HOW TO: BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM 101
Dr. Dan Giordano, PT, DPT, CSCS
Scientists around the world are working on antivirals and vaccines to help fight our current pandemic, COVID-19. As they work on these advancements in medicine, we (as a community) need to work on our own immune system via holistic approaches. Positive immune responses by a healthy immune system will reduce your chance & help control viral infections. Your lifestyle and what you do on a daily basis will affect your immune system.
In today’s society, most people live by the motto, “work hard, play harder”. Unfortunately this motto doesn’t allow us to get enough sleep and let our bodies recover. This can be a problem because sleep deprived immune systems do not work well. Sleep is more important than people believe. As we age, we produce less melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle, which makes it harder for us to have good sleep. Optimally adults should sleep between 7-8 hour per night. Researchers have found that sleeping less than 6 hours per night may increase your risk of developing a cold by 4.2x. When you sleep your body releases cytokines, which are proteins that act as chemical messengers. These chemical messengers aid in cell to cell communication that target sites of infection and inflammation, creating an immune system response. Less sleep = less cytokines, which means less protective proteins.
- In order to optimize your sleep, follow these simple rules: create a dark cave like environment to allow for the release of melatonin, a cool environment around 65 degrees fahrenheit, avoid use of phones, computer or TVs for 30-60 minutes prior to bed, and reduce noise to avoid sleep interruption due to changes in noise volume and tone.
Exercise is very important to maintain a healthy immune system. We know that exercise may keep your body strong, but it may also help in order to improve your immunity. Exercise decreases the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and increases the release of endorphins and enkephalins, which can improve your mood and decrease your perception of pain. Exercise will also improve circulation. By improving circulation, immune system cells will be able to move freely throughout your body in order to be effective and efficient. Circulation may also help flush bacteria out of your airways and lungs, which can reduce your chance of getting an infection.
- As with most things, exercise should be done in moderation. Lack of days off and too much intense exercise, >90 minutes of intense exercise, may reduce immunity. Don’t exercise if you are feeling sick (fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches) or with symptoms below the neck such as chest congestion, a hacking cough or upset stomach. The optimal amount of exercise for your health is moderate exercise for 45-60 minutes 3-5 days per week.
Our cells need nutrients to grow and work, which is why a healthy balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and proteins will help your immune system. Many different vitamins and minerals all influence your immune system in different ways.
Vitamin A may help protect against infections by helping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, and respiratory system be healthy. Foods rich in Vitamin A include spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, mango apricots, and beef liver.
Vitamin B-6 supports biochemical reactions in your immune system. Foods that are good sources of Vitamin B-6 include chickpeas, tofu, cold water fish (tuna & salmon), and chicken.
Vitamin C protects you from infection by stimulating the production of antibodies. Good sources of Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, cantaloupes, kiwis, mangos, papayas, pineapples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and watermelons.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage. It will help decrease free radical damage and slow down the aging process of your cells. The best Vitamin E sources include sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, avocados, asparagus, broccoli and shrimp.
Zinc is a micronutrient that can fight off invading bacteria and viruses and repair body tissues. Zinc-rich foods include meat, shellfish, legumes (chickpeas, beans, and lentils), nuts (peanuts, pine nuts, cashews, and almonds), seeds (flax, hemp, squash, pumpkin), eggs, and whole grains (wheat, quinoa, oats, and rice).
Proteins also play an important role in healing, recovery, and maintaining a healthy immune system. The amino acids in proteins are the building blocks of cellular activity. These building blocks help form the cells that operate your immune system. Great sources of protein include lean meat, seafood, eggs, poultry, almonds, oats, lentils, broccoli, almonds, cottage cheese, quinoa, and milk.
Other foods that may help boost your immune system include:
Ginger (contains anti-inflammatory compounds that function in the same way as COX-2 inhibitors)
Turmeric (has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial & antiviral properties)
Lemon (helps aid in inflammation and digestion)
Honey (has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties).
- Just as malnourishment may make you more vulnerable to infectious diseases, overeating may also compromise your body’s ability to fight infection. If you suspect that your diet is not providing all of your nutrient needs, consider taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement.
WASH YOUR HANDS
Following good personal hygiene habits is our first line of defense in stopping the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses. Hand sanitizers are great on the go and you don’t have access to soap and water. Remember that a thorough hand wash is a more reliable method because it removes oils from the hand that can harbor bacteria. Wash your hands as much as you can. Wash them every time you return from a public, after your hands have come into contact with other surfaces and/ or people, after the bathroom, before you prepare food, and anytime you think you should! Scrub your hands, palms, fingers and wrist thoroughly for at least 20-30 seconds getting in-between all of your creases, fingers and fingertips. Good personal hygiene also includes covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with your elbow to help prevent fluids from spreading. Also please STOP touching your face and biting your nails. Your face contains multiple pathways for infections to easily enter your body. Stay Improve these habits and decrease the spread of germs!
Blake Dircksen, PT, DPT, CSCS of Bespoke Treatments NYC put together a FITT Principle below to make sure you’re washing those mits effectively:
FREQUENCY: you probably can’t over-do it on the frequency, just prepare for dry hands. We recommend washing anytime you return from a public space, anytime after using the restroom, before preparing food, and generally any time you feel like it’s time for a scrub.
INTENSITY: not too light, but not so hard that you’re irritating the skin. Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin.
TIME: at least :20 seconds. Shorter periods of time don’t appear to be nearly as effective.
TYPE: scrub. Use comfortably hot water and scrub between the fingers, under the fingernails, back of the hands, the palms, and up the wrist
Stress can be good or bad. In regards to growing and strengthening our bodies, physical stress on your muscles or the vasculature system in the short term can make you stronger. The problem is when stress becomes chronic or mismanaged it can damage our health. Poor recovery from physical, mental or emotional stress of any kind, such as depression and anxiety can lead to increased levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands that helps our body deal with stressful situations. When your body has too much cortisol in your blood for long periods of time, it can alter your immune system responses and lead to more inflammation. Stress may also decrease your body’s ability to fight off antigens, a toxin or other foreign substance that may induce an immune response in your body. Lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that fight off infections, will also decrease in response to stress. When your lymphocytes decrease, so does your body’s ability to fight off an infection which increases your risk for viruses.
- It is important to find healthy ways to deal with your stress. Try these activities to help manage your stress:
- Shut down – turn off your computer and phone for at least 1 hour per day
- Recover – use mobility tools such as a foam roller or theragun to help your body and nervous system relax
- Yoga – can boost your respiratory immunity and allow your nervous system to relax
- Meditation – use mindful apps to help reduce blood pressure and improve cognitive function
- Laugh – laughing helps release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain
During stressful times, people tend to cope with going to happy hour and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately ‘happy hour’ may actually be the most unhappiest hour of the day. If you drink daily or almost daily you may be drinking too much. Excessive or chronic alcohol use may impair the body’s defenses against pathogens, including viruses and bacteria. Your body is a very smart and complex system, when it senses a pathogen, an organism that causes disease, it sends macrophages, or immune cells, to the area to fight the pathogen. Alcohol consumption may impair this process. Alcohol may also reduce the number of T-cells and B-cells, which are responsible for protection against bacteria.
- I am not telling you to stop drinking (but I do think you should QUIT), instead consume less and instead drink in moderation. The CDC recommends limiting yourself to 1 drink per day as a woman and 2 drinks per day as a man.