Unfortunately, your immune system can’t be boosted or enhanced to completely avoid all germs from making us sick. Implementing healthy habits is a great way to keep it strong and ready to fight!
1. Food Safety and Hygiene
You’ve heard it hundreds of times at this point – but hygiene is important to avoid bacteria and germs from lingering on you and passing off to others you come in contact with. Some great ways to practice personal hygiene include (1):
- Using soap and water to wash hands thoroughly before preparing food and after using the restroom.
- When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow.
- Ensure all cuts or wounds are clean and covered.
- Don’t pick at any scabs or blemishes.
Food safety is also crucial to avoid food borne illnesses, which may potentially lead to serious medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2) recommends four easy steps to protect yourself from food poisoning.
- Clean: This includes both your hands and the surfaces that food is touching. Germs are able to survive in many different environments, so it’s crucial to wash cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
- Separate: Ready-to-eat foods can contract germs from items such as raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Use different cutting boards and surfaces for these items and also be sure to store them away from other foods in the fridge.
- Cook: Cooking food to the correct internal temperature kills the germs that can cause you to become ill. Using a food thermometer is the best way to ensure foods are reaching that ideal temperature. Safe minimum cooking temperatures include:
–> 145°F for whole cuts of lamb, pork, veal, and beef
–> 160°F for ground meats (not including poultry)
–> 165°F for all poultry
–> 165°F for casseroles and leftover food
–> 165°F for reheating precooked ham
–> 145°F for fin fish or until flesh is opaque
- Chill: After cooking, it’s important to refrigerate your food promptly to avoid the “danger zone.” This is when temperatures of food falls between 40°F and 140°F, and bacteria are able to multiply quickly. Ensure your refrigerator is at 40°F or below and refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours.
2. Stay Hydrated
Water is crucial for survival and up to 60% of our body is made of it! Fluid needs can vary, but it’s recommended that women drink around 11.5 cups of water per day and men should aim for 15.5 cups. (3) No worries if that seems like a lot; water intake can also come from foods that you’re eating. Fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, and celery are great options with 90-100% water content.
Some of the essential functions that water serves include (4):
- Acting as a building material for every cell
- Regulating our internal temperature via sweat and respiration
- Transport system for carbohydrates and protein in our bloodstream
- Flushing waste through urination
- Joint lubrication
- Shock absorber for our brain and spinal cord
Lack of sleep is going to put you at higher risk of getting sick after being exposed to a virus and also lengthen recovery time. Adults should aim to get in 7-8 hours of good sleep each night to aid your immune system.
Why is sleep so important for your immune system? While you sleep your immune system releases a protein called cytokines which regulate different inflammatory responses. Some of these cytokines need to increase when you’re under stress or dealing with an infection. If you’re lacking on sleep, the production of this protein along with infection-fighting antibodies can be decreased, which creates less protection. (5)
Learn more about Natural Wellness’s Fast Asleep, that can help you fall asleep, providing a deep, healthy sleep.
Life comes with stress; it is inevitable. How an individual reacts to stress can vary, and what may be a stressful situation for one person may not be for another. When you’re dealing with a stressful situation, you exhibit a “fight or flight” reaction where your body prepares for injury or infection and releases pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood. (6)
This inflammation is necessary short-term, but long-term stress that lasts days to years comes with higher amounts of these pro-inflammatory cytokines, which messes with immune system regulation. (6)
Combat stress by trying out some of these techniques recommended by Mayo Clinic (7):
- Relaxing activities such as meditation, massage, tai chi, yoga, and deep breathing
- Giving yourself time to implement hobbies
- Laughing and keeping a sense of humor
Walking, running, biking – any form of physical activity is beneficial to our health and can build a healthy immune system. When you exercise, your circulation improves which allows cells and substances of your immune system to move easily throughout your body. (8)
It doesn’t even take hours of exercise to notice these benefits. When you exercise for less than 60 minutes, it creates antipathogen activity and enhances:
- Anti-inflammatory cytokines
- NK cells
- Cytotoxic T cells
- Immature B cells
All of these are critical in immune defense and metabolic health. (9)
Exercising for a short duration also suppresses stress hormones from reaching high levels, which negatively affect your immune cell function.
Your nutrition is such an essential part of living a healthy life, and that includes the assistance certain nutrients can provide to your immune system. Ensuring that you’re getting adequate micro and macronutrients in your diet helps your cells perform at their peak. When your immune system is being utilized because of a virus or infection, its demand for energy is increased such as the need for additional calories when you’re dealing with a fever. (10)
Some specific nutrients that can help support your immune system include (11):
- Vitamin A: Protects against infection by keeping skin and tissues especially in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy. Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and apricots are all great sources of this vitamin.
- Vitamin C: Assist with the formation of antibodies. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, red bell pepper, tomato juice, and strawberries.
- Zinc: Can control infections by preventing overabundance of inflammatory response. Eating lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts will provide you this nutrient.
- Probiotics: When your body is dealing with unhealthy levels of bacteria, probiotics have been shown to secrete protective substances which turn on the immune response and prevent pathogens from taking over. (12) Top sources include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables such as pickles or sauerkraut.
- Protein: Helps with healing and recovery. Found in foods such as eggs, meat, seafood, beans, peas, and nuts.