The immune system plays a central role in all body functions and life experiences. When you are trying a new cuisine, your immune system is at work. While traveling on vacation, the immune system is fighting exposures from a different environment. Is pollen in the air? Your immune system is processing these particles. The immune system is the body’s defense against all things it comes into contact with. Therefore, it is important to consider an offensive strategy to boost the immune system naturally.
Needless to say, being sick can put a real damper on things. As a mother, I take continual action to support the immune system of my family. My goal is not only to avoid catching whatever sickness is going around the neighborhood, but also to increase the overall vitality of our bodies. I have compiled the following list of lifestyle changes and consumables that we use to keep our body’s defense system running like a well-oiled machine.
How to boost the immune system naturally
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and necessary for growth, development, and repair of body tissue. As a water-soluble vitamin, it is not stored in excess amounts due to the kidneys processing out the surplus. This makes it very difficult to consume enough Vitamin C to cause a harmful overdose. In fact, most people do not get enough vitamin C in their diet. Increase your intake without the added sugar by squeezing lemon juice in water or eating a whole orange instead of drinking orange juice.
I avoid products like airborne when we are sick due to the added dyes and chemicals. For my infant, I use dissolvable tablets to supplement his immune system. I give these to my son preemptively when I know his immune system could become compromised. I.e. while traveling, if he has multiple days of poor sleep in a row, or comes into contact with a person who has a cold. Always look at the ingredients when taking supplements to make sure they do not contain harmful additives.
Historians trace the use of elderberry’s healing power back to Hippocrates. Elderberry has been proven to shorten the duration and intensity of cold and flu symptoms. It’s health and immune benefits are due to flavonoids. This high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compount is wonderously thought to lower blood sugar, ease allergies, shorten the duration of cold and flu, relieve constipation, promote diuresis, and aid the body to prevent cancer.
I add kids elderberry drops to my son’s water a few times a week. It is an easy way to add this power packed berry into his diet without any fuss.
When I start to feel a bit under the weather, I jump start my immune system by drinking hot elderberry tea. This tea detoxifies the body by aiding in elimination, having both diuretic and laxative effects.
70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut. The lining of the small intestines is chalked full of lymph nodes, the small structures that filter harmful substances and where immune cells reside. Probiotics help to keep the gut healthy by protecting the epithelial cells against harmful microbes.
Increase your healthy gut flora by drinking kefir or kombucha, eating yogurt with raw fruit and veggies, or taking a probiotic supplement. It is especially important to supplement with probiotics if you have to take an antibiotic, which destroy healthy normal flora.
I started giving my son probiotic drops within the first week of life to help colonize his gut with friendly microbes. Now that he is older, I use kefir in his smoothies. So far we have been very successful at avoiding constipation and digestive issues in his first year of life.
4. Eat raw and local produce
Eating locally grown produce has tremendous health benefits. It exposes your body to local allergens, which helps lessen allergic reactions to your home environment.
Produce found at a local farmer’s market is fresher than food bought from a grocery store because is is allowed to ripen on the vine, reaching maximum nutrient density before it is picked. Nutrients from fruits and veggies are optimal within the first few days of being picked and then slowly start to lose their benefits. The produce from a grocery store travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate, losing most of the nutrients before reaching your home.
Local produce is safer, as it does not cross paths with as many people, lessening the chance of getting contaminated with harmful bacteria. Food sold at farmer’s markets are not generally wrapped with harmful plastics, which leach phthalates and BPAs into things they come in contact with.
Find a list of local farmer’s markets here.
Getting an adequate amount of raw fruit and veggies in the daily diet requires a lot of exhaustive chewing. One method our family uses to increase the amount of raw, nutrient-dense foods in our diet is juicing. Masticating juicers preserve the healthy enzymes and prevents oxidation, which allows you to store the juice in the fridge for up to 72 hours.
5. Get more sunshine
Research indicates that sun avoidance is linked to more health problems. Humans need direct sunlight exposure to thrive and it is well documented that sunlight exposure is our only way to synthesize Vitamin D. Maintaining a higher serum Vitamin D level decreases the risk of cancer, helps you sleep better at night, and modulates many immune functions. Recent studies show that exposure to sunlight increases the movement of T cells, a major component of the immune system.
I aim to get at least 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day before I start lathering up with sunscreen.
Exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally by increasing circulating endorphins and providing a positive outlet for stress. The increase in body temperature that results from cardiovascular exercise helps the body kill unfriendly pathogens and cancer cells. It also strengthens the heart and lungs, which results in an increased ability to circulate oxygen and bring necessary immune cells to parts of the body faster and more effectively.
Moderate exercise has a positive effect on immune health, where as long bouts of strenuous exercise correlates with an increase risk of infection. Aim to get some form of exercise such as a 30 minute brisk walk, 5 times a week. Something is better than nothing, so even if you do not have a ton of time, fit exercise in whenever possible. It takes time to make this a priority if it is not already. Be patient with yourself.
7. Homemade beef broth
It is inevitable that we will get sick. The age old doctor’s advice of drinking plenty of fluids holds true when it comes to beef broth. This nutrient packed liquid contains 19 of the 20 essential amino acids, collagen, and lipids. It reduces inflammation, helps support the function of connective tissue, and supports the digestive system in detoxification. Bone broth is easy to digest, making it an ideal substance to intake when you are sick. It is best to make beef broth from free-range grass-fed beef.
Make broth ahead of time and stored it in a regular freezer for 6 months or a deep freezer for up to a year. I make some at the beginning of cold and flu season so I have it on hand when a sickness afflicts us. Check out my delicious homemade beef broth recipe here!
8. Get more sleep
Insufficient sleep will cause poor health and although each person’s sleep needs are individualized, there are generally guidelines that can be followed as to how much sleep is appropriate for specific ages. Any time you are under the weather, getting extra sleep will speed up the healing process. Babies and children need more sleep than adults. Here are the latest recommendations for pediatric sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as of 2016:
- Infants four to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
When I am having a difficult time falling asleep I use melatonin elixir. Mommy days are filled with so many activities and it seems the to do list is never finished. Even when my body is completely fatigued and my head hits the pillow, my mind will not stop racing. (I am sure many can relate!) I find melatonin very quick acting and effective in helping me fall and stay asleep. It works well and does not leave me feeling drowsy in the morning.
9. Stress a little less
Chronic stress, especially from constant worrying, can lead to adrenal fatigue and weaken the immune system. It causes whole body inflammation and suppresses immune cells. I can not emphasize the importance of getting your stress levels under control!
Write down everything you can identify that is contributing to worry and stress. Try and prioritize the list in order of greatest intensity. Star the items that seem realistic to do away with. It may be as simple as letting one extracurricular activity for yourself or your kids go so you can have some down time.
As far as the more difficult things to change (stressful job, health condition, family discord, for example) continue to journal on ways you can slowly make them a little better. Over time as you work towards eliminating stress it will add compounding benefits to your health and immune system.
If plausible, do one thing a day that makes you personally happy or feel relaxed. For me it’s spending time outdoors to take in some fresh air and deep breathes. In the evening, I love my glass of wine!
10. Echinacea tea
Echineacea, also knows as Black-eyed Susan’s (you may have it in your garden), is a North American flower that has been studied for it’s ability to shorten the common cold. Research indicates that it increases the circulating white blood cells enhancing the body’s ability to fight viruses and bacteria.
Recently I have found many combination teas that include elderberry and echinacea, which is a great way to use both these wonderful substances to increase your immune system during an acute sickness. Purchase echinacea tea ahead of time because it is said to work best when taken at the onset of a cold or flu.
The information provided regarding supplements to boost the immune system were used by my mother when I was a child, and now by me for my family. They have stood the test of time and contributed to a really healthy life for us. We really don’t spend a ton of time worrying about becoming sick even when everyone else around us is catching the neighborhood bugs.
Let me know if you choose to try any of these suggestions and your thoughts!
The Cheeky Mommy
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American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2016) Retrieved from: https://aasm.org/recharge-with-sleep-pediatric-sleep-recommendations-promoting-optimal-health/
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Clinical Sports Medicine. (2007). Exercise and the immune system. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17826186
Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2017). Prevention and treatment of influenza, influenza-like illness, and common cold by herbal, complementary, and natural therapies. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871211/
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Journal of International Medical Research. (2004). Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016
Journal of Investigated Medicine. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Retrieved from :https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
Life Science Daily News Desk. (2016). Sunlight found to energize cells involved in the immune system. Retrieved from: https://lifesciencedaily.com/stories/19697-sunlight-found-energize-cells-involved-immune-system/