’re generally happy with your circumstances but feel overwhelmed, try for example writing a list of things you feel you are behind with and start ticking them off, one by one. Seeing things that have been clogging up your mental space in front of you rather than circling inside your head will make you feel much better and reduce the stress you may find yourself under.
The best judge of what to do in this area – if anything – is of course you. Our recommendation is simply – try and be happy, and it should also reflect on your health.
What to Eat?
Aside from the long-term state of mind, the body obviously has its nutritional needs that are often not met in our day and age. One aspect is our choice of what we eat – another is the fact that due to more intense farming technologies and demands of our fast-paced market, the food we grow and eat today tends to contain less nutrients than it did a few decades ago. (ref)
The simplest solution seems to be supplementation – vitamins and minerals in the form of pills. But there’s also a good reason not to rely on supplements fully and to try and provide your body with whatever it may be missing primarily from natural sources. For vitamins and minerals to work in our bodies, you need much more than the single compound – for instance to get the full benefits of vitamin C, you might need to look at it as much more than just ascorbic acid – it’s more an entire complex of bioflavonoids, rutin and other substances which act as a team – and this is how it is found in its natural form – fruits and vegetables. We do benefit from the nutritional supplements, but for best result, the two should be combined – organic or naturally/cleanly farmed vitamin- and mineral- rich healthy food together with supplements.
There is one more point with supplements to be considered. When taking vitamins and minerals as pills, you need to be careful not to create a disbalance by taking too much of one, creating a need for another. As an example, take calcium. Many people have problems with their teeth or bones – they need more calcium in place. But if they only supplement calcium without also providing their bodies with its delivery system supports – vitamins D3 and K2, as well as magnesium and potassium, a lot of that calcium is going to end up where you don’t want it – for instance clogging up arteries or calcifying soft tissues which should remain soft rather than calcified, or isn’t being absorbed at all.
The two things to consider in supplementation then, are which vitamins and minerals interact and should be supplemented together, and which vitamins and minerals you actually lack right now and need to fill up on. To help you determine that, you can either look at your body’s signs and indicators, or do a blood test. The blood test can either be done by your GP or you can order one of the home tests available online.
As for eating healthy in general, here is a list of foods which – unless you’re allergic to them – should help your body be much healthier and sturdy in the face of infection:
This refreshing beverage has been proven to be very beneficial to the human body (ref). With its multitude of polyphenols, catechin (EGCG) and other nutrients, it supports the body’s immune system and helps it fight inflammation – a very important factor in overall health, as long-term inflammation is linked to many undesirable conditions such as asthma, arthritis or even cancer (ref). Green tea is a good prevention and supports treatment of many afflictions including cardiovascular diseases or even cancer.
When choosing your green tea, try and choose a trusted and high quality brand as lower quality teas, both green and black, may contain a lot of fluoride.
These are a very good source of potassium – a major electrolyte that we need every day in abundance. Kale is an excellent source though its distinctive taste doesn’t make it an A-list candidate for everybody. You can either hide it in smoothies or simply avoid it if it’s too hard – other leafy green salads are less demanding on the palate and still a very good source.
Bell peppers, citrus fruits and other foods rich in natural vitamin C
They’re best when they are in season – that’s when they contain the most nutrients. These fruits and vegetables provide you with much more than just vitamin C and are an excellent choice. Bear in mind that vitamin C and some other nutrients are heat-sensitive so a nice raw crunchy pepper will serve the purpose much better than a roast one.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Yes, we know that these days, apple cider vinegar (or baking soda) seems to be the answer to anything. But try and give it a go. You will most probably be pleasantly surprised, especially if you occasionally suffer from heartburn or acid reflux.
Contrary to general belief, a lot of people aren’t too acidic, quite the contrary. And since the body pH is key to the way it transports nutrients to its tissues – the fundament of health, you might say, this might start creating problems. Drinking a glass of a bit of ACV diluted in water every morning might work wonders – and it’s even very refreshing. It is especially good for people over 50 since the acidity of the stomach gradually reduces with age (pH goes up – becomes more alkaline). And insufficient acidity of the stomach means you cannot digest your food properly and you cannot avail yourself of all the nutrients it contains.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
(cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, kale, radish, turnips, bok choy etc.) These vegetables are not only very tasty, but awesome in that they help lower inflammation in the body – and long-term inflammation is something you want to avoid as it can lead to all sorts of problems including cancer. Again,to get the most out of these nutritious gems, you’d go easy on the heat – either enjoy them raw, directly or added in smoothies (good way to “hide” kale for instance), or boil/steam them only lightly. Don’t be afraid to add some butter – it makes them taste even better and will even aid absorption of some nutrients.
Full fat yoghurt and other live fermented dairy products
A study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that eating a small pot of yoghurt a day before a meal helps keep down inflammation of the gut – keep the tummy happy!
Vitamins K2 and D3
We’ve already mentioned these earlier as vital parts of calcium delivery “support crew”, though both serve other vital functions in the organism. Vitamin K participates in blood coagulation as well as bone health, but is still researched in both its forms (K1 and K2) and some studies suggest it can help prevent some types of cancer – for instance K2 (unlike K1) was found to have helped decrease the risk of advanced prostate cancer by 63% (ref ).
Vitamin D acts to support the immune system and calcium absorption and even mental health, and is being investigated for its role in the prevention of certain types of cancer.
Vitamin D increases the amount of calcium that can be absorbed by the body. When you’re deficient in vitamin D, along with a suspected one third of all Americans, your body will have problems getting the needed calcium and phosphorus from food – and will start taking it from your bones and teeth. You can get vitamin D from sunlight (which is problematic during the winter months – and when you’re using sun screens), but also from cod liver oil or even butter. If possible, choose butter from grass-fed cows, as it contains other substances that will make your bones and teeth stronger.
Vitamin K makes sure the absorbed calcium lands where it’s supposed to – in the bones, rather than calcifying your blood vessels and kidneys, which means you should keep these two vitamins in balance – 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 to 100 mcg o vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 was also studied for its cancer preventing properties, with positive results (ref e.g.).
Good sources of vitamin K2 are natto (fermented soy), egg yolks, butter, hard cheese, organ meats – or vitamin pills – these ideally at breakfast. Do not abandon your supplementation after too short a time – it does take a little while for you to feel the effects.
Aside from removing any and all vampire worries you may have, garlic boosts your immune system, helps optimize your blood pressure, may help protect your brain against dementia or Alzheimer’s (ref) – and very definitely lend beautiful flavor and aroma to your meals. Since some of its beneficial substances are heat-sensitive, so try to eat it raw (very thin slices of garlic on bread and butter or a clove rubbed onto a toast will give you a very pleasant surprise) or add it to your meals shortly before you take them off the cooker.
This aromatic delicacy helps your immune system both in its hour of need (a fresh ginger tea with some honey and Cayenne pepper is an excellent choice when you suffer from a cold), but also as a preventative boost. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and protects your cells against oxidative damage; it is also being researched for its cancer-preventing potential. (ref)
Almonds and other nuts
These are packed with vitamin E and healthy fats. Choose good quality ones though so you wouldn’t outweigh the benefits with some unsavory mildew.
What to Do?
There are many things you can do to support your immune system and enjoy a much more pleasant life. Here’s a list of a few very simple suggestion we hope will make a difference:
Enjoy a Scottish shower!
An awesome and easy technique to get your lymphatic system (a key component of your immune system) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and ready to take on most of what your coughing fellows throw at you. When you’re taking a shower, simply alternate between warm and cold water. It takes a bit of getting used to so you might want to start slow – and decrease the temperature of the cold water as you go. In general, start with warm and end off with cold, your immune system as well as your skin will be grateful.
Many spas offer an even more effective version – you get massaged with a stream of regularly alternating hot/cold water from around 4 yards away for 12–15 minutes in a pattern that follows the lymphatic system. Unless you suffer from heart or vascular problems, varicose veins, severe osteoporosis or unless you bruise really easily, enjoy this simple and effective hydrotherapy and feel great both physically and mentally.
Take a walk
A simple brisk walk of just 30 minutes a day will get your lymphatic system moving – thus helping your body to rid itself of accumulated toxins. It will also promote circulation and strengthen your cardiovascular system and bones and make you feel better about the world.
Exercise in a way that’s fun for you
Be it regular basketball, soccer, spinning class, yoga or messing about with a ball with the kids in the yard, your body will benefit.
Have as much fun in life as possible!
Image credit: 123rf.com / Kateryna Kon