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Published on April 23, 2020

7 Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System

7 Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Did the coronavirus make you reconsider learning how to boost immune system function and your overall health?

I bet the answer is yes.

Unlike never before, the topics of hygiene, immune function, and natural health remedies are amongst the biggest questions inside people’s heads, and for good reason.

Avoiding catching the coronavirus cannot be guaranteed by any strategy or drug just yet, but it is becoming evident that people with a strong and reactive immune system are able to prevent catching it (at times) or minimize the health risks it involves.

I’m not a doctor. Nor do I play one on the Internet. So I’ll leave the public health advice about the big picture stuff to the public health experts.

However, as a trainer with 10 years of experience and a few initials after my name, I do know one thing that is proven by science and backed by my own experience:

It’s always a good idea to do everything you can to have your immune systems firing away at full speed.

People always ask me what they can do to boost their immune systems, and, as much as I love and believe in supplements, herbs, and (when necessary) medical drugs, I always tell those people that the most important thing to boost their immune system is to master the basics first.

These are things that you can do today that don’t cost anything. I recommend you prioritize these basic steps for protecting and improving your health — and potentially your immune system.

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While these actions are always important aspects of maintaining good health, they may be crucial during times of increased risk, like now.

1. Practice Proper Handwashing

The coronavirus, as well as most other viruses, are killed by proper handwashing for 20 seconds with soap or using hand sanitizer that is greater than 60% alcohol.

2. Don’t Smoke

Smokers have an increased risk of catching infections and suffering severe complications from those infections[1] We shouldn’t need more reasons not to smoke, but a time like this highlights the importance even more.

3. Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep is important for health in general, and as a bonus, it may also benefit our immune function. For instance, one study[2] showed those with insomnia had, on average, less immune response to the influenza vaccine, while another study[3] on twins showed those with worse sleep had altered expression of genes related to immune function.

Again, the science in this area may not be robust, but when it comes to overall health, proper sleep helps. In times like these, you should prioritize sleep hygiene.

Since it’s hard to quantify the quality of sleep, I like to use sleep tracking tools that measure your nighttime Heart Rate Variability (HRV). A high HRV has been associated in several studies[4] to an overall lower level of stress.

Companies who sell HRV tracking devices like Apple or Oura claim that, by tracking the HRV average of an individual, combined with resting heart rate and body temperature, they can quite accurately predict[5] whether you’re going to catch a cold or the flu if you get in contact with a source of bacteria or viruses.

We still need more science to back up these claims, but, in my experience, tracking the above-mentioned variables is the best way we have to check on our immune system without having to get a blood analysis.

Also, if you’re isolated at home, that likely means more time on electronics like tablets, phones, and TVs. This may be a good time to invest in blue-light blocking glasses and to look for non-tech related activities to do in the evening, like puzzles, crosswords, or reading an actual book (not an ebook!). Studies[6] show that filtering blue lights in the evening improves sleep and fights insomnia.

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If you’re looking to get better sleep in less time, this article may be able to help.

4. Get the Right Amount of Exercise

Observational studies[7] show that those who exercise tend to suffer fewer infections than those who do not. While those studies have confounding variables, the general consensus is that exercise overall is likely beneficial, with some caveats.

Some studies[8] show bouts of strenuous exertion (>1.5 hours with an average heart rate >75% maximum) may temporarily decrease immune function. In addition, elite athletes who “overtrain” tend to suffer from infections more frequently than others.

My advice? Stay active, but remember that now is not the time to start a new high-intensity exercise routine. If you already enjoy strenuous exercise, consider decreasing the frequency or intensity by 10-20% (this is not scientifically backed but is recommended by some experts). Also, try to focus on home or outside exercise. Shared gym equipment, like weights and cardio machines, may have surfaces that transmit the virus.

5. Manage Your Stress

While acute stressors may temporarily enhance immune function, chronic stressors likely diminish immune function[9]. Worrying about the stock market, stressing about having enough toilet paper, and focusing on the uncertainties of the future can raise cortisol levels, which may negatively impact our immune function. While data is difficult to interpret in this area, one study showed medical students with increasing stress levels before their final exams had decreased function of natural killer cells, the cells that are the “first responders” of our immune system.

We can’t make stressful situations disappear, but we can all take measures to control our response to stress. Meditation, mindfulness exercises, and getting outside and going for walks are all examples of activities that are free and relatively easy to do.

Try starting with a simple morning meditation each day. This guide can help you get started.

6. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

In times of stress, some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. While meditation, nature walks, and mindfulness exercises are likely healthier ways of coping, for some they aren’t enough, and alcohol adds a little something extra. There’s no judging here. We all have to do what we can to get through tough times.

However, studies[10] show a relationship between chronic heavy alcohol consumption and increased susceptibility to infections. The trick is knowing where to draw the line. While there is little science, most experts suggest that a reasonable daily limit is two drinks for men and one drink for women.

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Once the above-mentioned basics are part of your daily routine, you can consider boosting yourself with supplements.

7. Take Supplements

Could taking vitamins, minerals, or other supplements help protect you from COVID-19? Contrary to what you might read on the internet, this is a question that can’t be answered definitively. Here’s what we do know about certain supplements that reportedly have immune-boosting properties.

Vitamin C

For decades, Vitamin C has been used to help prevent the common cold. Among other functions, this vitamin can help maintain healthy skin[11] that provides a barrier to germs and other harmful invaders. In addition, some — but not all — studies suggest it may improve the function of certain white blood cells that fight infection.

While it’s unclear whether taking a Vitamin C supplement is beneficial for COVID-19, for most people there’s no harm in taking up to 2,000 mg per day (the upper limit set by the National Academy of Medicine).

Vitamin D

As both a hormone and a vitamin, Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in our health.

In recent years, people have taken very high doses of Vitamin D with the intention of boosting immunity. But is this an effective tactic? A 2017 systematic review of 25 randomized trials found that taking a Vitamin D supplement seemed to have a mild protective effect against respiratory-tract infections in most people, but provided much greater protection in those who were very deficient in Vitamin D.[12]

If your Vitamin D levels are low, you may have a better chance of staying well if you supplement with 2,000 IU per day (or more, with medical supervision). Many — perhaps even most — people are deficient in vitamin D[13], so it’s probably wise to take a Vitamin D supplement right now, especially if you’re at increased risk for COVID-19.

Of course, your body can make Vitamin D on its own when your skin is exposed to sunlight, so try to get some sun whenever you can. How much sun you need depends on the time of year and your location. A good starting point is 15 minutes of exposure to a large body part (such as the torso or back). Just remember to avoid sunburns, as excess sun exposure carries its own risks.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral involved in the white blood cell response to infection. Because of this, people who are deficient in zinc are more susceptible to cold, flu, and other viruses. One meta-analysis[14] of seven trials found that supplementing with zinc reduced the length of the common cold by an average of 33%. Whether it could have a similar effect on COVID-19 isn’t yet known.

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Taking supplementary zinc may be a good strategy for older people and others at increased risk. If you decide to take zinc, make sure to stay below the upper limit of 40 mg per day.

Magnesium

During the last few years, magnesium (Mg) has been subject of research[15] due to its functionality in the organism. It is one of the most important micronutrients, and therefore its role in biological systems has been extensively investigated. Particularly, Mg has a strong relationship with the immune system, in both nonspecific and specific immune response, also known as innate and acquired immune response.

Studies have shown that most people are deficient in magnesium and, in my personal experience with clients, supplementing with magnesium always brings several health benefits. There are no direct correlations to the supplementation of magnesium and fighting the COVID-19, but there are plenty of studies showing the importance of having an adequate intake of magnesium for overall energy and health.

My advice is to supplement with 400-800mg of magnesium split in two or three daily doses.

The Bottom Line

Obviously, proper nutrition and hydration play a significant role in boosting the immune system, but they deserve a separate article. I suggest you do your own research on what type of food may improve the immune system and what foods increase inflammation within the body.

Meanwhile, following the above-mentioned advice can only result in increasing your chances of going through the next crucial months while being as healthy and as safe as you can.

Featured photo credit: Vitalii Pavlyshynets via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Tobacco Smoke Induces and Alters Immune Responses in the Lung Triggering Inflammation, Allergy, Asthma and Other Lung Diseases: A Mechanistic Review.
[2] Behavioral Sleep Medicine: Is Insomnia a Risk Factor for Decreased Influenza Vaccine Response?
[3] Sleep Research Society: Transcriptional Signatures of Sleep Duration Discordance in Monozygotic Twins
[4] Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology: Subjective stress, objective heart rate variability based stress, and recovery on workdays among overweight and psychologically distressed individuals: a cross-sectional study
[5] Oura: How Oura Can Help Monitor Sickness
[6] NCBI: Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial
[7] Frontiers in Immunology: Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan.
[8] Journal of Applied Physiology: Immune function in sport and exercise
[9] Allery, Asthma & Clinical Immunology: Enhancing versus Suppressive Effects of Stress on Immune Function: Implications for Immunoprotection versus Immunopathology
[10] Alcohol Research: Alcohol and the Immune System
[11] Nutrients: Vitamin C and Neutrophil Function: Findings from Randomized Controlled Trials
[12] BMJ: Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
[13] Cureus: Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012)
[14] JRSM Open: Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage.
[15] Eropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Possible roles of magnesium on the immune system

More by this author

Davide Alfonsi

Celebrity Coach, Author and Mindfulness expert

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Last Updated on August 13, 2020

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

As a mediation teacher, I am constantly confronted with these two questions regarding the benefits of meditation:

1. Why can’t I enjoy the benefits of meditation continuously?

I ask back: Is it maybe because you see mediation as a technique, performance, or some exclusive activity? The answer is: yes!

Or, because your mind is constantly evolving on the past negative attachments and traditional habits? After careful thinking they answer: yes, probably!

Although meditation is very simple and challenging at the same time, in the above mentioned case, it’s not easy to benefit from meditation, especially when approached with the idea that it has to be learned, studied, or applied. Meditation is to be seen as a natural, mental cleansing process that happens on a basis of awareness on a moment-to-moment experience. When that takes place, the benefits of meditation are continuous.

2. What is the purpose of meditation?

The purpose of meditation is to accomplish a level of consciousness for mastering the mind and uniting with the finest, deepest, and subtlest part of yourself as a being.

It is a conscious process of observation of the mind—helping the meditator to understand the structure of its mind and the quality of its content. During this process, countless benefits of a physical, mental, and spiritual/philosophical nature arise for the meditator.

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Meditation as a Fixer and Benefactor

In this article we’ll have a look at the primary and the ultimate benefits of mediation, which improve your body and mind at the same time. For the sake of clarity, readability, and tangible experience, I have separated the benefits into three groups.

You can change just about anything you don’t like about yourself (psychologically, as well as physically) through meditation. However, this is only possible with a specific approach, when your brain allows the benefits of meditation to do their work.

This means not to interrupt the benefit with other thoughts, but to let their effect implement itself in your body and mind. This approach is crucial.

The following exercises will make you feel the benefits of meditation instantly, but the continuity of the benefits of meditation on your body and mind depend on the discipline of your brain, how you manage external stimuli and your thoughts.

Less Physical, More Psychological

Even though the practice of meditation is more psychological and less physical, the first benefit we’re going to experience is both physical as well as mental.

This benefit happens literally immediately, right at the moment of meditation. It is the essence of mediation basically.

The First Benefit of Meditation

The first benefit of meditation is twofold:

  1. Improving inward attention (sharpening the mind)
  2. Relaxation of the body

Let’s do it right now. This benefit consists of only one step, and it is very simple to perform. It goes like this:

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Sit still and pay attention to your exhalation.

That’s it! Technically, the whole journey into the world of mediation begins here and nowhere else. And right here, you benefit from this step in the following way:

When you pay attention to the flow of your exhalation (gentle, deep, effortless exhalation), your body begins with the process of relaxation instantly (your heart rate slows down, your nervous system calms, and tension in your muscles is relieved).

When the nervous system calms, your mind calms down, and, more specifically, less thoughts are produced by your mind. How, exactly? By applying one of the most valuable mental skills—attention—the mind follows the breathing and has no space and time to generate any other thoughts. Only when the attention goes off the breath, other thoughts are constructed, and the mind is accelerating with thought production again.

Keeping the First Benefit Effective and Ongoing

Here you apply the approach of not letting the relaxation and attention process get interrupted; rather let the effects of these benefits implant in your body and mind as deeply as possible.

This is to say, the instant relaxation and inward attention happen at the same time when you follow the flow of your breath. Repeating this process—creating a constant rhythm out of the breathing and the attention—you create a process of meditation.

Keep your attention on the flow of your breath and see how the calmness of body and mind begin to rule your present moment. The longer you stay connected to your breathing, the stronger you’ll feel the benefit. Start with 3-5 minutes at a time without doing anything else, and increase to 10-20 minutes and onwards.

Can you think of a better, simpler and quicker exercise that can relax the body and improve attention in this way, at this speed?

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This benefit takes you to the second one.

The Second Benefit of Meditation

While still working with the first benefit of mediation, you slowly start to see the second benefit of mediation, which is fourfold. I call it the major value of mediation:

  1. Energy (physical and mental strength)
  2. Observance
  3. Peacefulness (stillness, and space of mind for deeper observation)
  4. Patience

Peacefulness is the source of a blissful life. The energy is the fuel to express that blissfulness. Whatever we want to accomplish in life we need: 1) Physical and mental strength, 2) Observance of that energy, 3) Peacefulness—the calmness and stillness that creates space for freedom of being and creative thinking, and 4) Patience for the process of accomplishment.

You can only get creative in thinking and boosted with physical and mental energy when you get in touch with the deepest levels of yourself—when you harmonize your mental and physiological activities. How do you do that? Let’s try it right now:

This step involves the observation of the two separate movements of your breath. After paying attention on your exhalation, you have prepared your body and mind to really see and feel what true peacefulness and true energy means.

1. Energy

Keep your attention on your inhalation (inhaling gently, deeply and lightly) and feel the new energy (new oxygen) flowing in your body. The inhalation is the symbol for aliveness and vitality. It is the the primary act that connects the baby’s body with the outside world after coming out of the womb[1]. Each inhalation is a new opportunity for your body to revive, regenerate, and renew itself.

2. Observance

The observance comes during the process of meditation, enabling you to see the physiological benefits of introducing new energy to your body. Use that benefit by utilizing its effects, and create deeper observation into yourself. With every single inhalation, this observation will enable you to generate even more energy, mentally and physically.

3. Peacefulness

Keep your attention on your exhalation, and feel how, out of the relaxation, peacefulness is spreading throughout your whole body. The exhalation is the symbol for relaxation and peacefulness. Only through meditation can you realize what absolute peacefulness means.

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4. Patience

The meditation delivers the previous benefits to you immediately and opens up the possibility for many other benefits and great virtues. A specific one to mention, which is essential for reaching the ultimate benefits of meditation, is patience. If you have experienced the aforementioned benefits, it means that you have invested a certain amount of patience into mastering yourself and your mind.

The Ultimate Benefits of Meditation

Patience is a key quality when it comes to the ultimate benefits of meditation.

Since the mind is the tool that reveals everything, mediation is the method for the proper utility of the tool.

The above mentioned benefits of mediation lead to the ultimate benefits of mediation—qualities that depict what makes a human being human. As you dwell in a meditative state of being, the following benefits begin to emanate:

  • Diligence: the persistence for righteous effort to reach an intrinsic value; inner strength.
  • Temperance: to express self-control and show excellence in managing the physio-biological and mental necessities
  • Courage: using righteous effort and braveness to look into the weaknesses of yourself and at the hardship of your life, endure it and patiently overcome the obstacles
  • Loving kindness and Compassion – a capacity to care, understand, and tolerate other people’s state of being, wishing them freedom from suffering.
  • Wisdom: the moment when you feel that mediation gives you the feeling and the knowledge that what you do relating to life and practical affairs is just.
  • Equanimity: that puts you in a state of composure, and you experience an ongoing blissful state of being.

These are the 6 ultimate benefits of meditation that put your body and mind in a state of health and balance.

Final Thoughts

Mediation exists to put order in your mind and awaken the best of you, to reconnect you to your goodness and your inborn intelligent capabilities.

Meditation is the window to your true Self. It gives you a panoramic view of your heart’s greatness. It shows you the true meaning of love, freeing you from the dungeons of ignorance and despair. The power of meditation dismantles the evil that’s trying to cloud the beauty of your heart.

Your heart, body, and soul are the bridge over which the challenges of life frequently carry their heavy load. Meditation is the support of that bridge. Make use of that support.

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Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medline Plus: Changes in the newborn at birth

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