Without fail, the colder weather creeps up on us as it does this time every year. And with the temperature dropping, we often start talking about taking care of the ole immune system. Let's cover some basics today, and talk those easy things we can do to love up our immune system.
Your immune system does so much for you: it, along with your gut, is your foundation to good health. Let's go over the components you can put in place that are essential to immune health.
FIVE KEY COMPONENTS ESSENTIAL TO IMMUNE HEALTH
Look after your gut
Eat the good foods
Reduce your toxin load
Let's break these down in to the practical, shall we?
LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT
You gotta love your guts. See, there are estimations that roughly 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. The two work hand in hand in keeping you well, in keeping potential harm at bay and moving it out in a timely fashion so that you can get through your days. It is your immune system that acts as your main line of defense against everything you come across, from cuts and bruises to incoming pathogens like bacteria and viruses. It has a pivotal role in keeping cancer at bay.
This part isn't news to you; what might be news is how intricate the connection is between our gut and our immune system.
The good bacteria living in your gut (called your “microbiome”) have developed intricate interconnections with your intestinal and immune systems; they help calibrate your immune system so it is working in tip top shape, able to recognize what is 'you' and what is 'other'. Your microbiome plays a big part in regulating overall body inflammation, starting in the gut and radiating outwards to all of your organs and body systems. Those little bugs? Well they are also key players in supporting overall immune health. As we embark on this new season where we are finding ourselves more indoors than out, it is imperative we give our immune systems a little support by looking after our Good Gut Guardians, our microbiome.
There are a few good ways to repopulate your gut with those healthy bugs: a good place to start is by slowly introducing live or raw fermented foods into your diet. These foods contain the 'good bugs' that contribute to keeping your microbiome in good stead. Think probiotics, only in food form. And when those things come via foods, they are part of the traditional ways our ancestors before us would have had them, and ways our bodies will be able to assimilate. One of the key components then to loving your gut, is to make sure you get some fermented foods into your belly. They'll take care of the rest. (If you are new to the idea of fermented foods, look to this article for a comprehensive look at how to go about it.)
We also need to provide your body with those foods that will best fuel the cells of your intestinal lining. Ensuring these foods on a regular basis will go miles in supporting your immune system, and reducing overall inflammation. My top pick? Why it's my good friend, Mrs. Meat Stock! Look for a full write-up including a recipe at this fairly recent post.
Next up, you'll find butter on the list of foods. While I love it for the nutrients it provides to your immune system for optimal function, I also looooooove the nutrients it provides to your intestinal lining, ensuring integrity in this very important area. Plus it's delicious. Check in here for more reasons you can love butter. (You're welcome.)
Food allergies and sensitivities place a stressor on our immune system. It is important to look into what foods are contributing to a negative impact on your digestive system, and do that work to support the gut lining and improve your body's ability to digest, in order to reduce the impact of food sensitivities and allergies on your immune system. Gut love is where it's at, my friend.
EAT THE GOOD FOODS
There are loads of nutrients that offer targeted support to your hardworking immune system. Protein is one of those key foods, providing the building blocks that are being assembled for the response when there is a perceived threat at hand. Reaching for good quality protein is important. If you're able to, ensuring your animal products come from animals that were raised on pastured will afford your body a better complement of nutrients to help support the immune system and lend a protective effect to the gut. Look for a more in-depth article on the importance of sourcing your animal products from grass-fed sources here.
In the same vein, ensuring good quality wild-caught fish will best serve this system. Both the pastured meats and wild caught fish will also provide an excellent source of those all-important Essential Fatty Acids. Read up on the hard work these nutrients do in the body here, and how they play an essential role in your body's immunity.
Reducing your intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates will serve you well, as they suppress your immune system. I remember one of our profs in school, a local Naturopathic Doctor mentioned one teaspoon of sugar ties your immune system up for eight hours. While I can't find the exact study that explains this on PubMed, I did find this article that would support the notion. I think it's important to note here that I would lean more towards the idea of regulating your blood sugar levels, which would of course involved curbing your intake of refined flours and simple sugars. I would also add you need to look at consuming some good fats my friend, to help balance those sugars. Read here if you want to explore the concept further.
There are so many nutrients necessary to proper immune function. I would rather you get hung up on the foods that will best support your endeavours though, instead of trying to micro-manage what you're getting and what you need to get. If you are looking for a more focused approach on micro-nutrients, this is where the help of a Nutritional Consultant may be of benefit. (Get in touch!)
I have pulled together a list of foods I would recommend, providing your body with important micronutrients necessary to immune function, but also abundant in nutrients supportive to the intestinal lining. Eat the ones in bold more often, and make sure you're reaching for the others on a regular basis:
- Meat stock
- fermented foods
- cod liver oil
- butter / ghee
- garlic and onions
- grass-fed meats
- organ meats
- all berries
- brussels sprouts
- all leafy greens
- shiitake mushrooms
- wild caught salmon
- pumpkin + sunflower seeds
- sea salt
I have written a lengthy article about the benefits of sleep. In it, I talk about how important it is to make this a priority, as it is where our body's repair and rebuilding work happens. Look for that article here, along with some good tips on how to achieve better sleep.
The take-away? Aim for at least 7-9 hours a night. Turn your cell phones to airplane mode, or better yet, take them right out of the room. Get some serious black-out curtains. Reduce your exposure to electronics in the last hour before beddy-byes. Sleep like a baby.
I know I know, sometimes by just saying' reduce stress!' the end result is we've ramped it up. But you really should know that science indicates (as do your memories of exam days whilst in University if you go back!) that stress really does weaken the immune system. It's really important to keep a positive frame of mind to help support your immune system.
One of my top recommendations is to GO HAVE SOME FUN. Prioritizing the good times can play a pretty big part in bringing down stress, and have a protective effect for your immune system.
Here is my favourite list of ideas for you, may you find one or two that resonate:
- go for a walk – everyday! (so simple. So good.)
- head out to a cafe to play cards with a friend or honey
- host a games night with friends and neighbours
- find the comfy chairs at the library and settle in with a good book
- start a book club
- visit a nearby town and check out antiques or farmers' markets
- schedule a little me time (self care is the best!)
- breathe deeply
- soak in the tub; make it an epsom salts soak, bonus points!
- take your littles (or your friend's littles!) to the park or an indoor water park
- downsize your commitments (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne was a huge book for me that helped me figure this one out)
- start a garden
- join a yoga class
- start your morning with a sun salutation
- start a meditation or gratitude practice https://www.unstuck.com/gratitude/
- join a local tai-chi group in your area http://western.canada.taoist.org/calgary/index.php
- take up pottery like you always meant to
- check out a comedy night in town
- check out some new local music, head out to a local club
- have a movie night with the fam
- share a meal with a honey in your life!
- take a cooking class
- get season's tickets to one of our fabulous theatre companies or orchestras in town
- schedule in regular date nights. In pen. Don't back out.
REDUCE YOUR TOXIN LOAD
I love that you've read this far. Let's get to this one last important component in supporting the immune system. Toxins in your life, be they from toxins you ingest through your skin via personal care products or compounds found in the air you breathe, toxins found on our foods, or toxins produced in our bodies via regular metabolic functions, they all add up to compromising our immune function. You can add in here the toxins produced in your body from the interactions you have with the toxic people in your life.
Improving your gut health will look to bring down some of your body's toxin load. Here is a start for more ideas on where to reduce your toxin load:
- consider stopping smoking
- ditch the dryer sheets (please!)
- use filtered water instead of regular tap water
- start your day with a glass of water with lemon to support liver's detox
- consult the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to reduce exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- consider J.E.R.F.
- support your liver's detox work with good teas
- swap your home cleaning supplies to green versions
- change your furnace filter on a regular basis
- use clean products for personal care and beauty regimen
- open your windows in the car when you first get in to help air out dangerous chemicals emitted in that 'new car smell'
- place a few houseplants in different areas of the home to clean your air