Protecting your immune function is one of the key strategies for safe-guarding your health, aging more gracefully, and preventing chronic illnesses.
While there is a lot of faulty health advice out there (much of it not based in science or fact) in this blog I’ll bust a few myths and share what I know from the most recent science and clinical trials.
Let’s look at a few of the most common myths and truths about your immune system, what you need to do to stay healthy all year round, and what to avoid.
1: Eating more fruits and vegetables can keep your immune system strong
Fact. It is not simply an old wive’s tale that eating your fruits and veggies will keep you strong. Studies have shown that people who eat them regularly tend to be healthier than those who do not. They offer a range of nutrients that can help your immune system fight viruses and bacteria.
Try to eat organic fruit and vegetables of all the colors of the rainbow every day so you can ensure you’re consuming a variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals, or plant-based nutrients, to fight off disease.
2: Vitamins and supplements can help ward off illness and make you feel better faster
This is partly true. A good daily multivitamin can help fill in any gaps in an otherwise healthy diet, but you can’t supplement your way out of a poor diet. Supplements can however help with nutritional deficiencies but this only works if you have high quality supplements. Use only medical grade supplementations that are tested and vetted by medical professionals. Discount and even health food store vitamins don’t always contain what they promise and there is no way to vet the quality.
I suggest supplementing under the guidance of a practitioner who is trained in functional or integrative medicine. They can prescribe the proper supplements based on your actual nutritional deficiencies, advise you on any interactions, and let you know which vitamins should be taken short term or which ones are safe to take long term.
3: Getting enough sleep can boost your immune system
True. There’s a strong link between sleep and a healthy immune system. The main point to remember is that it should be high-quality sleep—that is, deep sleep that offers the body and mind refreshment. During deep sleep BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor is naturally released which regenerates brain cells.
Most studies agree that the average adult needs 8 hours a night. However, recent studies have also shown that sleeping too much can have a negative effect on your health.
Occasional insomnia should not be an issue, but if it becomes chronic, you should take steps to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. Otherwise, sleep deprivation can make you feel run down, weaken your immune system and lead to cognitive and even gut issues.
Get into a good sleep routine of regular bedtimes and rising times, and see what a difference it can make to your health.
4: Covering your mouth when you cough can keep germs at bay
False. This can help you stop the spread of illness, but do little to help you ward off illness unless everyone in your household and immediate environment does the same.
Don’t forget that viruses like cold and flu germs can also survive on a range of surfaces such as doorknobs, phones, countertops and more. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face, especially nose, mouth, and eyes while sick and when around sick people.
5: A positive mindset can boost your immune system
True. A good outlook may be good for your health. One study of law students showed that their immune system was directly affected by their thoughts about their studies.
If they felt things were going well, they had a better immune system. When they were worried, their immune system slowed. Therefore, looking on the bright side is not just good for you mental health, but your physical health as well. A positive mindset also means positive emotions which can lower internal stress and keep the stress hormone cortisol in check.
Now that you’ve separated myth from fact in relation to your immune system, you can use what you’ve learned to help strengthen your immune system and ward off disease.