Your immune system works constantly and consistently to protect you on a daily basis. Fighting off viruses and defending your body against disease and illness is no easy or simple feat.
In our current climate, the goal shared by billions of people across the globe is to limit the infections. At the societal level, reducing physical interaction in normally busy hubs reduces transmission between people. Additionally, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself – by boosting and supporting your immune system.
The Immune System
The immune system is your body’s defense complex, protecting you against disease. It is comprised of a multi-level biological infrastructure designed to detect a broad range of pathogens, such as viruses, distinguishing them from the body’s healthy tissue. Once identified, your immune system works to neutralize these pathogens so that they are no longer a threat.
Building and sustaining a strong immune system takes constant and consistent effort; there is no silver bullet. Following a Paleo lifestyle can prove to benefit and support your immune system in multiple ways.
Factors to Support Immunity:
Nutrient Rich Foods
It may come as no surprise that the same nutrient sense, low inflammatory foods you have come to enjoy on your Paleo diet are the same foods that will help you lose weight, feel healthy, and look great, are the ones that will help your body against toxic pathogens.
There is no single food or diet that has been shown to cure or prevent disease, but malnutrition can impair your ability to fight off illness and infection. By malnutrition, we are referring to a lack of vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients.
A well-formulated Paleo diet is rich in fresh, local produce, ethically-raised animal products, herbs, nuts, and seeds. These foods benefit the immune system by providing an array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
The best thing you can do to boost your immune system is to regularly consume seasonal, local, humanely raised, pesticide free real food. Fresh produce contains hundreds of phytochemicals that are extremely beneficial in disease prevention.
Vegetables and fruits are an excellent source of carotenoids that boost the activity of the white blood cells called lymphocytes. If you can’t find fresh produce, opt for frozen, and even canned. Include copious amounts of dark leafy greens.
Grass-fed beef and other red meats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and more. They also contain immune supportive minerals like iron and zinc. Bone broth can help detoxify the body and cleanse the liver. It helps to keep your gut healthy, and can also reduce inflammation and fight respiratory infections in the body.
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A note on garlic: Garlic is tasty and healthy. Additionally, it possesses antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that garlic can inhibit some flu viruses. however, there is no evidence right now that garlic can help prevent the coronavirus.
Zinc is a mineral with anti-viral properties. Furthermore, zinc can ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold.
The recommended daily intake of zinc is 11mg for men, and 8mg for women (12mg if pregnant).
Food sources of zinc include:
- Meat – beef, pork (30-40% of the daily value (DV)
- Chicken (20% DV)
- Shellfish – oysters (200% DV), crab (60%), mussels and shrimp (10-15%)
- Eggs (5% per egg)
- Potatoes (9% for a large potato)
- Cashews (15% per 1-ounce serving)
- Seeds – hemp (30%), pumpkin, and sesame seeds
- Avocado (12% per medium avocado)
- Milk (9% per cup) and cheese (if dairy is part of your Paleo diet)
When people are afraid, they can easily be convinced that supplements prevent or treat disease and there are many supplements being promoted as immune-boosting and cure-all’s
When it comes to flu-like diseases, including our current crisis, there is no proof that supplements actually work.
That being said, some supplements may have a limited benefit:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Elderberry extract
- Garlic supplements
Vitamin C protects the immune system and helps to fight off infections. Vitamin C is most bioavailable when consumed from whole foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi, etc.
Zinc can reduce the severity and duration of colds caused by viruses. This means that even if you have contracted a virus, there can be a mitigating effect on the respiratory disease that develops in the upper airway.
Vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of a respiratory infection from flu-like viruses in people who start out deficient. If you live in a cooler climate or have been tested and find you are low on vitamin D levels despite eating foods with vitamin D and getting outdoors, consider supplementing.
Drinking water throughout the day may help boost your immunity. When you are properly hydrated, your digestion is more effective, your joints stay lubricated, and your body’s natural detoxifying and perspiring functions perform as they should. Staying hydrated helps the body eliminate toxins naturally through sweat and urination. It helps the cells take in nutrients and remove waste.
Move Your Body
Daily movement and exercise form part of the Paleo lifestyle. Regular exercise, even mild, has been shown to boost the immune system. Consistent, daily movement can be as simple as taking a 30-minute walk. Studies have even concluded that elderly people who exercise regularly have immune systems as strong as those decades younger.
Sleep deprivation has a detrimental effect on the immune system. Our modern lifestyle has led to a decrease in quality sleep time, and it has been taking its toll on society. The exact mechanisms are an area of active investigation. By simply optimizing your sleep, both in quantity and quality, your body will be better prepared to handle whatever is thrown at it om a daily basis.
For tips on how to get better sleep, read on here
Just like sleep-deprivation, stress has become a hallmark of modern living. Stress compromises the effectiveness of the immune system. The negative emotional response to perceived stress leads to hormonal and other changes that weaken immune function.
While easier said than done, there are several things you can do to reduce stress. Some have already been discussed - getting a good night’s sleep is extremely beneficial along with daily movement, walking counts. If you can get out to a park or a place with green and trees, even better.
For more on stress management techniques, read on here
Avoid Alcohol & Smoking
Alcohol has may have a place in your Paleo diet as an occasional indulgence. However, consumption of alcohol reduces the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Alcohol disrupts immune pathways thus impairing the body’s ability to defend against infection.
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to adverse immune-related health effects such as increased susceptibility to pneumonia and acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS).
Smoking slowly kills your lungs. No extra detail needed!!
It seems logical that to avoid the risk of infection, stay away from infected people. This can be really challenging when a virus has an incubation period of 2 weeks. This could mean that people are unaware they are carrying the virus, are out in public, and infecting others. This is why so many events have been canceled, why schools are closing, and why many people have started working from home.
While social distancing makes sense, humans require connection and thrive with community. A Paleo lifestyle encourages social interaction and sharing your life with others. In the current environment, it is truly beneficial that digital social networks exist. These can, in many ways, help you feel close to your family, friends and loved ones. Make sure to stay connected and take advantage of the networks modern technology has afforded you.
Although following the principles of a Paleo lifestyle will not prevent you from catching the virus, the dietary and lifestyle factors encouraged by Paleo proponents can play a role supporting your and you immune system in fight and or perhaps reducing the severity of symptoms and outcomes.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com