Five Immune System Zappers

immune-zappers

With the 2.5 phase of reopening States, a lot of us will be returning to our demanding jobs and long commutes, and many may stay working from home and still needing to be online in meetings all day. Modern life in itself seems designed to sap our immune systems, even without the added recent pandemic. Fortunately, there are a few simple lifestyle tweaks that can help bring back balance to our lives and help our immune system function at its best for now and moving forward.

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I thought it was a good time to take another look at the everyday stressors that wreak havoc on your immune system, and if you want to help keep it in tip-top shape, so it can keep you healthy, try to avoid them as much as humanly possible.

Stress tops the chart. I’ve talked about this a lot in other articles and on the podcast. I even did a whole podcast series about stress and this is the first one the other ones are episode #50 and #51. Chronic daily stress leads to damaging inflammation in the body, and is associated with diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. For us busy businesswomen daily stress just seems to be a fact of life. To help counteract stress in your life, be sure to get regular exercise, eat well, and take a few moments for deep, slow breaths a few times a day.

Excess Stress

excess-stress

Stress tops the chart. I’ve talked about this a lot in other articles and on the podcast. I even did a whole podcast series about stress and this is the first one the other ones are episode #50 and #51. Chronic daily stress leads to damaging inflammation in the body, and is associated with diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. For us busy businesswomen daily stress just seems to be a fact of life. To help counteract stress in your life, be sure to get regular exercise, eat well, and take a few moments for deep, slow breaths a few times a day.

Poor Diet

If I had to rank them poor diet is also a good contender for first place right up there with stress. The immune system depends on good nutrition to function at its best. While trendy diets come and go and tend to make headlines, the truth of good nutrition is simple: eat lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, with moderate amounts of healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados. Low-fat dairy and dairy substitutes offer minerals, and Greek yogurt and fermented foods contain probiotics that help keep your gut happy.

I know a lot of you have been grabbing takeout and not shopping as healthily as you where pre-pandemic, but now as we start to regain some normalcy, try to get back to cooking and eating healthier. Try a pre-made salad with a rainbow of vegetables, legumes, and lean protein. Apples and oranges make a great snack, and the healthy fat and antioxidants in nuts will help keep you full and your immune system strong. Don’t worry about perfection. If you make good choices 80% of the time, you’ll feel the benefits.

Lack of Sleep

Ahh sleep. I love talking about sleep because as we sleep our bodies rest and repair the damage from everyday life. When we don’t get enough sleep, it’s much harder for the immune system to do its job. Studies show that sleep deprivation makes us more susceptible to colds, the flu, and now the Corona Virus. Lack of sleep can also reduce the effectiveness of vaccines overall. Over time, sleep deprivation increases our chances of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Try aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Self-Isolation

Humans are social creatures, and studies show that being lonely negatively affects our health. In a 2013 study, lonely people showed poor immune function, as well as higher levels of chronic inflammation, which can lead to coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and other illnesses. (1)

Schedule regular time to connect with your friends and family and earn immune-boosting bonus points by meeting friends for a workout and/or a healthy meal. If you don’t have a strong social circle, try meeting people by taking a class, joining a gym, or volunteering with a cause you care about. Now let’s look at some things that are immune systems loves and craves.

Antioxidants For Immune Boosting

anti-oxidants

You may have heard that eating foods with lots of antioxidants is good for the immune system, but what does that really mean? What is an antioxidant, and how can it benefit health?

Our bodies need oxygen to live. Oxygen is vital to many chemical reactions throughout the body and without it, we would quickly die. However, as you may remember from chemistry class, oxygen is also a very unstable molecule, and when it is part of a chemical reaction, potentially damaging by-products call free radicals are released. Just imagine a piece of iron slowly rusting in the rain. That’s oxidation at work.

Oxygen is used in many key reactions in the immune system, particularly in creating the inflammation that keeps us safe from invaders. Ironically, the free radicals that result can themselves make us sick.

Antioxidants help prevent damage from oxygen in one of two ways: they help regulate reactions, so only the necessary oxygen is used for body reactions, and they neutralize or eliminate the damaging free radicals that are produced in oxygen reactions. .

Many chemicals act as antioxidants, and they are widely found within healthy foods. Powerful dietary antioxidants include vitamin C (citrus fruit, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers, broccoli), vitamin A (liver, fish oil, dairy products, carrots, leafy green vegetables, squash), and vitamin E (nuts, seeds, avocado, leafy green vegetables). By consuming a diet high in antioxidants, you will help prevent oxidative damage and keep the immune system strong.

Your best bet to take advantage of the benefits of antioxidants and phytochemicals is to eat 5 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, if you exercise moderately you need even more. Strive to try a variety of fruits and vegetables and try to get as many colors on your plate as possible. Different colors indicate the presence of different chemicals, so do your best to eat all the colors of the rainbow and you’ll be doing your immune system a favor. If you find you can’t, or you don’t want to then I highly recommend taking what I take to fill in the gaps and that is juice plus.

Soak Up The Ray’s

Ah, sunshine. After a long winter, it feels wonderful to bask in the warm sun. But, are those golden rays good for us? The answer is yes.

soak-up-the-rays

Sunlight is needed for the body to create vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is well-known as an essential vitamin for bone health, but it’s also crucial for reactions within the immune system. Without enough vitamin D, we are more likely to catch an illness.

In North America, above 37 degrees of latitude – that is all of Canada and roughly half of the United States – the sun is too low in the sky during fall, winter and spring for our bodies to make vitamin D, so we can only make it during the summer months.

During the summer, it takes fair-skinned people just 10 minutes of sun exposure at midday in shorts and tank top, without sunscreen, to make 1,000 IU of Vitamin D (the RDA is 600 IU/day). Darker-skinned people may need more time in the sun to create vitamin D. Unfortunately, the sun can also cause painful burns, and UV exposure is known to cause skin cancer. So, once you’ve soaked up some vitamin D, be sure to cover up and add sunscreen.

During the winter (and year-round if you are worried about sun exposure), we can get vitamin D through foods. The top foods for vitamin D include oily fish and fortified dairy products. Vitamin D can also be found in supplements. If you avoid the sun and don’t like fish, speak to your medical provider about whether a vitamin D supplement is right for you.

While we have known about the benefits of sunlight and vitamin D for many years, in 2016 researchers from Georgetown University discovered a new way that sunlight benefits the immune system. They found that sunshine boosts T cells by helping them move faster.

T cells orchestrate the body’s defenses against invaders. Just as firefighters try to contain a fire as rapidly as possible to limit damage, the faster T cells get to a site of infection, the faster they can start the healing process. While both the blood and skin have T cells, skin has twice as many T cells as blood, making it easy for sunlight to reach many cells. (2)

Fortunately for those who worry about skin cancer, it’s the blue light within sunlight that causes T cells to move, not the UV rays. UV rays, which are required for the body to make vitamin D, are known to cause skin cancer and melanoma. Blue light, on the other hand, can be provided safely by special lamps. This research is in its early stages, but scientists are exploring ways that the healing power of sunlight could be used to help treat various illnesses. (2)

To reap the immune-boosting benefits of sunshine, the prescription is simple: go play outside!

Move Over Apple And Make Way For The Orange

Can an orange a day keep the doctor away? Quite possibly, yes! Oranges and the other fruits in the citrus family offer a host of nutrients that benefit the immune system.

While the exact nutrients in each citrus fruit vary, as a family they all share some beneficial nutritional characteristics. Citrus fruits all contain vitamin C, an essential vitamin that helps keep the immune system strong.

Vitamin C is particularly important for collagen synthesis. Collagen is a component in most of the body’s connective tissue, including ligaments, tendons, dentin, skin, blood vessels and bones. Collagen is also essential for wound healing and repair – an essential function of the immune system. In vitamin C deficiency (aka scurvy), these tissues are weakened.

Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron from non-animal sources and can be a useful addition to iron-rich diets for those who suffer from anemia.

As well as all these benefits, vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant. Oxidative stress is suspected to be the cause of or a contributor to many diseases – including some forms of cancer, heart disease, eye disease, and neurodegenerative disease. People with a high intake of vitamin C have a lower risk of these problems.

A healthy diet with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is enough to meet our needs for vitamin C, and citrus fruits can help. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. One orange contains about 70 mg of vitamin C, while a grapefruit has 56 mg. (3)

make-way-for-the-orange

As well as vitamin C, citrus fruits contain potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and a variety of phytochemicals (chemicals found in plants that may have a variety of health benefits).

Folate is essential for producing new cells in the body. It is particularly important for women who may become pregnant, as low folate is associated with neural tube defects in babies. The RDA of folate is 400 mg, and an orange contains 75 mg.

In addition to their vitamin content, citrus fruits are fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, and contain healthy fiber and water. A healthy gut helps keeps the immune system healthy, and fiber is necessary for a well-functioning digestive tract. Adults should consume at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but many North Americans fall well below that. With 3 grams of fiber per orange, citrus fruits can help you reach your daily fiber goals.

To get your daily dose of citrus, try having half a grapefruit at breakfast, or an orange as a tasty snack. Sweet clementine’s and mandarins make for a delicious, healthy dessert treat. Lemon juice and rind can be added to baked goods to add a fresh, zesty tang, and the acidic punch of lime adds spark to guacamole and other traditional Mexican dishes.

It’s always great news when something that’s beneficial for you also tastes good, and citrus fruits certainly falls into that category.

Building a good immune system takes time depending on where you fall on the health continuum. If you have been working on for a while now, kiddos to you, then you are right on track and if you just started then it will take several months to start seeing a difference.

References:

 

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23630220.

(2) http://www.nature.com/articles/srep39479

(3) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/#en4

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