Building your immunity is recognizing what compromises and what supports your body’s ability to fight off infection. Addressing those areas is paramount in truly creating more resilience, health and overall well being. Now is the time to take stock, dial in areas that need focused attention and take concerted action steps forward.
The inflammatory response is the body’s natural defense mechanism and first line of defense. It is designed to address things that may harm it including infection, injury and toxins. The problem arises when the acute response becomes chronic inflammation. Chronic and uncontrolled inflammation is an underlying factor in every major disease including but not limited to autoimmune diseases, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, alzheimers and depression. It is also a primary risk factor in covid 19.
The body views excess weight, especially around the abdomen, as a threat. It will trigger an inflammatory response and as long as the weight remains, the body will stay in an inflamed response state. Taking concerted steps to reduce the weight is paramount.
Processed foods are an obvious source of stress on the body, contributing to chronic inflammation. Reducing processed and packaged foods is a given. The next step is being more critical of the quality of produce as well as animal welfare. Pesticides, herbicides, factory farming are creating food that is incongruent with our own bodies. Fortunately being in the Lehigh Valley we have the incredible luxury of local farms, CSA’s and farmers markets. Seeing vulnerabilities in supply chains, makes purchasing locally, supporting farms with sustainable practices all the more important. We have the power with our daily purchasing choices to drive the market and support safe, healthy, sustainable food.
We may not be able to avoid stress but addressing how we manage stress within our body will impact the level of inflammation our body produces. Being mindful of how much we choose to add back into our daily life as that can greatly influence our daily stress load. Utilizing breathing techniques, journaling, mindful practices including meditation, qigong, taichi as well as seeking professional counseling and support are essential tools in addressing and managing stress.
Environmental stress is also a factor. Chemicals, plastics, molds, emf radiation, are some stressors on our immune system. Mitigating exposure to toxins as well as not purchasing products harmful to the environment helps you as well as the environment.
A Healthy Gut
Much of our immune system is housed in our digestive tract. A healthy microbiome is a huge factor in a healthy immune system and preventing an excessive inflammatory response and disease. The microbiome is like a garden in that it needs constant tending. Introducing things like bone broth and fermented foods, choosing fruits and vegetables low in pesticides, buying ethically raised animal products are all ways to support a healthy flora in the intestines and “tend to the garden.”
Costs can be a factor but helpful tools like the Environmental Working Group’s list of the 12 most highly pesticide fruits and vegetables can help you make choices of when it is most critical to choose organic over conventional. Also choosing less popular cuts of protein as well as organ meats can help reduce costs.
Vitamin D is more than just support for healthy bones. It is proving itself to be a key component in the functioning of your immune system. Getting enough vitamin D throughout the year in the often cloud covered northeast is something to be mindful. In addition to sunshine, good sources of vitamin D include wild caught salmon, herring, sardines, cod liver oil,
Instead of going for a glass of orange juice which is loaded with sugar, boost your vitamin C with things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower which all provide close to or more than your rda of vitamin C in just a cup. If you are looking for fruit, strawberries pack a powerful punch.
An unforeseen gift for many during these months, has meant time for exercise. Movement matters and exercising more is vital in all aspects of our physical and emotional health. Families walking together, playing outdoors and creating new exercise habits has been a silver lining during these past months. Keeping those habits as priorities are what will keep you healthy in the long run and provide a return
Into the Woods
Not only does getting outside provide essential Vitamin D which is critical to our immune system but spending time in the woods offers additional health supporting benefits. Time spent in the woods can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, sleep and energy levels. In addition, trees generate oils that evaporate into the air called phytoncides. These oils have antimicrobial and antiviral properties to help protect the plants and when breathed in, some studies show that it increases NK (natural killer) activity in the body which are what attacks virus infected cells.
For some, slowing down the pace of life, working from home, more time outdoors, has had a beneficial effect on sleep patterns. Sleep is the critical time when the body repairs, recovers and restores itself. Sacrificing sleep, cutting corners, burning the candle at both ends is no longer an option if you want to keep a healthy immune system. Keep quality sleep a priority. Some simple things to tweak to improve your sleep include, keeping electronics out of your bedroom, eliminating light sources like alarm clocks and having a regular wind down routine.
Thoughts and Beliefs Matter
The expression of “we are what we think” holds true for supporting and bolstering our immune system. How we are thinking directly affects the chemistry of our body and in turn our immune fighting capacity. The placebo effect is a simple example that belief and expectations of positive outcomes and associations can generate supportive biological responses in the body. On the flip side, expectations of negative outcomes, impending sickness and fear, termed the nocebo effect, can work in the reverse. Be mindful of how you are thinking as well as what you are feeding your mind through other outlets. Just like food, make sure your mental intake is supportive and nourishing.
The time is now to fine tune our health habits, evaluate and prioritize how we take care of our whole health. Daily choices matter in how we spend our dollars, our time and the meaningful shifts we can make to support our health and our environment.