It is almost impossible to build our immune systems overnight. Given the current Covid-19 pandemic, so many people are trying to overload their systems with “immune boosting spices and superfoods”. Do these foods work quickly? How do you really boost your immune system in natural ways? And, where do you start?
I grew up in South Asia with ancient wisdom embedded in our day to day lives. Below is an approach that has been passed to me by my mother, and to her by her mother, and so on. I personally believe in a balanced approach to wellbeing, and that is what Ayurveda teaches us.
Let’s start with Ayurveda. What is Ayurveda? Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old traditional system of medicine originating in the Indian subcontinent. The philosophy is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. It brings us many valuable practices and concepts that are now being proven to be beneficial with the latest scientific research. This includes concepts such as importance of gut health, meditation, syncing with circadian rhythms, plant-based eating, and intermittent fasting etc.
Current Context and Perspective…
These days, there are constant social media tips for taking turmeric, ginger and garlic and often in large quantities. The west tends to go after a core essence of one thing and then go whole hog on it in hopes of a miracle. This is apparent in supplements where one compound is extracted and then sold as panacea (e.g. curcumin which is extracted from turmeric and then sold in high potency). However, the truth is that these powerful herbs and spices work best when taken in moderation. Thousands of years of wisdom also tells us to take these in whole form and consistently as part of a regular diet.
In general, natural medicine works by creating a compound effect in your body. It is meant to activate your body’s own mechanisms to protect and enhance your functions. By taking too much of one thing, you can throw your body’s other important mechanisms out of equilibrium. Also, nutrients need other nutrients and factors to be effective. Our bodies are really an ecosystem! Isolating the solution to one thing is missing the mark. So, remember, food is only one part of what makes our immune systems strong.
Wisdom of Ayurveda, a 5,000 Year Old Way of Living
The tremendous value and wisdom of Ayurvedic understanding life, healing, food systems and management of ecosystems could significantly enhance our current knowledge and shift our understanding of what it means to be ‘well’. While there is still a need for quality research in these areas, we could all benefit by embracing ancient practices that have the potential to heal us and improve our holistic health and wellbeing.
Practical Tips for A Modern Life
Below is a foundational framework (drawing from ancient Ayurveda philosophy) to help boost your immune system and build a strong healthy foundation:
- Lower your stress levels as it is the number one factor that impacts your immune system. Continued stress lowers white blood cell counts and increases cortisol which negatively impacts immune systems. By lowering your stress levels, you can help keep your immune system from breaking down.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Whole foods contain a complex set of nutrients and provide the best benefits for our bodies.
- Add spices and herbs to your foods on a regular basis. Good ones to start with are turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, licorice and fennel. Spices don’t just mean chillies or heat factor. Think more like herbal teas etc.
- Look after your gut and elimination (and with homemade broths, probiotic foods and again… fruits and vegetables. Regular movement of the bowels is an essential part of keeping the digestive channels flowing properly.
- Don’t eat too much as to tax your digestive system. Allow your body to heal and strengthen its functions. Same goes for overdoing on any one ingredient like coffee or even superfoods. Keep everything in balance.
- Stay active. Exercise not only reduces stress and provides mood benefits, it also help strengthen your body at a cellular level including respiratory systems. Moderate exercise is directly linked to reducing inflammation and increasing T-cells (a type of white blood cell that is critical to immune system).
- Get outside. In short, plants and trees release beneficial chemicals that boost our moods and health. If possible, get outside among some nature. It will also boost your vitamin D levels, which is critical for a strong immune system. More on what trees and plants can do for your health here.
- Sync your body to circadian (a 24 hour clock that follows cycle of light and dark) and circannual (seasonal) rhythms to create a healthy balance between your body and the natural environment. Read my guide to seasonal living here for more on this topic.
- Sleep 8-9 hours at least. Your body repairs during a good sleep.
- Foster relationships and community to cultivate support and look after each other.
Lastly, But Importantly…
Most importantly, keep it simple! Just by doing two or three of the above at a time will drastically imporve your quality of life and immune system.
Do you practice any of the above regularly? Would love to hear what other tips you might have. Leave me a comment below.