Health And Wellness

7 Ways To Boost Your Immune System & Become More Resilient

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7 Ways To Boost Your Immune System & Become More Resilient

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — and that is particularly true during cold and flu season.

Whether or not you "catch" a cold depends on the strength of the virus or bacteria and the health of your immune system.

The intersection of these two major factors determines whether or not you get sick.

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In this day and age, our minds aren't the only ones that need resilience — our bodies do, too.

And taking part in daily self-care leads to resilience and overall wellness.

Here are 7 ways to boost your immune system and become more resilient.

1. Wash your hands.

One of the first defenses against colds and the flu is minimizing exposure to viruses and bacteria. Hand washing is one of the simplest, most reliable methods of reducing transmission.

Our hands contact numerous objects each day — doorknobs, subway rails, elevator buttons, plates, cups, silverware, and water faucets, just to name a few.

Throughout the day we also rub our noses, push hair away from our faces, and brush food crumbs from our mouths.

Unwittingly, we deliver all the germs we have accumulated throughout the day directly to our respiratory and digestive systems via our nose and mouth.

Washing hands and scrubbing under the nails several times each day can minimize these exposures.

2. Rest.

The body simultaneously runs two different nervous systems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system primes us to react to stressful situations, triggering the "fight or flight" response in the body.

During periods of relaxation, the body’s parasympathetic nervous system predominates, encouraging tissue regeneration and repair.

Lack of sleep depresses immune function, including natural killer and B cell levels, which increases your risk for a wide variety of illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

3. Reduce stress.

For many people in today’s culture, the sympathetic nervous system predominates, with accompanying chronic low levels of norepinephrine (adrenaline) and other stress-related hormones.

In earlier times, we would have expended norepinephrine and other hormones by moving our bodies — running from and fighting our attacker.

Today, however, the "attacker" might be our boss, our landlady, or the IRS. No longer can we fight or run away. Instead, we sit quietly and talk calmly.

Our body, however, does not know the difference between a polar bear and an angry boss — the sympathetic nervous system response is the same.

Since we don't "use up" the stress-related hormones by moving our bodies, we tend to live with chronic low levels of adrenaline in our system.

Rarely does the body fully relax, completely activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and therefore, our body’s repair and regeneration response.

4. Exercise.

​To reduce the impact of low-level adrenaline in the body, exercise is extremely important.

Regular aerobic exercise — for at least 30 minutes, four times a week — reduces adrenaline levels and increases relaxation.

Guided visualization, meditation, and progressive relaxation also encourage parasympathetic nervous system activity.

5. Eliminate sugar.

​Certain foods can decrease immune system function. For example, one gram of sugar (sucrose) can reduce immune system activity for up to 24 hours.

Heavily processed, refined foods have very little nutritional value yet require a lot of energy for the body to break down and eliminate from the body.

Focus on nutrient-rich, fresh foods such as steamed vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish. Keep dairy products and red meats at a minimum in your diet.

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6. Supplement spirulina.

Spirulina is a "superfood" packed with nutrients, particularly beta carotene.

Animal studies with spirulina demonstrate that the blue-green algae can prevent oral cancer and delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions.

More recent research at Harvard Medical School has found that water extracts of spirulina stopped the reproduction of the HIV-1 virus in human T-cell lines (in vitro study).

Spirulina is one of a few plant foods that contain vitamin B12 as well as a host of other nutrients and minerals.

7. Supplement diet with other herbs.

In addition to foods, consider certain herbs to improve immune function. Keep in mind that the herbs never can take the place of a good diet, rest, exercise, and a strong emotional support network.

These herbal immune boosters are important additions to the primary lifestyle choices you make.

  • Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng)

Recommended use:

  • One dropperful of tincture, two to three times a day
  • Two capsules of dried herb, two to three times a day

Although they share a common name, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus) is a completely different genus and species from the Chinese and Korean ginsengs (Panax).

All three of these amazing plants, however, share some similar properties. Siberian ginseng contains ginsenoids similar to those found in the Panax genus, which may explain the similarity in plant actions.

Siberian ginseng acts as an adaptogen, causing a complex series of actions in the body that allow us to adapt more easily to stressful situations.

  • Astragalus mongolicus (Yellow vetch)

Recommended use:

  • Two capsules three times a day (total of six to 15 grams of dried herb per day)
  • One dropperful of tincture, three times a day.

The Chinese have long used astragalus to tonify and strengthen the immune system, particularly the respiratory system.

From Chinese thinking, the respiratory system is like an "umbrella" at the top of the body, providing a protective cover for the rest of the body.

The lungs interface with the world outside our body, and as our first organ of contact, the lungs also play a vital role in screening what the Chinese call "external pernicious influences" (EPI’s), such as viruses, bacteria, and the ravages of wind, damp, and cold.

Since astragalus is a tonifying herb, only use astragalus when you are healthy and want to further strengthen the immune system. Tonifying herbs strengthen all current conditions in the body.

Taking astragalus while you have a cold, for example, can tonify the illness as well as the respiratory system. Astragalus would be an excellent herb to use for prevention or during the recovery phase after being sick.

Once you learn how to boost your immune system, you'll find yourself on the path to health and wellness.

And the good news is that all of these lifestyle factors — diet, sleep, and stress reduction — are in your control.

Adding these good health "deposits" to your daily routine will reward you in many ways.

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Dr. Judith Boice is a naturopathic doctor, licensed acupuncturist, and fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.