Take this to boost your immune system! Take that to support it! A gentle demand we hear often, especially since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. With health and food products claiming to give your immune system a boost and internet articles listing all the ways to support it, you can’t help but ask “what does it all mean”? Should we be striving to boost or support?
Ruth Elnekave, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, shares insight on the important differences that you should know between boosting and supporting your immune system, and what we can do to help keep our immune function in tip-top shape year-round.
Your healthy lifestyle is a big first step
Our “immune system” is actually composed of a number of systems in our body, including our digestive system, circulatory system (white blood cells) and lymphatic system. So by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you’re already doing a lot to support healthy immune function:
Well Balanced Diet:
- A plant-based diet rich in colorful fruits and veggies provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that play a key role in supporting all systems of the body, including our immune system.
- Some foods can actually suppress immune function, so it’s best to consume them on a limited basis. These include alcohol, refined sugars and refined starches.
- With about 70% of our immune system found in the gut, consuming enough fiber and prebiotics help support the gut and all the good bacteria that work to promote gut health.
Read more about other ways to support your immune system through diet.
- In small doses, stress and the production of stress hormones is normal and beneficial (learn more about our body’s response to stress here). However, continuous stress can compromise immune health. Identifying those long term stressors and finding healthy outlets of release can keep the immune system functioning properly.
- Sleep is the foundation of good health. Getting sufficient, good quality sleep helps provide the energy our body needs to function optimally, while also giving the body time to rest and repair after a long day. When we are sleep deprived, our energy levels decrease and our immune system is suppressed.
- When we exercise, we not only support our muscles and bones, but also our lymphatic system, which is the primary site for certain immune cells.
- Our lymphatic system is also responsible for getting rid of toxins and metabolic waste while protecting against infections.
When more isn’t always better
While it’s great to be proactive about our immune health, there can actually be too much of a good thing when it comes to trying to enhance immune function. In other words, there’s an important difference between “supporting” our immune system’s normal function and “boosting” or stimulating it.
Let’s take a step back. Immunity can be broken down into two types of immunity: our “innate system”, which is our body’s built-in immune system, and our “adaptive (acquired) system”, in which our bodies learn to recognize pathogens previously encountered. Our regimen of supplements, healthy foods and good habits work to support our innate immune system.
Balance is Key
Our bodies, including our innate immune system, function optimally when they are in balance, or “homeostasis”, and are always striving to maintain this balanced state. For example, our bodies thrive when our hormonal and nervous systems are in balance and when our body temperature is in balance.
Similarly, a balanced immune system is prepared to perform when needed (and in fact, is always performing as we’re continuously exposed to pathogens, without even knowing it).
So should I never seek to boost my immune system?
The danger is in continuously stimulating our immune system (which includes promoting increased white blood cell production), as over-stimulating any organ or system can throw it out of balance and lead to improper functioning. That’s why on a daily basis, when we’re healthy and being proactive, we want to support balanced, healthy functioning of our immune system, priming it to naturally kick into higher gear when needed to fight invading pathogens.
But there is a time for stimulating, or boosting the body’s own immune mechanisms on a targeted basis: for example, to treat an infectious disease or during chemotherapy (*under the treatment of a medical professional).
Certain botanicals have been shown to boost – or stimulate – the immune system, a common one being Echinacea. These can be very beneficial, but in order to avoid over-stimulating and compromising our immune system, their use should be saved for helping to fight actual illness or infection.
nourishing + strengthening the immune system to promote its balanced functioning
stimulating your immune system, which if done repeatedly, can throw it out of balance
The key to supporting immune health
As discussed above, an immune-supporting lifestyle means prioritizing a well balanced diet, managing stress, getting enough sleep and making time for movement. Simple, everyday habits can do wonders for the immune system!
But it doesn’t stop there. Both science and millennia of traditional medicinal practice show that it can be extremely beneficial to supplement these lifestyle practices and support our immune system as a whole, particularly when our bodies are exposed to immune-compromising factors such as stress.
Image: Reishi mushroom
“Immuno-modulating” botanicals are herbs and functional mushrooms that help nourish and strengthen our immune system to help maintain – or even regain – its balanced functioning. Some powerful immuno-modulators include herbs such as Ashwagandha and Astragalus, and functional mushrooms such as Reishi and Lion’s Mane.
It’s important to note that just as you need to exercise regularly to stay fit, immune-supporting herbs require consistent use in order to keep our immune system in balance in response to a physically and mentally demanding lifestyle.
How JOYÀ Elixir Blends can help support healthy immune function
Immune support was top of mind in formulating JOYA’s Elixir Blends. Each blend contains a number of immune supporting herbs and/or functional mushrooms, including adaptogens and tonic herbs, that work synergistically – or in a complementary manner – to support immune health holistically:
- hormonal balancing: protect against the harmful effects of stress to help prevent immune depletion and support balanced immune function
- deep immune activation: directly support immune system organs and tissues (e.g. production of immune cells)
Some immune-loving ingredients you’ll find in our blends include:
Calm Functional Superblend: Reishi Mushroom and Mucuna Pruriens
Defend Functional Superblend: Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Reishi Mushroom and Lion's Mane mushroom
Focus Functional Superblend: Ashwagandha and Lion’s Mane mushroom
Restore Functional Superblend: Ashwagandha, Astragalus and Ginger
Ruth Elnekave is a Toronto-based chef, holistic nutritionist, culinary instructor, recovering corporate lawyer and founder of JOYÀ. Her projects are fuelled by one main goal: to spread the pure joy experienced when sharing and savouring delicious, real food. For more, visit Joya.ca.