It’s that time of year again when we all start to become concerned with how to best support our immune systems. This has been a hot topic pretty much all of 2020, thanks to covid, but now that we’re approaching flu season it’s once again ramping up in the media. Luckily, there are steps we can take to support our immune systems and gear up for the colder months.
How to Support your Immune System Naturally
One of the best lines of defense we have is a healthy immune system, and on one level that looks like simply taking care of ourselves. That means not-smoking, staying physically active, and avoiding alcohol (yes, I said it). However, I wouldn’t be a dietitian or a foodie if I didn’t discuss the ways we can support immunity through food. You may have heard that every bite of food you take should be considered medicine or poison. Well, it through this point that we can decide what to eat at each meal and snack. While fruits and vegetables are super important for general nutrition and health, there are some that we can (and should) pay special attention to.
- Highly pigmented fruits and vegetables such as kale, blueberries, spinach, and bell peppers. Multi-colored peppers contain more vitamin c than oranges! Blueberries contain anthocyanins that help boost your immune system.
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso. These foods are an excellent source of nutrients and probiotics.
- Garlic stimulates the immune system and increases white blood cell counts. One-two cloves (4 g) per day is considered safe and beneficial for adults.
- Hydration! Drinking water, tea, coconut water, and broth all count towards your daily fluid intake. Hydrating helps flush toxins and inflammation out of the body, and helps cells and organs function properly.
- Medicinal mushrooms such as maitake and shiitake offer beta glucans, which stimulate a variety of immune responses. Depending on where you live, you’ll probably have to go to a health food store to find these varieties. Mushrooms are considered the number one food for immune support and modulation. You can also buy them in the form of extracts, capsules and powders. There is extensive research demonstrating their diverse health benefits, especially when used daily.
Mushroom extracts have been shown to help modulate an overactive immune response. Authors of a 2016 review published in the journal Molecules stated, “The ability of mushrooms to modulate immune function is mostly attributable to their bio-active compounds, including polysaccharides, proteins, proteoglycans and triterpenoids.” The authors of a 208 review state that compounds in mushrooms have been shown to modulate “both innate (nonspecific) and adaptive (specific) immune systems.”
Beta glucan contains polysaccharides that are naturally found in foods like baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), mushrooms, barley, oats, and rye. The ones in fungi and yeast are best known for their ability to interact with innate immune cells of the gastrointestinal mucosa to help boost innate immunity. It’s best to take beta glucans daily for effective support. Recently I started taking them in the morning with my coffee, as they are oder-less and tasteless. I’ve noticed improvement in my gut health since introducing them into my daily routine.