Here it comes again… Winter and according to how you look at it, this can either be the best time of year with holidays, spending time with family, and time off work or the worst time of year with cold and flu season, less daylight hours, and the extra stress that holidays can bring. Whichever take you have on winter, one thing is for sure. If your immune system is in good working shape and helping you fight off all those nasty viruses, bacteria, and other infections, then you will definitely have a better season. To keep your immune system strong and healthy you need to get plenty of rest, drink lots of good clean water, have a plan to deal with the toll extra stress can cause and know what type of nutrients to add to your diet to boost immunity.
Immune System Health and the Gut
Did you know that a large percentage of the immune system is in your gut? Yep, around 80% in fact. That makes digestive health an important part of supporting the immune system. Boosting your probiotics or friendly bacteria is one way to keep your digestive system healthy and working for your immune system support. You can get probiotics by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, or microalgae. Making sure you get your fermented foods with live, active cultures is important so be sure to read labels. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the live active cultures in foods such as yogurt can help stimulate the immune system. You can also get yogurt with vitamin D which is an important vitamin for the immune system. So if you don’t get outside in the sun enough to get all the vitamin D you need, you might as well get it along with your probiotics. You can also get an extra probiotic boost from whole food supplements such as acidophilus, bifidus or this full spectrum probiotic supplement. Since antibiotics are one of the things that is detrimental to your friendly bacteria, keeping your immune system healthy to avoid infections for which your doctor would prescribe these is a plus.
Immune System Health Diet
Antioxidant vitamins, particularly vitamin A, C, D, and E are some of the nutrients to include in your diet when you are going for an immune system boost. You also want to make sure you are eating foods with zinc and selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein sources. There are also certain whole foods sources that have been found to have an extra positive effect on immune system function. These include bee pollen, camu camu, certain types of mushrooms such as reishi, cordyceps, maitake, Poria cocos, Turkey Tail, and shiitake and microalgae. Beta glucan is a complex carbohydrate of glucose that comes from yeast, bacteria, fungi or cereals like oats, barley and rye. Numerous studies have shown WGP beta glucan to be able to activate macrophages which are a type of white blood cell in the immune system that circulate throughout the body destroying foreign antigens. Certain types of mushrooms are being found effective for immune support because they have polysaccharides, glycoproteins, ergosterols, and triterpenoids which are all precursors to beta glucans. Two easy ways to get the immune supporting power of beta glucan and mushrooms that show positive immune system support is with this WGP beta glucan/mushroom supplement that combines reishi, cordyceps, maitake, shiitake, Turkey Tail, and Agaricus blazei mushrooms along with astragalus, beta glucan and bluegreen algae or with this algae mushroom supplement that gives you a blend of reishi, maitake, cordyceps, wild black trumpet, and Poria cocos mushrooms as well as AFA bluegreen algae. According to the research of Dr. Jeffrey Bruno, microalgae is loaded with all the important nutrients your immune system needs including vitamin A, beta carotene, zinc, iron, B-vitamins, amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and nucleotides. In the amino acid category, microalgae is especially known for the arginine and glutamine it contains and glutathione is absolutely necessary for white blood cells called lymphocytes to replicate and for natural killer cells to stay active.
Antioxidant vitamins C, A, and E are also important for keeping the immune system functioning well. Vitamin C has been found to help the immune system produce more white blood cells and antibodies as well as provide protection from the spread of viruses by beefing up tissues and cells. There are lots of fruits and veggies that are good for getting vitamin C including berries, kiwi, citrus fruits, bell peppers – especially the red variety, and dark green vegetables like broccoli which also has vitamin A and E. There are also many food sources available for vitamin A such as spinach, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangoes, butternut squash, and asparagus and for vitamin E such as almonds, walnuts and other nuts, green leafy vegetables like spinach, seeds, olives, asparagus, and eggs. AFA bluegreen algae can give you all these needed vitamins and according to Karl Abrams, professor of Chemistry, the carotenoids in this type of algae protect immune cells and help produce more antiviral thymus helper cells, increase their activity, increase their circulation and increase B-cell activity that gives us more antibodies like IgA when we need it.
Herbs and Spices
There are quite a few spices and herbs that have been found useful for boosting immune system function as well as help you reduce symptoms of a cold or flu if you do catch one. Capsaicin is one of these and you find it in chili peppers, but even more effective is a similar compound called gingerol that you find in ginger. Curcumin, that you find in turmeric and curry has been used for a long time as an anti-inflammatory and one study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported it can be used to also bring down fever. Allicin found in garlic has also been used for ages to fight infection. According to nutritionist Patrick Holford, author of Boost Your Immune System, garlic has natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. If you do get a cold or flu, taking Echinacea, zinc, green tea, or black tea can possibly help you reduce symptoms. Green and black tea both have antioxidant flavonoids, especially EGCG that helps give you the amino acid L-theanine and boosts your T-cells to help fight off germs.
The two best minerals for boosting your immune system are zinc and selenium. Nutritional therapist Nina Omotoso likes getting zinc from pumpkin seeds and explains how this mineral improves immune system function by supporting the thymus gland which controls the immune system, by increasing production and activity of white blood cells and that it has anti-viral properties. Zinc is also needed to stimulate T-lymphocytes in the body and produce antibodies. One study done with children shown to be deficient in zinc reported that blue-green algae tablets were twice as effective in their recovery than zinc from other mineral sources. Other studies on AFA bluegreen algae has shown a rapid increase in lymphocytes, natural killer cells and white blood cells. Selenium is another important mineral for immune system support. It has antioxidant properties that help protect body cells from damage and is important to our metabolism, immune response and thyroid function. Good food sources for selenium include Brazil nuts, walnuts, lean meats, whole grains, beans and legumes, oysters, clams, crab, sardines, and canned tuna as well as other fish such as cod, herring, and salmon. You can also get the lean protein you need and the added bonus of zinc and selenium from poultry.
Let’s all make this the best winter yet by staying healthy, active and having some fun. That means getting started now giving your immune system some extra support so it can help fight off all the extra germs that seem to come with the season. Just by giving your diet a boost of the vitamins and minerals we’ve talked about here will help you get that extra immune support.
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Bruno, PhD, Jeffrey, Eat Light and Feel Bright