Easy and Effective Ways to Boost Your Immune System

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Germs, bacteria, and viruses are everywhere — planes, trains, and automobiles; escalators; babies; hotel room phones; remote controls — you name it. One thing’s for sure: you’re always eligible for a license to ill in the modern world. From flesh-eating viruses to nuclear fallout to the common cold, the world is full of malicious maladies that can potentially annihilate you, if not render you snot-nosed and fully horizontal for days on end. Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But really, how do you combat these potential threats to your vitality on a daily basis?

The good news is that you have a powerful defense system inside of you that’s perfectly designed to protect you and keep your body in a balanced state of homeostasis. Yes, your immune system is like nature’s NORAD missile defense system, launching rockets of white blood cells to annihilate marauding toxins, viruses, and pathogens. Here’s the key, though: your immune system needs your help to function at the peak of its powers.

Now, I know what it’s like to get the faintest hint of a sniffle and run out to snag some Sudafed at the drugstore. But, if medications and pharmaceuticals were the answer, how is it possible that people spend billions of dollars on drugs and still get sick? People aren’t finding solutions — they’re just waiting around for the next time they get sick. Check it out:

  • Seasonal cough and cold medication generates $8 billion annually
  • U.S. adults get an average of two to four colds every year
  • Young children suffer from an average of six to eight colds per year

Be honest — how many times a year do YOU get sick? I don’t mean seasonal allergies — I mean a full-on cold, flu, or other common debilitating sicknesses, like food poisoning. If you’re getting sick multiple times a year, then it’s time to get the full download about your immune system and how you can supercharge its performance. Because taking a week off from work or school, slurping down a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup, and dosing yourself on a bottle of NyQuil ain’t doing the job anymore. But, honestly, did it ever?

Your Immune System Is Pretty Badass

Your immune system is just like any other bodily system. In order for it to function at full capacity all the time, it needs the right kind of fuel to boost its superpowers. One of the keys to supporting your healthy immune function is to know which foods and nutrients to consume. For example, if you’re looking to ward off viruses, something like olive leaf extract is great. If you want to manhandle marauding microbes, then raw coconut oil is your frontline warlord. For general immune boosting throughout the year, high doses of vitamins C and D will rock out and knock out a common cold. Much like the entire theme of this book, it’s critically important to select the right ingredients to accomplish the goal of keeping your immune system humming along. In simple terms, we can look at this approach in two distinct ways: learning what to eat to keep your immunity consistently strong to ward off potential sickness and the correct protocol to follow when you’re already feeling like a pupu platter and want to feel better fast.

Most people find that the wintertime is when most maladies strike. But it is possible to shield yourself to some degree with strong immunity. Keeping your immune system running efficiently is a matter of consistently good lifestyle choices and eating a balanced intake of the proper nutrients that ensure that your body gets rid of toxins.

Get Your Lymphatic System Back in the Flow

Your lymphatic system can be compared to the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. When it’s congested, nothing moves. The same thing can happen in your body. Your lymphatic system affects every organ and cell in your body. This highly important but little-known circulatory system is the body’s primary waste elimination system. Your lymph system helps to eliminate toxins and keep things flowing in your body via lymphatic drainage. It contains more than 600 collection sites called the lymph nodes and has a network of collecting vessels more extensive than the venous system.

When the lymph fails to function properly and the collecting terminals become blocked, it’s like a bottleneck. The lymph starts backing up, creating a toxic, oxygen-deprived environment conducive to degeneration and disease. The clear lymph fluid becomes sluggish or even stagnant, changing from a water-like consistency to one more like milk, then yogurt, then cottage cheese. Sounds gross, right? Unfortunately, toxic lymph fluid can be stored for a long time in your system. This is not a healthy condition. Thickened, gel-like, stagnant lymph fluid overloaded with toxins is the ideal environment for the onset of numerous illnesses.

Moving this stagnant lymph flow is a major key to rejuvenation. Improving the flow, which is an essential component of the immune system, enhances your body’s natural healing ability to clear up illness. A healthy lymphatic system can absorb and discharge unwanted body fat, carry away excess body fluids and toxic wastes, and aid in healing challenges associated with the muscular, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, and nervous systems. Again, your lymphatic system affects every organ and cell in your body. It is the transportation highway of your immune system, and keeping it clear is like getting a free pass in the carpool lane!

Many factors can contribute to blockages of the lymph system, including chronic constipation, physical and emotional life stresses, environmental toxins, heavy metals and chemicals, inflammation, infections, injuries and surgery (scar tissue and adhesions), bruises and traumas, food allergies, highly acidic diets, tight clothing, lack of exercise, hormonal imbalances, structural misalignment, normal aging processes, and genetic predispositions. Yes, even unexpressed emotions such as anger, fear, or resentment can become toxic to the lymph system. Artificial and restrictive clothing (such as polyester blouses and tight bras and jeans), air-conditioning, and even antiperspirant deodorants prevent excretion and natural cleansing of toxins. Your skin is the largest eliminative organ, and about one-third of your system’s toxins are excreted through it, coming to about a pound a day. Blocking the flow of this natural design with antiperspirants works against both the lymphatic and immune systems.

There are many conditions that sluggish lymph circulation can lead to that may be improved by lymphatic treatment. These include but are not limited to: colds, sinus problems, allergies, menstrual cramps, cellulite, chronic pain, arthritis, digestive disorders, ulcers, wrinkles, acne, mental confusion, and emotional disorders. Most physical and emotional challenges can be aggravated by blockage of the lymph flow.

It’s clear how poor lymphatic function can contribute to a wide range of dysfunction and lack of vitality. But what can you do to remedy the situation? To keep your lymph glands grand, techniques like daily dry skin brushing, jumping on a rebounder (small trampoline), and eating a super-hydrating, alkaline, plant-based diet are perfect daily activities to keep your lymphatic system healthy. Regular yoga practice has also been shown to promote long-term lymphatic health. If more severe lymphatic blockages happen, you may need to seek the help of a trained professional who is skilled in lymphatic drainage massage.

Hallelujah for Hydration

The benefits for the immune system of drinking a ton of clean, filtered, mineral-rich water cannot be understated. When I say “a ton,” what I really mean is at least one 16-ounce glass of water per hour of waking activity. Generally speaking, that should be enough to keep yourself well hydrated without overwhelming you. Some doctors and wellness experts recommend more (especially during a cleansing or detoxification protocol), but I want to keep it realistic and well within the range of consistent execution. Drinking a lot of water will keep your digestive tract clean and your bowels regular. Chronic dehydration is one of the most underdiagnosed conditions and can result in fatigue, muscle pain, cramping, migraine headaches, and constipation.

Regarding strong immunity, keeping yourself hydrated helps to flush out daily toxins and keep your colon healthy. A point about drinking filtered water: many home or under-sink filtration systems (like those that use multistage reverse osmosis) will remove toxins such as chlorine, pesticides, organochlorines, and heavy metal residues from your water. However, they also strip your water of essential trace minerals that your body needs. You can remineralize and alkalize your water by adding a few drops of ocean trace minerals and a capful of organic apple cider vinegar to each glass that you drink.

The Power of Probiotics

Inside your body, there live billions and billions of intelligent, sentient little organisms. It may sound like creepy science fiction stuff, yet your body is teeming with tiny little life forms called bacteria. Most of them are very pleasant and helpful, while some of them can be downright nasty and pathogenic. After you finish shuddering about your body playing host to billions of little buggers, allow me to put your mind to rest with this: you can actually “train” bacteria to be your friends and support your health! To maintain a strong immune system, you have to work on having a healthy gut. Healthy intestinal flora help to boost your immune system by keeping your gut healthy, protecting your digestive system, and your foods processed and eliminated efficiently without toxic buildup. How do you keep the good gut flora up and the bad flora down? By eating healthy, probiotic-rich foods.

To keep the “friendly” gut bacteria doing the happy dance (and reproducing like randy little rabbits), eat probiotic-rich and fermented foods daily. Before you wince and complain about them smelling funky or tasting too sour, you’ve probably already tried familiar probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or sauerkraut. There are also delicious, refreshing beverages such as kombucha, coconut kefir, rejuvelac, and kvass that are bursting with beneficial bacteria. Fermented savory foods such as kimchi, natto, tempeh, and certain varieties of pickles offer tasty, flavorful additions to your recipes while packing a potent probiotic punch. You can also take probiotic supplements, whether in capsule or liquid form. Supplements are an easy way to get your daily dose, though they’re not nearly as delicious or versatile as probiotic-rich foods.

Fermented foods, with their plethora of friendly bacteria, have a centuries-old reputation as health foods in many cultures. New research substantiates the claim that the bacteria found in naturally fermented foods can strengthen the immune system and ward off infection, not just in the digestive tract, but throughout the entire human body. Recent research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that New Zealand athletes had about 40 percent fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections when they took a probiotic compared to when they took a placebo. Other research has found that probiotic supplements may greatly lower the risk of an antibiotic-resistant superbug, Clostridium difficile, which is increasingly common in nursing homes and hospitals and named by the Centers for Disease Control as an “urgent threat” in their 2013 report on antibiotic-resistant infections. C. difficile can cause severe diarrhea and life-threatening inflammation of the colon.

However, probiotics may not be safe in people who are severely immunocompromised. Make sure to speak with your doctor if you want to use a probiotic to ward off antibiotic-associated GI troubles. If you’re just trying to ward off whatever nasty stuff is floating around, I suggest you try a vegan probiotic supplement containing the following strains for maximum benefit: Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum. Whichever probiotic supplement you choose, it needs to be handled correctly and possibly refrigerated, as high temperatures kill some probiotic organisms.

Kick Out the Germs, Motherlovers!

That phrase is not only a clever homage to one of my favorite Detroit rock bands of all time (the MC5) but also a rallying cry when you’re sick. After your immune system has been compromised and some icky germ, virus, bacteria, or parasite has stormed the gates, what the heck can you do to feel better? Well, you may already be susceptible to getting sick. Some people are simply prone to higher levels of illness. According to research, many people’s immune systems are functioning at only around 50 percent of their full capacity. Science has shown that nutrient-dense foods packed with antioxidants have the power to double your immune system’s function so you can keep disease and illness at bay. What’s more, as you age, toxins (from both the environment and your diet) build up in your body. By the time you’re in your 40s, daily stress, hormonal shifts, and years of toxic buildup create a scenario in which you can get sick easier and more often.

By eating nutrient-dense, plant-based foods, you’ll scrub out and destroy the toxins that cause illness and help your body activate its own cleaning system to provide higher levels of immunity. You can renew your energy, lose weight, put an end to sick days, and potentially increase your longevity.

Eating Habits of Healthy, Illness-Free People

It’s easy to deduce that if you successfully avoid illnesses and disease, the greater your chance of living longer. If we take another look at the eating habits of centenarians and cultures with the longest life spans, we find one culinary commonality that helps to boost their immunity: plant-strong, nutrient-dense diets. By dissecting their eating habits, we can glean a solid approach for our own lifestyle.

We can boost our immunity by eating foods with the most vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds such as antioxidants, including beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, and vitamin E), and the least amount of calories. Caloric restriction is a cornerstone of longevity-promoting diets. Phytonutrient-rich foods include colorful fruits and vegetables such as dark, leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, and berries. Dark, leafy greens contain lymphocytes that aid digestion and dark berries contain anthocyanins and bioflavonoids that protect your heart and ward off cancer. Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc.

It’s a good idea to go for a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Other foods particularly good for your immune system include fresh garlic and medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, reishi, or chaga, all of which can help fight viruses and bacteria. If you happen to come down with a cold or the flu, a big bowl of antioxidant-rich, immune-boosting garlic and mushroom soup may help your immune system even better than Mom’s old-school chicken noodle soup!

Avoid eating nutrient-stripped, fast-absorbing foods such as trans-fatty acids, refined sugar, and white flour. These highly processed foods create a massive glucose response in your bloodstream and spike your insulin levels. This spike promotes fat storage, weakens your immune system, and increases your risk of cancer. By eating slow-absorbing foods, your body is able to properly absorb essential nutrients and use them to fight disease. Slow-absorbing foods include nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans. The sterols and stanols in nuts and seeds actually help pull bad fats out of the body, allowing good fats to be absorbed to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and increasing your brain function.

It’s also important to vigorously masticate on a daily basis. Chewing your food properly facilitates the release of important nutrients and your own powerful enzymes that protect your cells. The average person chews each bite of food as few as 15 times. Try adding 10 more chews to every bite. Studies show that people who chew more often also consume 10 percent less food. It requires more presence and focus when you eat, which can also result in a higher level of gratification and appreciation for your food!

How Your Lifestyle Affects Your Immunity

Your lifestyle also has a huge impact on how well your immune system protects you from germs, viruses, and chronic illness. Replacing bad habits with healthy new ones can help keep your immune system kicking serious ass. Here are some good life habits that many of us overlook. I can definitely relate to a few of these . . . can you?

  • Not slacking on good sleep: You may have noticed you’re more likely to catch a cold or other infection when you’re not getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can also lead to higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting enough sleep — between seven and nine hours — is key for lifelong good health.
  • Exercising daily is essential: Try to get regular, moderate exercise, even a daily 30-minute walk. It can help your immune system fight infection. Exercise can also boost your body’s feel-good chemicals, reduce your stress hormones, and help you sleep better, all of which your immune system loves.
  • Reduce your stress or face the mess: Everyone experiences stress in life. The key is how you respond to it. If stress continues for long periods unabated, it makes you much more vulnerable to illness, from colds to serious diseases. Chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress your immune system and deplete your body of essential vitamins and minerals. I recommend meditation, at least 15 minutes a day to start. Turn off your cell phone, eliminate all distractions, find a calm place in the house, and just be still in a comfortable position.
  • Maintain strong personal relationships: Connecting with other people is a wonderful way to reduce stress and eliminate feelings of isolation. Strong relationships and a supportive social network are good for you (and I don’t just mean on Facebook). Although there are many other things that affect your health, making meaningful connections with people is always a good idea.
  • Lighten up and laugh more: Laughing is really good for you. It curbs the levels of stress hormones in your body and boosts white blood cells that help to fight infection. Just anticipating a funny event can have a positive effect on your immune system.

From eating the right foods to reducing your stress to getting your gut healthy — there are so many ways to give your immune system a boost. One thing’s for sure: it needs your support to kick some ass. When you empower your body’s front line of defense with the right ammo to ward off the yucky stuff, you’ll have a much better chance of rockin’ to a ripe old age with serious spunk and vigor. So start eating clean, remember to laugh a lot, let go of negative emotional baggage, surround yourself with positive peeps, get your gut health going strong, and baby, you can kiss all those sick days goodbye!

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