At Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville, we know it’s important to strengthen your immunity throughout the year, not just during cold and flu season. Maintaining overall health will help support a strong immune system.
First, eating a balanced diet is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. Aim for variety when choosing fruits and vegetables. My favorite recipes that incorporate varied vegetables include soups and curries. For fruits with blended seeds, I love a smoothie. Start by planning some of your meals ahead of time. This way, you can have many meals packed with plenty of fruits and vegetables!
Incorporate healthy fats into your diet too, including nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. We need healthy fats to absorb essential nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats are incorporated into cell membranes and help cells function efficiently. Try these examples of seeds and nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Fatty fish examples include mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring.
Lean proteins such as turkey, beans, and chicken can also help provide essential amino acids that your body needs to repair tissues.
Zinc is important for immune function. Zinc contributes to the development and function of immune cells, including neutrophils, natural killer cells, and T-cells. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, chicken, beans, beef, and chickpeas.
Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria. Consider adding probiotics in the form of fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. You could also take a daily probiotic.
Food can be tricky. Need help figuring out how to incorporate some of these foods into a balanced eating strategy? Schedule with our integrative nutritionist to discuss your specific needs.
Adequate hydration helps maintain the health of your cells, including the mucous membranes, which infection often targets. Hydration is crucial to overall health. Without water, the power plants in your cells, the mitochondria, cannot make energy. And if energy production slows down, the immune system can become vulnerable. Aim to get at least half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
Sleep is so important, especially for the immune system. During sleep, your body releases cytokines that help regulate your immune system’s response to infection—making it more difficult for an infection to take hold.
Sleep also helps regulate the body’s stress response. Adequate sleep helps make daily stressors more tolerable. Poor sleep and chronic stress can lead to an overactive immune system and increased susceptibility to infection.
Implement a sleep hygiene routine every night. Go to bed and wake up at around the same time of day. Create a cool, dark environment and remove any blue-light electronic devices. Utilizing gentle yoga, meditation, reading, and journaling before bed can help manage stress. Limit caffeine and alcohol use. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime: avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime.
Exercise has several benefits when it comes to the immune system. It stimulates the production and circulation of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infection. Exercise can improve the body’s ability to produce antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that recognize specific pathogens. Exercise can also help with quality sleep. A win-win!
Changing our routines and starting new habits is one of the most challenging aspects of health. Consult our integrative health coach to brainstorm ways to ease into new patterns that get you closer to your health goals.
If you do develop an infection, some vitamin supplements can be helpful. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radicals; it can sometimes reduce the severity of upper respiratory viruses. Zinc, as stated earlier, can help support immune cell function. Vitamin D3 is also helpful with immune function. Elderberry is a fruit high in antioxidants and has demonstrated some antiviral properties.
If you are not feeling well or want to discuss lifelong wellness goals, contact us at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville. Members can access an integrative practitioner, health coach, and nutritionist for all their healthcare needs.
This blog post was written by Katey Perry, FNP, one of the medical providers at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville. You can read more about Katey in her bio.