How To Train Your Immune System, According To A Functional Medicine Expert
Pandemic. Twindemic. Your immune system is all over the headlines, and it can seem like a scary story. After many years' experience in personalized, functional medicine, I've got a more hopeful story to tell.
At Big Bold Health, I've been diving deep into the emerging research around immunity, and I've come to believe in the real possibility of rejuvenating and personalizing the immune system. The evidence is mounting that we can do so much more than blindly "boost" immune activity.
So what's on the table? Through diet and lifestyle, we are learning how to reduce our body's production of damaged immune cells. We are learning how to eliminate those cells and clear out their messaging. We are learning how to replace those damaged cells with new immune cells, unencumbered by that messaging. This is what it means to immuno-rejuvenate, and the benefits to human health extend far beyond COVID-19.
What it means to "train" your immune system?
The science is underway, and the tools are already at hand. The missing link here is you.
I'm here to tell you that it's possible to take control of your immune function, just like you would take control of your diet or an exercise routine. You can build resilience in your immune response, just like you build muscle.
Your immune system is constantly interpreting signals from the outside world, and your body's ability to efficiently and accurately process that information equates to health. The better the training, the better the response.
Think of yourself as the coach, and the immune cells are your team. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses, and every team can respond to good coaching. Below, I outline how to become a good coach and train your immune cells.
How to train for immunity.
Sleep: Get 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep daily.
Exercise: Prioritize regular, daily activity. Even one hour of brisk walking can have a very positive impact on immune system function.
Lifestyle: Aim for 20 to 30 minutes outdoors each day.
Diet: Nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. No single diet will optimize immune function for everyone, but here are some sensible guidelines:
- Don't overeat.
- Cut back on sweets. High sugar intake can have an adverse impact on the immune system.
- Limit meats and foods that are high in saturated fats.
- Focus on a low-glycemic-load diet that puts minimal stress on insulin and metabolism. The Mediterranean diet is a great example of this approach with its prioritization of vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish, lean meats, beans, and fruits.
- Up your fiber intake, both soluble and insoluble. This means fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains.
- Eat vegetables of many colors to feed your body an array of immune-supportive phytonutrients.
Time-Restricted Eating: Consume all of your food during a 10-hour period, avoiding food for the remaining 14 hours. Time-restricted eating has been found to be helpful in stabilizing both metabolism and immune function.
Four targeted strains to beat bloating and support regularity.*
Microbiome Integrity: A high-fiber diet rich in prebiotic nutrients supports a healthy intestinal microbiome, and that builds gut immunity. There is also good evidence that a well-balanced probiotic supplement can help.*
Supplements: Through extensive research and study over the past 20 years, these nutrients have all proven important to healthy immune function. There is ample evidence that many of these nutrients may not be adequately consumed in the diet, so daily supplementation at the appropriate levels may be advisable. Just be sure to speak with your medical practitioner before adding to your regular routine.
- Vitamin A: 1,500 to 3,000 IU
- Vitamin C: 100 to 1,000 mg
- Vitamin D: 1,000 to 5,000 IU
- Vitamin E: 100 to 400 IU (as a natural mixture of tocopherols and tocotrienols)
- Zinc: 15 to 30 mg
- Magnesium: 50 to 200 mg
- Vitamin B12: 250 to 1,000 mcg
- Vitamin B3 (as niacinamide): 50 to 500 mg
- Quercetin: 200 to 1,000 mg (a bioflavonoid found in buckwheat, onions, apples, grapes, and green leafy vegetables)
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 1,000 to 3,000 mg
Environment: Limit exposure to chemicals in your air, water, and food. This includes the excessive use of over-the-counter drugs, plus home- and personal-care products that can burden your immune system.
It's important to note that we're all individuals with our own unique lifestyles and dietary needs. However, these recommendations can serve as the foundation for any immuno-rejuvenation program.