Are you looking for natural and healthy ways to improve your immunity? Use these methods to help protect your body from virus and disease.
The growing presence fo the coronavirus (COVID-19) has many people looking for ways to better protect themselves. While no one measure will guarantee complete protection from the coronavirus, there are natural and healthy ways that people can boost their immune system to fight disease in general. Hopefully, employing these methods both now and in the future will help reduce the risk of the coronavirus as well as other viral diseases.
A Healthy Lifestyle Helps a Complex Immune System
Before looking at specific ways to influence the immune system, it’s first necessary to acknowledge and appreciate the complexity of the system. While commonly called the “immune system,” there’s actually a diverse array of systems that help protect against and fight off diseases. These include various immune cells, stages of cell protection and other components.
Because the immune system is so complex, researchers have a difficult time establishing true correlations between actions and meaningful increases in immune activity. Even though many studies have been and continue to be conducted on the subject, most of these establish correlations rather than causations. Nonetheless, their findings can be suggestive and helpful.
Additionally, there’s no one magic bullet that has been shown to definitively boost the immune system. The system doesn’t rely so much on one specific habit or chemical, as much as it needs balance and harmony throughout the body.
As easy as a single solution would be to implement, there simply isn’t one thing that everyone can do to help such a complex system. Instead, the foundation of good overall immunity is a generally healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves many different activities and habits that are good for the body, soul and mind. For example, all of the following are important components of living healthily:
Eat a varied diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables
Exercise regularly and keep a healthy weight
Get a full night’s worth of sleep regularly
Practice good basic hygiene
Reduce overall and chronic stress
Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake
The following natural and healthy ways to boost your immune system are more specific suggestions, but they should all be viewed within the perspective of striving for a healthy lifestyle. Simply living well is the best thing anyone can do to improve their immunity against viruses and other diseases.
Maintain a Diet Rich in Micronutrients
Malnutrition in any form can weaken the immune system, for the system needs foods and nutrients to fuel cell production and activity. Without the right supplies in the form of foods and nutrients, the immune system simply has nothing to run on. This is one reason why the malnourished throughout the world contract more communicable diseases and fatally succumb to these diseases more often than their well-fed counterparts.
Malnutrition isn’t limited to only the amount of food that a person consumes. It also can occur when a person doesn’t get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets — and this is a significant concern in the United States and throughout both the developed and developing worlds. A severe lack of vitamins and minerals is referred to as “micronutrient malnutrition.”
Micronutrient malnutrition may contribute to a number of different diseases depending on the specific vitamins and minerals that are lacking. Among the diseases that it can leave a person susceptible to are communicable infections, possibly including viruses like the corona virus. (Studies haven’t shown that micronutrient malnutrition leaves a person specifically at risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus.)
Among people who have ample access to foods, micronutrient malnutrition may occur when a person’s diet isn’t varied enough, and doesn’t contain a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables.
Micronutrient malnutrition due to diet is especially a concern among the elderly, who are prone to eat less often and have less variety in their diet. As people age, they may have changing tastes, no longer be able to get out and procure food, or have difficulty preparing the foods they used to. All of these factors can contribute to deficiencies in vitamins and trace minerals.
The preferred way to combat micronutrient malnutrition is to include a rich array of vegetables, fruits and other foods in a varied diet. If at all possible, reintroducing and deficient vitamins or minerals through actual foods is the most natural way to gain these back in the body so that the immune system can support them.
Take a Multivitamin Daily
Even for those who do eat a rich and varied diet that’s full of produce, however, making sure all helpful vitamins and trace minerals are included in a diet remains challenging. Everyone favors certain foods over others, and it’s virtually impossible to keep track of exactly what micronutrients are in each item.
The easiest way to make sure all necessary micronutrients are included in a diet is to take a multivitamin daily. A vitamin shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute that exonerates someone from eating their veggies, but it can be an important complement to most everyone’s diet.
With regard to vitamins and supplements, the general recommendation from the research-based scientific and medical communities is normally to take a basic multi-vitamin.
While there are many supplements available and the nutrients in them might indeed be used by the immune system, it’s often impossible to actually determine how much of specific nutrient the body can use or even whether extra of that nutrient actually has beneficial effects. Moreover, micronutrient malnutrition may also occur if a person has too much of a particular micronutrient — a risk that taking a nutrient-specific supplement could create.
To demonstrate just how complex the relationship between the immune system and specific nutrients is, consider one study that looked at micronutrient deficiencies in animals. The study was able to detect micronutrient deficiencies’ impact on the animals’ immune systems when examining test tubes, but it didn’t link the individual nutrients with specific impacts. It also couldn’t establish whether the deficiencies had any actual impact on the animals’ health; the test tube results may have no relevance to real-world health.
A basic daily multivitamin provides the essential vitamins and minerals that the immune system needs, and it helps to keep the micronutrients in the body more balanced. In most cases, this is both sufficient and more beneficial.
Anyone who does want to take a specific supplement for a particular reason should first ask a knowledgeable, licensed healthcare provider about the supplement. A healthcare provider can provide guidance based on an individual’s situation and the research that is available.
Remain Hydrated Throughout the Day
Hydration has many benefits for the body, and one of those may be to boost the immune system. Drinking enough water to remain properly hydrated can help the body digest foods so that those macronutrients in the foods get extracted, and the water aides in the removal of waste from the body. Both of those are aspects that can help boost immunity.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that adult men consume about 15.5 cups of fluids per day, and women should consume about 11.5 cups per day. This includes all hydrating fluids, and the clinic notes that about 20 percent of a person’s fluid intake frequently comes from food sources.
Remaining hydrated is particularly important when a person contracts a viral infection or other disease. This is when the immune system’s abilities are most needed, and some diseases make it difficult to remain hydrated (e.g. due to nausea or diarrhea). If a person becomes too dehydrated while sick, fluids may need to be delivered intravenously (i.e. via IV).
Cease Smoking or Reduce Tobacco Use
Anyone who smokes or uses another form of nicotine-containing tobacco ought to crease the habit as much as they’re able to. While this isn’t easy to do, stopping cigarettes or other tobacco products is one of the best things that people can do for their immune system.
Nicotine is a known immunosuppressor, meaning that it suppresses the immune system’s ability to respond to infectious diseases. As long as the chemical is present in the body, the immune system will be significantly hampered in its ability to fight a virus or other infection.
Consume Alcohol in Moderation
Heavy alcohol consumption is also known to suppress the immune system, and it does so in multiple ways. Evidence suggests, however, that light to moderate alcohol consumption can help the immune system.
In particular, polyphenol-rich drinks have been shown to carry potential immune-related health benefits. These include adult beverages such as wine or beer. Drinking a glass of either occasionally and responsibly might actually be good for you.
Regularly Enjoy Moderate Exercise
Exercise is one of the best things that anyone can do for their body, as it helps with everything from weight control and mood to immune capabilities. For the immune system, exercise is somewhat like alcohol consumption — not in the mechanism of impact but in how the amount of either affects the system.
Heavy exercise can actually temporarily weaken the immune system, largely because it leaves the entire body tired and worn-down. Any temporary immunosuppression only lasts a short while, though, and can be mitigated with a healthy diet and sufficient fluid intake. This generally shouldn’t be an excuse not to pursue heavy exercise if that’s something a person wants to do.
Moderate exercise is what best directly benefits the immune system, for moderate exercise of almost any kind boosts the system’s ability to respond to disease. Of special note, exercise specifically both mobilizes immune system cells and helps combat various viral infections. These are extremely direct benefits and especially helpful when a disease like the coronavirus is spreading.
Walking briskly, jogging, playing sports, swimming and any other form of moderate physical activity can have a large positive impact if done on a regular basis.
Reduce Chronic Stress Through Meditation
Compared to alcohol consumption and exercise, stress has an inverse effect on the immune system. Short-term stress might temporarily boost the immune system as the flight-or-fight response is activated, but chronic, long-term stress diminishes the body’s ability to respond to an infection.
Chronic stress increases cortisol levels and this, in turn, interferes with both T cells and IgA in the body. T cell production and function are inhibited, and these are a specific type of white blood cell that’s used to fight disease. IaG levels are reduced, and this is a protective agent that lines the respiratory system with a physical barrier against disease.
There are multiple ways to reduce chronic stress. Meditating is an easy one that anyone can take up. Meditation can last a few minutes or a longer period of time, and it can take the form of yoga (combining meditation and exercise), prayer, silent thought, chant or something else.
Prepare to Sleep Properly
As noted in the beginning, a good night’s sleep is essential to fighting off disease. While exact sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye per night. One study found that those who received less than 6 hours of sleep each night experienced more colds (which are frequently caused by viruses) than those who received more sleep on average.
For those who don’t currently get the recommended amount of sleep, intentionally preparing for the activity can have a significant impact on how many hours of z’s they get. Even simple steps, such as budgeting enough hours to sleep, not looking at screens immediately before going to bed, and turning off phones during the night, can have a significant impact.
Avoid Mycotoxins as Much as Possible
Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins that certain molds, including both black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) and other molds, produce. These toxins are responsible for a variety of potential illnesses and malignant effects, which include negative impacts on the immune system.
The potential immune-related effects of mycotoxins are well-captured by a study that examined mold exposure in pigs (which is a widespread problem). Some molds stimulated the immune system by activating a response, while others suppressed the immune system so that it didn’t respond strongly.
In both situations, the mycotoxins had a negative on pig health. The molds that activated the immune system caused diseases that made the pigs ill, and they could potentially divert an immune system from fighting off another infection. The molds that suppressed the immune system reduced the system’s ability to respond to other infectious diseases.
Although this study focused on pigs, molds generally have a similar impact in people. They either make people sick, reduce people’s ability to respond to other illnesses or have both negative effects.
For example, one mycotoxin inhibits immune cells’ ability to communicate by switching off an essential enzyme in people. Without adequate communication, immune cells are unable to coordinate an effort against infectious disease. This isn’t how all mycotoxins interact with cells in the body, but it’s one way that a mold can cause immunosuppression.
Thus, avoiding mycotoxins whenever possible is an easy way to help the immune system remain prepared to fight other infections. This doesn’t mean avoiding mold altogether, for mold spores are pervasive, and some may be beneficial or declisious (e.g. the mold in blue cheese).
Harmful molds that are visible or cause symptoms of illness, however, should be avoided. This can be a common problem in certain buildings, especially if there is or has been substantial water damage.
Have Some Fun in the Bedroom
For consenting adults who are of age, one of the most fun ways to naturally help the immune system is to get a little frisky at night (or any other appropriate time). As outlandish as it may sound, there is scientific evidence that frequent sexual activity positively aids the immune system.
To benefit from this effect, the research suggests that partners must engage with one another at one or two times a week. The science behind this is a study that examined sexual activity in college students, separating them into groups that engaged with a partner never, infrequently, frequently or very frequently.
The group that engaged frequently — which was defined as once or twice per week — showed evidence that their immune systems were more active than the other three groups. This included both the groups that abstained altogether or engaged in activity infrequently (less than once per week), as well as the group that engaged frequently (three or more times per week).
Specifically, the frequently group had higher levels of IgA in their saliva. This is particularly helpful not just for people who want to have some fun in the bedroom, but it could be especially insightful in light of the coronavirus.
IgA helps form a barrier that lines the respiratory system to reduce the risk of infection, and the respiratory system is one area that the coronavirus attacks. An exact link between bedroom activity and the coronavirus hasn’t been established, but the mere possibility is all that many people need to remain active with one another.
Wash Hands Frequently and Well
There’s a saying in sports that “the best defense is a good offense,” and this translates well into epidemiology. If a virus or other pathogen is blocked from entering the body, the immune system doesn’t have to fight any resulting disease. One of the best ways to stop diseases from getting into the body is to simply wash your hands frequently and properly.
As important as handwashing is, a surprisingly small percentage of the population regularly cleans their palms and digits. Surveys have found varying numbers of people don’t wash their hands, but one statistic is illuminating. As many as 30 percent of people don’t bother to soap up after using the public restroom in an airport. Simply changing this figure to 60 percent could have a 69 percent slow-down effect on the spread of communicable diseases, including viruses, by one estimate.
When a virus is prevalent (and at other times), it’s not a bad idea to wash your hands anytime you use the restroom, change a diaper, sneeze, cough, prepare food or simply think you should. When washing hands, the Centers for Disease Control recommends scrubbing with soam for at least 20 seconds.
Help Your Immune System with Natural, Healthy Aides
Your immune system is an amazingly complex and adaptive system, and it can fight many diseases on its own. Helping the system out with natural, healthy methods doesn’t hurt, though. Use these tips to make your lifestyle generally more healthy, and you’ll boost your immune system too.