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Can you boost your immune system?

Your immune system is an important part of your day-to-day life. It protects you from viruses and bacteria. And when it comes to respiratory illnesses common this time of year, the immune system is also responsible for fighting off the common cold and flu. So what can you do to boost your immune system?

Beacon family medicine provider Dr. Travis Casper provides insights on the immune system and how you can protect yours.

What weakens the immune system?

You encounter viral illnesses every day when people sneeze and cough, or even when you touch a doorknob. These viruses enter your body as antigens. Your immune system develops small proteins called antibodies that stick to the antigens. The antibodies tell the rest of your immune system to send white blood cells to fight off the virus.

A weak immune system can’t produce enough antibodies and white blood cells. That means your body can’t fight off viruses, and you’re more likely to get sick.

Some people are born with weaker immune systems due to genetic conditions. “Weak immune systems can be from a decreased number of white blood cells or decreased number of antibodies,” Dr. Casper says. But these genetic cases are rare.

More often, immune systems are weakened by conditions that make people prone to infections, such as diabetes. Conditions such as HIV and AIDS even attack the immune system. “Additionally, some common medications like steroids decrease immune system performance.” So what can you do?

Ways to boost your immune system

Many popular home remedies for boosting the immune system haven’t proven effective. Either there’s not enough data supporting them or the data shows they don’t work. “Taking zinc regularly doesn’t have conclusive data supporting it. Echinacea for preventing colds and upper respiratory tract infections has not proven helpful. Vitamin C is kind of on the fence,” Dr. Casper says.

There are no simple, quick fixes to protect your immune system – and we shouldn’t think about it just once a year. “We should be doing things over time to protect our immune system all year, not just during a season when we’re worried about sickness,” says Dr. Casper.

To boost your immune system, try:

  • Getting regular, quality rest. When your body is tired, it isn’t as focused on fighting off sickness. Turn off your screens an hour before bed, go to bed at the same time each night and get eight hours of sleep.
  • Relaxing intentionally. When you’re stressed – physically or emotionally – your immune system is weaker. Spend time with family and friends, unplug from technology, meditate alone to clear your mind or make time for your favorite hobbies.
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet. Nutrients in food can help your immune system. Eat colorful foods, incorporate fruits and vegetables when possible, eat regularly throughout the day and stay conscientious about what you eat.
  • Exercising regularly. When your body is stronger, your immune system is, too. Your regular exercise can be as simple as walking the dog for 30 minutes. And get outside to soak up some vitamin D! Vitamin D is essential for your immune system.

“We should do these things as regular healthy habits that will keep us and our immune systems healthy all through the year.”

Schedule care now

If you find yourself frequently suffering from viral illness this winter, be sure to schedule care with a Beacon provider. Our family medicine providers can help assess the cause of your illness and provide treatments or referrals to specialists.