Living through a pandemic can be tricky for us all. Not only are we trying to protect our loved ones, but we’re also trying to stay safe and healthy for ourselves. With the challenge of uncertainty and in some cases, chronic illnesses, stress can start wearing us thin. For these reasons, it is crucial that we do our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. On this blog post, we will take a deeper dive into how we can boost our immunity with some helpful tips while also focusing on ways to help manage our stress levels.
What is the immune system?
The immune system protects us from foreign toxins and/or substances. It is made up of white blood cells, antibodies, and the lymphatic system. The immune system’s role is to predominately fight against infection. Two of the main parts of the immune system include the innate system (born with) and the adaptive immune system (developed from exposure). There are many conditions that can cause a weakened system which include, but are not limited to: smoking, drugs, alcohol, medications, frequent infections, age, environmental factors, poor nutrition, stress, and sleep deprivation. We also know that certain functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can cause even more stress to our lifestyle. This isn’t news to IBS warriors as we know how impactful stress can be to our gut and brain via the gut-brain axis.
Nutrition and immunity
Luckily, there are many things that we can do to help boost our immunity and manage our stress levels. Consuming certain foods together rather than alone has been shown to help fight against deficiencies thereby increasing our immunity. Consuming protein, vitamin C, D, selenium, zinc, and iron all play a role in increasing our immunity as well. Furthermore, keeping our microbes (located mostly in our gut) healthy and thriving can also protect our immune system. Fortunately, there are plenty of foods that can help maintain gut integrity including prebiotics and probiotics. Great sources of prebiotics are found in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and are mostly found in fibrous foods such as grains, vegetables, and fruits. Probiotics, on the other hand, are living strains of bacteria that may provide health benefits and are found in supplements and some foods such as yogurt and fermented products. If you have IBS, then you are most likely aware of how beneficial prebiotics and probiotics are. One great and easy way to get probiotics into your diet is through a deliciously low FODMAP baked nutrition bar called “BelliWelli.” My personal favorite, Birthday Cake, has roughly 500 million CFU probiotics. Not only are their bars tasty but also minimally processed and easy on the gut.
Sleep and immunity
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended per night. When there is a lack of sleep, this can contribute to an increase in leukocytes which can cause infection and inflammation. Continuous loss of sleep can cause inflammation and a decrease in immune function (1). Some helpful tips to relax before bedtime may include spraying a lavender scent on your pillow, using a warm blanket, and reading before turning off the lights. It may also help to create a bedtime routine so that you do not feel rushed to go to sleep.
Stress and immunity
Chronic stress can cause high cortisol levels thereby weakening anti-inflammatory responses on the immune system. This is what can lead to chronic infections and inflammatory diseases (2). There are many ways that can be helpful with managing your stress. Some techniques that you might find helpful may include listening to music, speaking to a therapist, reading a favorite book or magazine, and even meditating.
These past couple of years have not been easy for us which is why it is even more important to have compassion and patience within ourselves. Stress can negatively affect our immunity and should therefore be worked on to manage and prevent adverse effects to our health and well-being.
- Asif, N., Iqbal, R., Nazir, CF. (2017). Human immune system during sleep. American Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 6(6):92-96.
- Bae, YS., Shin, EC., Bae, YS., Van Eden, W. (2019). Editorial: Stress and Immunity. Frontiers in immunology, 10, 245. https://doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.00245