Taking care of your immune system helps it take care of you!
Your immune system is your body’s defense against organisms that can make you ill – from an infected cut or the common cold, to more serious illnesses like the flu or COVID. The tips below are ways to support your immune system. These strategies are more effective than over-the-counter supplements, most of which have little data or research to support their claims.
Some of these tips may require big changes to your everyday life and daily habits, and that can be hard and feel overwhelming. But every little bit helps, so if you can’t make a lot of changes at once, implementing small sustainable changes one step at a time can still make a big difference. Factors like where you live, how much free time you have, and what your local store has on the shelves, along with many other factors, can make these changes harder or easier. However, even small changes can have positive impacts on your overall health.
Immune System Support Tips:
- Quit or decrease smoking tobacco and nicotine-based products including e-cigarettes and vapes.1, 2, 3
- Drink little to no alcohol. Quit drinking alcohol if you can. If you can’t, minimize it as much as possible.4
- Avoid other toxins and stressors to the body. Quit or minimize other substance use including methamphetamines, cocaine, PCP, and opiates. 5
- This also includes cannabis, which can negatively affect your immune system. 6
- Eat a healthy diet:7,8
- Eat a diet high in raw or minimally processed foods with a focus on vegetables and fruits. Incorporate other immune-supporting foods like a variety of beans and whole grains.
- Minimize processed foods and added sugars in your diet. When grocery shopping, shop the outer edges of the store first – fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, and lean meats will generally be found along the perimeter. Then shop for staples like whole grains, canned and frozen fruits, vegetables, and legumes before shopping for heavily processed and/or packaged foods like sweetened beverages (sodas, energy drinks, teas, coffees, and juices), and baked goods or treats (cookies, candies, cakes, etc.,) which will often be in the interior aisles.
- If eating this way is not an option for you, taking a multivitamin containing the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for several vitamins and minerals is a good choice.
- Exercise regularly:9
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Try to make those minutes moderate intensity! (This means you can talk while exercising but not in complete sentences, and you can’t sing).
- Any exercise you can do is better than none.
- Engage in healthy sleep habits:10
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly.
- Try to keep a regular sleep schedule: wake up and go to bed around the same time each day. A consistent sleep schedule maintains a balanced sleeping rhythm allowing deeper, more restful sleep.
- If you have them, try to keep chronic health conditions well-managed. Work with your healthcare provider to identify and control any health conditions you may have.
- Minimize stress if possible. These healthy stress management techniques can help:11
- Look for the positives. How you think affects how your body reacts to stressors.
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
- Utilize assertive communication rather than passive or aggressive. One way to do so is to use “I statements” to describe your feelings so that communication is clearer during heightened emotion
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
- Set boundaries appropriately. Saying no to requests that add stress to your life is a healthy way to do that.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy: hobbies, other interests, and relaxing activities.
- Seek out social support. Spend time with those you enjoy.
- Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn other healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
- Stay within a healthy weight range.12 All of the above tips can help you reach and maintain a weight in balance with your body’s needs.
- Take steps to avoid infections:
- Avoid close contact with other individuals in crowded, enclosed spaces.
- Don’t share drinking or eating implements.
- Avoid exercising in poorly ventilated clubs and gymnasium facilities.
- Limit hand-to-face contact and wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds.
- Keep your vaccines up to date, especially your yearly flu shot.
- Data on the available COVID vaccines indicate that they are effective against emerging variants. The vaccines may not prevent you from getting infected with COVID, but they are highly effective in keeping you from getting severely ill. Katelyn Jetelina, (aka Your Local Epidemiologist,) maintains a vaccine efficacy chart on her substack: https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack.com/p/j-and-j-and-delta-update (as of July 2, 2021.)
- Wear a mask when you are sick, in public spaces, or when indoors around people you don’t live with.
*A special note for our gender diverse readers: minority stress is real and can impact your health significantly. We’ve seen a lot of speculation about how hormones interact with individual immune systems, but there isn’t a lot of good quality research. At QueerDoc, we believe that transitioning can help lessen internal and external sources of stress, and hormone therapy can be an important part of your transition journey. Regardless of whether or not you take hormones, experiencing gender euphoria is healthy!
- Qiu F, Liang CL, Liu H, et al. Impacts of cigarette smoking on immune responsiveness: Up and down or upside down?. Oncotarget. 2017;8(1):268-284. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.13613
- Gotts Jeffrey E, Jordt Sven-Eric, McConnell Rob, Tarran Robert. What are the respiratory effects of e-cigarettes? BMJ 2019; 366 :l5275
- Madison, Matthew C, Corry, David B, Kheradmand, Farrah et al. Electronic cigarettes disrupt lung lipid homeostasis and innate immunity independent of nicotine. J Clin Invest. 2019;129(10):4290-4304. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI128531.
- Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):153-155.
- Herman Friedman, Susan Pross, Thomas W. Klein, Addictive drugs and their relationship with infectious diseases, FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, Volume 47, Issue 3, August 2006, Pages 330–342, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-695X.2006.00097.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24625.
- Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. Published 2019 Aug 16. doi:10.3390/nu11081933
- Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201-217. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
- Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1):121-137. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
- Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
- Andersen CJ, Murphy KE, Fernandez ML. Impact of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome on Immunity. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(1):66-75. Published 2016 Jan 15. doi:10.3945/an.115.010207