Even some of the most health-conscious people fall victim to illness from time to time. All it takes is an interaction with someone (or something that someone sick has touched) who has a virus to contract it. Which begs the question: can you actually boost your immune system naturally, through food and lifestyle changes?
According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing, there is a lot researchers have yet to learn about the "intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response." The article even states, "For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function."
However, this doesn't mean you can't take preventive measures against contracting a virus. It's important to actively keep your immune system strong so that your body can best combat against illness. After all, it's not ideal to be down for the count with a cold or the flu for two weeks. We consulted Dr. Cedrina Calder, preventive medicine doctor and health expert, for three ways on how to boost your immune system the natural way.
A healthy diet can help improve your immune system naturally
Calder says diet is one of the top ways you can strengthen your body's immunity to bacteria and virus.
"Eating a healthy diet helps your immune system by providing it with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Certain vitamins and minerals are essential for a healthy immune system because they are directly involved in the immune response," she says. Vitamins B6, C, and E, as well as the mineral zinc, can help your body fight against pathogens, and Calder provided insight on which foods are rich in each.
Vitamin B6: chickpeas, salmon, tuna, chicken, beef, turkey, oatmeal, brown rice, eggs, soy, potatoes, and bananas.
Vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, sweet potatoes, guava, papaya, citrus fruits, strawberries, and pineapples.
Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, avocado, squash, spinach, broccoli, and cooking oils like almond and canola.
Zinc: oysters, crab, lobster, beef, turkey, chicken, hemp seeds, tofu, lentils, peas, and cashews.
Eating a combination of these foods can help your body combat illness, no matter where it lurks, and it's an all-natural way to boost your immune system. Instead of reaching for an Emergen-C packet, you can look for healthy foods like these that improve your immunity.
Getting enough sleep is essential to staying healthy
"Sleep deprivation has a negative effect on immune system function," says Calder. Sleep is essential for healing and repairing muscles from exercise, supporting brain function, and even maintaining emotional well-being. So a lack of sleep can actually decrease your body's ability to fight infection, Calder says.
She says that adults should receive between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to keep their immune system strong. "It has been suggested that chamomile tea may have a calming effect on the body, inducing relaxation and promoting sleep. There is a lack of research backing this claim, but it's worth giving it a try," she says.
There are several foods that can help you fall into a restful slumber. For example, a glass of cow's milk contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which is known to help induce sleep because of its ability to synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to facilitate sleep. Other foods that can help you sleep and contain L-tryptophan (more commonly known as tryptophan) include yogurt, turkey, and eggs.
Learning how to cope with stress can help boost your immunity
Have you ever heard of the expression "stress makes you sick?" Well, it's true."Research has shown that stress negatively affects the immune system and decreases its ability to fight infection," says Calder. "Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting adequate amounts of sleep help lower your body's stress levels."
There are a handful of foods that may help alleviate anxiety, which in part helps to prevent stress. Foods that are rich in vitamin C-such as all of the ones that Calder listed above-are packed in the anxiety-fighting vitamin. Research has shown that those who have higher levels of vitamin C are less likely to demonstrate both mental and physical signs of stress in what should be stress-oriented situations.
Magnesium is another such mineral that can help alleviate stress, and foods such as almonds are chockfull of it. Pair a serving of berries with an ounce of almonds before a stressful situation, such as an interview, to naturally quell your nerves. However, eating foods that help to calm your nerves is only part of the equation-the other part requires more work on your inner self.
"In addition, it is important to manage your mental ability to cope with stress. Developing good coping strategies is essential, as well as stress reduction practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness meditation," Calder says.
The writer is a freelancer
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