10 Simple and Natural ways to Balance Your Immune System

Nature provides us with many ways to balance our immune system, cold exposure to the edge of your comfort zone, getting plenty of sleep, getting a regular dose of sunshine or just getting out in nature to name a few. Below is a simple list of things that you can fit into your daily routine that will help to balance your immune system.

by Leah Scott, certified Wim Hof Method Instructor

1 Diet and sun exposure

VITAMIN D Contrary to the name it is not only a vitamin but also a very important hormone, which our body needs for optimal function.  It has an incredibly important role in supporting the innate immune system, re-balance of cell growth, neuro-muscular function, reducing inflammation, wound healing[iv] and skin balance. Vitamin D3 is made in the skin from exposure to the sun and lasts at least twice as long in the blood compared with ingested[v] vitamin D.

Due to a lack of outdoor activities, wearing sunscreen and environmental factors (e.g. air pollution, leading to reduced exposure to sunlight), vitamin D deficiency effects nearly 50% of the global population. This results in many turning to supplements to get the required dose.

An incredibly important study[vi] of 11,000 people in 2016, showed 95% of participants who supplemented with Vitamin D reduced the incidence of chest infection by 50%.  Protective effects were stronger in those receiving daily or weekly doses over a single dose.

Dosage is different for everyone and higher levels of Vitamin D increases the body’s demand for magnesium (found in seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and fatty fish), so please speak to a health care professional before starting any supplementation.

QUERCETIN is a flavonoid derived from plants and found in things like apples, berries, onions, green tea and St John’s wort. The literature highly supports its role in a wide range of biological actions including anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral activities, either by down-regulating or suppressing many inflammatory pathways and functions. Quercetin affects immunity[vii] and inflammation and it has a natural antihistamine property for the relief of allergies.  A recent study Quercetin, Inflammation & Immunity[viii] suggests a dosage of between 13mg – 18mg per day.

VITAMIN C There are lots of great studies about Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C.  It is an essential vitamin for collagen and neurotransmitters biosynthesis and cannot be produced in the body.

Vitamin C’s role in immune function is crucial. It stimulates the production of white blood cells and promotes the cells normal functions, such as their ability to detect, move toward and engulf pathogens. To protect themselves from this type damage, immune cells accumulate large quantities of vitamin C, which serves as an antioxidant within the cells. Ensure that your diet is packed with vitamin C found in sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, broccoli, red cabbage, kiwi fruit and spinach. A tolerable upper intake limit[ix] of 2,000 mgs per day is recommended.

ZINC What exactly is zinc? As someone who has taken school science classes before, I’m well aware that zinc is an element that appears as “Zn” on the periodic table but with further research I have discovered that zinc is actually a “trace essential element.” That means that our body does not make it naturally, even though we basically need it to survive.

Zinc is known to play a central role in the immune system. It affects multiple aspects, from the barrier of the skin to gene regulation within lymphocytes. Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells and balancing our immunity, whole deficiency affects the development of our adaptive immunity.  While we can typically get the daily recommended[x] amount (11mg for men and 8mg for women) from whole foods such as oysters, meat, poultry, beans and seeds, supplements are also recommended, but only after getting your bloods tested by a doctor.

2 Create Blood Flow

COLD EXPOSURE TO THE EDGE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE In recent years, Wim Hof[xi] aka “The Iceman” and his method have been the focus of many scientific studies. Scientists have found a lot of benefits related to the Wim Hof Method, including the build-up of brown fat adipose tissue, resulting in fat loss, a stronger immune response, and a positive influence on hormone levels. During one study[xii], subjects that were trained in the Wim Hof Method were injected with a pathogen. Compared to the control group, followers of the Wim Hof Method showed a stronger immune response and less symptoms related to the pathogen.

During short term cold stress[xiii], the fight or flight response causes a release of noradrenalin (a natural antidepressant hormone) which induces peripheral vasoconstriction[xiv] increasing blood flow throughout the brain and body.  The shivering (muscular thermogenesis) stimulates the metabolism and therefore enhances fat loss. Turn your shower cold today!

SAUNA bathing has been used in various forms for thousands of years, in many parts of the world, for hygiene, health, social and spiritual purposes.

Why are saunas good for you and your immune system?  Where do I start?  While it depends on the state of your health and age, saunas can cleanse your skin, increase circulation, open up your airways and sinuses, ease muscle and rheumatic pain, strengthen your immune system, improve joint movement and act as a great stress release for tension. Sweating opens your pores, lets out toxins and impurities, increases circulation and is great for stimulating the vessels that aid in the healing process of infections. A sauna can also speed recovery time for injuries such as strains, sprains, arthritis and muscular pain. Another bonus includes being able to stimulate the endocrine glands that are important for regulating mood, tissue function, metabolism, sexual function and the reproductive process.

Sauna use is characterized by short-term passive exposure to extreme heat.  Like cold exposure, exercise and fasting, this is acute hormetic stress[xv] enhancing the bodies resilience to chronic stress. 

Saunas increase Heat Shock Proteins[xvi], they play prominent roles in many cellular processes, including immune function, cell signalling, and cell-cycle regulation.

Finnish-style sauna bathing involves one to three sessions of heat exposure lasting five to 20 minutes each, interspersed with periods of cooling.  Some cooling methods involve rolling in snow or immersing in cold water, which I cannot recommend highly enough.  This is known as contrast therapy and enhances the benefits[xvii] of both modalities.

3 Barefoot is good for the soul

An intriguing paper[xviii] published in 2015 has shown that contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth produces very important effects on physiology and health relating to inflammation, immune response, wound healing and the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Grounding or Earthing as it is also referred to, reduces chronic inflammation (so rapid healing) following injury.  It also improves sleep, normalises the day–night cortisol rhythm, reduces pain, reduces stress, shifts the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic toward parasympathetic, increases heart rate variability and reduces blood viscosity. 

Start barefooting today!

4 Get Dirty

Environmental biodiversity, human microbiota and allergy are interrelated and a rapidly declining biodiversity[xix] may be a contributing factor to another global megatrend—the rapidly increasing prevalence of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases among urban populations worldwide.

Immunologists[xx] researched that a global loss of biodiversity was to blame for the dysregulation of the human immune system and thus the increase in allergic and inflammatory diseases observed in developed nations around the world. 

So, what does all this mean? Roll around on the ground in the dirt (or snow) with your kids, swim in the river, climb a mountain, walk on the beach, swim in the ocean, and build a sandcastle. Exposing yourself to environmental microbial diversity found in these living environments greatly influences our health via changes to the composition of our microbiome, a vast eco system that is always adapting and adjusting– the genetic material that live on and inside the human body.

5 Focus on your gut health

Now, more than ever, we understand the extent to which our gut health affects our overall immune function. The stress of modern life, diets high in processed foods and the regular use of antibiotics have left many of us with guts that function far from optimally.

Our guts contain trillions of microbes that play key roles in the immune system

Working towards better gut balance means including both pro- and prebiotics. Probiotics reintroduce good bacteria to the gut and are typically found in cultured yoghurts, fermented drinks such as kombucha, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and supplementary products available in pharmacies.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, pass through the digestive tract undigested and feed good bacteria in the gut.  Having a varied diet is likely to be better for your bacteria, so mix up your menu and start eating all the colours of the rainbow.

6 Medicinal Mushrooms

Does the thought of medicinal mushrooms scare you off? Take a long exhale and stay with me. Yes, I am going to tell you to put mushrooms in your coffee, your risotto, and your pasta.  I have been living off mushroom powder for years.  There are good reasons for this, I swear.

Medicinal mushrooms[xxi] grow on both decaying wood and living trees, boast phenomenal healing properties and have long been revered for their unmatched capacity to support the body in building a robust immune system, promoting hormonal adaptability and bringing the body back to a state of homeostasis.

It is well-established that mushrooms are adept at immune re-balance, a brain booster to fight off brain fog and stamina to get us up that mountain.

I recommend local quality mushroom powders and tonic herbs that be purchased from Superfeast[xxii]  Be sure to use my discount code to get 10% off leah10

7 Sleep

Our sleep is often overlooked and it is the most underrated high performance tool that we have and not prioritising 7-9 hours[xxiii] of consistent shut eye can have serious health ramifications. Sleep is essential for an optimal immune response, mood, performance, and overall health.

A study on the Human Immune System During Sleep[xxiv] revealed that our immune system and sleep both are associated with and influenced by each other. Sleep deprivation makes a living body susceptible to many infectious agents.

When we miss sleep in order to keep up with our 24/7 world, we pay a price with our ability to learn, our health and safety, and our quality of life.

Sleep disruption is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, metabolic effects, changes in circadian rhythms, and proinflammatory responses. In otherwise healthy adults, short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress responsivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress and mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits

Important Sleep Tips

Sleep in a cool, dark room.  Aim for morning natural sun light before 8am for 2-10 minutes.  Viewing late afternoon/evening sunset for 2-10 minutes.  This reinforces our circadian rhythm and preps the melatonin pathway for sleep.  Avoid viewing bright lights in the evening and especially between the hours of 11pm – 4am.  Never look directly at the sun, but appropriately timed sunlight exposure to the eyes is the way that our cells, organs, and systemic biology align for optimal function.

Severe and persistent loss of sleep through things like insomnia[xxv], alcoholism and stress, effects the balance of cytokines. Pro Inflammatory cytokines are enhanced which has a negative effect on our immune function.

8 Social Interaction

Although we have been advised to stay indoors and keep our distance, social interactions have been proven to release oxytocin, a fundamental hormone released in the brain responsible for social motivation, social recognition, trust, and pair-bonding[xxvi]  Social isolation inhibits the release of Tachykinin and Neurokinin B which causes stress, longer fear reactions and aggression. 

So, for now, pick up the phone, have that Zoom call for face to face interactions.  

9 Hypoxia Induced Breathwork

The Wim Hof Method[xxvii] breathwork is a process of deep controlled diaphragmatic breathing followed by a breath hold.  Thanks to science we know this induces hormetic stresses[xxviii] within our body and influences our immune system by reducing the force of inflammation and releasing more white blood cells.  How incredible is this?

Our mental health and stress levels are one of the most important factors when it comes to our immune system. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation and we know inflammation is the root cause of 90% of lifestyle related diseases.  Having a daily breathing practice and learning to calm the body naturally is life changing for people.  Our breath is the direct link to a calm, clear mind and body.

Breathwork and meditation can be practiced daily and has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, anxiety, depression[xxix], pain and insomnia.

10 The Nose Knows

The nose is a filter.  The nostrils, hair, mucus the nasal passageways are designed to assist in filtering allergens and foreign bodies from entering the lungs. The nose also adds moisture and warmth to inhaled air for smoother entry to the lungs.

Nasal breathing is a major line of defence against airborne pathogens releasing nitric dioxide a vasodilator which causes muscles of the blood vessels to widen and increase circulation.  The mouth has no defence system is dehydrating and is associated with our sympathetic fight or flight nervous system.  Start practicing nasal breathing today through the day, while you exercise and at night.

It is very exciting to see the incredible increase in scientific research that relates to natural health and our immune system.

Coronavirus is a new threat that we are facing as a planet, all we can do is take care of ourselves as best we can and be open to ways to stay mentally and physically healthy.

This article was inspired by the lack of information currently circulating on how to maintain a healthy immune system. It also provides practical recommendations for optimal physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic while providing a basic education on the human immune system. This article is intended to reduce the current fear of the pandemic and motivate the public to take responsibility for their own health.  The current prevention advice from the World Health Organisation[i] is to wash our hands, avoid touching your face, wear a mask and physically distance yourself from one another.

You may have been raised with a black-and-white approach to health – alternative or traditional – but why not take the best of both worlds?

Nature intended to protect us, so she gave us an immune system. It is our bodies natural defence system. Its vital role is to protect your body. Without our immune system, we would have no way to fight harmful things that enter our body or fight harmful changes that occur inside your body.

When your immune system is unbalanced – either weak or overactive, you get ill. Therefore, a healthy, harmonious, balanced immune system is essential to fight off diseases.

There are two subsystems within the immune system[ii] The first is your innate (non-specific) immune system.  Its main job is to defend and fight harmful substances and germs that enter the body, for instance through the skin or digestive system.

The second subsystem is the adaptive (specific) immune system, which makes antibodies and uses them to specifically fight certain germs that the body has previously come into contact with. This is also known as an acquired or learned immune response. Once the body has encountered a disease-causing germ, it usually stores information about the germ and how to fight it. Then, if it encounters it again, the body recognizes the germ straight away and can start fighting it faster.

Healthy Immune Balance

Immunomodulators give us the ability to regulate, attenuate, and stimulate (so therefore modulate) both the adaptive and innate immune responses. Immune modulation is more than just ‘boosting’ the body’s immune system. It involves bringing the ratio of the different immune cells back into balance to enable the immune system to function correctly.

Since the dawn of mankind, the use of herbs/plants[iii] has offered an effective medicine for the treatment of illnesses. Moreover, many conventional/pharmaceutical drugs are derived directly from both nature and traditional remedies distributed around the world. Thanks to the integration of these forms of treatments with modern science, we know that there are thousands of natural compounds that are known to influence the immune system.  By combining science-based health care and the wellness industry practices using natural methods may help to empower people to take their physical, psychological and emotional health into their own hands.

Written by Leah Scott

Leah is a certified Wim Hof Method Instructor who empowers people to take their health in to their own hands.  Leah is based in the Snowy Mountains, Australia, but flies around the world passing on breathwork and cold exposure workshops and retreats.  Leah is an Optimal Living Lifestyle Coach and Mentor and feels tremendously honoured to have a community of people who value what she does.  You can become a member of Leah’s Wild Things Membership where she offers exclusive content on her optimal living lifestyle via her webpage.

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[i] https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_2
[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020364/
[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3797459/
[v] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC443317/
[vi] https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583
[vii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20887269/
[viii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/
[ix] https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9810/dietary-reference-intakes-for-vitamin-c-vitamin-e-selenium-and-carotenoids
[x] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
[xi] https://wimhofmethod.com/
[xii] https://www.wimhofmethod.com/uploads/kcfinder/files/PNAS.pdf
[xiii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120621223525.htm
[xiv] https://www.healthline.com/health/vasoconstriction#blood-pressure
[xv] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X07001032
[xvi] https://www.foundmyfitness.com/topics/sauna
[xvii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/
[xviii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378297/
[xix] https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/05/01/1205624109
[xx] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/the-influence-of-soil-on-human-health-66885
[xxi] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/medicinal-mushroom
[xxii] https://www.superfeast.com.au/?aff=136
[xxiii] https://www.health.com/condition/sleep/how-many-hours-of-sleep-do-you-need
[xxiv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768894/
[xxv] https://www.neliti.com/publications/115461/sleep-therapy-as-immunomodulator-of-elderly-with-sleep-disorder
[xxvi] https://www.britannica.com/science/oxytocin
[xxvii] www.wimhofmethod.com
[xxviii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120621223525.htm
[xxix] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/

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