Tips to Keep Your Immune System Healthy

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Our immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend your body against harmful invaders, such as bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. During cold and flu season our immune system plays a crucial role in defending our body. When viruses like the common cold or flu enter the body, the immune system activates its defenses. Even though we might not be able to completely avoid illness this season, how can you build and support a strong immune system this cold/flu season? Nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A and antioxidants can play key roles in our diet. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep, regular exercise, and stress management contribute to a resilient immune system.

Our immune system is influenced by an ideal balance of many factors and not just one component, but here are a few steps you can make to have a healthy immune system.

Woman eating a strawberry at her kitchen table with a healthy breakfast laid out in front of her.

>>Eat a Balanced Diet<<

Eating a well-balanced diet including whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains all year round is recommended not just for immunity, but for overall health. There are a few specific nutrients that play a role in the immune system:

Vitamin c-rich foods can be found in citrus fruits such as oranges, berries like strawberries. Also found in melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.

Zinc: is found in plant sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu but tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood

Beta-Carotene: found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.

Protein: from both animal and plant sources including chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, milks, yogurt and eggs.

Probiotics: a type of good, live bacteria that helps your body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms in the gut and that promote overall health. They already live in our body but including them in our diets add to our existing supply of friendly bacteria! They are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and miso.

Woman sitting on a couch and clutching her head in pain from a stress headache.

>>Stress Management<<

Stress isn’t all bad! For example, acute stress is a natural response that can help protect us and make us more alert, however long-term stress can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress is also linked to the over-productions of cortisol, which may suppress the immune response. Effective stress management like regular exercise, relaxation techniques (breathing, meditation), and working on your hobbies can help maintain a healthier immune function.

Man sleeping comfortably in his bed.

>>Sleep<<

Adequate sleep is essential to keeping our immune systems working effectively yet according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), only about one-third of Americans adults do not get enough sleep each night. During sleep there is a certain type of cytokine protein released that helps fight infection, therefore, not getting enough sleep can lower the amount of these cytokines and other immune cells. The average adult should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly!

Hands being washed with soap at a sink.

>>Wash your Hands<<

I couldn’t help but throw this friendly reminder out there! Although washing your hands does not directly strengthen your immune system, it is a crucial practice for preventing the spread of germs. Clean hands help reduce the risk of coming into contact with viruses and bacteria that can compromise your health. By practicing good hand hygiene, you minimize the chances of getting sick and directly supporting your immune system by preventing potential threats. So, be sure to especially wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before and after preparing food, after coughing or blowing your nose and when coming in from outdoors.

In essence, these healthy habits work together to help create an environment to support immune health. It’s important to implement these tips all year round to support a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy regards, Cassandra RDN

Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No material provided in this blog, including images and graphics, is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider before making any dietary changes or starting a new health care regimen.  Do not neglect professional advice because of what you may have read in this blog.

Portrait of JNCS Registered Dietitian Nutritionis CassandraAbout the Author: Cassandra is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She graduated with a B.S in Nutritional Science with a concentration in Dietetics in from San Jose State University. Cassandra believes nutrition information, as it exists today, does not fully accommodate all cultural traditions and backgrounds. Cassandra’s goal is to work with individuals step-by-step to help them achieve their personal nutritional health and wellness goals. It is her passion to help individuals cultivate positive, sustainable healthy nutritional habits that they can carry with them throughout life.

 

References:

-“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.

-Ellis, Esther. “How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy.” How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Jan. 2022, https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthful-habits/how-to-keep-your-immune-system-healthy.

-Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency – What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? | NHLBI, NIH. 24 Mar. 2022, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation.

-“Sleep & Immunity: Can a Lack of Sleep Make You Sick?” Sleep Foundation, 26 Oct. 2018, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/how-sleep-affects-immunity.

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