The COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us the power of a strong immune system, a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that can help limit the toll colds, flu and other viruses take on your health and well-being.
While there is no one magic pill to boost your immune system, these five functional medicine tips from family medicine physician Bianca Chiara, MD, at the Atlantic Health System Chambers Center for Well-Being can help you start living a healthier lifestyle.
- Find ways to reduce stress.
“Chronic stress can negatively affect your body’s immune system responses, making you more likely to get sick,” Dr. Chiara says. Stress reduction is different for every person. Some people de-stress by taking a walk. Others meditate or practice mindfulness. Identify which tactics work for you and practice them daily.
- Get a good night’s rest.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, implement some good sleep habits. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Limit screen time (smartphone, laptop, tablet, television) prior to bedtime. Create a restful setting for sleep in a cool, quiet and dark room. Aim for the seven-to-eight hours of sleep a night your body needs to fight off illnesses.
- Get that blood pumping.
“Moderate, regular exercise boosts the immune system by raising the levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, and decreasing stress hormones,” Dr. Chiara says. Aim for 20 minutes a day. Moderate exercise includes activities like walking briskly, bicycling, jumping rope or walking the stairs.
- Add more color to your plate.
Research indicates that brightly colored vegetables and fruits boost immunity better than most supplements. Aim for 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day.
- Try some supplements.
Several supplements can boost your immune function. Some of the more well-known choices:
- Vitamin C – “Regularly administered Vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of colds,” Dr. Chiara says. Higher doses during an illness can act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
- Vitamin D – Numerous studies show that the “sunshine vitamin” is one of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system. A doctor can help you determine the right dose based on your bloodwork.
- Vitamin A – Taken over the short-term, Vitamin A can help support your body’s ability to fight respiratory infections. However, too much Vitamin A can cause toxicity. Talk with your doctor about an appropriate dose.
- Zinc – Often found in lozenges, zinc can help reduce the frequency of infection and the duration and severity of the common cold when taken in the first 24 hours of an illness.
- Selenium – This key nutrient is also an antioxidant that boosts the body’s defenses against bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. It may help protect against certain strains of flu. Foods such as Brazil nuts contain Selenium.
- Raw Honey – It’s effective in relieving minor pain and reducing inflammation of mucous membranes. Honey is helpful for coughs and sore throats. You can add it to hot tea.
- Garlic – “Some studies have shown that both fresh garlic and garlic supplements may reduce viral upper respiratory infection and help prevent viruses that can cause the common cold,” Chiara says.
- Probiotics – They contain “good bacteria” that support gut health. Studies have shown that probiotic use can reduce the number of respiratory infections, especially in children.
Always talk with your provider before starting any new supplements.
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