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At-home tactics to help to support the immune system

woman meditating in yoga studio with mala beads

Your body is an amazing piece of equipment. Though it’s intricate and well-designed, you can use small tricks and techniques to take advantage of your body’s processes to achieve a specific result—and “upgrade” your body.

We’ve curated the best at-home tactics from top experts to find ways to help support your immune system.

Upgrading your diet

One of the cornerstones of being healthy, in general, is eating right. However, there are more defined approaches you could be taking.

Fasting can help reset your immune system

Fasting has been en vogue for centuries. From the ancient Greeks to Gandhi, fasting was advocated for either supporting your immune system or achieving dramatic positive changes. Even luminaries like Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin advised abstaining from food for several days.

Similar to how we turn to chicken noodle soup to support our immune system, people fast without really knowing what was happening in their bodies. They just trust the process because animals don’t eat when they don’t feel well and it’s suggested by religious texts.

In 2014, that all changed thanks to Valter Longo and his research partners. They discovered that fasting for 3 days (having nothing but water), could essentially reset the immune system.

Longo reasoned this occurs because the body turns to conservation mode. Attention becomes focused on the current immune cells, recycling them, and getting rid of the damaged cells. This means that during the fast, your body is running lean and mean with its white blood cells.

However, when proper nutrition is reintroduced, new white blood cells are generated. According to Longo this creates, “literally, a new immune system.”

NOTE: Before drastically changing your eating plan (like before a fast), consult your physician first.

In order to get the most of your fast, it’s equally important to know how to come out of it.

Successfully breaking your fast

Gandhi said, “Even idiots know how to fast, but only the wise know how to correctly resume eating after a fast.”

After 3 days of fasting, re-introducing food too quickly can be detrimental (in a really bad way). Since your body hasn’t been digesting food, a lot of those processes were turned off. It’s better if you slowly start turning them back on instead of flipping all the switches at once.

For the first few days, small, frequent meals are best. They should largely feature fruit/vegetable juice (no added sugar) and broth.

Solid foods come next, but again, take your time. Fruits that are primarily water and have little fiber can be eaten starting on Day 2. For more information, on this process, go here.

Bear in mind that the key is proper nutrition—especially post fast.

Regardless of whether you’re fasting or not, you should always avoid sugar.

Wave goodbye to sugar

First, a clarification. Sugar from fruit and vegetables is OK (In moderation! Don’t just start eating all the apples, grapes, and bananas). They contain fiber and all sorts of beneficial nutrients, so they shouldn’t be eliminated from your diet or severely limited (unless you’re doing an elimination diet).

Getting rid of sugar biohacks your immune system by removing a food source for the “other” bacteria in your gut. They’re commonly referred to as “bad” because they’re not “good bacteria” (probiotics). Ideally, your gut should be 85% good bacteria.

When your “good” and “other” bacteria get out of balance, it’s called dysbiosis. One of the keys to restoring proper balance is the removal of sugar.

The reason is simple: sugar feeds the bacteria you want less of. By providing them with sugar, you encourage their growth. Research suggests if you ensure good fiber intake, you can help feed the probiotics in your GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue)—which is responsible for up to 70% of your immune system.

Addition by subtraction: Finding the foods that work best for you

This is different from fasting. Officially, it’s called the elimination diet. The purpose of it is to identify foods that your body does well with and the foods it’s not a fan of. Chances are good you’re also having difficulty digesting and absorbing nutrients your immune system relies on.

An elimination diet can also reduce a lot of unnecessary stress on your body and help you find your body’s preferred fuel.

This added stress diverts your immune system and many of your body’s other resources to dealing with the damage created by these foods.

Sometimes, your body tells you in no uncertain terms. For example, you might notice that every time you have Mexican food, you feel awful the next day. You might think it’s because of how spicy it is, but it might actually be dairy-related.

But the signs might be less obvious — like fatigue, trouble falling asleep, headaches, bloating, and more. Eliminating and then reintroducing these food groups one at a time, can help you find the source of the issue and assist with getting your immune system back on track.

The foods you’ll be eliminating are the ones most known to cause allergic reactions: corn, soy, dairy, seafood, gluten-containing foods, pork, nuts, nightshades (think peppers and tomatoes), citrus fruits, and eggs.

You’ll remove them for 2-3 weeks to help clear out everything. Pay careful attention to how you feel. You’ll then reintroduce foods one at a time, looking for changes in mood or health. Anything that causes a negative reaction should be removed from your diet.

Here’s an easy-to-follow elimination diet plan.

NOTE: This is not intended to be a long-term diet. Removing entire food groups for a long period of time may cause nutrient deficiencies.

Figuring out what works well for you and what doesn’t can go a long way in helping to keep you healthy. A high performing immune system relies on eating the right foods, getting rid of sugar, and periodically cleaning out and resetting your immune system.

Sleep hacking: Give your immune system a break

Oftentimes, your parents were right a lot more than you care to admit. Sleep is just another one of those things.

Your body knows what it likes and what it needs. It’s why you get tired and it’s why sleep becomes a priority during life’s stressful events.

Sleep allows your immune system the breathing room it needs to get itself ready for the next day.

Based on extensive research, getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night has been known to negatively affect your immune system. That’s why your goal should be to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.

It may seem like a commonsense bit of health advice (and it is), but you can hack your sleep.

Quick tips to help you get better sleep:

  • Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask
  • Turn your thermostat down (68 degrees F is about perfect)
  • Have a bedtime routine (it doesn’t just work for infants)
  • Use the dimmer or a softer light an hour before going to sleep
  • Journal to reduce stray thoughts
  • Meditate before bed
  • Eat a small protein snack before bed

If you still feel tired even after getting 7-9 hours of sleep, any of these 7 surprising reasons might be the reason why. Or maybe you can’t sleep because you’re stressed.

Stress affects more than your mind

Relieving your everyday stress is more important than you probably realize. It can have an impact on your weight (in a way you don’t want it to), your gut, your brain, etc. But it can also suppress your immune system.

The difference between stress and everything else on this list is they’re relatively easy to change. But hacking your stress requires more (perceived) work.

After all, it’s seemingly endless. There never seems to be enough money, the unemployment rate is going up, and your kids decide the walls are too plain.

As much as people say stress is in your head, it’s actually in your body. Your body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol, is released by your adrenal glands. It increases glucose in your bloodstream and ships it to your brain—all in an effort to prepare you to fight or flee.

But it also down-regulates non-essential functions for fight-or-flight: like your immune system and your digestive system. When you fear for your life, this is helpful. When you’re not, well, let’s just say it’s less than ideal.

Hacking your stress is easier than you think

Say it with me: goosfabra. Or shout “Serenity now!”, if you prefer.

Joking aside, there’s a better solution that is almost as easy as yelling random words.

It’s called “deep breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing.” It’s different than the deep breaths you take at the doctor’s office and it’s been shown to help reduce stress in multiple studies.

It may take you a little bit to get used to breathing this way, but it’s well worth it.

  1. Place a hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should move while the one on your chest should stay in pretty much the same spot. If it looks like you have a Buddha belly, you’ve nailed it.
  3. Exhale through your mouth. It should be slightly opened.

You probably won’t immediately get this since we spend so much time chest breathing. The key is to focus on using your diaphragm.

Everything should be very gentle. Take a few minutes out of your day when you’re stressed, but also commit to deep breathing when you wake up and in the morning.

If you need some extra help getting to that happy space, these 29 tips can help.

Help your immune system work with you

Your immune system is what helps keep you healthy. There’s never been any doubt about its importance. These at-home tactics, gleaned from experts and research, can help support your immune health.

  • Fast to help reset your immune system. Remember to break your fast correctly!
  • Reduce your sugar intake. 
  • Try an elimination diet. You might find some good foods just aren’t good for you.
  • Finally get some sleep. Your bed misses you.
  • Breathe deep. Rather, practice deep breathing.

Hacking your immune system can help, but you shouldn’t be completely reliant on it. There are still a ton of great ways you can support your immune system, whether that’s with these 5 foods or our top tips.

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