Temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and we are all doing our best to stay healthy and avoid being stuck in bed with a box of tissues and a bowl of soup.
While sniffles often seem like an unavoidable part of the season, feeling under the weather this winter is by no means inevitable. In fact, you can do a lot to increase your chances of staying well by giving your immune system the support it needs to keep you feeling your best all year long.
The good news is that you have a lot of different pathways for supporting your immune system on a grand scale—just keep in mind that it's going to take more than popping extra supplements now and again. By addressing immunity holistically, you can support your immune system now and for the months (and years) to come.
The Unexpected Anatomy of Your Immune System
Close your eyes for a second and try to picture your immune system. What do you see? Maybe a textbook picture of your lymph nodes, or an image of some white blood cells circulating in your blood? While those things do play a crucial part in immunity, your oral microbiome and gastrointestinal system play a much larger role than you might expect.
In fact, about 80% of your immune cells live in your gastrointestinal tract, making the health of your gut and the nutrition you consume a fundamental part of your immune response.1 What's more, your mouth, ears, nose, and throat all act as the gateway to your gut, which means that taking care of this part of your body––and the microbes it contains––is also key for optimal immune function.2
Finally, your skin is a big player when it comes to staying well, since it's the barrier between you and the rest of the world. You see, skin contains a complex network of protective cells called intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs), which act as a first line of defense against any potential invaders and help your body repair itself quickly when problems do occur.3
8 Steps to Empower Your Immune System
Given the sheer scope of your immune system, you can start to see why washing your hands or sucking on a zinc lozenge when you start feeling puny isn't enough to keep your immune system firing on all cylinders. To really support your immunity, you’ll need to address it from a variety of angles.
1. Supplement with probiotics and prebiotics.
With so much of your immune system located in your gut and mouth, it's easy to make the connection between a strong immune system and your microbiome.
When you've got a good mix of bacteria in your body, you have a built-in support system for your immunity. In terms of the gut specifically, several strains of beneficial bacteria work to support your gut barrier, which keeps toxins and harmful bacteria in the gut until they can be safely eliminated, rather than letting them get loose into your bloodstream. Gut bacteria also help to increase the levels of antibodies in your bloodstream, produce molecules that take out unwanted bacteria, and even help ensure that your gut and immune cells can communicate properly. Long story short: if your levels of these microbes drop, so do your chances of staying well.4
Additionally, the bacteria in your mouth and oral microbiome can actually have protective effects against other substances that can leave you feeling less than your best, including undesirable bacteria and pollen, among other things.
Of course, this can only happen if you have a good balance of beneficial bacteria, and given the many things that can throw this balance off, it's nearly impossible to maintain it without a little extra help. That's where probiotics come in: by taking a premium oral probiotic like PRO-Dental, you can address this issue at its source, replenishing the beneficial bacteria in your oral microbiome so they can help crowd out the unwanted species.
Another easy way to support the balance of your mouth microbes is by using a probiotic toothpaste like Hyperbiotics Activated Charcoal Probiotic Toothpaste. This lets you both sidestep potential issues caused by traditional dental products (which often contain ingredients that indiscriminately wipe out both good and bad bacteria), and also get the probiotic support your good guys need to keep you healthy.
2. Get concentrated nutrition from fresh juices.
Your immune system is extremely sensitive to changes in nutrition, and for it to function at its best, your body needs to receive sufficient amounts of specific vitamins and minerals, including:
• Vitamin E
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin D
• Folic acid
• Vitamin B6
While we live in a time of unprecedented access to potential sources of nutrition, our modern, Western diet often makes it difficult to get the full amounts of these nutrients that you need on a daily basis. Fresh pressed juices are a great way to work around these potential issues, giving you a concentrated shot of vitamins and minerals, especially those that you might not get in your normal diet.
Try combining different immune-boosting foods to get the full effect: certain combinations of vitamins and minerals make it easier for your body to absorb and use nutrients. You can do this on a micro level by mixing various plant sources of vitamin and mineral pairs into your juices––for instance, combining beets with citrus juices enables iron and vitamin C to work together synergistically; and a broccoli and spinach combination helps calcium and magnesium interact beneficially in the body.
3. Increase your consumption of greens, garlic, and onions.
If vitamins and minerals keep your immune system working, phytonutrients give it the extra push it needs to really take off. These chemicals form part of a plant's protective system, and can confer similarly beneficial effects on humans: studies show that they can stimulate slow immune responses, decrease immune overreactions, and reduce bouts of temporary inflammation that can leave the immune system struggling.5 While they're found in many different types of plants, they're often especially concentrated in green veggies, garlic, broccoli, and onions.
If you want to really hit the nutritional jackpot, then go for parsley, dill, and coriander: they're all good sources of phytonutrients as well as natural enemies of undesirable microbes and other nasties, making them powerful aids to immunity.
Plus, remember those IELs? Studies show that eating green vegetables regularly is key for keeping them working. In fact, researchers found that mice fed a vegetable-poor diet for just a few weeks had 80% fewer IELs than when they started the diet, and experienced a corresponding decrease in immunity.6
Fortunately, winter is one of the easiest times to get your greens in: kale, cabbage, onions, Brussels sprouts, and leeks are all in season during the colder months, so you should find it easy to enjoy the benefits of greens this winter.
4. Fall in love with good fats.
In addition to vitamins, your body needs a steady supply of good fats to keep your immune system working properly: vitamins E, A, and D are all fat soluble, which means that your body can only make the most of them if you eat them with fats. Also, omega-3 fatty acids help keep your immune system reacting appropriately while also enhancing the effects of certain types of white blood cells.7
What’s more, your white blood cells in general need saturated fats and cholesterol to work––having too little saturated fat in your diet makes it harder for immune cells to recognize invaders, while having too little cholesterol can reduce the number of immune cells you have overall.8
And on top of that, these good fats are necessary for maintaining a strong gut barrier. They do this in a couple of ways: they help your body absorb vitamins A, D, and K; they work to keep the junctions between the cells of your intestinal wall tight; and they fuel the cells that form the lining of the colon so they can stand strong in the face of undesirable bacteria.9 They also affect the immune system, suppressing over-the-top responses that can leave the gut barrier irritated and vulnerable.
This means that along with those fresh pressed juices, make sure you're getting enough good fats: organic meat and dairy products, olive oil, fish oil, and nut and seed oils are all good sources.
5. Start taking apple cider vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is a nutritional powerhouse, full of natural immune boosters like iron, vitamin C, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Plus, studies show that it can encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome, which, as you'll remember, gives your immune system a serious support system.10
Additionally, the malic acid found in apple cider vinegar can help protect you from some of the most common issues of the season—the acetic acid it contains targets unwanted bacteria and fosters the growth of beneficial bacteria, and its antioxidants can work to prevent temporary bouts of inflammation that could suppress your immune response. And don't forget, apple cider vinegar can also be a good source of probiotics, which come with their own laundry list of benefits for your immune system.
6. Exercise regularly.
You already know that exercising is good for you in general, but you might not know just how positively it impacts your immune system. When you work out, your body circulates white blood cells faster, which can mean that they're more likely to detect and react to potential issues sooner rather than later.
Besides this, doing even moderate cardio workouts a couple times a week can lower your stress levels (which are closely connected to your immune function) and significantly increase your microbial diversity. And since the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the healthier it tends to be, this means that you get a corresponding boost in immunity.11
Finally, exercising regularly can also help promote high quality sleep. And since even moderate sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system and its ability to protect you, this is a benefit that should not be overlooked. All in all, there's really no way to lose by throwing on your running shoes, hitting your yoga mat, or jumping in the pool a couple times a week!
7. Spend time with animals.
Your immune system doesn't come fully stocked with a pre-set knowledge base about what to react to and what to let slide; like the rest of your body, it develops as you grow. One huge influence on how it develops throughout childhood is how much time you spend around animals.12
Research shows that spending time around pets or farm animals can "train" your immune system to react appropriately to stimuli like pollen and dander, and exposure to pets also increases your microbial diversity, since you naturally pick up some bacteria as you touch them and breathe the air around them. All this is fantastic for your immune system, both in terms of keeping it from overreacting and giving it the microbial help it needs to function.
8. Get some fresh air and sunshine.
We've all heard that fresh air is good for you, but it turns out that scientific research actually backs up this common knowledge. Spending time outside increases the diversity of your microbiome by exposing you to new types of bacteria that you might not encounter in your normal day to day, which sets your microbiome up to support your immune system.
Being exposed to different substances outside also helps get your immune system used to reacting appropriately, sparing you from seasonal issues related to pollen or other irritants, and as an added benefit, spending time outdoors in the fresh air typically means that you're getting a little more exposure to sunlight, which helps increase the amount of immune-modulating vitamin D your body produces.13
Spending time outside isn't only good for your microbiome––it also impacts your immune system by switching your brain into "rest and recover" mode, which lowers stress levels. Even more fascinating, being in the great outdoors has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells circulating in your blood. (These basically act as guards in your body: as they circulate in your blood, they look out for invaders, responding quickly to remove them and signaling the body when a larger immune response is needed.)
Clearly, there's a lot you can do to give your immune system that extra edge. Not sure where to start? Consider taking a premium probiotic/prebiotic combo, like that found in the Hyperbiotics Total Wellness Pack. It includes staple supplements PRO-15 and PRO-Dental, as well as immune-supporting probiotics like Hyperbiotics Immune and Prebiotic Powder to feed all those new good guys.
The "hazards of the season" don't have to keep you from enjoying this winter. By giving your immune system the underlying support it needs to really thrive, you can increase your chances of staying well the whole year round.
1. Panda, S., Guarner, F., & Manichanh, C. (2014). Structure and functions of the gut microbiome. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets, 4, 290–299.
2. Dewhirst, F.E, Chen, T., Izard, J., Paster, B.J., Tanner, A.C.R. . . . Wade, W.G. (2010). The Human Oral Microbiome. Journal of Bacteriology, 192(19), 5002-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00542-10
3. Sheridan, B.S., Lefrançoi, L. (2010). Intraepithelial Lymphocytes: To Serve and Protect. Current Gastroenterology Reports, 12(6), 513–521. doi: 10.1007/s11894-010-0148-6
4. Quinten, T., Philippart, J., Beer, T. D., Vervarcke, S., & Driessche, M. V. (2014). Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems? Archives of Public Health, 72(Suppl 1).
5. Bronson, R., Birt, D., Meydani, S.N. (1999). Biomarkers As Early Predictors of Long-Term Health Status and Human Immune Function. Nutrition Reviews, 57(9), 7 - 12. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1999.tb01801.x
6. Li, Y., Withers, D.R., Robers, N.A., Gallagher, A.R., Grigorieva, E.F. . . . Veldhoen, M. (2011). Exogenous Stimuli Maintain Intraepithelial Lymphocytes via Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation. Cell, 147(3), 629–640. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.09.025
7. Fenton, J.I., Hord, N.G., Ghosh, S., Gurzell, E.A. (2013). Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid Immunomodulation and the Potential for Adverse Health Outcomes. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 89(6), 379–390. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2013.09.011
8. Muldoon, M.F., Marsland, A., Flory, J.D. . . . Manuck, S.B. (1997). Immune System Differences in Men with Hypo- or Hypercholesterolemia. Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology, 84(2), 145-9.
9. Scheppach, W. (1994). Effects of Short Chain Fatty Acids on Gut Morphology and Function. Gut, 4(35), S35-S38.
10. Cousin, F.J., Guellec, R., Schlusselhuber, M., Dalmasso, M. . . . Cretenet, M. (2017). Microorganisms in Fermented Apple Beverages: Current Knowledge and Future Directions. Microorganisms, 5(3), 39. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms5030039
11. Campbell, S. C., Wisniewski, P. J., Noji, M., Mcguinness, L. R., Häggblom, M. M., Lightfoot, S. A., . . . Kerkhof, L. J. (2016). The Effect of Diet and Exercise on Intestinal Integrity and Microbial Diversity in Mice. PLOS ONE, 11(3).
12. Fall, T., Lundholm, C., Örtqvist, A. K., Fall, K., Fang, F., Hedhammar, Å, . . . Almqvist, C. (2015). Early Exposure to Dogs and Farm Animals and the Risk of Childhood Asthma. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(11).
13. Miller, J. Gallo, R.L. (2010). Vitamin D and Innate Immunity. Dermatologic Therapy, 23(1), 13-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-8019.2009.01287.x
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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