Optimizing Immune Health

Posted on January 7, 2013 Explore Supplements

By Ryan Saba

The immune system plays an important role in warding off infectious diseases and is vital to protecting you from many other foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria and parasites.  The immune system is a highly effective defense mechanism, but it can become overwhelmed, and the lifestyle choices we make can have a profound impact on overall health.  Developing healthy habits is the most ideal way to keep the immune system healthy and operating at optimal levels.

Diet
One of the most beneficial things you can do to keep your immune system healthy is eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  These antioxidant-rich foods help to curb free radical damage in your body while also optimizing immune system function.  Reducing free radical damage is especially important as we age, because this process often results in a down-regulation of immune function, making us more susceptible to various diseases and pathogens. A balanced diet provides the vitamins, minerals and nutrients essential to help keep the immune system strong and operating at optimal levels.

Sleep
Lack of sleep is another critical contributor to a weakened immune system, in addition to compromising overall health.  When an individual sleeps less than seven hours a night, their risk for a reduction in immune function rises significantly.  Insufficient sleep not only reduces T-cell counts but also tends to increase levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

Generally, sleep quantity is not something that requires measurement—your body will let you know when you are not getting enough sleep simply by making you feel overly tired in the morning.  If this begins to happen on a routine basis, make time for more sleep to benefit your immune function and overall health.

Stress
Heavy stress alters the number of T-cells that regulate immune response and significantly reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.  Also, when we are under increased amounts of stress we are more likely to eat an unhealthy diet or have trouble falling or staying asleep which can prevent the immune system from responding properly, and contributing to the difficulties described above. Drinking excessive alcohol in response to increased stress can also negatively impact the health of your immune system.

To prevent these problems, participating in activities that help to keep your stress levels down will go a long way to help keep your immune system operating properly.  Instead of increasing alcohol consumption, take time to relax.  If that is not enough, actively work to manage stress through other activities such as breathing exercises, yoga and or a walk outdoors.

Supplementation
Consuming nutrients that have been shown to enhance immune response and promote health is also a smart option for people who are looking to improve overall immune health.  If you are not able to obtain enough of these key nutrients in your diet, it may be worthwhile to investigate supplemental options:

Vitamin DVitamin D helps to activate your immune system. Adults with higher levels of Vitamin D contract substantially fewer cold, flu and other viral infections.  This is due to the fact that Vitamin D is necessary to activate the immune system’s killer cells, and insufficient levels can cause these cells to remain inactive.

Vitamin C—Vitamin C is well-known as a crucial component of the immune system, as well as the body’s basic antioxidant defense.  It helps to reduce the prevalence of damaging free radicals throughout the body’s systems and reduces DNA damage in those cells related to immune health.

Zinc—Zinc deficiency has been directly related to impaired immune function.  Zinc is essential for cells of the immune system to operate and a deficiency of zinc affects the ability of immune cells to function as they should.

Grape Seed Extract—Chemicals found in grape seeds known as proanthocyanidins have potent antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. The antioxidants in grape seed extract are twice as potent as Vitamin E and have been shown to increase the power of natural killer cells.

Probiotics—It has been said that the immune system begins in the digestive tract, and this system relies heavily on an optimal balance of microflora to help support immune response.  These probiotic bacteria—the “good” bacteria—help prevent foreign bacteria and allergens from passing through the intestinal walls, and are important to overall health.

Eating a healthy diet, getting the proper amount of sleep, reducing stress and introducing supplementation to your daily routine all go a long way to keeping your immune system healthy.  If the proper lifestyle changes are implemented now there is a good chance the immune system will have little difficulty protecting your body from invaders during cold and flu season in the fall and winter months. Remembering to practice these healthy habits during the spring and summer months will also help keep your immune system primed during allergy season, and operating at the highest levels throughout the year.

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