5 min read
With winter comes shorter days, cold weather and plenty of germs. Staying healthy during cold and flu season can seem like an impossible task, but taking steps to boost your immune system function with probiotic supplements can help you ward off nasty viruses all winter long. Here are eight things you can do to help keep your immune system strong and balanced.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
A number of vitamins and minerals play an important role in supporting a robust immune system, from vitamin A to zinc. Taking a multivitamin can help you get enough of these key nutrients, but the best way to ensure that you're properly nourishing your immune system is to eat a balanced diet high in whole foods and low in processed products. High-quality protein, whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds are all excellent choices. Indeed, studies have shown that a balanced diet helps improve immune system efficiency, while not getting enough of important nutrients can impair immunity.
Get enough vitamin C...
A variety of nutrients play a role in supporting your immune system, certain vitamins play a bigger role than others. At the forefront is vitamin C. Researchers have found that vitamin C helps to improve the integrity of the cells that make up your immune system and boost your body's natural antimicrobial response, helping lessen the severity and shorten the length of common viral infections. So be certain to include foods high in vitamin C in your diet, including citrus, berries and dark leafy greens.
...and vitamin D.
Like vitamin C, getting enough vitamin D is particularly important for ensuring that your immune system is in tip-top shape. While often associated with bone health, vitamin D has also been shown to help modulate immune system response; a vitamin D deficiency, on the other, is associated with increased infection rates. Luckily, boosting your vitamin D levels is easy: just head outdoors for about half an hour a few times each week. Adding fatty fish to your diet can also provide you with additional vitamin D.
Make sure you're well-rested.
You may have noticed that you seem to get sick more often when you aren't getting enough sleep. This is no coincidence: sleep deprivation has been linked to lowered immune system response through its effect on your white blood cell populations. Getting enough sleep--at least seven to eight hours a day as an adult--can help your body rejuvenate itself and strengthen its immune system response.
Exercise benefits your body in a number of ways, including assisting your immune system in doing its job. Researchers from University College Cork have discovered that exercise helps improve the microbiotic diversity of the gut. In turn, this greater biodiversity supports robust immune system function, helping you ward off viruses that come your way.
Lower your stress levels.
Stress doesn't just affect your mood and energy levels; whether temporary or chronic, anxiety can influence the physical processes in your body, including your immune system function. As scientists have found, stress suppresses the body's natural immune system response; this was true both when the stressor was short-term (such as an upcoming job interview) and when the subject experienced chronic stress. Help lower your stress levels by seeking ways to deal with anxieties, such as meditation and time management techniques.
Avoid antibiotics when possible.
Antibiotics certainly play a key role in fighting off serious bacterial infections. However, overuse of antibiotics can actually be damaging, particularly if you try taking antibiotics to fight a viral infection that antibiotics are not able to combat. Researchers at MIT and Harvard have found that antibiotics can lower the ability of immune cells to kill off bad bacterial strains in mice. This impact is in addition to the already negative immune system side-effects that antibiotics can have thanks to their role in killing off good gut bacteria and reducing gut microbial diversity. You should absolutely take antibiotics when necessary--but avoid unnecessary antibiotic use.
Take a probiotic supplement.
As is likely clear by now, the microorganisms that reside in your digestive tract play a key role in supporting your immune system; indeed, as much as 80% of your immune system tissue is in your gut. You can support the good bacteria of your gut and the integral part it plays in boosting your immunity by taking a daily probiotic supplement. As studies have shown, probiotics can help regulate your immune system response and potentially help prevent and treat disease. Best of all, adding a probiotic supplement to your routine may be the easiest step you can take to improve your immune system health.
Making it through winter without contracting a bad cold (or worse) can be challenging, but taking steps to boost your immunity can help you stay healthy until spring rolls around.
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