Immunity has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind over the past year. It’s supposed to keep the bad stuff out. But what if it doesn’t work properly? About 23.5 million Americans have either a weakened or hyperactive immune system.1 But the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association believes that number is closer to 50 million.2 These increase your risk of infection, especially during these times.
And as you get older, your immune system becomes sluggish, leaving you vulnerable to invaders. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to come-what-may. Let’s explore some actionable steps to improve immune strength and balance, enhancing your protection from infection and dramatically reducing your risk for autoimmune diseases.
How Immunity Keeps You Safe
About 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut. Your microbiome is an ecological marvel of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your intestines, helping run the show. They make vitamins, enzymes, neurotransmitters, hormones, immune markers, and help digest your food. Keeping these little bugs happy is the key to balancing your immune system.
Your intestine is technically “outside” of your body and is lined with tight junctions. These cells prevent undigested food particles and harmful microbes from entering your body. When these tight junctions open, they allow gunk to enter. This is known as intestinal permeability or Leaky Gut.3
When the immune system senses an invader or something it doesn’t recognize as “self” (i.e., your body’s tissues), it springs into action. It sends out various markers to deal with the interloper, triggering inflammation. When you get a cut on your finger, you need that inflammatory response to help the site heal.
Unfortunately, once the floodgates are open, inflammation is continuous. Immune functions become overwhelmed, going haywire. This is chronic inflammation. It “forgets” the identification process and attacks everything, including your healthy cells, like your joints, heart, and brain. It could even lead to some cancers.4 This is an autoimmune response.
Reducing your body’s toxic load helps lighten the burden on your immune system. Any harmful chemical that touches or enters your body is identified as “useful” or “invader.” Toxins are invaders that use up precious energy that could better be applied to repair and regenerate tissues.
- Harmful Chemicals – antiperspirant, shampoo, makeup, fragrance, chemical cleansers, plastics (bottles, containers, wrapping), foil paper, non-stick cookware
- Junk Foods – fast foods, processed, refined, sugars, fried foods, starchy carbs, gluten
- Excessive Alcohol
- Compromises Immunity – NSAIDs5, antacids6, antibiotics7
- Food Tampering – GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, larvicides, etc.
Swapping harmful chemicals for natural options and choosing organic as much as possible dramatically reduces your toxic load.
8 Steps to Immune Balance Bliss
Sleep is essential for life and immune health. Chronic sleep loss makes you vulnerable to infections and disease. Aim for at least 7 hours of quality sleep. Blue light from cell phones and TVs prevents melatonin (sleep hormone) release for about 3 hours. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try shutting down your e-devices 2-3 hours before bed. Dim the lights, listen to soft music, read a paper book, take a hot bath, write in a journal to relax before shuteye.
More whole plant foods, please. Nutrition is a magnificent strategy for boosting your immunity and dampening hyperactive immune responses. Whole fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants that feed the good gut flora and crowd out the bad. Antioxidants are crucial for reducing inflammation and the resulting oxidation from free radicals that can damage arteries and organs. As a bonus, you might discover that your pants a looser because healthy gut bugs help manage your weight!
Eat healthy fats. Avocadoes, wild-caught salmon, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and full-fat plain yogurt are fabulous for lowering inflammation. Olives are highly anti-inflammatory and are linked to decreasing the risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.8
Probiotics & Fermented foods. Keeping your gut bugs happy is mission-critical for healthy immune function. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto help feed the good bacteria, helping to keep your immune system’s “identification” process in force.9
Limit refined sugar and starchy carbs. Your gut converts starchy carbohydrates into sugar. Sugar feeds the “bad” gut bacteria, destroying the balance of gut flora and disrupting immunity. The sugar your body doesn’t use gets converted into fat.
Carrying excess weight ramps up widespread inflammation, oxidative stress, and risk of disease. It increases your risk for colds, flu, and infections.10 And it spikes your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions, which further weakens your immune health.11 12
Get Active. It can’t be said enough how moving your body and getting active makes a monumental difference in how you live your life as you get older. It’s Spring, so get moving outdoors for fresh air and sunshine. Studies show that regular moderate exercise can help reduce inflammation and regenerate immune markers and function.13
Moving your joints helps reduce swelling and deliver much-needed nutrients for rejuvenation and good health. Your heart pumps, delivering energizing oxygen and nutrients to every cell and helps flush the lymphatic waste. It releases endorphins making you feel good. Walking, biking, swimming, nature hiking, gardening, aqua fitness, yoga, Tai Chi, and horseback riding are just the tip of the iceberg of fun choices. About 30 minutes 5 days a week is highly recommended.
No-Stress Zone. Chronic stress promotes inflammation and sends immune markers out-of-whack.14 Setting aside ME-time for a bit of relaxation helps re-align your body back into balance. You can save time with exercises that also relax, like Tai Chi, gardening, or even playing with your pet can loosen those mind knots.
Walking barefoot on grass helps ground you to nature. Advocates of “grounding” or “earthing” claim we’ve disconnected from Earth’s subtle electric charge, and that’s what’s responsible for chronic diseases.15 So scrunch up your toes in the grass.
A hot bath is a wonderful way to soothe sore muscles and melt away worries. And a bath before bed can improve your sleep. Soothing music, reading a good book, even tackling sudoku can help you shed the stress. Writing in a journal and dumping your concerns on paper helps release them from your mind.
Quality supplements. As you get older, your requirement for calories drops but your need for nutrients increase. This makes it challenging to get adequate nutrition from your food without gaining weight. It’s further complicated by medications, digestive and absorption problems, and illness.
The key ingredients to help boost your immunity are vitamins B6 (Pyridoxine), C, D, and E, Zinc, Elderberry, Echinacea, Garlic, and Olive Leaf Extract. Look for a quality nutraceutical that incorporates several of these ingredients formulated specifically to enhance immune function.
A malfunctioning immune system can turn your world upside down. These 8 steps can launch you onto a new level of immune health and protection against invaders. Taking control of your immunity will help secure your golden years are glorious!
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biomedcentral.com /articles /10.1186/1741 -7015-10-57
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.gov/pmc/ articles/ PMC3337124/