How to Boost Your Immunity

Your immune system is your body’s department of defense. It prevents and deals with foreign invasion (read disease-causing microbes or pathogens) and quashes guerrilla forces (read free radicals) inside.

For the first, it utilizes an army of specialized immune cells and for the second, it relies on a special unit of chemicals known as antioxidants. There’s a third critical unit – gut bacteria – that needs to be managed just right to keep the pathogens away; else, they could turn rogue and help the free radicals.

So to strengthen your immunity, you need to make sure you keep the number of the immune cells consistently high, add to your antioxidant stores, and improve your gut bacterial makeup.

Yes, it’s easily doable. No, it does not involve popping in megadoses of vitamin C or zinc supplements, certainly not when you already have a cold. Here’s what you really need to do.

1. Eat Healthy Foods and Herbs

Every food you eat has at least one nutrient to offer your immune system. But it’s best to choose whole, natural, and fresh foods to get a bang for your buck (or calories). So if you have always had a rainbow on your plate, you may happily skip immune-boosting supplements. If you haven’t, start now. Nutrient-wise, you need:

  • Vitamins like A, B6, C, D, E, and K
  • Minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium
  • A variety of antioxidants and plant chemicals to fight the free radicals – mostly found in fruits, veggies, and herbs
  • Proteins to build the antibodies and other immune agents and to help in recovery
  • Prebiotics or fiber to feed the good gut bacteria
  • Probiotics to increase the number of the good gut bacteria

But whatever you eat, make sure it is not refined or processed and it suits your metabolic personality. Here’s a short list of common immune-boosting foods you could eat.

  • Light and Quick
    • Fruits: Oranges, limes, lemons, blueberries, papaya, and kiwi
    • Veggies: Spinach and sweet potatoes
    • Nuts and seeds: Almonds and sunflower seeds
    • Animal product: Eggs, salmon, and sardines
    • Prebiotics: Jerusalem artichoke, onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, oats, and flax seeds.
    • Probiotics: Pickled cucumber, buttermilk, and cottage cheese.
    • Herbs: Aloe vera, amalaki, asparagus, brahmi, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, guduchi, guggulu, holy basil, kantakari, kapikacchu, long pepper, punarnava, turmeric, and vidari
  • Slow and Steady
    • Fruits: Limes, lemons, blueberries
    • Veggies: Broccoli, spinach, and shiitake mushrooms,
    • Nuts and seeds: Sunflower seeds
    • Animal product: eggs, turkey meat
    • Prebiotics: Jerusalem artichoke, onion, garlic, leek, barley, asparagus, apples, and flax seeds.
    • Probiotics: Small amounts of freshly made and diluted yogurt, buttermilk, tempeh, and goat’s cheese.
    • Herbs: aloe vera, amalaki, arjuna, bhunimba, brahmi, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, guduchi, guggulu, holy basil, kantakari, kapikacchu, long pepper, manjistha, neem, punarnava, and turmeric
  • Intense
    • Fruits: Limes, blueberries, and papaya
    • Veggies: Broccoli, sweet potatoes, and shiitake mushrooms
    • Nuts and seeds: Sunflower seeds
    • Animal product: Turkey meat
    • Prebiotics: Dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke, cooked onions, cooked leek, barley, asparagus, apples, oats, and flax seeds
    • Probiotics: Tempeh, cottage cheese, and soft cheese
    • Herbs: Aloe vera, amalaki, arjuna, asparagus, bhunimba, brahmi, cardamom, raw ginger, guduchi, kapikacchu, manjistha, neem, and vidari

Okay now, raise your glass of water and toast to your strong defense! Yes, water. Or herbal teas. Or juicy fruits (not fruity juices!). The lymphatic system, a major part of your immune system, needs water to function well. Drink some more if you have a predominantly light and quick metabolic personality. What with all that movement and your high metabolic rate, you get dehydrated easily.

2. Focus on Your Digestion

What good is choosing immune-boosting foods if you aren’t digesting well and your body is starved of nutrients? Good digestion ensures that anything you consume is broken down, absorbed, and the unused waste is eliminated efficiently, leaving no toxic residue in the body. It’s poor digestion that makes hoarders (of toxins) out of slow and steady metabolic personalities, making them feel heavy, lethargic, and, generally, unmotivated. If that’s you, follow this diet and routine. But even if that’s not you, pay close attention. Digestion is the first site where you notice imbalance.

3. Sleep Enough

Do you hear us, intense and light and quick metabolic personalities? Sleep is no waste of time. Your army needs rest to fight better. It needs some respite from all that stress of staying awake. Plus when you are sleeping, your body produces and releases a special group of proteins called cytokines. They sort of serve as messengers that keep your body aware of any sign of trouble from outside (remember the pathogens?) and inside (the free radicals). When you aren’t sleeping enough, you have fewer cytokines and a weaker resistance to disease. Don’t rejoice yet over-sleepers (read slow and steady)! Oversleeping too can upset your biological clock (circadian rhythm) and make you prone to disease.

So if you’ve been skimping on your zs, or catching too many of them, here’s some golden advice on how to sleep right for your type.

  • Light and Quick
    • Light exercise during the day
    • Gentle unwinding activities in the evening
    • A heavyish dinner before sundown
    • Meditation
    • Sleep before 10 pm
  • Slow and Steady
    • Heavy exercise during the day and early evening
    • A light dinner before sundown
    • A hot bath before bed
    • Sleep slightly after 10 pm
  • Intense
    • Moderate exercise during the day
    • A moderate dinner before sundown
    • A cold bath before bed
    • Meditation
    • Sleep at 10 pm

4. Work Out

If you want to stay healthy not just now but well into your old age also, sign up for regular workout. Elderly people who exercise regularly have better immune responses. There could be several reasons, from better blood circulation and more good gut bacteria to reduced stress and reduced blood glucose. Regular exercise has been seen to reduce upper respiratory tract infections like cold and flu, sinusitis, and tonsillitis! If you are of a slow and steady metabolic personality, stop counting reasons and take a leap. You are naturally prone to these infections. If you have any of the other metabolic personalities, work out nonetheless, but don’t overstrain.

  • Light and Quick: Practice strength training and rhythmic exercises like walking and dancing.
  • Slow and Steady: Practice cardio exercises like running, aerobics, and sun salutations.
  • Intense: Engage in friendly sports. Swimming is a good option.

5. Lower Your Stress

The stress hormone, cortisol, reduces the number of your white blood cells and increases inflammation. So no questions asked, lower your stress levels.

Oh we know it’s easier said than done. But trust us on this, once you get onto the right stress management program for your metabolic personality type, it’s a picnic! (That’s an idea! Picnicking outdoors, munching on wholesome fruits, reading an old favorite, soaking up the sun, running with your breeze, laughing without a care … you get the drift. Don’t you feel your stress lifting already?)

You don’t need to go to far-off retreats or climb a peak to find inner peace. You can do yoga, pranayama, and meditation anywhere anytime. Just make sure it’s right for you.

Meditation’s effect on stress isn’t temporary. It can change the gene expression related to stress, inflammation, and wound healing. It can also keep you young longer.

  • Light and Quick
    • Yoga: Forward bend and child’s pose
    • Pranayama: Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana)
    • Meditation: Focus on images of lakes, oceans, mountains, and fire. You may need to chant a mantra or use an affirmation to keep your senses engaged. Don’t force your restless mind to stop wandering. Simply bring it back to the image or the mantra when you become aware of it wandering.
  • Slow and Steady
    • Yoga: Fast-paced sun salutations
    • Pranayama: Bellows breath (bhastrika)
    • Meditation: If you focus on an image, let it be of fire, wind, or a clear sky. Walking meditation is also good to work off your lethargy. As you walk, focus on the movement of your feet and the sensation on the sole of your feet. Alternate meditation with pranayama.
  • Intense
    • Yoga: Cobra pose and camel pose
    • Pranayama: Sitali breath
    • Meditation: Take a cold bath before you sit to meditate. Then take even breaths and focus on images of lakes, forests, or a blue sky.

6. Get Some Sun

Among the many many critical things the sunshine vitamin (D) does in your body, it also stands for your Defense. People fall sick more in the colder months because their skin doesn’t sponge up enough D from the sun rays. Low levels make you prone to infection as well as autoimmune conditions (the intense people suffer from an immune system overkill the most).

So if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from eggs, cheese, and fatty fishes (you probably aren’t), expose your bare skin to the sun. You needn’t worry about a tan. Your body produces vitamin D in just half the time it takes to tan. If you are of an intense metabolic personality, push the sun-soaking routine to the earlier part of the day, around 10 say, and follow up with cooling foods and activities.

7. Maintain Personal Hygiene

“Ugh, really!? As if I didn’t know!”

Yes, yes, we are keeping it short. Everybody knows this. Just a quick recap. Wash your hands with soap or clean them with a sanitizer after using the toilet; cover your mouth while sneezing; brush your teeth; and take regular baths. If you want to go the extra mile, however, also try oil pulling for oral hygiene and oil massage to improve blood circulation and flush out toxins.

Oil Pulling

  • Put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth.
  • Swish it around for 15 minutes, making sure it touches every area of the mouth, including between the teeth.
  • Spit out the oil, which will have turned thick and whitish by now, and rinse your mouth with warm water.

Like with everything else, there are oils that are just right for your metabolic personality type.

  • Light and Quick
    • Massage: Almond, avocado, or sesame oil
    • Oil pulling: Sesame oil
  • Slow and Steady
    • Massage: Mustard, corn, or flaxseed oil
    • Oil pulling: Sesame oil for oil pulling.
  • Intense
    • Massage: Coconut oil, olive oil, and ghee
    • Oil pulling: Coconut oil

Besides doing all these good things, rein in the bad habits too. Cut down on booze, avoid tobacco smoke altogether, even the secondhand kind, and banish negative thoughts.

Congrats! Your bases are covered.