NATURAL WAYS TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Food, Supplements and Breath!
Inge Jaffe, RDN, MSN
Carol Fiola BSCHE, DMD, RYS-200
Now more than ever we are being called to bring awareness to our health, in ways we never could have imagined. Washing our hands and avoiding crowded areas aren’t the only tools we have to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Our body offers a wealth of resources when it comes to fighting disease and pathogens. There is no doubt that following social distancing guidelines is still the safest way during these uncertain times, but boosting our bodies own natural defense system holds a lot of power as well.
Our immune function decreases as we age, but it can also be less than ideal in its function if we are stressed, malnourished, tired, over-worked or already dealing with a compromised state due to illness or genetics. But Don’t Worry, we do have some control over our body’s innate functions, and it starts with knowledge. Here are 3 ways you can take charge of your life and boost your immune system naturally!
There is plenty of data showing people who eat greater amounts of fruits and vegetables appear to have a lower incidence of upper respiratory infections, regardless of being vegetarian or not. Believe it or not studies show just adding one apple a day to your diet can possibly keep the doctor away. Below are a few of my favorite immune boosting foods. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Eat organic whenever possible, avoid highly processed foods and always listen to your body.
Mushrooms seem to be the latest health fad. Mushrooms boast a plethora of benefits. They are unusually high in antioxidants. They are a natural source of Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, making them the only source of Vitamin D from plants. Mushrooms such as shiitake, cordyceps, chaga, turkey tail, and lion’s mane are varieties to look for in immune boosting support. But you don’t need to get too complicated. Simple white button mushrooms will also work some magic. A study from 2012, published in Nutrition found the intake of the white button mushroom to increase IgA secretions. IgA, immunoglobulin A, is a type A antibody that helps us fight infection. The most scientifically studied components of fungi are B-glucans, which research shows modulate immune function in humans and as result help us to fend off colds, flu, and even cancer. If you are looking to supplement your diet, look to organic and quality name brands. A few well-respected companies I have used myself include Ultimate Shrooms, Sun Potion and Moon Juice. There are also local growers of mushrooms that provide high quality products. Some of these can be found at farmer’s markets.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are staples in my kitchen. Garlic and onions are part of the allium family. Most of the benefits in onions come from quercitin. Quercitin is a strong antioxidant known for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Research on athletes in a 2008 study found daily doses of quercitin to reduce viral infections as well as inflammation from intense exercise regimens. Garlic contains a compound called alliin, which, when crushed, chopped or chewed coverts into alliicin, the main active ingredient in garlic. It is this compound that has been shown to have antiviral activity. The enzyme alliinase, which converts alliin into beneficial alliicin is deactivated by heat. However, if you let it stand for 10 minutes it will prevent loss of garlic’s medicinal properties. Allium vegetables in general are good for your gut health. They contain probiotics that help feed the microorganisms in your gut, hence helping to maintain a healthy microbiome. A systemic-review and metanalysis study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2018 found that the prebiotic fiber in onions and garlic may be even more beneficial than those found in other vegetables and fruits.
Turmeric, mostly known for its anti-inflammatory properties has been shown in recent years to be a strong immunomodulator, even in people with immune disorders. There must be a reason this compound has been used for hundreds of years in Eastern Medicine. Accumulating evidence shows turmeric may have an inhibitory role against infection from numerous viruses. The mechanisms are still not fully understood. I personally take a daily turmeric supplement that is combined with black pepper and incorporate it where I can in my cooking. Be sure to add black pepper and/or fat for better absorption.
Our immune systems are complicated and elaborate. A symphony of cooperation is needed to keep it working just as mother nature intended. There is not a cure-all food or drug. I was asked not too long ago by a stranger, “What is the one food you can eat to improve your health,” and without hesitation, I answered to eat more plants. Plants are mother nature’s medicine. They are imbued with protective elements that help them survive in the face of constant threats. Those protective elements can boost our immune system when we consume them. I highly recommend making these plant based immune boosters part of everyone’s healthy habits. They are even more important in this time of the virus!
Food is Medicine! The best way to enjoy the healing benefits of food is to choose plants daily as part of your regular diet. If you aren’t able to incorporate enough plants in your diet, you can add supplements to the equation. Supplements take disease-fighting ingredients found naturally in food and concentrate them into a capsule. This can be effective if you know you aren’t getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables, or you are trying to concentrate the healing benefits of these ingredients for therapeutic reasons.
This month’s cover story in Life Extension magazine is all about natural ways to boost your immune system. The publication is filled with information on supplements and prescription drugs that can help the immune system fight off viruses and pathogens more effectively. According to the author of the article, William Faloon, some of these supplements should only be taken at the onset of symptoms as an aggressive approach to fighting viral infections, before they gain momentum and take over more of your body’s cellular functions.
He also suggests a daily regimen even if you are symptom-free! I like Life Extension because they back up their claims with studies. I am in no way affiliated with them nor am I being sponsored by them. I simply find their editorials to be informative and research based. That matters! It is not always possible to have a peer-reviewed study to reference, but if there is one available, they include it in their publications. This gives their readers the benefit of science to make informed decisions with their healthcare providers, and have unconventional discussions on ways to maintain health and prevent disease.
We need to be our own advocates when it comes to our health. Pharmaceutical companies provide a great service in conducting the research needed to finding medications for diseases, and this research is ever-growing and an important part of our healthcare. However, there are some things pharmaceutical companies can’t give us! They do not spend the time or resources to research the benefits of supplements, exercise, diet and lifestyle. These aspects of our daily lives matter and add up over time, affecting our health and our ability to fight disease. They can’t bottle that up and sell it, so if you want to find that information, you can’t rely on pharmaceutical companies to advertise it for you!
For most of us, a standard regimen of taking a Multi-Vitamin along with Vitamin D3 to help maintain overall health is a great plan. You can add Co-Q10 as part of that regimen to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, while adding Curcumin to bring natural anti-inflammatory benefits.
So, what can you do when you notice the initial onset of cold or flu-like symptoms? Are you just sentenced to feeling miserable and at the mercy of your bodies current immune status to help you through your plight? There are several published studies that show the benefit of certain supplements on our immune system, resulting in decreased incidence of illness, to milder symptoms and less downtime.
The first supplement we are going to talk about is Garlic, one off the 700 species of the onion family! Yes, Garlic is showing up again! There is a reason onions and garlic are a staple in Inge’s kitchen!
Two types of Garlic that have been shown to be beneficial in immune boosting capability are High-Allicin Garlic Extract and Aged Garlic Extract. They offer different immune boosting benefits that are equally important in fighting off pathogens.
According to this month’s edition of Life Extension, a study showed that taking a capsule of High Allicin Garlic Extract per day reduced the duration of cold and flu symptoms to 1.52 days vs 5.01 days for a placebo group. The incidence of cold and flu was also 63% higher in the placebo group vs. the group taking the supplement. These results challenged the efficacy of the prescription drug Ribavirin, which is marketed as an anti-viral medication.
The other garlic supplement is Aged Garlic Extract, which contains little allicin. It is often referred to as the “odorless” garlic. Aged Garlic Extract has been shown to help in the proliferation of T-cells and Natural Killer Cells, both of which are vital players in cell-mediated immunity. This is a different method of protection than humoral immunity, in which our bodies produce anti-bodies to fight viral infections. Cell-mediated immunity involves several different cell types and chemical mediators to destroy viruses, bacteria and pathogens. Natural Killer Cells work to control viral infections by secreting cytokines (IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha), while the body is generating the antigen-specific T-cells that bind to infected cells and destroy them.
I’m always AMAZED at how our bodies work to keep us healthy!!! Even trying to fathom the intelligence behind all these intricacies blows me away! Yes, I am a shameless bio-nerd!
The recommended dose of High-Allicin Garlic at onset of symptoms is 6,000mg-9,000mg once or twice per day, while the dose for Aged Garlic Extract is 3,600mg per day. Be sure to take the High-Allicin Garlic with food, as it may cause stomach or esophageal burning if taken on an empty stomach.
The next supplement that has been shown to benefit immune function is Lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein found in mother’s milk and in our cell membranes. We have long known of the myriads of health benefits transferred to babies through mother’s milk, and Lactoferrin is one of them. It stimulates macrophages, which help our body induce cell-mediated immunity by activating antigen specific T-cells. These are the cells that detect infected cells, bind to them and destroy them. The recommended dose at the onset of symptoms is 300mg -1,200mg per day.
To name a few more, Melatonin and Zinc have also been shown to aid our immune systems. Melatonin is naturally produced in our body and is a well-known hormone in the regulation of sleep. It also provides immune support by stimulating production of Natural Killer Cells and T-cells, as well as regulating the immune response through signaling factors. Try taking 10mg-50mg at bedtime as part of your immune-boosting regimen if you notice cold or flu-like symptoms. Do not take it during the day or when operating heavy machinery, as it can make you sleepy.
Last but not least, Zinc Acetate Lozenges provide a unique immune boosting quality that helps prevent certain cold viruses from attaching to cells in the back of your throat, where they can multiply, move into the lungs and increase your risk of developing an pneumonia. According to Life Extensions recommendations: Try one or two 18.5mg lozenges every two waking hours. CAUTION: Taking Zinc at this dose long-term is toxic, this is should only be down for a few days at the onset of symptoms to aggressively fight the start of a viral infection.
Now that we have talked about the benefits of food and supplements on our immune function, let’s talk about the healing properties of breathing…. the ancient Ayurvedic practice of Pranayama
This breathing practice has a host of benefits rooted in the ancient Indian practice of Yoga. According to the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Prana, or the life force carried by the breath, is a key component in maintaining healthy immunity. It just makes sense that bringing Oxygen to our cells, and reducing stress by controlling our breath, would bring about improved health. Scientist have been showing more and more that lifestyle and environmental factors play a key role in the expression of genes and our bodies ability to fight and prevent disease. Add in the additional benefits of improved cognitive function, reduced stress and an overall sense of well-being, and it is hard to deny the benefits that this ancient practice can offer.
When we are feeling stressed, implementing breathing techniques can create a physiologic effect that reduces the negative impact of stress instantly. Most of us do not pay attention to our breathing throughout the day, but if we did, we would most likely find that we are shallow breathers. Even worse, sometimes we hold our breath due to stress or worry, without even realizing it. Research has shown that shallow breathing can keep your body in a cycle of stress and reduce your immune function.
If your new to the practice of Pranayama, you can start with a common breathing technique called Ujjayi breath (pronounced oo-jai). This breath is also sometimes called “oceanic breath”, and some have even called it Darth Vader breath. It’s audible and you should hear the breath as you do this exercise.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position. If you can elevate the hips over the knees, this is best but not necessary. You can place some yoga blocks or blankets under your hips to create this elevation and put your hands on your knees or belly. Next start with bringing your focus to your breath, but don’t force anything, just bring your awareness to the rhythm of your breathing.
Ujjayi breathing is a technique of breathing where you constrict the muscles in the back of your throat, while you breathe in and out through the nose. Imagine you have a mirror in front of your face, and your goal is to fog the mirror with your exhale, but with the mouth closed. This breathing technique is often incorporated during a yoga flow but is beneficial on its own as well. If you are having trouble envisioning how to form this breath, you can follow these 3 steps to guide you.
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. You can place blankets or blocks under your hips to elevate them over your knees. With your mouth open, imagine you have a mirror in front of your face and your goal is to create a fog on it with your exhale. Inhale through the mouth and exhale through the mouth.
Now you are going to do the same breath, but while placing the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth, and continue the inhale/exhale with the mouth open
Continue with the above steps, but now with the mouth closed, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Remember, this breathing technique is not quiet, so don’t try to stifle the breath. You should hear it!
Once you become comfortable with the technique, you can try to inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and exhale for 6 seconds. This elongation of the exhaling breath provides deeper relaxation.
The Yogic tradition is to have a pranayama practice daily, ideally in the morning on an empty stomach. If that isn’t obtainable for you, just remember Pranayama can be done anytime- sitting down at a desk, at a stop light in your car, or as part of your Yoga practice.
The power of controlling the breath not only brings improved immunity and health benefits, but it is amazingly consistent in its ability to bring us back to the present!!
*This article is in no way recommending products to treat or prevent healthcare concerns without the consultation of a healthcare professional. Always talk to your doctor before starting a supplement regimen.
About the Authors:
Inge Jaffe, RDN, MSN
Inge is a Registered Dietician and received her Masters of Science in Nutrition from the University of North Florida. She is always exploring new resources and trends in healthy living and continually seeks to educate her peers by promoting the importance of good nutrition. She is an advocate for Organic and Non-GMO Food and is passionate about bringing awareness to others on the powerful healing properties of food.
Carol A. Fiola DMD, BSCHE RYS200
Carol received her Bachelorette of Science in Chemical Engineering and her Doctorate from the University of Florida. She is a Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Instructor with a passion for Health and Well-Being. She started a Toxin-free personal care and home good store to promote her passion for safety and health for consumers. You can find out more about her mission at:
Research based, Therapeutic Grade Supplements:
High Allicin Garlic:
Aged Garlic Extract:
Organic Gourmet Garlic
Organic Ayurvedic Immune-Boosting Turmeric Blends
Inge’s Favorites for Organic Supplements