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Did you know that 70% of your immune system resides in your gut?
It’s true! Your gut is an incredibly complex and amazing system. As scientists and health professionals have learned more and more about the gut microbiome in recent years, we’ve begun to better understand its importance and connection to our overall health. Over 40 diseases have been linked to having a bacterial imbalance in the gut, from Alzheimer’s to IBS, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, anxiety, cancer, autism, and more.
Now more than ever, it feels important to boost our immune systems to protect us from COVID-19 and other viruses that are circulating. The best way to do that is by focusing on your gut health. It’s one of the only things you DO have control over at the moment. This is when your gut–and your body a whole–need your support more than ever.
Here are some tips to boost your immune system by focusing on your gut health (all from the comfort of your home!):
Feed your body whole, real foods
If you’ve been to the store lately, you may have noticed that while the packaged and frozen foods are flying off the shelves, its not as hard to find fresh produce. The next time you venture out to the store, try to pick up leafy greens like kale, fiber-rich veggies like broccoli, and low-sugar fruits like blueberries. Fresh fruits and veggies are packed with essential nutrients and vitamins to help boost your immune system. Some foods also have strong antimicrobial properties to help fight infection, including raw garlic, onion, rosemary, sage, basil, parsley, oregano and fennel.
*Bonus points if you can buy organic, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic — any produce is better than no produce! Can’t find it fresh? Opt for frozen!
Try your best to avoid having too much sugar or too many simple carbs/packaged foods, like cereals, cookies, pasta and bread. Sugar, which is found in all of these things, leads to inflammation in the body. If you’re experiencing inflammation, essentially it means your immune system is suppressed and more suceptable to getting sick.
Not feeling up to cooking? That’s ok! Many restaurants are offering takeout and delivery. Check with your favorite restaurant directly, or use apps like Postmates or Caviar to see who is delivering in your neighborhood (just give a quick antiseptic wipe-down on any packaging!).
Another option is buying produce through a local CSA! Imperfect Produce is a great option if you live in their delivery area, but Local Harvest is an awesome resource if you’re looking for a local farm’s CSA.
Take a probiotic
Probiotics (both in supplement and food form) are key in helping to balance your gut microbiome. They help to bring in more of the “good” bacteria that you need to heal or strengthen your gut and aid in inhibiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria. Some probiotics have have even been shown to promote the production of natural antibodies in your body, which help you to fight disease. Here are some of my favorite probiotics.
Some probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh and miso.
Eat more fiber
Fiber not only will help to regulate your digestion (helping you to “eliminate” what’s not needed anymore) but it is also great food for your gut’s “good” bacteria.
Some fiber-rich foods include broccoli, avocado, lentils, chia seeds, banana, artichoke, almonds, brown rice, brussels sprouts, apples, strawberries, chickpeas and quinoa.
Drink LOTS of water
Most of us do not drink as much water as we should. Really this applies to all liquids – water, lemon water, vegetable or bone broths, herbal teas. Keep the fluids flowing and you’ll continue to flush your body of harmful toxins and bacteria while strengthening your gut and immune system. Drinking warm liquids also really helps to flush any mucous that might be building up in your respiratory system (key for COVID-19!), so try to remember to have some warm liquid throughout your day. Plus, drinking liquids will help to balance things out in your digestion if you’re eating extra fiber.
Get plenty of sleep
As a new parent, I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with this one. But I can attest personally to how important sleep is to strengthening your immune system, because as soon as I wasn’t getting it, my immune system went crashing downhill. It’s important while we’re all home right now to prioritize getting as much rest as possible, whether that means squeezing in daytime naps while the kids nap (that laundry can wait!), or getting yourself into bed early at night. Take this time to rest and strengthen your body rather than being as productive as possible. Here are some tips that have personally helped me up my sleep game lately:
Take CALM before bed. Magnesium is a natural remedy for anxiety.
Take a warm epsom salt bath before bed. Epsom salt also has magnesium, which helps your whole body relax.
Try Siberian Ginseng tea. This adaptogen supports your body and allows it to better face stressors in your life. When I drink it as a tea before bed, it gives me the deepest sleeps.
NO TV or electronics immediately before or while in bed. But if you must, use blue-light blocking glasses, so your circadian rhythm isn’t thrown off too much and you can get to sleep (and stay asleep!) easily.
Move your body every day
I’m not even talking about breaking a sweat, just simply MOVING your body is so important! Movement helps tremendously with digestion, mental clarity, uplifting your mood and more – all crucial for a strong gut and immune system. Go for a walk, stretch your body, dance, practice yoga or break a sweat doing a full-body workout, all from the comfort of your home. I’ve personally been trying to at least go for a walk in my neighborhood once a day to get fresh air and move my body.
Check if your gym or studio is offering virtual classes now (my favorite LA yoga studio One Down Dog is now all virtual, meaning anyone can take their classes now!) Choreographer extraordinaire Ryan Heffington is offering dance party workouts on Instagram live each week. There are also a lot of apps with daily workouts or videos on YouTube, so you don’t have any excuse to not do even a quick 7, 15 or 20 minute exercise once a day.
I’ve previously shared about the connection between gratitude and gut health and how impactful this simple daily practice is to lowering cortisol levels and reducing stress.
Stress causes an inflammatory response in the body, which in turn can have a damaging effect on your gut health and immunity. Stress and the resulting inflammation are a leading cause of most diseases and illnesses. Want to lower your risk? Lower your stress, and manage the way your body responds to it.
One of the best lifestyle shifts that one can make to strengthen their immune system is to prioritize self care and lower their stress load. But we’re living in a very weird and anxiety-filled time right now and that’s much easier said than done. (It’s not everyday that you’re stuck at home for weeks during a pandemic!) Try to focus less on all the things you SHOULD be doing right now, and live as in-the-moment as you can, while home (or zooming with) your family, pets and friends.
And while you can take walks, warm baths, or practice breathwork, one of the best mental self-care practices you can do is focus on the positives in your life (yes, even now!) and express gratitude for a minute a day. Check out 8 simple ways to cultivate and express gratitude.
What other tips would you add to this list?
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is based on my personal experiences and my training as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. It is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. You should seek medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.