Everywhere I go, on any given day, there are people coughing and sneezing — trying to battle some form of infection whether it’s the flu, cold, or allergies.

If you are like most people, you probably catch a cold or flu 1-2 times per year. It always creeps up on you; a scratch in your throat that leads to body aches and a full blown cold. Or you wake up in the middle of the night with body chills.

Recent advances suggest that the immune system does not function in isolation but is influenced by other physiological systems such as the endocrine and neuroendocrine systems.[1]

In this article you will discover 3 natural ways to boost immune system health and minimize your risk for sickness.

HACK NUMBER 1: Bundle Up!

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Mom was right… Make sure you’re bundled up before you go outside.

Dropping temperatures threaten more than your cardiovascular health. According to a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the chilly air also weakens your body’s defenses.[2]

The researchers took a strain of rhinovirus – the common cold – and infected mouse cells. The virus is less damaging when our immune cells use a molecule called interferon. But cells produce less interferon when they are colder. With temperatures in your nose about a cool 91.4 degrees F, the common cold easily gets a stronghold in your nose.

Lead investigator Dr. Akiko Iwasaki said that “in general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses,” suggesting that as the weather turns your nose cold, your resistance to the rhinovirus decreases.

HACK NUMBER 2: Supplement With Zinc!

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Not only is this mineral important for testosterone production (supplementing your diet for as little as six weeks has been shown to cause a marked improvement in testosterone among men with low levels.) [3] but taking high quality zinc is like CrossFit for your immune system — without the risk of any injury.

Zinc is a constituent of at least 3,000 different proteins in your body and a component of more than 200 different enzymes. In fact, zinc is involved in more enzymatic reactions in your body than any other mineral. Zinc increases your production of white blood cells and helps them fight infection more effectively. It also increases killer cells that combat cancer, helps your immune system release more antibodies, and supports wound healing.

Mild zinc deficiency can lead to frequent colds and flu, chronic fatigue, and poor general health. In your child, when growth and development are vitally dependent on good nutrition, inadequate zinc can result in mood disturbances, poor memory, impaired learning and poor school performance. Zinc deficiency can also contribute to acne and poor eyesight. Chronic zinc deficiency can affect eyesight, taste, smell, and memory. White spots on your fingernails can indicate you’re not getting enough zinc.

If your body has inadequate zinc stores, you will experience increased susceptibility to a variety of infectious agents.[4] Your white blood cells simply can’t function without zinc. Zinc affects multiple aspects of your immune system, including neutrophils, natural killer cells, phagocytosis, cytokine production, antibody production, and even gene regulation within your lymphocytes. Zinc is involved in many basic cellular functions including DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division and activation, and stabilization of cell membranes. I know some of this technical ‘mumbo jumbo’ might go right over your head but just know that all of these processes are significantly important for optimal health.

The research on zinc’s effect on pathogens is a bit inconsistent, but many studies show a strong protective effect. Some studies show that zinc may reduce the duration of your cold by 50 percent.

The Cochrane Review found that zinc reduced both the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold.[5] And using zinc preventatively helped prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use by children. Zinc is the hallmark molecule for thymic proteins, which are immune substances made by your thymus gland. Without zinc, you lack this immune defense. Zinc salts are deadly to many pathogens. Viral gastroenteritis is slowed down by the ingestion of zinc due to direct antimicrobial action of the zinc ions in your gastrointestinal tract.

Two brands that we recommend are Standard Process and Mercola.

Top Whole Food Sources of Zinc

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  • Oysters

  • Grass Fed Beef

  • Grass Fed Lamb

  • Spinach

  • Pumpkin & Squash Seeds

  • Free Range Organic Turkey

  • Raw Cashews

  • Raw Organic Cocoa & Dark Chocolate

  • Free Range Organic Chicken

  • Quinoa

Get most of your zinc from whole food sources. Keep in mind, most people deplete the nutrients in your food by the way you prepare it. For most food, cooking it will drastically reduce its levels of nutrients like zinc … particularly over-cooking.

High Grain Diets Directly Linked to Zinc Deficiency

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High grain diets can lead to a number of health problems, including severe zinc deficiency, which in turn can lead to rickets and dwarfism. According to nutrition expert Dr. Loren Cordain:

“It is thought that the high levels of phytate in unleavened whole grain breads cause a zinc deficiency, which in turn is responsible for hypogonadal dwarfism, along with other health problems associated with zinc deficiencies. In Europe, where immigrant Pakistanis consume high levels of unleavened whole grain breads, rickets among their children remains a problem.”

Why is this? Grains are high in phytic acids (as are legumes, seeds, and soy) and phytic acids are known to impair your absorption of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. People in Western populations most at risk are those with diets high in unrefined grains, legumes, soy protein, and calcium, and low in animal protein.

Protein assists with zinc absorption. Animal proteins increase zinc absorption in general. Vegetarian and vegan diets, often high in grains and legumes, contain more phytic acid and may increase your risk for zinc deficiency. This is just one of many reasons we don’t recommend eating a lot of grains.

HACK NUMBER 3: Gut Check!

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You’ve seen the commercials; “At least 70% of your immune system is located in your gut”. In this case the advertisement is telling the truth, unfortunately they proceed to push a probiotic yogurt that is filled with sugar slashing any benefits it may have. Can someone say, fail?

The digestive system is the pinnacle of optimal health. Research shows that your gut flora can affect numerous processes in your body, including your metabolism, energy production, nutrition, and genetic expression.

qHaGonTKhi7LBZjSN399xiKpIf our gut health is poor, we can end up with impaired immune and nervous systems, and it can also wreak havoc with our hormonal function throughout the body.

Healing the gut lining will allow your body to build a strong immune system again and produce the right amount of neurotransmitters so that you will feel well again.

Now that you have a grasp on the significance of a heathy gut flora, let’s discuss ways to optimize gut health.

Eating a diet rich in processed foods and junk foods can cause an ongoing mistaken internal attack on very necessary components of your digestive system.[6] Everyone is affected differently by this constant internal antibody attack, otherwise, we’d all have autoimmune diseases.

But it is known that macrophages, one of the more powerful tools your immune system uses to fight foreign invaders, can also do wide-ranging damage to your body’s tissues.[7] The Nutrition Journal review focused on several others as well, including:

  • Simple sugars increase inflammatory markers in your blood while the “complex carbohydrate fiber (but not starches), such as that found in fruits and vegetable, appear to reduce inflammation”

  • Another contributor to modern diet-induced immune dysfunction may be the increased consumption of omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oils) in lieu of omega-3 fats

  • Recent animal and cell-culture models have found that elements in gluten may stimulate inflammation and disrupt your immune system

  • In animal models, the combination of pesticide-producing GM corn and pesticide-resistant GM soy led to increased rates of severe stomach inflammation

  • The over-abundance of many processed and biologically incompatible foods in the typical Western diet simultaneously enhance inflammation while muting your immune system’s ability to respond to and ultimately control infections

This is why we recommend a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods along with cultured or fermented foods. If, for whatever reason, you are not consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, at least a few times a week, it’s a good idea to take a high-quality probiotic supplement. We recommend Mercola’s ‘Complete Probiotics’.

When you eat too many grains, sugars, and processed foods, these foods serve as “fertilizer” for pathogenic microorganisms and yeast, causing them to rapidly multiply. One of the best things you can do for your health, including your digestive health, is eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible.

Two supplements you might want to consider taking for gut health:

  • L-Glutamine – Helps to heal and seal the gut along with aiding in recovery after workouts, so it’s a double whammy supplement. Life Extension makes a great product.

  • High Quality Fish Oil – Preferably a liquid, not capsule, if you can stand the taste. This helps reduce inflammation, balance hormones, and supports the immune system. Mercola’s ‘Krill Oil‘ is a great product.

References and Resources:

[1] http://ard.bmj.com/content/48/1/1.full.pdf

[2] http://medicine.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=8545

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7271365?%20%20ordinalpos=33&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubme%20%20d_RVDocSum

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9701160?dopt=Abstract

[5] http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD001364/zinc-for-the-common-cold

[6] http://www.mall-net.com/mcs/immune.html

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24939238

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