Interested in building your body’s defenses against germs and sickness? Focusing on a few key areas will better your chances of staying healthy. Andrea Hansen, PA-C, UnityPoint Health, lists easy immune system boosters you can begin practicing today, as well as the ways you’re actually weakening your immune system.
Top Immune System Boosters
Your immune system is a process of checks and balances that helps fight and protect the body from disease and illness. It’s possible to naturally boost your immune system – and easier than you probably think. Here are Hansen’s top five ways to jump start your immunity:
Eating a well-balanced diet. Foods can certainly boost the immune system. Specifically, try to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and lean protein. Also, fit in foods with omega-3 fatty acids, like eggs, salmon and avocados, as well. All these foods will not only build up parts of your immune system, but can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Drinking plenty of water. Water intake can have many positive benefits for your immune system, including but not limited to aiding in digestion and preventing possible pathogens like a virus or bacteria from getting into the eyes, nose and mouth. Staying hydrated helps all the body’s defenses function properly.
- Prioritizing exercise. Moderate-intensity exercise can help maintain a healthy immune system. But, exercise that’s too intense, especially if you’re already feeling under the weather, can have the opposite effect and lower immunity.
- Getting enough sleep. If you get enough sleep, it will help your body fight off sickness and help succeed at the tips mentioned above. Adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Increasing vitamin intake. Vitamins B6, C and E are all known for their immune-boosting properties. You can get all of these vitamins from a well-balanced diet, so you don’t need supplements. Some foods rich in these vitamins include eggs, bell peppers, spinach and almonds.
Immune System Supplements
Many products claim to give your immune system the boost it needs to keep you running at your best. But, Hansen says approach immune system supplements with caution.
“Vitamins B6, C and E have been shown to help boost your immune system,” Hansen says. “If you are lacking some of these vitamins, a supplement could help support your immune system. But, your body can only absorb so much of any vitamin in a given day. So, if you are taking too many of these vitamins, you’re going to get rid of the extra in your urine. Supplements can cause side effects as well.”
If you’re considering taking extra vitamins to help your immune system, Hansen recommends checking with your provider before buying any supplement, as these can interfere with your regular medications.
What Weakens Your Immune System
On the other hand, there are habits you might have that Hansen says weaken your immune system, rather than boosting it.
Poor diet, including too much sugar intake
- Excessive alcohol use
- Not getting enough sleep
- Not maintaining regular exercise
- No good support system
- Taking too many antibiotics
She also adds that certain groups are more vulnerable to their immune systems being compromised.
“Infants, the elderly, anyone on immunosuppressive therapy, such as cancer or transplant patients, and those with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, COPD and obesity, are at risk for their immune systems not functioning at top levels. If you’re someone with a weakened immune, anytime you’re expose to more germs, stress, etc., would be the time of year you’re more likely to get sick.”
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Unfortunately, cold and flu season is an especially tough time to keep your immune system going strong. Hansen says to focus on what you can control to keep you and your family healthy.
“This is hard because children go to daycare, school and sporting events, and we go to work where we’re exposed to multiple people and possible germs daily. Do your best to limit your child’s exposure, and if someone in your house is sick, do your best to limit your exposure to others, too. The best advice I can give is to keep washing your hands often, covering your coughs and sneezes in your elbow, drinking plenty of water and eating a good diet, plus rest, rest, rest,” Hansen says.
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