1) First things first. Make sure you are getting adequate rest and adequate nutrients. Eat balanced meals with a variety of foods including plenty of vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and good fats. Vitamin C and zinc are two important nutrients that increase T-cells in our bodies. T-cells are part of our immune system which help us fight infection and other foreign invaders. Foods rich in vitamin C include papayas, kiwis, strawberries, dark leafy greens (also a source of calcium), broccoli and bell peppers. Foods rich in zinc include oysters, fortified cereals, lean meats, egg yolks, pumpkin/ sunflower seeds and nuts.
2) Probiotics help maintain a strong immune system. Studies show that daily probiotic supplementation increases T-cell count, making you less vulnerable to infections. Since these gut-friendly bacteria are wiped out each time you take antibiotics, it is crucial to replenish your body with probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics. If you are getting adequate amounts of probiotics (from food such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, etc.) and would like to maintain those levels, consider prebiotic foods. Prebiotics help to stimulate growth and activity of probiotics. Examples of prebiotics include artichoke, asparagus, onion, banana, garlic, leek and larch arabinogalactan. One side note: Different probiotic products contain different probiotic strains (which combat different health issues- gut infections, yeast infections, decreased overall immunity, bloating, allergies, etc.). Consider talking to a trained healthcare practitioner to determine the appropriate probiotic supplement for your individual needs.
3) Get your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D not only strengthens bones, boosts your mood and decreases inflammation, it can also help reduce infections. Research has suggested that vitamin D supplementation can decrease the frequency and severity of respiratory infections among children. Other studies show that people with adequate vitamin D are less likely to get sick, and when they do, they tend to recover faster compared to those who are deficient. “Vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses,” says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Before you start popping vitamin D supplements, get your levels checked so the correct dosage is given, if needed. Too much vitamin D puts you at a higher risk for kidney stones.
4) Recurrent infections- colds/ flu, ear infections, herpes/ cold sores, warts, etc.- may be pointing to a stressed system. Mental stress, deep sadness or anger will raise a hormone in our body called cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels will slow down the rate at which immune cells multiply. This leaves us deficient in infection-fighting cells, making us more vulnerable to attack by foreign invaders. Loneliness can also make you more prone to illness. “Lonely people often have high stress levels, which can have a negative effect on the immune system,” says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University. While deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage and other stress-management techniques help to lower cortisol levels temporarily, nutraceuticals and adaptogens may be necessary to restore healthy cortisol levels and rebuild your system. Click here to learn more about unmanaged stress.
5) Do you smoke or drink heavily? Is your body overburdened by toxins or heavy metals? Do you feel that your body is out-of-balance or weaker than it used to be? These factors may prevent your immune system from functioning optimally.