3 Ways To Improve Immunity, From An Infectious Disease Specialist
In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, it might be easier to overlook the severity of the flu, but in reality, the two aren't that different. In fact, according to infectious disease specialist Sandra Kesh, M.D., there have been about 16,000 flu-related deaths in this season alone.
That number is not meant to induce fear but rather to remind us just how important it is to keep our immune systems healthy. Kesh gave us her top three tips, which emphasize both the mind and the body, to help improve immunity naturally:
Stress can affect everything from brain health to body weight, and of course, immunity. Kesh said when her patients are otherwise doing everything right but continue to get sick, "It's almost always because of stress."
This is because when cortisol levels aren't kept within their normal range, whether in early childhood or throughout aging, it can physically disrupt the body's healing properties1.
"From slowing wound healing to diminishing the protective effects of vaccines to increasing your susceptibility to infection," Robin Berzin, M.D., once told us, "stress is the ultimate immune-modulator."
Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
While this partially overlaps with stress reduction, Kesh said it also includes "getting enough sleep and eating well."
Allergist and immunologist Heather Moday, M.D., told mbg "Sleep is when your immune system repairs itself, the mitochondria clean themselves up, and the liver does most of its detoxification." Which is also why our bodies feel so run down when we’re sick. Getting a full seven to eight hours each night can help keep our bodies alert to any dangerous pathogens.
Studies have proved that eating nutrient-rich diets, high in fruits, vegetables, and other anti-inflammatory foods, has a direct impact on our body's immune response and can help protect against diseases2.
Practice balance when it comes to sanitizing
During flu season, it's not impractical to wipe down heavily trafficked surfaces, like doorknobs and airplane trays, but "overdoing the cleaning can be just as bad as underdoing it," Kesh said. "You have to strike that balance."
It might seem scary, but some exposure to germs is good for our immune systems. "If you live in a sterile environment," Kesh said, "you will be more susceptible to infections when exposed."
So yes, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when necessary, but unless you've touched something visibly dirty, you're about to eat a meal, or you've gone to the bathroom, you probably don't need to rush to the sink. "If you wash your hands 50 times a day, your skin will get dry and cracked," Kesh said, "which is a perfect portal of entry for infection."
When it comes to flu season, though, there's only so much control we can have. Practicing regular infection control methods and taking care of your overall well-being (from the brain to the body) are currently the best, natural methods for boosting immunity.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.