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Mar 3, 2017

Lifestyle Factors and Immunity

Bastyr alumni Kelly Morrow MS, RD, CD shares some lifestyle and nutrition facts to maximize your immune health

  • Stress
    • Chronic stress and chronic exposure to stress hormones can weaken the immune system by reducing the activity of essential immune cells
  • Sleep
    • According to the CDC, 50 - 70 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders and do not get enough sleep. Multiples studies show that sleep deprivation causes a dip in immune cell numbers which can increase the likelihood of contracting a virus or an infection.
  • Alcohol
    • A high level of alcohol intake can also weaken the immune system in a similar way to stress and sleep deprivation.
  • Physical Activity 
    • Physical activity helps support immune function in multiple ways. Increased circulation helps flush out bacteria from mucous passages and helps white blood cells become more efficient. The rise in body temperature that comes from physical activity also helps to slow the growth of bacteria.
  • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin A helps support the protective mucosal barriers that line the digestive tract and nasal passage and is important or the creation of immune cells. Foods rich in vitamin A include green, yellow and orange vegetables.
  • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin C concentrates in the cells of the immune system and is an essential nutrient. Food sources of vitamin C includes oranges and citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, kiwi fruit and rose hip teas.
  • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin D helps coordinate the immune response and is important for preventing infections. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because we can make vitamin D with exposure to sun - but only in the summer months. There are not many meaningful food sources apart from fortified milk and fish, so it is best to take a supplement.
  • Zinc
    • Zinc is a mineral that helps white blood cells work efficiently and also keeps the gut barrier strong and intact. Food sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, meats, fish and legumes (especially lentils).
  • Plant Medicine
    • Some plants, including garlic and elderberry have antimicrobial and anti-viral properties. Add garlic liberally to your meals, sauces, marinades, and condiments. Black elderberry has a natural hemagglutinin inhibitor which prevents viruses from entering a cell and becoming ineffective. Typical dose is 1-2 teaspoons per day for prevention and 3-4 tablespoons a day for treatment.
  • The Probiotic Connection
    • Good gut health is essential for immune health, as roughly 60% of the immune system resides in the gut. Probiotic bacteria help regulate the immune response by communicating with the cells and nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract. Fermented foods such a yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha support a healthy bacteria balance. Eating a variety of high fiber plant-based foods is also supportive.