Boosting Your Immune System Naturally

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5104728271_f3046e4e87Photo Credit: comprock via Compfight © ”The germ is nothing, terrain is everything.”
Claude Bernard (1817-1920)

Did you know that each time you eat sugar, your immune system is compromised for up to five hours afterwards? Sugar can include candy bars, sodas and other foods obviously full of sugar, as well as fruit drinks, maple syrup, and other naturally sweetened products.

When your immune system is compromised and you are exposed to a bacteria or virus, you have a greater chance of catching it. Your white blood cells are not operating at 100%.

No wonder cold and flu season is so much more prevalent in the fall and winter months, especially after the holidays. First Halloween and then Christmas – both holidays full of sugary treats.

The good news is that you can also use foods (and other things) to boost your immune system naturally.

Food Basics
In our house, our first line of defense is our food. There are foods that can enhance your immune system and there are foods that can compromise your immune system. Some foods that are especially detrimental to your immune system include the following:

  • Sugar (including corn syrup) and sweets in general
  • Artificial sweeteners (like Aspartame and NutraSweet)
  • Highly processed foods and drinks (including those with chemically modified trans fats)
  • “Diet” and “low fat” products (which tend to be highly processed and full of sweeteners)
  • Genetically modified (GM) foods (see previous post on GMOs)
  • Seed oils and vegetable oils which are highly processed (especially soybean oil and corn oil which are also GMO crops)
  • Dairy (for some), especially when highly processed

It is best to stay away from, or at least limit, these immune-compromising foods in your diet, especially during cold and flu season. It is even more critical to eat a clean diet when you are feeling run down. Staying away from the foods above is especially important when you are feeling sick.

Where it really creeps in is during snack time, when it is easy to reach for pre-packaged, convenient foods. Some alternate options might include an orange, a hand-full of raw nuts, a sliced apple with almond butter, celery sticks filled with sunflower butter, or hummus with sliced carrots and cucumbers. Homemade muffins are another great option. When we are out and about, my family’s convenience foods of choice are bananas, carrots, or dried cranberries with cashews.

If you eat dairy, it is also a good idea to limit your intake during the winter months. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products are known for creating mucus in the body. Some people can handle it better than others, but when the winter months come and we are less active, dairy can affect us more. If you do eat dairy, it is better to stick to the fermented types such as a good quality organic yogurt or kefir. Others do better on raw dairy products.

Your best action is to concentrate on eating more nutrient-dense foods and foods made from scratch. Eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, good oils (such as coconut oil and olive oil), and quality eggs and meats.  When possible, select organic vegetables and be sure to include dark leafy greens. For example, consider getting darker, curly or red leaf lettuce (darker equals more nutrients) when making salads, or adding some kale (without the stem) to your smoothie. When you are choosing grains, consider organic brown rice and quinoa.

When selecting dairy, eggs and meats, it is best to purchase these from a local farmer or another trusted source. This was discussed in more detail in my article on genetically modified foods (or GMOs), but the main things to look for include: no hormones, no antibiotics, and no GMO feed. These drugs and genetically modified products end up in our bodies when we eat it. (For those that are vegetarian or vegan and using soy products, be sure to find non-GMO soy that has been traditionally fermented and processed.)

Also keep in mind that eating too many fruits for some can create the same reaction that sugar does. When you are eating fruit, consider selecting options that are less sweet, such as blueberries, raspberries, apples, and oranges.

Other Food Ideas
Two foods that are a regular staple in our family and are great for the immune system are garlic and coconut oil. Both of these also happen to be naturally antimicrobial, meaning they help your body to fight off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Some even consider garlic “Mother Nature’s antibiotic.” Garlic can be added to many meals such as soups, stir fries, meat dishes, etc. However, when you are feeling run down you can also mince up (or crush) a clove of raw garlic and swallow it with water to give your body an extra boost. (For other benefits of garlic, go to this link.)

Good quality organic virgin coconut oil can be used the same way. Include some in everything you cook. And, it can be used in place of butter or shortening when you bake. (It is one of the few oils that I use, especially when I know it will be heated, since it has a higher smoke point than olive oil.) Or, just eat a spoonful of coconut oil a day. Not only will it help fight off bacteria and viruses, taking it internally is also a great way to combat dry skin in the winter months (source).

If you want to take your food to the next level, start including traditionally prepared fermented foods and bone broths. Good quality yogurt is one of the more common fermented foods. However, there are many other options available that have been used traditionally for centuries. Examples include fermented vegetables (such as sauerkraut and pickles), kefir, kimchi, and kombucha. When eaten, these fermented foods provide the body with hundreds of strains of beneficial probiotics (good bacteria). These good bacteria help your immune system by keeping the bad bacteria (and other micro-organisms) in check. (Watch this great 5-minute video for a good explanation of this process and check out this more comprehensive article about probiotics and prebiotics.)

One of the easiest fermented foods to start making yourself is kefir water. All you need are the starting grains, organic sugar, good water, and a few other optional ingredients. (See “Fermented Foods and Drinks” here for more information.)

And, don’t forget about bone broth. If you are using good quality meat, it is easy to save the bones (and organ meats) and make broth. (Learn how here.) Some recipes call for cutting up veggies and adding other ingredients, but it can be as simple as using a little apple cider vinegar and adding water to the bones to simmer for 24 hours. What you get is a highly nutritious liquid that can be used to cook your rice, make your soups, or just drink straight daily for added nutrition. If you don’t eat meat, you can use this mineral rich vital broth recipe.

Soups are a winter favorite in our family and are a great option for the colder months. All the wonderful ingredients mentioned above can be included: bone broth as the base, leafy green veggies (such as kale), garlic and onion, coconut oil, etc. (Get some nourishing soup ideas here.)

Basic Supplements
In addition to the foods we eat, there are some basic supplements that are staples for us as a family. The two critical ones are probiotics (good bacteria) and fermented cod liver oil and/or Vitamin D3. During the winter months especially, when you want to boost your immune system as a preventative measure, good bacteria and Vitamin D3 are key for prevention.

When it comes to probiotics, the goal is to optimize the good bacteria in our body. (See the video link above.) A number of things can compromise the balance of good and bad bacteria. An antibiotic, for example, will kill off the offending bacteria but it also gets rid of much of the good bacteria. Thusly, it is recommended that after taking an antibiotic you should replenish your body with probiotics – either in the foods you eat or in a supplement.

However, did you know that even if you do not purposely take antibiotics, the foods you eat can still contain them? Antibiotics used on animals end up in the meat, eggs and dairy we eat. We also get antibiotics from drinking tap water and eating produce that has either been sprayed with an antibiotic or grown in antibiotic-containing manure. Genetically modified (GM) foods can also alter the bacteria balance in the gut (see previous post on GMOs).

If you are eating traditionally prepared fermented foods on a regular basis, as discussed above, you are getting many strains (even 100’s) of good bacteria, unlike store bought yogurt which typically contains just one strain (like Acidophilus) of good bacteria. Optimally, it is best to eat or drink some fermented food at least once a day. If not, it is important to take a probiotic supplement, one that includes multiple strains. It can take up to a month to replenish certain probiotic strains after they have been compromised. (Learn more here.)

In addition to probiotics, our family takes fermented cod liver oil daily for a number of immune building reasons, such as its high content of omega-3 fatty acids and naturally occurring vitamins D3 and A. Optimizing your Vitamin D3 level is especially important for your immune system. (Most other cod liver and fish oils, including those available in the health food stores, add synthetic vitamin D and A because the manufacturing process removes the natural versions.) (source)

Vitamin D3 is always best paired with Vitamin K2 to allow for better absorption in the body. Vitamin K2 can be found naturally in high-fat dairy and liver from grass-fed cows and other animals, as well as egg yolks, natto (source), and emu oil. In my family, we get our K2 in a special, high-vitamin butter oil made by the same company that produces the fermented cod liver oil, which is extracted from good-quality spring and fall butter.

During the winter months, especially during and after the holidays and when we are exposed to a lot of sickness, our family tends to supplement our Vitamin D3/K2 for extra support. (We use a spray-type supplement for optimal absorption.) As an adult, you can get your Vitamin D3 levels checked to see if you are optimizing your intake. (See this article by Dr. Mercola for more information). The average person needs more Vitamin D than you realize. If you take a Vitamin D supplement, you will want to confirm that it is D3 (not D2), naturally occurring (not synthetic/man-made), and includes natural Vitamin K2 for optimum absorption.

Reduce Your Stress Levels
We all have stress in our lives, but how it affects your immune system depends on how you let it affect your mental state and physical body. The more you can reduce your stress, the more energy your body has to keep your immune system strong.

Stress can include the usual culprits of working too much, being in a stressful relationship, having a death in the family, etc. However, not getting enough sleep and exercising too much are typical stressors that are often overlooked. Past traumas, whether physical or emotional, also need to be addressed. Check out my previous blog article on stress for more information.

Another stressor often overlooked is electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), which are emitted from electrical devices, like hair dryers and digital clocks, and electromagnetic radiation (EMR) , which is emitted from wireless devices such as cell phones, smart watches, wireless systems and devices, etc. Click here to find out more and learn how you can reduce your exposure to the EMFs on a daily basis.

Additional Support
When you start feeling run down or “under the weather,” you may need some extra support. One of my family’s favorite go to items is Thieves Oil, which is a combination of five essential oils. Before going to sleep, we rub a few drops on the bottom our feet and sleep with socks. Whatever we were starting to feel the night before is often gone by morning. The combination of oils in this classic mix is considered antimicrobial and seems to help the body fight off infection.

Other herbal and food-based supplements can be used to help boost your immune system and help your body fight an infection. Common examples include:

  • Garlic – An antimicrobial (fights off viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites) and an antioxidant. You can find it as a supplement but be sure it includes the active ingredient allicin. As mentioned earlier, you can also mince raw garlic on a spoon (or crush a clove) and swallow it with water.
  • Olive Leaf – Good overall immune builder and considered antimicrobial.
  • Echinacea – Immune builder and known for its antiviral properties.
  • Sambucus – Especially good when mucus is involved such as upper respiratory and sinus issues.
  • Oregano Oil – Active ingredient, carvacrol, is considered antimicrobial.
  • Manuka Honey – Made by bees that pollinate the manuka bush in New Zealand (and different than regular honey), it has additional antibacterial properties and is great for topical applications.

One other item we keep in the house is Colloidal Silver, which is also considered antimicrobial and can be used internally and topically. We tend not use it regularly but add it if something seems to be more severe. It is great topically for eye infections and ear aches. In addition, we add it to the water in our humidifiers (one teaspoon per gallon), which we run during the colder months to combat the dry heat in the house.

Homeopathic remedies can also be used when necessary. Many sources are available that describe how to use single remedies for various symptoms. In addition, there are homeopathic combinations available that are formulated specific to the ailment. Common examples include those for upset stomachs, digestive issues, sore throat, sinus congestion, and lung congestion. Flu and drainage combinations are also available.

Overall, prevention is the best medicine. Often said, but it really is true. Take the steps now to build your immune system, even if you start by adding one or two of the things discussed above. And be prepared by keeping a few natural antimicrobial supplements on hand for the extra support when you need it.

Also remember that getting sick is a natural process and ultimately makes the body stronger by building resistance to future illnesses. The stronger the immune system and the more prepared you are with natural remedies, the faster you will get through it. If you do end up getting sick, good quality liquids (like purified water and bone broth) and lots of rest are very important, but now you also have some natural options to help get you through it as well.

Stay healthy and strong this season!

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website. Including additional suggested resources (books and articles) by topic, a pantry list that is gluten-free, dairy free and GMO-free, and a healing foods list.

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