rē•prioritizing Your Immunity This Season

Why you need more than just Vitamin C.

By: rē•spin
rē•prioritizing Your Immunity This Season

As temperatures drop, we are more likely to gather indoors. We’re also more prone to passing viruses and bacteria to one another. So, not surprisingly, this is the time of year when we lean on tried-and-true nutrients such as citrus, leafy greens, ginger, honey, and green tea to support our immune responses. 

“But really, we should always be thinking about how we can help our immune systems run smoothly and be ready to respond to disease-causing germs, Dr. Melinda Ring, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at Northwestern University, tells rē•spin.

“Our immunity depends on a complex system made of many different cells, proteins, and organs. Our immune system is working all the time in the background, but most of the time, we just pay attention to it when we get sick,” she notes. 

Here, Dr. Ring shares tips for boosting our immunity through winter and beyond.

Strengthening immunity through nourishment

When we feel the need to protect, boost, and maintain a healthy immune system, we often turn to one specific nutrient: vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, this vitamin plays a vital role in our immune function, but it’s not the only nutrient we should focus on in our routine.

“Vitamins A, B6, B12, folate, D, and minerals like copper, iron, selenium, and zinc are some of the key players,” Ring says. “A 2020 analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data shows that many Americans are falling short in our consumption of these.”

These nutrients naturally occur in numerous foods that can be easily integrated into our diets. They can simultaneously reduce the odds of a deficiency and help maintain a healthy immune system. For example, you can find vitamin A in leafy green vegetables and fruits like cantaloupe and mango; B6 in salmon and chickpeas; B12 in shellfish and nutritional yeast; folate in whole grains and beans; and D in tuna and swordfish, as well as egg yolk. 

On the minerals front, copper can be found in organ meats, seeds, and dark chocolate; iron can be found in meats, poultry, and seafood, as well as lentils, nuts, and seeds; selenium is in fin fish, turkey, and whole-wheat bread; and zinc is present in seafood, legumes, and whole grains.

“Antioxidant phytonutrients found in colorful fruits and vegetables are also important, as are fiber and pre-and probiotic foods to support the gut’s immune system,” Ring adds. “Just as important is avoiding foods that may lead to lower immune response, like [those with] high sugar [content], and highly processed foods.”

Boosting immunity through lifestyle

Beyond loading up on nutrients, there are several actions we can take in our daily lives to support our immune health. Maintaining a healthy diet is a great place to start, coupled with sleep, stress management, and mitigating our exposure to toxins. “Key lifestyle factors to strive for include avoidance of toxins (like tobacco, excess alcohol, pesticides), regular moderate-intensity physical activity, adequate restorative sleep, addressing stress and mood, staying socially connected, and attending to one’s meaning and purpose, joy, and gratitude,” suggests Dr. Ring.

For many, our diet plays a key role in our day-to-day lifestyle, but it’s not the only factor contributing to strengthening and maintaining a healthy immune system. We still must align our lifestyle with our core pillars to find time to nourish and strengthen our bodies, stay connected with our loved ones, and awaken our minds to our physical, mental, and emotional needs to care for our immune system and ourselves.

Image Credit: @vikki.milash

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