One thing I’ve learned while studying holistic health is it’s never “one thing”. There is never just one problem and one solution. I wish that there was, I wish I could tell everyone to just eat this one food, or take this one supplement, and you will all be healthy.
However, that is never the case, especially when it comes to supporting our complex immune system. While certain foods and herbs are good for the immune system, there is no substitute for a healthy body.
At the end of the day, it will be your immune system that fights off a pathogen and not a single nutrient.
Here are five basic secrets to healthy immunity that are often overlooked, even by health-conscious individuals:
A balanced meal should consist of lots of vegetables, other high fibre foods (such as whole grains), plus some protein-rich food and a good source of healthy fats. This is the best way to keep blood sugar balanced and your body nourished. Protein is particularly important in the role of immunity, as all antibodies are protein-based. Antibodies are part of the acquired immune system, which is the part of the immune system we develop overtime, as opposed to our innate immunity, which we are born with. When a pathogen, such as a virus, is introduced, then antibodies will bind to this antigen, so it can be destroyed. While our bodies make these proteins, it is still important that we consume the building blocks. The building blocks for protein are amino acids.
Amino acids do not need to come from animal foods. Whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds also contain amino acids and you can get all 8 essential amino acids by properly combining these foods in each meal.
A stress is a stress is a stress (I cannot stress this enough). Chemically, we can track if you are stressed by a spike in the hormone cortisol. Whether it is bills to pay, a pathogen, lack of sleep or your morning coffee, our bodies can only handle so much stress at once.
Stress lowers immunity, so do whatever you have to keep stress to a minimum: practice meditation or yoga, exercise, turn off your screens, and skip the morning coffee. Caffeine stimulates the production of cortisol, so caffeine directly contributes to cortisol spikes, aka stress. Better to wean yourself off of your morning cup of java. Instead make sure to get enough sleep, and eventually, your body will wake up on its own, so you won’t need to rely on the artificial caffeine jolt anymore.
Besides our skin and respiratory system, our digestive system is one of our first lines of defense against pathogens. Our stomachs are full of acid that will neutralize pathogens when ingested. However, stomach acid can become depleted by poor diet, as well as heartburn medication.
The gut also plays an important role in the immune system, as 70% of the immune system is in the gut. You can keep your gut healthy by following an anti-inflammatory diet and addressing dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. In general, the good bacteria, help to keep us healthy, such as the soluble fibre in fruits and vegetables, whereas the bad bacteria thrive on sugar, alcohol, yeast and undigested food particles.
We tend to want to point to one single nutrient as an immune booster. Whether it be Vitamin C, Vitamin D, or Vitamin A.
While supplementing can be effective in both treatment and prevention of certain infections, the best way to keep your body healthy is to get a wide variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The simplest way to make sure you are getting enough of a variety is to add as much colour to your plate as possible.
Fluid means movement, the flow of nutrients in and toxins out. A pathogen, like a virus, is a toxin. Drinking warm water is effective against all viruses. If pathogens enter the mouth and you drink water, it will enter the stomach and be killed by stomach acid.
Drinking water also helps to regulate body temperature and keep electrolytes balanced. This is very important for overall health and to keep the body functioning properly. We generally recommend at least 3 liters of water per day to stay hydrated and cleansed.
Keeping yourself healthy matters, and health does not come in any one form, not in one food, or one pill. Vibrant health is achieved by developing positive daily habits and life choices. While taking better care of yourself may not necessarily protect you from ever getting sick, it will certainly help reduce the frequency of illness and accelerate your rate of recovery. It’s not enough to just boost immunity whenever you get sick, you need sustained health all the time.
I used to get frequent colds, even though I thought I was relatively healthy. I ate a vegetarian, mostly vegan diet, I took lots of vitamin C and other supplements and I exercised. I also relied heavily on caffeine, never drank water and didn’t pay attention to complete proteins, or my intolerance to gluten (which was hurting my gut). It wasn’t until I started to follow an anti-inflammatory balanced diet (The Essential Balance Protocol) and address stress levels that I stopped catching colds.
Now, I rarely get sick. Although, I still keep some vitamin C and herbal supplements in my cupboard, in case I need them. My children also rarely get sick and if they do, they bounce back quickly. This doesn’t mean we go around licking door handles. We still practice good hygiene and take precautions, but it feels good to know we have some power over our own health.
As the busy mother of three young children, Certified Nutritionist Kirsten Colella is all about adhering to healthy food habits to maintain a healthy immune systems for herself and her family. You can find Kirsten’s delicious recipes, colourful food pics and immune-boosting healthy food ideas on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic.
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