As we head towards Spring, my favourite time of the year, Bill and I have again come through the cold and dark months without catching colds and flu that so many suffer from year after year. A question we are asked often and one I love to share is – How do we keep our Immune System Strong?
Here are some wonderful natural ways to strengthen your immunity that I hope you adopt to create health and vitality. Health is not about one thing, it is about living to your full potential.
The key to good health is a strong immune system. If we have a weakened immune system we are more susceptible to colds, flu and other problems. Germs are everywhere and being exposed to them is a natural part of life.
Building a strong immune system is your best defense against infectious illness and disease. Your immune health depends on the lifestyle choices you make every day. By supporting your body’s own natural ability to defend itself against pathogens, you will not only have resistance to colds and flus but to other infectious illness that comes your way
Consume a diet rich in fresh, whole foods with abundant organic vegetables, and fruits. Avoiding sugar, chemicals and processed foods and making sure your diet is rich in all the colours of the rainbow. Refer to my book ‘Macrobiotics for all Seasons’ for more dietary information.
It’s really important to note here that sugar decreases our immune response so cutting down on your sugar intake and working towards removing it from your diet altogether should be your number one priority.
Boost your immunity by adopting the following principles;
Eat an Organic Wholesome Diet;
It is essential to give your body excellent daily nutrition to keep your immune system healthy and strong. Nutritional deficiencies make it easier for us to be susceptible to viruses and bacteria. Make sure you have a variety of organic whole-foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. It is vital to have a balanced macrobiotic/wholefoods diet with a variety of ingredients.
Many of us are attracted to eating snacks. Today many foods are highly processed and loaded with sugar such as biscuits, boxed cereals and juices. These additive rich foods will actually weaken the immune system. Snacking can become problematic if you fill up on these ‘nutritionally empty foods’ and don’t eat delicious healthy meals. Make sure to always have good quality snacks such as fruit and vegetable sticks rice cakes with spreads, sushi, homemade fruit or vegetable juices or roasted nuts and seeds.
Cold foods; excessive amounts of raw fruits and juices have a weakening effect on the immune system and should be eaten in moderation.
Kukicha (bancha) tea has a strengthening effect on immunity. Drink it warm with rice syrup or barley malt added if necessary to curb your sugar cravings. Hot apple juice is relaxing for the body and can be diluted with kukicha as a healthy alternative to cold drinks.
Fermented foods such as a good-quality miso soup should be a staple in your your diet. A cup every day is recommended. Adding good bacteria to your intestines helps build up your natural defenses. Good quality pickles added (1-2 tablespoons) to each meal is another way of adding good bacteria to your intestinal flora. The greatest concentration of cells related to our immune system is in our small intestines. The healthy bacteria from fermented foods interact with the cells in our intestines in a way that has been shown to activate our immune system.
Make sure you are getting plenty of sweet tasting vegetables such as squash, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, parsnips and onions. Lightly cooked leafy greens like watercress are also extremely beneficial. Sea vegetables provide important minerals and help to strengthen the immune system. Nori sea vegetable is very good for using as a snack and can be used on a regular basis.
Phyto Nutrients – Phytonutrients come from a plants own immune system and are helpful for our own healing. The best known of these being antioxidants; Phytonutrients can be found in all plant foods.
Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics and Vaccines
Today, people are prescribed excessive amounts of antibiotics. Antibiotics can seriously weaken the immune system and also build up a resistance to the medicine itself.
Sleep – We heal during sleep. One of the ways we do this is to release melatonin from our pineal gland. We do this best sleeping in a room that is dark and has minimal E.M.F. (electromagnetic field). Keep phone and electrical equipment, including radio alarms well away from you, as the body confuses EMF with light, suppressing melatonin secretion. We produce the most melatonin when asleep between 11pm and 3am.
Enjoy Nature – Getting out into the fresh air can stimulate the immune system cells in lungs and help make our immune system more active. Deep breathing can help as this will also bring more oxygen to our blood. Nature is an excellent immune stimulator and being exposed in a happy, healthy way does wonders to all aspects of our lives. Relaxing exercise will help blood and lymph circulation, making it easier for our immune system to operate and get rid of unwanted bacteria or viruses.
T.L.C. – Give yourself lots of T.L.C. (tender loving care) this is hugely important. Bill and I always do! Indulge yourself in some seaweed baths www.justseaweed.com this is a wonderful way to detox and strengthen the immune system. Dry skin brushing daily is also a wonderful way to rid the skin of dead cells and boost the lymphatic system. Treat yourself to a mitt and body brush and get started.
Immune Boosters – Immune System
Remove Sugar: Cut out canned drinks, pastries, biscuits and such. A few grams of sugar can destroy your white blood cells’ ability to resist infections for several hours.
Eat for the season – Root vegetables, soups and slow-cooked stews and casseroles are all favourites for these colder months, as are beans and lentils. Don’t worry about calories. Focus instead on the nutritional content.
Eat more Garlic and Onion: Besides being rich in antioxidants and selenium, garlic is antibacterial and antiviral. Both garlic and onions are part of the Allium family, which is rich in Sulphur-containing compounds responsible for many of their health-promoting effects.
Exercise: Moderate exercise, even walking a mile or two at least three times a week will help your lymph system cleanse impurities to boost your immune system. Avoid long grueling workouts. A brisk walk every day is all you need in these colder months.. Mindful practices such as winter chi ball, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, Pilates and Feldenkrais are also excellent for building and balancing yin and yang energies.
Stress Less: This should be an all year practice. Many consider stress or anxiety as the leading cause for decreased immunity. Lighten up. Try meditation or yoga. Laugh more. Be less critical. Worry less.
Probiotics: Your body contains ten times more bacteria than cells. Most of them have to be friendly. Friendly bacteria not only attack pathogenic bacteria and fungi, but also they trigger appropriate white cell reactions to invaders and they influence your mental/emotional state. It’s estimated that eighty per cent of your 100 trillion bacteria are located in the gut. Friendly bacteria are usually depleted by the typical western diet. Fermented foods, like miso should be staples. If you’re forced into taking antibiotics, double up with fermented foods such as sauerkraut, tempeh and miso soup twice daily.
My favourite Immune boosters
Shitake Mushrooms – Shitake’s are loaded with nutrition and very powerful to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to cleanse blood alongside boosting the immune system. Scientists have recently isolated substances from shitake that may play a role in the cure and prevention of heart disease, cancer and AIDS. Shitake mushrooms can be found in natural food stores. They have an intensely earthy taste so a few go a long way. It is necessary to soak the dried ones until tender, about 20 minutes before cooking. Use the soaking water. Trim off the stems as they can have a bitter taste. They are wonderful in soups, stews, gravies sauces and medicinal teas.
Maitake mushrooms – Medical researchers have been studying the anti-tumour activity of mushrooms. Simply put, they can turn on the immune systems T-cells, which travel the bloodstream seeking and destroying cancer cells. Maitakes are considered the king of mushrooms, because they are so delicious and have a reputation as a very powerful healing food. Enjoy them in soups, stews, and teas. This is a great food to boost the immune system.
Burdock – Burdock is a wild hearty plant from the thistle family. This long dark brown root is renowned as one of nature’s finest blood purifiers and skin clarifiers. A strong dense root vegetable, burdock has a very centering, grounding energy, and is most commonly used in stews and long simmered sautés. It is a fantastic food to boost the immune system.
Umeboshi plums – Japanese pickles (actually green apricots) with a fruity salty taste. Pickled in a salt brine and shiso leaves for at least one year (the longer the better) ume plums are traditionally served as a condiment with various dishes, including grains. Ume plums are reputed to aid in the healing of a wide array of ailments from stomachaches to migraines, because they alkalize the blood. These little red plums (made red from the shushi leaves) which add vitamin C and iron make good preservatives. Medicinal teas made with umeboshi boost the immune system.
Ume-Sho-kuzu – On a Macrobiotic Diet it’s so easy! – Ume sho kuzu! It’s a very soothing drink and easy to make. Three ingredients plus water: umeboshi plum, shoyu and kuzu – the harvested root of the kudzu plant. Imagine the strength of that hardy plant’s root, harvested for this drink, and coating your intestinal walls. No wonder this drink boosts our immunity! I love teaching this in macrobiotic cooking class because it is helpful for so many health conditions and for travel. All of these ingredients are readily available in natural food stores.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of kuzu in 1 cup cold spring or filtered water.
Bring to a boil, stirring continually to avoid lumping.
Add onefinely chopped umeboshi plum
Once the water becomes transparent, add a few drops of shoyu.
Shio-Kombu – to strengthen the blood and immune system
Shio-Kombu means ‘salty kombu’ and is a popular condiment in Japan. Soak 5 to 6 strips of Kombu seaweed until it is soft enough to cut into squares the size of a postage stamp. Place in a sauce-pan and cover with a mixture of ½ cup shoyu and ½ cup water
Simmer until all the liquid evaporates, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool off and store in a glass jar. The Shio-kombu will keep unrefrigerated for over a year. Only 1 or 2 small pieces are eaten each time.
Tekka – This condiment is made from 1 cup of minced burdock, lotus root, carrot, miso, sesame oil and ginger flavour. It can be made at home or bought ready-made. Use sparingly due to its strong contracting nature. It is a wonderful tonic and aids in helping to create a strong immune system.