The world we are living in right now feels scary and uncertain for most of us with the pandemic still making it’s way across the world. There are many medical professionals who are at the forefront of this pandemic dealing with those affected and trying to save lives.
We are all doing the best that we can in our own ways to cope with this unusual situation. For some people, this means that it is sometimes much easier to go to either extreme as a coping mechanism- ignore what is happening and pretend that the virus cannot affect me or hunker down and become paralysed and/or surrrender. Either way, it can be easy to think that there is not much that we can do at this time and to take care of our health in general.
As for me, I have learned over time that while there are many things that are not within my control (like this pandemic), my responses to it and what I chose to do with my own health and that of my family depends on me making healthier choices.I also know that I need to focus on what is within my control so that I do not expend my energy on things that are beyond my control.
My focus this year as a Functional Medicine Health Coach (and a family member) is to focus on supporting our immune system and build our immunity from the inside out. This means focusing primarily on a whole foods diet (unprocessed, fresh and mostly homecooked), focusing on improving gut health, getting enough rest and good quality sleep.
As I have mentioned in my last post, “How do you know if you have a weakened immune system?”, 70 to 80% of our immune system resides in our gut. Hence your gut is not only the foundation of your overall health but also the gateway to your immune resilience. Any kind of imbalance in your gut ecosystem which comprises of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes can create a challenge for your immune system.
In this blog post have shared with you 7 different ways that you can support your immune health and build resilience.
1. Consuming a diet filled with nutrient rich, whole foods
In Functional Medicine (and other traditional healing medicines like Ayurveda) we believe that food is medicine. Food is certainly the most important leverage that you have when it comes to your health. Having a nutrient dense, whole foods diet is critical. Where infections are concerned, we need our immune system to mount an appropriate and balanced response so that the body can fight off the infection and recover faster.
Vegetables form the foundation of any diet which is wholesome and nourishing and you need all the different colours to ensure that you are getting all the various immune supporting nutrients. Vegetables like garlic, onion and herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon have immune boosting and antimicrobial properties that can support your immune system.
2. Increase Zinc intake
Zinc is a mineral which essential for your immune health. It helps in the creation of antibody molecules and is necessary for both the development and functions of cells which are responsible for immune health and warding off invading bacteria and viruses.
However, most people do not get an adequate amount of zinc through their diet. Zinc is found abundantly in foods like oysters, mushrooms and meats. It is also found in plant based foods - seeds like sesame and pumpkin and to a lesser extent in green peas and spinach.
3. Vitamins A and D
Both of these fat soluble vitamins are important when it comes to immune health. Vitamin D in particular, regulates over 200 genes and plays an important role in immune health as well as maintaining the integrity of your gut lining.
It is also important to note that these vitamins are most effective when they are taken together. Cod liver oil has natural forms of both. bothInfact cod liver oil is something that we take as a family especially during these winter months and this is my favourite brand.
You should also focus on foods like salmon, sweet potato, carrot, spinach, eggs, pumpkin for Vitamin A and foods like salmon, eggs, cod liver oil for Vitamin D. But one of the most important ways to get vitamin D is through regular sun exposure.
Probiotics such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces (a beneficial yeast) help regulate your immune system and keeps pathogenic microbes under control, reduces inflammation and keeps the immune system alert but not in an overreactive mode. They also play an important role in teaching your immune system to recognise between a friend and from foe.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables (including pickles made naturally, fermented foods like yogurt, idli, dosa) are good sources of probiotics. Prebiotics are non digestible fibers in vegetables that help feed the beneficial bacteria. Good sources of prebiotics to include in your are diet are leeks, garlic, onions, raw bananas, asparagus and whole grains.
5. Have less sugar and refined, processed foods
Research shows that refined sugar (especially in large quantities that we consume today in refined, processed, foods poor in nutrients) can suppress your immune system for hours after consuming it. Also for most people, these foods tend to crowd out the healthier, nutrient dense foods that people would consume otherwise leaving the body vulnerable by making it deficient in nutrients.
6. Adequate protein intake
Protein is critical for the immune function to help fight viral and bacterial infections and also for healing and repairing your body’s tissues. The immune system produces antibodies as an important immune response and relies on proteins for the same making it an important part of your immune response.
Animal based proteins include chicken, fish, eggs and meats while good sources of plant based proteins include legumes (daals, chickpeas, beans), nuts and seeds.
7. Sleep and rest
Sleep is an important factor in building immune resiliency which is often overlooked. However, inadequate rest has a negative impact on our immune health, makes it difficult for us to think clearly, effectively handle stress and manage our emotions. In the modern fast paced, distraction filled world “rest” often means watching television, browsing the internet or being on the screen for a number of other reasons. However, what we don't realise is that this does not allow our body to get adequate time during the day to move from a "fight or flight mode" to a "rest and digest mode" which is a prerequisite for our bodies to undo the effects of our stress response and recover from it.
Also, our quality of sleep depends on how we have been managing our stress throughout the day. If we do not take out time during the day to take breaks and start winding down in the evening then it can become difficult for us to sleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. This is why many people today have difficulty in falling asleep and why I chose to create a free guide on this very important topic.
Check out the free guide “5 ways of getting a good night’s sleep” that I have created to help you get better sleep.