Staying Healthy: Maintaining a Strong Immune System
Apr 27, 2020 01:51PM
By Kourtney Jason
The immune system is the main line of defense against illness and infections, says Dr. Shideh Chinichian, Family Medicine physician with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group (dignityhealth.org). “When your immune system functions properly, you don’t notice it working hard to protect you. So on a day that you are feeling well, you can thank your immune system,” she says.
By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can strengthen it and keep it in great condition, which will protect you against viruses and bacteria. “If you have a weak immune system you will constantly get sick and feel unwell. A robust and well-functioning immune system is important during the cold and flu seasons, and especially currently with the COVID-19 outbreak,” Dr. Chinichian says. “Without a healthy immune system, you pick up infections more easily and the effects are often more debilitating. Thus, it is best to keep your immune system strong, so it can keep you strong.”
One of the best ways to try to strengthen your immune system is to follow a healthy lifestyle, says Dr. Anuradha Shanmugham of Marshall Family Medicine and Chief Wellness Officer for Marshall Medical Center (marshallmedical.org). “Some of the ways you can do this are exercise regularly, drink lots of water (at least six to eight glasses per day), make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep every night, and follow a well-balanced diet, which includes at least five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. Make sure to include these foods in your diet, such as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, berries like raspberries and blackberries, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and other fruits like oranges and kiwi.” Dr. Shanmugham says.
Your immune system will also get stronger if you stop smoking, limit alcohol consumption, try to find healthy ways to decrease stress, take time everyday to do activities you enjoy, prioritize taking good care of your mental and emotional health, stay up-to-date on all your immunizations (including the flu shot), wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and maintain a healthy weight.
Dr. Chinichian recommends drinking three to five cups of green tea daily, which is excellent for boosting your immune system due to its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, and says, “it is best to choose organic green tea when possible,” she says.
In addition to the choices we make when it comes to our sleep, dietary and lifestyle habits, certain vitamin and mineral supplements can also be helpful, especially if you are deficient in some vitamins and minerals, Dr. Chinichian says.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS
Vitamins and minerals can help support a diet that isn’t as well balanced as it should be. “Unfortunately, as a society, we are not eating as well as we should,” says Dianna Singh, an integrative health coach and owner of Cameron Park Vitamins (cameronparkvitamins.com).The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to include natural sources of these in your diet, Dr. Shanmugham says. “If you feel you are not getting enough micronutrients in your diet, then it’s time to take a multivitamin daily and you can discuss this with your doctor,” she says.
To help support a healthy, well-balanced and anti-inflammatory diet, you can consider some supplements to strengthen your immune system. “These include vitamins A, C, D, and E. In addition, zinc, an essential mineral, has shown to boost immunity with recent promise in reducing the severity of the coronavirus infection,” Dr. Chinichian says. “Probiotics are another helpful supplement to consider, which increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Probiotics can help restore your normal gut flora and support your immune function, especially if one has taken antibiotics. Other supplements to consider are elderberry, garlic, ginger and peppermint, which you can obtain in various forms.”
It’s important to note the Food and Drug Administration does not verify whether supplements contain what they claim or if they may be contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Dr. Chinichian says to be sure to shop from reputable sources and look for supplements that, “offer a quality program that performs enhanced testing exceeding FDA requirements for their gold and silver partners,” she says. “You can search for brands with gold and silver designation, which indicates they have gone through extensive testing to ensure high quality. It is best to work with your healthcare provider in making recommendations that are specific to your needs.”
Singh also suggests going to the mom and pop stores in your neighborhood that are long-established. “They are very well educated with the companies and get constant training,” she says. “If taking supplements is all new to you, we suggest beginning with just one, and to take it according to directions on bottle. And please start with your doctor’s advice and direction.”
She also suggests taking a good pre/pro-biotic. “It’s a great place to start to nourish the good bacteria in your gut,” she says.
Laura Ryan, product consultant and supplements specialist at Sunrise Natural Foods (sunrisenaturalfoods.net), says there as many supplements that are used particularly during cold and flu season. “Certain supplements are useful year-round, such as Vitamins C, D and A, medicinal mushrooms, zinc, and probiotics to name a few. Many of these can be obtained from a healthy diet and only need to be boosted when faced with a health challenge,” she says. “It is good to remember that your immune system is the first line of defense against disease and it takes more that a supplement to keep it working.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF WASHING YOUR HANDS
Now more than ever, it’s important to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on how to wash your hands, which will help to prevent people from getting sick and prevent spread of illness and germs. “There are the five important steps the CDC recommends,” Dr. Shanmugham says. “First, wet your hands with clean, running water and then apply soap. Lather your hands thoroughly with the soap on the back of your hands and also in the spaces between your fingers and under your nails. Scrub all parts of your hand for at least 20 seconds. To time yourself, you can hum the entire ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice. Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean running water. Then, dry your hands with a clean towel or you can air-dry them. Do not leave them wet.”
There are valid reasons why we should all follow these steps when we wash our hands. “When you lather and scrub your entire hands, it causes friction and the process helps lift dirt and microbes from your skin,” Dr. Shanmugham says. “It is important to include high contamination areas for microbes, like the space under the nails, when scrubbing hands. According to the CDC, there is evidence to suggest that washing your hands for at least 20 seconds helps remove more germs from hands compared to washing it for a time period shorter than this. Following this very simple, yet highly effective, way of good hand washing hygiene can go a long way in preventing the spread of many infections.”
To stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community, it’s recommended to wash your hands often throughout the day. “Repeat this process after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food,” Dr. Chinichian says. “Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs, but if soap and water is not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep in mind, hand sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs and may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They may also not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals.”
Not all supplements are created equal, says Anna Rashidi, Pharm.D., compounding pharmacist at Innovative Compounding Pharmacy (icpfolsom.com). “When choosing a supplement, consumers should look for high-quality brands that have created their products based on efficacy and safety studies, and test their products like a drug manufacturer would test the prescription product,” she says. "To strengthen your immune system, try zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, quercetin, probiotics, N-acetyl cysteine, copper, phytomulti (multivitamin) and omega-3. L-theanine, which is an essential amino acid, can help to reduce stress and increase relaxation without causing drowsiness. We also recommend taking a melatonin supplement to assist with sleep. It happens to be a great anti-inflammatory agent as well.”
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