by Blake Herzog
Continued concerns about infectious diseases and other maladies have fueled a cottage industry devoted to helping us “boost” our immune systems with herbs, supplements, specific foods and other interventions.
But it isn’t that simple.
Our level of immunity is based on an extremely complex collaboration between many different types of cells, and scientists haven’t been able to establish any proven links between a specific diet or lifestyle change and an improved immune response in studies on humans, according to Harvard Health Publishing and other sources.
Still, we don’t actually want our immune response to be too strong, as overreactions to harmless substances lead to allergies, autoimmune disorders and chronic inflammation.
What serves us best is a balanced immune system able to mount a robust counteroffensive against harmful bacteria and germs before they root themselves within your body without sending the same response when you eat an almond, for instance.
While coming up with a precise cocktail of the correct food and vitamins, exercises and other actions for immune health has proven elusive, most experts agree that sticking with an overall healthy lifestyle is the best strategy for maximizing your immune health.
- Diet — Consuming a wide variety of foods while focusing on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats and lean sources of protein has long been tied to improved heart, brain and gut health and is believed to affect immunity, as well.
In some cases, particularly as we age, it can be beneficial to add some micronutrients known to affect our immune response through supplements, including vitamins B6, C and E. Talk with your doctor about whether you should take supplements, which ones and how much.
- Exercise — Regular physical activity benefits nearly every dimension of your health and also may aid your immune system in particular by improving your circulation, which makes it easier for T cells and others involved to travel throughout the body and find invasive substances before they cause an infection.
The most common recommendation is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, including strength training, five days a week.
- Stress — Some studies have suggested being under emotional stress can leave us more vulnerable to infection and illness. You can control how it affects your body to a large degree through such acts as relaxation, meditation, physical activity, cultivating supportive relationships and keeping your mind focused on the present rather than dwelling on the past or future.
- Sleep — Just like everything else your body does, your immune system regenerates and repairs itself while you slumber. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night is the sweet spot for most of us, and don’t forget the hour or so it can take for us to wind down enough to hit that target.
- Vaccines — These have been scientifically proven to significantly boost our immune response to specific infections, so be sure to get all the immunizations recommended by your health care provider.