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2020 may be behind us — however, cold and flu season is here, and COVID-19 lingers on like an unwanted houseguest. It’s wise to do whatever you can to stay healthier. Fortunately, you can strengthen your body’s innate germ defense system. Here are eight natural ways to boost the immune system and stay healthier this winter and always.
Americans can learn a thing or two about staying healthy from the Japanese, where they regularly participate in shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Researchers evaluated participants who spent a 3-day, 2-night excursion to forest areas and tested their urine on days 2, 7 and 30. They found an increased number and activity in natural killer cells, vital immune components for attacking pathogens.
The magic lies in phytoncides, natural plant defense chemicals. When humans inhale these, it also strengthens their internal armor.
Getting outside more also improves your mental outlook and helps your body make vitamin D naturally. Scientists are currently investigating whether a deficiency in this substance can make you more susceptible to COVID-19’s worst ravages. While many experts, like the estimable Dr. Anthony Fauci, take supplements, you can also spur your innate production by getting more sunlight.
The bottom line: take your lunch alfresco on pleasant days. When the weekend arrives, take a hike.
You probably heard about cytokines quite a bit in the news lately if you follow recent events. These molecules act as chemical messengers that tell your body’s white blood cells to mobilize and attack a threat. However, your body also has to regulate this process — in COVID-19, this system goes haywire, causing your cells to attack healthy tissue.
Cytokines increase during sleep, but analysis indicates a reciprocal relationship between your immune system and slumber. At first, researchers thought rest was only vital to increasing cytokine numbers. However, more modern investigations show that it also helps the regulatory mechanism that keeps these substances from spiraling out of control and damaging healthy cells.
It even protects skin cells by regulating their processes. Sleep is a helpful way to naturally boost the immune system, even if it feels like a passive way to care for yourself.
Remember when your childhood grownups said, “Don’t go out without a coat — you’ll catch your death?” It turns out they were right. Exposure to the cold can harm your immune function in several ways.
One reason is that viruses survive more readily in cold air. One guinea pig study indicated that the flu virus did best at roughly 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The rhinovirus that causes the common old also proliferates in cool, dry air.
Another factor is exposure to extreme temperatures. A 2015 study indicated that mice who breathed cold air showed a decreased immune response when researchers introduced pathogens.
Finally, you spend more time indoors in the winter — see tip number one. Even well-maintained ventilation systems can’t keep up with the germs in confined spaces, and the more bugs you encounter, the more likely it is one will lay you low.
Your diet can significantly influence immune function. In particular, eating foods high in vitamin C and zinc can help shorten a cold’s duration, although they might not keep you from getting sick in the first place. While it’s useful to supplement throughout the cold and flu season, your body absorbs nutrients more effectively through diet.
You can get oodles of both by making up some seafood stuffed peppers. Each red bell pepper contains nearly three times the vitamin C of an orange. Seafood is a rich source of zinc and also provides omega-3 fatty acids to protect your organs and return a rosy glow to your skin.
Exercise doesn’t only improve your mood and help control your weight. It also provides an immune-system boost. Scientists hypothesize various mechanisms. One way shaking your booty helps you fight germs is by flushing bacteria from your lungs and airways, decreasing the chances of one of them making you sick.
To improve your chances of sticking to your program, find something that you love. If running or walking on a treadmill bores you to tears, try cardio dance or head outdoors to do some rock-climbing.
Stress can do a number on your body. Recent research even suggests that it can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure high. Chronic stress increases cortisol production, which increases inflammation by making your immune cells less sensitive to it, causing problems with regulating the response when you get a bug.
You might not be able to ease some stress sources, but taking proactive steps, such as seeking a new job if you feel you are underpaid, can ease your perception of helplessness. Other techniques, like practicing yoga and meditation, can further decrease your tension levels.
Do you drink cup after cup of coffee to get through your day? If so, try alternating each caffeinated cup with herbal tea. Some plants, like echinacea, have immune-boosting benefits, but too much of the go-juice can also disrupt sleep and hinder proper functioning.
The same goes if you are a diet cola junkie. If you can’t stand the taste of plain water, soaking fruit adds flavor without extra calories. If lack of carbonation makes your stomach protest, stick with sugar-free seltzer or invest in a device to add bubbles.
It should go without saying by now, but an ideal way to boost the immune system is to take reasonable precautions to reduce your germ exposure. That means regularly washing your hands and wearing a mask when in a public place.
When news of the novel coronavirus first broke, experts recommended wearing masks to stop the virus from spreading through asymptomatic carriers. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its findings and advised that masking up reduces the number of infected droplets you inhale.
It stands to reason that mask-wearing also decreases the spread of other infectious diseases. People commonly wear them in many Asian countries — maybe it’s time for the western world to reconsider their fashion choices, at least in crowded spaces.
The best way to get over any illness is to keep from getting sick in the first place. Use the tips above to boost your immune system naturally.