As we approach the winter months, good health is a top priority and topic of discussion. Boosting your immune response is critical during non-COVID times. Certainly, living through a pandemic makes immune health an even more important topic.
Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to optimize your system. This includes exercising, maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough sleep. But what exactly should you include or remove from your diet to make the most impact?
Drop the sugar; boost your immune system
What can you do to optimize your immune system during the fall and winter seasons when spending more time indoors makes us more susceptible to viruses?
Believe it or not, a major cause of a weakened immune system is the huge amounts of sugar in meals and foods. Sugar is what impairs your immune system, making it easier for unwanted viruses and bacteria to fester longer than they should. The obvious step here is to reduce sugar intake. Do this by reading labels. The recommended amount for an adult is between 24-36 grams per day. To put things into perspective, one 12-oz can of soda has about 39 grams of sugar!
You might be surprised by the amounts of hidden sugar in our foods, too. For example, one restaurant chain’s squash soup contains approximately 22 grams of sugar per cup!
In addition to reading labels, you can also shop for immune-boosting foods and ingredients. Joanne Gardner, MS, RDN, LDN with Duke Integrative Medicine offers these shopping tips. A few of the highlights include:
- Buy foods rich in vitamins A, C and D. For vitamin A, think liver and fish. For vitamin C, consider citrus fruits, peppers and potatoes. And for vitamin D, try fortified food products. You can also up your sunshine time – even 10-15 minutes outdoors can make a difference.
- Source protein through fish, nuts, seeds and beans.
- Include herbs such as rosemary and oregano, and spices such as cumin and coriander in your cooking.
- Experiment with fermented foods such as kefir and kombucha, which benefit your digestive system.
- When menu planning, try including two vegetables at mealtime. Gardner recommends making one raw and one cooked.
Natural supplements for the cold season
In addition to changing your diet, like monitoring sugars and changing your shopping habits, you could also support your immune system through natural supplements. You can add these supplements individually or as a blend. (Note: Always check with your doctor or one of our pharmacists before taking a supplement.)
Look for products that contain the following vitamins and minerals, if possible:
- Vitamin A. As an immune-supporting nutrient, vitamin A benefits our mucous membranes. When vitamin A is deficient, membranes can become tough, leaving them more susceptible to organisms. Vitamin A also supports the immune system by stimulating white blood cell function and increasing antibody response.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin helps the immune system by supporting NK cell activity and lymphocyte function. Vitamin C actually declines as our stress levels rise, making it a must-have during these challenging COVID times.
- Vitamin B5. Pantothenic acid, also known as a vitamin B5, is critical for immune care and maintaining healthy white blood cell levels. It works with carbohydrates, fats and proteins to provide energy to our bodies.
- In combination with vitamin A, zinc activates a thymus hormone with vital immune-supporting properties. Zinc maintains T-cell lymphocyte function and antibody production, as well.
- Elderberry benefits are numerous, ranging from lowering cholesterol to improving heart health. It’s also beneficial for treating common winter illnesses such as coughs, colds and viral infections.
- Similar to elderberry, echinacea helps treat cold and flu symptoms by providing immune support. It’s been used for centuries in Native American medicine. Research shows that echinacea competes with pathogens by blocking viral receptors on cell surfaces.
- Astragalus membranaceus. Astragalus is known to help with cold and respiratory symptoms. Due to its antioxidant effects and ability to inhibit free radicals, it also benefits persons with fibromyalgia and diabetes. Research substantiates the immune-regulating and immune response effects of astragalus.
- Andrographis. Used for common colds and infections of the throat, andrographis stimulates the immune system and may help influenza viruses from binding to our body’s cells. In one study, andrographis significantly supported immune response while decreasing throat irritations and nasal secretions.
- Lysine Hydrochloride. L-lysine is an essential amino acid that comes from protein sources within our diet to help our body function properly.
If you’re seeking additional information on vitamin C, echinacea and zinc, as well as how natural ingredients provide immune support, check out Fullscript’s immune health protocol .
Be proactive and be mindful when it comes to your immune health
Let’s face it. Our stress levels are elevated in ways we’ve never experienced before due to the pandemic. Whether it’s managing your kids returning to school or balancing a work-from-home lifestyle, our plates are full. We can only stretch ourselves so far, which is even more reason to remember to eat healthy and supplement when necessary!
Do your best to stay proactive when it comes to immune support care. This includes being mindful about diet, lifestyle habits, and sugar intake. It also includes modifying your grocery shopping habits to seek out immune-boosting foods.
Important note: Please discuss with your physician or one of our pharmacists before taking any supplement, as some supplements may interact with medications or have contraindications with certain medications and/or health conditions.