We take our immune systems for granted at most times. With the heightened threat of COVID-19 infection that is something, we can no longer afford to do. Boosting your immunity doesn’t require drastic action however. By digging into our rich Ayurvedic traditions we can find plenty of helpful information. In fact, Ayurveda’s primary focus has always been on disease prevention, rather than treatment. This means that it contains a vast repository of knowledge on strategies to strengthen and support natural functions, including immunity.
To make meaningful changes that improve immune function, you don’t need to adopt therapeutic practices or use nutritional supplements. While those methods will help and are supplementary, your main strategy should be to make small and natural changes to your daily lifestyle.
Proven Strategies to Build Immunity Naturally
1. Get Enough Sleep
If you wake up without feeling refreshed and feel sleepy through the day, you’re just not getting enough sleep. There are endless debates over how much sleep is adequate, but if you wake up refreshed and with high energy levels you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, most of us are sleep deprived or have disturbed sleep, which severely weakens immunity. Research that appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that the risk of respiratory infections is significantly higher in people who get under 6 hours of sleep. This is because sleep deprivation leads to a rise in cortisol levels and impaired T cell function.
If you suffer from any kind of sleep disorder, you can take steps to improve sleep quality. Adopting a disciplined night time ritual will help. You can take inspiration from the dinacharya, adhering to meal, exercise, and sleep times. Avoiding exposure to digital screens, artificial lighting, and any stimulating activity is a must for a few hours before bedtime. Meditation before bedtime can also help calm the mind and prepare you for sleep. If you still have difficulty getting good sleep, you can try using Ayurvedic herbs that have adaptogenic and sedative effects like brahmi and jatamansi.
2. Find a Stress Buster
We often hear about stress as a risk factor for almost all kinds of diseases and infections. In the past this may have been based on anecdotal evidence, but that is no longer the case. Research shows a clear link between stress and increased vulnerability to infections. This is once again linked to a rise in levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduced lymphocyte levels. Stress can also have an indirect impact on immunity. When we feel stressed and anxious we are more likely to make bad choices. A good example would be our turning to ice cream, chips, and junk as comfort foods.
Right now stress and anxiety levels are particularly high as it’s hard to stay socially isolated and trapped indoors. This makes it absolutely vital for you to adopt proven stress reduction techniques. In this context, mindfulness meditation is regarded as the most effective strategy and is even used in clinical programs to treat depression and anxiety disorder. If you need any additional support, you can also use Ayurvedic adaptogenic herbs like brahmi and ashwagandha.
3. Quit Smoking and Drinking
Nicotine and alcohol consumption are both regarded as harmful in Ayurveda because of their toxic effects. This is especially true with smoking as it has been linked to cancer and lung damage. From research, we now know that any kind of nicotine consumption is associated with such risks. Nicotine directly impairs immune function because of its adverse impact on antibody formation and T cell responses.
High intake of alcohol is also associated with severely weakened immune function. This effect is almost immediate, with a reduction in lymphocyte levels and weakened macrophage response soon after intoxication. Some of the toxic byproducts of alcohol are also known to directly damage lung function, increasing the risk of airborne illnesses.
4. Eat Smart
When it comes to diet and nutrition for immunity, Ayurveda has always been ahead of the curve. The importance of balanced nutrition, favoring natural foods with a high nutrition density has always been stressed. The importance of vitamin C from ingredients like amla has also been emphasized. Of course, to receive balanced nutrition that supports optimal immune function Ayurveda makes a broad recommendation too. The main principle here is to avoid or restrict all intake of processed foods, while opting for whole foods. This fundamental principle of Ayurvedic nutrition is now widely recognized.
Aside from increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses should also be included in your diet. Dahi is again important because of its natural probiotic content. This is important for the health of the gut microbiome, which researchers now recognize as critical to healthy immune function.
5. Stay Active
Ayurveda is notable as the world’s earliest medical system to recognize the importance of physical activity. Yoga has in fact been used as a form of physical therapy now for millennia. The importance of staying active for strong immune function has been validated by several modern studies. Such research shows that exercise helps through various mechanisms. It lowers stress levels and raises antibody levels. This has been shown to lower the risk of infection and significantly improve recovery.
Keep in mind that exercise to boost immunity isn’t about high intensity workouts or going to the gym. It is simply about staying active. In fact, over exercising can suppress immune function. Right now, the best choices would be activities like yoga, Pilates, dancing, and so on, as they don’t require you to step out of your home.
These are 5 of the most essential changes to strengthen your immune system. To get an added boost, you can once again turn to the wisdom of ancient Ayurveda. Herbs like amla, haridra, neem, sunth, tulsi, and ashwagandha are known to strengthen immune function and can be found in a wide range of Ayurvedic medications. Ayurvedic formulations like chyawanprash and triphala are also still highly regarded and remain the most popular antidotes to weak immunity.
Stay home, stay safe and #BeTheForce