During the fall and winter months is the perfect time to focus on immune health. With the kids back in school and the holidays fast approaching, changes in the weather and everyday routine can present new and unexpected challenges to the immune system.
Eating the right foods, getting plenty of sleep and practicing good hygiene are some of the best ways to stay healthy. And, because at least 70 percent of the immune system can be found in the gut, taking steps to support a healthy digestive balance is a great way to promote immune health from one season to the next.
Before we talk about some simple ways to support immune health, it helps to understand what exactly the immune system is and what it does for the body that makes it so important.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, WHAT IS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs located throughout the body that work together to keep you healthy—essentially a built-in defense system against viruses, harmful bacteria, parasites and other invaders that can cause illness and disease.
When talking about the human immune system, you will often hear experts break it down into two main parts: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. You will likely also hear the terms active immunity and passive immunity. Let’s look at what each of these terms means.
INNATE VS. ADAPTIVE IMMUNITY
Your innate immune system is your primary immune structure and is able to quickly identify foreign invaders and mobilize immune cells to attack them. The innate immune system includes the skin and mucous membranes, which serve as the first line of defense against harmful microbes.
The adaptive, or acquired, immune system develops throughout life as the body is exposed to different threats. Slower to respond, it is typically activated only when our innate immune defenses are not enough. It is able to remember and learn from specific infections and prevent them from recurring or lessen recovery time when they do. For example, if you had a whopping case of chicken pox when you were young and have never had them since, you can thank your adaptive immune system.
BEYOND WHITE BLOOD CELLS: THE BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS
We tend to hear a lot about white blood cells (also called leukocytes) in discussions about immune health. Not only do they protect against and destroy harmful invaders, but white blood cells can also neutralize toxins produced by those microorganisms to keep the body healthy. However, there is another important defender of immune health: the beneficial bacteria in your gut also known as probiotics. In a healthy human gut, probiotics can help maintain balance among the more than 100 trillion microbes living there.
Now for the bad news: Everyday factors such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the use of some medications and even just normal aging can reduce your numbers of good bacteria—which can impact the health of your whole body. Fortunately, our friendly gut microbes respond quickly to positive changes in diet and lifestyle.
7 SIMPLE TIPS TO SUPPORT IMMUNE HEALTH
Throughout the year, there are small steps we can take every day toward a balanced gut and a healthy immune system. Many of them are so simple you can begin to incorporate immediately to help you feel your best every day.
- EAT WELL, FEEL WELL
Your immune system benefits reaps the benefits of a healthy diet. Be sure to eat plenty of fruit, non-starchy veggies, protein, healthy fats, fermented foods, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to support health and wellness.If you can, try to avoid unhealthy fats, along with foods high in starches and sugar.
- GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
It may seem like there are too few hours in the day to get everything done, but cutting into your sleep time is not the answer. Not only has sleep deprivation been linked to depression, irritability and poor concentration, but too little sleep can also impact your immune health and make it harder for your body to fend off germs and other harmful invaders. Try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night for optimal well-being.
- WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN
According to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keeping your hands clean is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy and to prevent spreading germs to others. As often as possible, wash your hands (rubbing them together) with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds each time.
- STAY ACTIVE, EVEN IN WINTER
Regular exercise plays an important role in overall wellness by supporting a balanced gut. Because the majority of your immune defenses reside in the digestive tract, staying active is a great way to promote optimal health—especially during peak seasons. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity a day, five days a week.
- LIFT YOUR MOOD WITH A LITTLE SUNLIGHT
Remember to focus on mental health as well as physical health when it comes to feeling your best. Sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D, which has been shown to help ease depressive symptoms and improve mood, so try to spend time outdoors or near a window each day. Better yet, take a walk! Research shows our mood is greatly improved just by walking outdoors.
- TAKE A DAILY PROBIOTIC
At every age, our bodies encounter daily challenges that can impact the beneficial bacteria that play an important role in immune health. Because taking additional good bacteria has been shown to promote internal balance and help the immune system respond appropriately to outside challenges, many experts recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement to support digestive balance and immune health.*
- DON’T FORGET PREBIOTICS
Prebiotic fiber sources such as bananas, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, onions and asparagus can act as a food source for our friendly gut microbes, helping to boost their numbers in the gut and fortify the immune system. Click here to learn more about how probiotics and prebiotics work together to support digestive balance and immune health.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A PROBIOTIC?
Getting additional good bacteria in the form of a daily probiotic supplement helps support a balanced gut and promote healthy immune function. Here are two important things to look for when choosing a probiotic supplement.
- TARGETED DELIVERY: Look for extended-release, targeted-delivery capsules to help protect probiotics from harsh stomach acid and ensure more beneficial live bacteria reach your intestinal tract.*
- MULTIPLE STRAINS: Because more than 1,000 different strains of bacteria can be found in the human gut, it makes sense to choose a probiotic supplement that contains a higher number of strains. Lactobacillus strains are more common in the small intestine, and Bifidobacterium strains are more common in the colon (or large intestine). Look for a probiotic supplement that contains a variety of both.
If you still have questions or need helping choosing the right probiotic for you and your family, visit the Renew Life home page to use our helpful probiotic tool.
LOVE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM AND IT WILL LOVE YOU BACK
Just like any part of the body, the immune system responds positively when it is treated well. Luckily, there are simple steps you can take every day to show your immune system the TLC it deserves. Start small this season with just one or two daily tips, and encourage your family to do the same. You’ll be glad you did!