It’s time to focus on empowerment and hope. In today’s climate of fear and uncertainty about COVID-19, there is a major component missing in the narrative being circulated. In our race to gather supplies, socially distance ourselves and wash hands and surfaces more prudently, we’ve forgotten to care for and fortify our secret weapon. I’m talking about our body and its amazing immune system! It is important to follow the CDC guidelines for prevention, but here I want to focus on ways you can build a resilient and robust immune system. By properly caring for our bodies, we are able to fight off viruses and other pathogens we come into contact with daily. In the midst of the disruptions we are experiencing, let’s shift the focus to empowering ourselves and becoming more resilient. Below are my 5 tips to strengthen your immune system and build ongoing health resiliency.
1. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods.
In the midst of added stress from schedules changing, feeling uncertain, and spending more hours of the day inside, it can be tempting to grab processed convenience foods. However, these highly-processed foods contain chemical preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners and unhealthy fats that drive inflammation in the body. Inflammation decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection. Instead of processed foods, reach for eggs, nuts & seeds, whole fruits and veggies, leafy greens, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed or pastured meats.
How does this look in ‘Real Life’? Here are a few ideas:
* Add kale, spinach or other leafy greens and veggies to smoothies, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
* Add some grass-fed butter or olive oil and unrefined sea salt to steamed vegetables. This helped my kids enjoy veggies more.
* Experiment with roasting vs. grilling vs. steaming fresh vegetables.
* Hard-boil eggs to keep in the fridge to grab as a snack, breakfast, or to add to salads.
* Use a slow cooker, dutch oven, or Instant Pot for chicken thighs, chuck roasts, or pork shoulder.
These methods create delicious meats you can shred into a variety of dishes (soups, BBQ sandwiches, tacos, salads).
* A favorite whole-food supplement of mine is Nutridyn’s Fruit & Greens drinks. They come in a variety of flavors and are full of antioxidants and nutrients we need daily for optimal immune function.
2. Reduce Sugar Consumption.
Sugar drives inflammation in the body, which decreases immune function. We all know that sugar isn’t good for us and we should consume it sparingly, but it continues to be a real struggle for most people. The seemingly unlimited opportunities to indulge at every turn doesn’t help the matter - I totally get it! Instead of trying to go cold turkey and quit treats all together, try some approaches I list below. Let’s give up the mentality of deprivation and instead turn to one of empowered decision-making.
* Go Homemade. Rather than grab that pastry, muffin or dessert from the store, make your own. There are a number of great recipes out there that use less sugar and inflammatory ingredients and replace them with more nutrient-rich options. One of my favorite resources for baking is www.paleorunningmomma.com.
* Make certain days of the week your “treat” days. At our house, we have Tuesday Treat Night and Friday Treat Night. Tuesdays are for smaller treats, ranging from berries with honey to a small scoop of ice cream. Friday nights are when we are more apt to indulge a bit and make something special to share, like these Chai Cookie Bars. Now all that being said, if a birthday party or event was happening that weekend, we could opt to forgo Friday Treat Night so that we could partake in the festivities in the coming days. The choice is your’s.
* Don’t drink your sugar. High-Fructose Corn Syrup is one of the most toxic forms of sugar on the market today. If you need carbonation, try flavored sparkling water, water kefir, or kombucha. Give one a try and stick with it for a couple of weeks. Note: Your taste buds will need some time to adjust.
* Choose Healthy Sweetener Options like Stevia, Monk Fruit, or Sugar Alcohols such as Xylitol and Erythritol.
* Avoid Artificial Sweeteners like Acesulfame-K (Sweet One), Aspartame (NutraSweet), Saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and Sucralose (Splenda), as they can alter gut microbiota, hinder glucose tolerance, and increase your appetite.
3. Drink Water.
Think of a hydrated body as a well-oiled machine. Water makes up 55-60% of our total body mass - it gives us life! Water transports nutrients, regulates body temperature, flushes toxins, lubricates joints, improves oxygen delivery to cells, and empowers the body’s natural healing process – just to name a few of its roles.
Some tips and tricks for drinking enough water:
* Add Electrolytes (unrefined sea salt or a clean electrolyte add-in like Ultima brand).
* Account for diuretics using this formula: (body weight/2) + (# oz of diuretics * 1.5) = total ounces of water per day. A diuretic is anything you drink that isn’t water or an electrolyte solution.
* Treat yourself to a new water bottle! Many people say that a bottle with a straw helps them drink more water.
* Add in fruit slices and herbs for flavor & a nutrient boost. Some of my favorites are lemons, limes, oranges, cucumbers, mint, basil, and cinnamon sticks.
4. Strategic Supplementation
When building up the resiliency of our bodies and immune system, supplements play a key role. I recommend Vitamins C & D, Zinc, B-vitamins, Probiotics, Magnesium, Elderberry Syrup, Bone Broth, Grass-Fed Gelatin, and Local Raw Honey.
* Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that improve the health of your immune system. Since our bodies don’t produce or store Vitamin C, daily intake is essential, whether through foods, supplementation or both. For prevention, I take 1,000 mg/day. If you start feeling under the weather, you can take higher doses using a vitamin C flush protocol. These protocols can be found online if you search ‘vitamin C flush’ or ‘vitamin C to bowel tolerance.’
* Elderberry Syrup: Black Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) stimulate your immune system and naturally contain vitamins A, B, and C. Elderberry syrup is a great-tasting way to get concentrated immune support, and many recipes use synergistic spices like cinnamon and ginger. There are many good recipes online and most kids love the taste.
* Vitamin D plays many roles in our body; one of them is improving and regulating our immune system. Vitamin D is one of the nutrients our body is able to produce on its own through the skin’s exposure to the sun, but it can also be obtained through food and supplements. When choosing a vitamin D supplement, D3 is the optimal form as it is easier for the body to absorb and utilize than D2. Foods high in vitamin D3 are fish, liver, eggs, and cod liver oil. Supplementing 2,000 to 5,000 IU’s is a typical dose for the average adult. However, you may want to get your blood levels checked by your doctor to determine your exact levels and supplement accordingly. Blood levels should be above 30 ng/dl; however, optimal levels for most people are 50-70 ng/dl.
* Probiotics & fermented foods are important for supporting a healthy gut. The gut is where 70% of your immune system lives and develops. Take a probiotic and eat fermented foods daily to help balance your gut microbiome.
* Salt Baths. Whether you use Epsom Salts or make your own mineral salt mixture, this is a great way to get a dose of magnesium. We add 1 cup of salts to the bath and soak for 20-30 minutes. You can even add essential oils to the tub or to the salt mixture itself. My favorites are Lavender, Clary Sage, and other blends like Tension Tamer or Sweet Slumber from Plant Therapy.
5. Get Outside
Not only does being outside provide you with vitamin D from sun exposure, but nature actually strengthens your immune system. There are scientific studies concluding that increased time in nature increases our natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are a component of our innate immune system that play a major role in killing virally infected cells and tumor cells. There are numerous ways to spend more time outdoors; go for a walk, jog, hike, bike, read, paint, or play catch or yard games with your family members. These activities are a sure way to reduce stress and improve your mood and well-being. If you don’t have access to your own yard or neighborhood trails, try your best to locate and frequent a nearby park or bring some nature indoors by adding living plants to your décor.
With all the disruptions we are experiencing today, it is important that we feed our bodies life-giving nutrients so that we can be resilient against all of life’s stressors, including viruses and pathogens. When you choose to implement these 5 tips, you will not only improve your immune function, but you will also improve your mental and emotional well-being. Find a buddy to join you on this new venture. It is always more fun to start new things with a friend or family member. Share your successes and struggles and come up with new strategies together. One strategy I recommend is that you choose one of the 5 tips to focus on. Once you are comfortable with the changes you’ve made, move on to the next one. Before you know it, you will have implemented all 5 tips and be ready for more!