Immune System Boosters: Tips From the Experts

Eating fermented foods and playing in the dirt are just two of the many tips a panel of experts shared during our Immune Health Boosters and Busters event on Wednesday March 23rd. Participants learned how nutrition, stress, exercise, and gut health can affect our immune system, which protects us from threats such as viruses and bad bacteria.

Here are some of the insights panelists shared:

Practice self-compassion

If you’ve been recently fighting a cold, being too hard on yourself may have something to do with it. According to mindfulness expert Catharine Kelleher, ScD, MPH, MS, RN, excessive self-criticism can cause stress and, as a result, handicap the immune system. She advised extending the same kindness and compassion to yourself as you do to your family and friends. Cultivating the capacity to be with yourself in a kinder way is at the core of mindful self-compassion and can aid in stress reduction.

Catherine Kelleher, ScD, MPH, MS, RN

Exercise time limits

Another great stress-relieving tactic is exercise. People often assume that longer sessions produce healthier results. However, health and wellness veteran Jason Bosley-Smith MS, LDN, CNS, FDN, explained that lengthy exercise sessions can place strain on the immune system. Studies have shown that short high-intensity workouts (30 minutes or less) boost components of the immune system while long moderate-intensity sessions (90-120 minutes) can temporarily weaken immune response.

Jason suggested trying shorter, more intense bouts of interval training with the treadmill for an efficient, immune-enhancing boost.

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Jason Bosley-Smith, MS, LDN,C NS, FDN

Balance gut bacteria

What we eat can have a big impact on our immune health. Gut inflammation can result from having too much bad bacteria. Anne Lee EdD, RDN, LD, discussed three roots of excessive bad bacteria: eating too much gluten (even for people who don’t have Celiac disease), consuming processed foods, and inadequate exposure to good bacteria.

Anne offered three tips for enhancing your gut health:

  1. Eat a varied diet with more colorful and whole foods instead of processed foods. The more color in your food.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get dirty and expose yourself to good bacteria. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that kids with older siblings are less likely to get sick than only children, who are less exposed to good bacteria. 
  3. Enjoy what you do because the less stressed you are, the less you’ll worry over the food you eat and how you eat it.
Anne Lee, EdD, RDN, LD

Eat fermented foods

According to nutrition expert and epidemiologist Chris D’Adamo, PhD, 50 percent of our immunity is in the gut, and probiotics can play an important role in optimizing our immune system. Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits

To get a good dose of probiotic bacteria, Chris suggested incorporating fermented foods in your diet, such as yogurt, kefir and kimchi. One of the most common fermented foods in the U.S. is yogurt, which has been found to help prevent and shorten the duration of colds among young adults and children.

Chris says it is important to be careful when choosing yogurt and suggested brands such as Maple Hill Creamery, Seven Stars Farm, and White Mountain. He advised avoiding ones that have high fructose corn syrup or add artificial coloring and flavor to their products.

Chris D'Adamo, PhD