By Leyla El Moudden
Athletes who are going through a period of intense physical activity may be surprised to learn that increased amounts of physical exercise, particularly intense strength training, heavy lifting, or long-distance running can lower immune response, and especially upper respiratory immune response, by 15-70% in the 2-5 hours that follow a workout.
Although not all of us are athletes, understanding the link between intense exercise and temporarily lowered immunity does indicate that knowing how to increase our immunity, particularly if we are training, can be an important protective step as we move into the cold and flu season. So, what are the steps we can take to increase our immune response in 24 hours?
As far as our immune system is concerned, we are always on a spectrum of stress or relaxation. Our stress rating is like a measuring stick – we have utter bliss on one end of the scale, and absolute critical life-threatening danger on the opposite end. Our stress levels move up and down the scale of stress and relaxation throughout the day. These two ends of the scale are known colloquially as either ‘rest and digest’ or ‘fight or flight’ modes. When we are running to catch a bus because we are late for work for example, we are closer to fight or flight mode. When we are in a warm pressure shower, surrounded by infrared light and chilled out music, we are more in rest and digest mode. These two modes have a strong influence on the activity of our immune system.
The more time we spend closer to fight or flight mode, the lower our natural immune response can become. Modern life has reduced our access to rest and digest time by keeping us in a constant state of alertness. When we are alert, stressed, and agitated, our bodies reduce our immune response, sending energy and nutrition to our muscles and adrenal glands in preparation for facing a danger. Inducing a state of relaxation is a prime way to increase our natural immune response, which is why hunkering down on the couch and watching your favorite movie or TV program with a warm drink or bowl of soup seems so appealing when we feel a cold coming on.
As tempting as it may be to continue to work, exercise, or take care of chores when you feel the beginnings of a cold coming on, resting is more helpful from an immune perspective. But what exactly should we be aiming for when trying to enter a relaxed state? A relaxed state is the sensation we feel approximately three days into a beach holiday – it’s the moment we truly switch off from work, slow down our pace and stop over-thinking.
With no sunny beach around, we can use other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or listening to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) sounds to help the body calm down, induce a state of relaxation, and increase our natural immune response.
2- REDUCE CALORIES
Fasting has been shown to increase immune cell activity. Research investigating the effects of fasting and immunity has observed a correlation between a reduction in calorific intake and an increase in the immune cells responsible for identifying and killing off unwanted infections.
For the purpose of immune health, fasting is the act of reducing the amount of effort that the body must make in order to absorb the benefits of food. There should be a reduction of calories with an increase in nutrients, and that means lots of fresh organic vegetable soups and smoothies and nutrient dense broth made from organic meats or wild fish, eaten in place of normal meals for a set amount of time. This might be between ten hours and three days depending on the needs of the individual.
Included in this form of fasting is the elimination of foods that require a lot of energy to digest, such as thick cuts of meat, gluten rich food such as pasta and dairy products, which can create unwanted mucus for many people.
3- INCREASE NUTRIENTS
Immune cells are intelligent proteins that require nutrients to remain healthy and activate. When we consume highly processed and packaged foods, our immune system is occupied with protecting us from the immediate dangers of what we have eaten.
When thinking about a short-term immune enhancement diet, we are fortunate because most of the foods that are good for immunity such as leafy green vegetables, seafood, and organic beef stock contain many of the nutrients we need to support our immune response, particularly the immune system superstar nutrients – vitamins A, C, D, zinc and selenium.
If we think of electricity as being the power that makes our lights go on, these nutrients are the power that makes our immune systems shine brightly. Mental, physical, and emotional stress will deplete these nutrients, which may be one of the reasons for the close relationship between high stress and lowered immunity.
Thankfully, when we are feeling like we are about to get sick, we tend to crave warming soups and stews, which makes it easier to get these nutrients into our diet. A mix of leafy greens, tomato, yellow and green peppers, shellfish, mushrooms, eggs, nuts (particularly Brazil nuts) and wild salmon are also all superb options. You could also go a step further and take a well-rounded immune care supplement such as Enzymedica’s Immune Max™ which contains highly absorbable forms of essential immune care nutrients (vitamin C, D3 and Zinc) as well as black elderberry, a potent natural anti-inflammatory.
4- ELIMINATE SUGAR
Our white blood cells are some of our most essential immune cells and sugar reduces their activity by as much as 50%. Not good!
Sugar is also a pro-inflammatory ingredient, and will increase any swelling, inflammation, pain, or bacteria in the body. In addition, it depletes our ability to sleep while increasing our sensations of stress and anxiety, which further lowers our immune response.
Cut out as much sugar as you can, and if you must have something sweet, opt for a nutrient dense sweetener with added immune benefits such as raw organic honey to get that sweet flavout without upsetting those critical immune cells.
When our immune system is activated, a lot of waste is produced in the fight between the invader and the immune system as the immune system inflames, then clears the inflammation surrounding invading pathogens.
Every immune response produces waste, which is exported out of the body by our blood circulation and our elimination systems – sweating, bowel movements, and urinating. All these systems need water to work effectively. Even mild dehydration can slow down the effectiveness of our natural elimination.
The best ways to improve hydration is to choose drinks such as water, herbal teas, and coconut water whilst avoiding dehydrating drinks like alcohol, energy drinks, and caffeinated teas and coffees.
So, there we have it. If you find yourself feeling like you have a cold coming on, rest and relax, increase nutrients, reduce calorie intake, and drink plenty of fluids to effectively increase your immune response in 24 hours.
Leyla El Moudden is an experienced herbalist and naturopath, specializing in skin and digestive health. A key educater and practitioner support for Enzyme Science™, she also runs her own client practice. Leyla is a contributing editor for IHCAN magazine, and a guest contributor to Holistic Therapist Magazine, Indigo Herbs and Amchara.