Introducing Your Immune System
Your body’s first line of defense against
illness, infection, and chronic disease
Meet your immune system
Your immune system is your personal army – a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect your body from illness, infection and chronic diseases. It works tirelessly behind the scenes to instinctively clean out toxins, heal infections, kill cancer cells, and remove foreign bodies. Its sole purpose is to keep you healthy. That’s why supporting a strong immune system is the most important first step in improving overall health and wellness.
Supporting a healthy immune system with food
Approximately 70% of your immune system lives in your intestinal tract inside your gut. Everything you eat and drink moves through your gut and interacts with your digestive system. Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract inside your gut is a complex ecosystem of bacteria and microorganisms that protects your body from infection, regulates your metabolism and supports a healthy mucosal immune system (the protective barrier within the intestinal tract that acts as the first line of defense against microbial and dietary antigens). That’s why focusing on what you eat is an essential part of keeping your immune system healthy.
Everything you consume is broken down into nutrients your body uses to help your internal systems function at peak capacity. When you consume foods with toxic additives (artificial flavors & colors, nitrates & nitrites, sulfites, BPA, MSG, etc.) and harmful elements (mercury, aluminum, sodium benzoate, etc.) your immune system goes into overdrive trying to clean them out. When your immune system becomes overburdened, it has difficulty detecting and reacting to infections. Combine that with not having given your immune system the basic nutrition it needs to function properly, your body becomes vulnerable to disease and chronic inflammation.
That’s why consuming nutrient-dense, chemical-free foods is so important. It provides your body with the nutrients it needs to perform its healing activities without getting side tracked on cleaning out unnecessary toxins.
Stress and your immune system
Life can be stressful. Juggling work, family, finances – the responsibilities of living – often means dealing with stress on a regular basis. When you experience prolonged stress, your body’s sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones into your body which, over time, suppresses your immune system.
Healthy activities (meditation, exercise, relaxation, and supportive social connections) activate your parasympathetic nervous system, signaling your body that the danger has passed by lowering your adrenaline and cortisol levels. This allows your immune system to return to normal functioning. That’s why developing healthy ways to cope with stress and provide balance in your life is essential for supporting a healthy immune system and improving your overall wellness.
Immune Boosting Tips
1. Center every meal on nutrient-dense plant-based foods.
By including nutrient-dense plant-based foods, you giving your body the tools it needs to fight for your health. For more information, read our webpage on adobpting a plant-based diet.
2. Eat fiber-rich plant-based foods: fruit, whole grains, nuts, vegetables.
Fiber helps regulate your digestive tract, allowing waste to move more easily out of your system. It also nourishes the “good” bacteria that wards off infections and fungi.
Don’t forget to include prebiotic-rich foods that are high in the fibers and natural sugars that stimulate the growth of the “good” gut bacteria: almonds, chickpeas, lentils, beans, leeks, onions, asparagus, garlic, spinach, bananas, oats, soybeans.
3. Read your ingredient lists.
If you don’t know what an ingredient is or you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Be aware that hidden behind the phrases “all natural”, “whole grain”, “gluten free”, “sugar free” found on the packaging of foods touting to be “good” for you are a series of additives and fillers that are not healthy. Those terms are used by the food industry to sell their products without any proof that what’s inside fulfills their claim. If the ingredients include words you don’t understand or can’t pronounce, chances are they’re harmful to your body. Let Google be your friend and type some of those words into the search engine. It’s an eye-opening experience.
To learn how to read your ingredient lists, check out our blog post: Understanding the ingredients list on your food labels.
4. Drink plenty of fluids: water, plant-based milks, herbal teas.
Fluids, especially water, help break down food so your body can absorb the nutrients more easily, as well as flush out toxins. Not all fluids are created equal. Avoid sugary drinks as the sugar feeds “bad” bacteria.
5. Find your calm: walk, meditate, listen to music, read, garden, visit with friends.
Healthy stress-relieving habits will strengthen your immune system and improve your quality of life. It doesn’t haven’t to be a huge time commitment. When you are feeling overwhelmed, call a friend, take a walk, or listen to music. The key is making small, sustainable changes over time on how you handle stress.
6. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
Being physically active is an important tool for overall wellness. You don’t have to go to the gym. It can be as simple as parking at the far edge of the lot when going shopping or taking a short walk around the block when you feel overwhelmed.
- Walk, run, hike, dance.
- Practice yoga, weight training, zumba, pilates.
- Play tennis, basketball, pickleball, soccer.
It’s not what you do, but that you do something that you enjoy so you can make it a healthy habit.
- How Good Gut Health Can Boost Your Immune System, by Dr. Mark Hyman (2015), EcoWatch
- Gut Bacteria Can Help Rebuild the Immune System, by James Kingsland (2020), Medical News Today
- Gut Health and Immunity – It’s All About the Good Bacterial That Can Help Fight Disease, by Lori Zanteson (2012), Today’s Dietitian Magazine
- Study Confirms Gut Health Affects the Immune System, by Kristen Fischer (2020), Verywellhealth
- The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet, by Helen Fields 2015, John Hopkins Medicine website
- The Role of Nutrition in Supporting the Immune System Relative to Coronavirus (Covid-19), by the American Society of Nutrition (2020)