Boost Your Immune System

By Parul Kharod

With the pandemic of COVID-19 upon us, everyone is talking about what to do to stay healthy. While there is no diet that can prevent us from getting infected from the virus, there are a few things we can do to build immunity in general.

What is immunity?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines immunity as “a condition of being able to resist a particular disease especially through preventing development of a pathogenic microorganism or by counteracting the effects of its product."

How does our Immune system work?

Our immune system is made up of various organs, cells and proteins, and is designed to fight harmful things that enter our body from the outside or harmful changes that occur inside our body.

The main tasks of the body's immune system are:
• Fight disease-causing germs (pathogens) like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, and to remove them from the body,
• Recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment, and
• Fight disease-causing changes in the body, such as cancer cells.

When the body senses foreign substances (called antigens), the immune system works to recognize the antigens and get rid of them.

Humans have three types of immunity — innate, adaptive, and passive:

• Innate immunity: Everyone is born with innate (or natural) immunity, a type of general protection. The immune system also recognizes when certain invaders are foreign and could be dangerous.
• Adaptive immunity: Adaptive (or active) immunity develops throughout our lives. We develop adaptive immunity when we're exposed to diseases or when we're immunized against them with vaccines.
• Passive immunity: Passive immunity is “borrowed" from another source and it lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in a mother's breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to.

All Diseases Begin in the Gut!

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, claimed that the gut was the seat of health and disease. Ayurveda also places emphasis on improving digestion and healthy gut.

A huge proportion of our immune system is actually in our GI tract. The microorganisms that live in our gastrointestinal system (known collectively as the gut microbiome) have many important functions. We have 100 trillion or so microbes that live in various nooks and crannies of the human body. The largest colonies are in our gut. These beneficial bacteria within the body have an enormous influence on our metabolism, our hormones, and our genetic makeup.

These microbes help us get the nutrients from our food, help balance our mood, sharpen our focus, and help build our immune system. The quantity and variety of these microbes is the secret to a long a healthy life. When these microbes thrive, our immunity is at its best.

However, when there are not enough good microbes, the bad microbes take over resulting in an imbalance called dysbiosis. This takeover weakens immunity and makes us susceptible to illness and disease. When our microbiome is out of balance, we can get all sorts of disorders such as weight gain, leaky gut, frequent sickness, and more serious chronic diseases due to increased inflammation in the body. How our body responds to various medications, drugs, painkillers, allergens and antibiotics and other stressors all depends on our microbiome.

How to boost the Immune System?

Diet:

1. Eat foods rich in fiber
a. Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. Avoid juicing which throws away the pulp thus losing all the fiber.
b. Eat a variety of whole grains. Eat intact whole grains and avoid processed foods made from flour (atta or maida).
c. Eat a variety of legumes, pulses, peas, beans, and lentils. Sprout beans to make them digestible and increase other nutrients.
d. Beware of products like yogurt, ice-cream, chocolate, enhanced waters, or energy bars that have added isolated fibers.

2. Eat a Rainbow of colorful foods. Each color gives us a different set of antioxidants that help with boosting immunity.
3. Spice it up – our spices and seasonings have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Use turmeric, black pepper, ginger, garlic, and other spices and herbs regularly.
4. Avoid foods that are processed, filled with sugar, artificial chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals.
5. Drink adequate amount of water. Drink an average of two liters of water.
6. Get supplements if needed – Vitamin D, B-complex, Vitamin C and Zinc are known to help with immunity. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for ideal dose for you.

Exercise:

1. Stay physically active.
2. Move more. Avoid sitting for too long

Get adequate sleep:

1. Get at least seven hours of sleep.
2. Practice good sleep hygiene.
3. Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine.
4. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free— avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed.
5. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.

Reduce Stress:

1. Avoid smoking and all tobacco products
2. Avoid other toxins such as pesticides, preservatives, unnecessary medications and antibiotics
3. Avoid/Limit alcohol
4. Practice yoga, deep breathing and meditation

These practices can help build a stronger immune system. It is also important to practice general hygiene rules such as washing hands and keeping your environment clean.

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com