It’s time to debunk immunity fads. Here’s what science tells us about what really impacts the strength of your immune system.
Winter is a time to bundle up, put on your favorite beanie, and break out the Kleenex. When it’s cold outside, we inevitably spend more time indoors. That means sneaky viruses have more opportunities to mingle and find new, unsuspecting hosts. Cold temperatures and a lack of humidity also decrease mucus production, which studies show negatively impacts our body’s ability to protect us against opportunistic viruses.
So, is it any wonder that you start to see so many ads for immunity-boosting products this time of year? The marketing world is aglow, hawking everything from echinacea to vitamin C to cold-pressed, high-priced elderberry-infused superfood drinks. But do these so-called “immunity boosters” actually work, or are their claims just fruit-infused fluff?
The first thing to understand about immunity is that, well…we don’t entirely understand it yet. That’s because immunity isn’t just one thing, it’s a complex network of interwoven functions of the human body. Each of those individual systems is affected by our own unique health factors and the specific environments in which we live. That means selling a one-size-fits-all approach specific to immunity is just something we’re not at liberty to promise. (Yes, companies do it anyway, but those claims aren’t FDA-supported.)
HERE’S WHAT WE DO KNOW
To function optimally, the body requires balance. Specifically, that means your microbiome should exist in a state of harmony, enabling your organs to perform their roles uninhibited. Which, sounds easy enough- until you remember that most of us live in a fast-paced world full of distractions, our plates piled high with things like work and bills and lists of never-ending responsibilities.
Why do these things matter when it comes to immunity? Because there’s a crazy little thing called the Gut-Brain Axis. All of the stress and anxiety we accumulate from our busy lives actually affects our gut microbiota. And our gut microbiota affects our skin microbiota, which is referred to as, you guessed it, the Gut-Skin Axis. All of the above are affected by the balance of the bacteria and fungus we harbor inside of our bodies and externally on our skin.
So it stands to reason that if we keep our microbiome in good working order, then our immune system becomes fully resourced and can better protect us. That rule of thumb doesn’t just go for our immune system. Every part of your body functions more effectively when the microbiome is balanced.
HOW TO (ACTUALLY) BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY
Strong immunity equals a strong microbiome. In order to help your body ward off and protect against unwelcome viral invaders this winter, you’ll need a two-prong strategy. Robust immunity requires an inside-outside approach.
In simple terms, just do good things for your body and your mind:
- Eat a diverse diet of healthy fruits and vegetables
- Move your body regularly
- Take a daily probiotic to stimulate immune function
- Don't smoke
- Drink in moderation, don’t overdo it
- Prioritize good sleep
- Wash your hands often
- Reduce stress
Staying healthy, while it sounds simple, really is the best immunity protection you can offer your body. Keep it protected from environmental stressors like too much UV exposure (yep- even in winter!) and protect your skin from the effects of pollution. Bolstered by a healthy diet, exercise, and any sort of mindfulness practice that helps you destress, your body will have all the strength it needs to effectively combat these seasonal illnesses. Best of all, you won’t get bogged down by the stuffy-nosed winter blues. The bottom line: take care of your body and, in turn, it will take care of you.