Leveraging your lifestyle can give your immune system a boost
Written by Dr. Jenna Montana
Back to school shopping? Don’t forget the most important school supply: Immune Support. Classically, the end of August kicks off “Flu Season” but perhaps you’re interested in ways to support your immune system naturally, or get the most out of your flu shot. In fact, we can actually leverage our lifestyle (read: how we eat, sleep, move, think, etc.) to protect us from seasonal immune blunders. Take a peek below to find out precisely how.
EAT: In my practice, Cultivate Wellness, a keystone of treatment is nutrition. Using food to fight disease rather than promote it is not only highly supported by scientific research, but it is highly intuitive (eat better = feel better!). That’s why it may come as no surprise at all that my first recommendation for immune system support is going to focus on what’s on your plate. Because, let’s face it, we all eat in some way or another, you might as well let it work FOR you, rather than against you.
So what do we reach for if we’re trying to be flu-proof? Immune supporting nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a wide spread of tasty foods, but can also be easily and affordably supplemented for picky eaters.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps clean up the biochemical mess that comes with fighting infections. The highest dose of vitamin C from food can actually be acquired through broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower; extra points if you squeeze a lemon over top.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is crucial in all sorts of chemical reactions, but most notably, folks who are deficient in zinc are more likely to have underactive immune systems. Best bet for dietary zinc? Red meat, shellfish, and hemp seeds are all solid sources.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are admittedly one of my favorite players in the field of nutrition. We find out more and more about them every day; how they help our brains, our cells, our blood vessels, our immune systems—so of course I’d have them on this list! These fats are essential, meaning that we cannot live without them, one of the many risks of low fat dieting. Fish is bar-none highest in omega 3s, but these can easily be supplemented to ensure you never miss a dose!
SLEEP: If the nutrition part came as no surprise to you, well sit back, because this next one is even more obvious: sleep! Sleep is arguably one of the most economical and powerful interventions to prescribe to someone either trying to fight disease or prevent it. Good sleep = stopping caffeine at 2PM (or abstaining entirely), going to bed at or before 10pm, and waking up feeling refreshed. Better still, ensure your brain is entering each phase of sleep; many handy apps can help us stay on top of sleep hygiene. How does this keep us from getting sick? Before we nod off, the immune system releases cytokines to help you feel drowsy. These proteins go on to assist the immune system in fighting inflammation and infection, and without that sleep, the cytokine response never occurs, or at least not as strongly.
MOVE: Autumn bringing shorter days means an even bigger emphasis on “carpe diem.” Making the time to get outside and salvage those last few daylight hours either on a walk, or engaging in a favorite sport not only clears the mind, but creates a glorious flood of hormones that protects us from infection, while all of that huffing and puffing increases lung circulation and flushes out bacteria from the airways.
There are always methods to avoid getting a cold or flu, it simply does not have to be an inevitability every year. Lifestyle changes will overpower fads any day, so whatever you choose to do—make it stick!
As always, consult with your trusted healthcare provider to decide what methods for immune support will work for you. These recommendations are solely intended to encourage healthy habits, not serve as an alternative for medical advice.
Dr. Jenna Montana practices functional medicine in Roanoke. She holds a Doctorate of Chiropractic and Master’s degree in Nutrition from Logan University. Additionally, she uses acupuncture and nutritional counseling to enhance her treatment offerings in her practice, Cultivate Wellness. Find her on Instagram @dr.jennamontana