A healthy immune system is an important part of our overall wellbeing, and its importance becomes glaringly important during cold and flu seasons when our immune system is constantly being challenged by environmental exposure to pathogens. Sleep, diet, physical activity, and meditation are important pillars for supporting a well-functioning immune system.
Sleep is immensely beneficial for promoting a healthy immune system. Furthermore, the time in which we sleep has a major impact on the immune-supporting benefits of sleep. This is because our circadian system (sleep-wake cycle) has been shown to influence the production and activity of immune cells. In the daytime wakefulness, studies have found anti-inflammatory cytokines peak and higher circulating levels of cytotoxic natural killer cells. By contrast, during nocturnal sleep periods, studies have found that pro-inflammatory cytokines peak and increased levels of “undifferentiated naïve T cells”. Nocturnal sleep has been shown to promote to play a role in the “formation of immunological memory”, which is the immune system’s ability to identify harmful microorganisms and defend our body against such invaders through the production of antibodies and destroying the cells. Thus, sleeping 8 hours in the day has not been shown to be as beneficial as sleeping 8 hours at night (termed “nocturnal sleep”). If we get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each day at night, we are helping to support our immune system.
Taking a bath about two hours before going to bed helps improve the quality of sleep. Our body is ready to sleep when the core body temperature is dropping. When we take a warm bath for about 15 to 30 minutes, our core body temperature goes up. Then, it goes down to the ideal temperature to our body to fall asleep after about 90 minutes. The temperature of the water should be around 40degrees. Slightly warmer than our body. It shouldn’t be too cold or hot. The blood vessels expand to release the heat which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the reason why we feel so relaxed after taking a bath.
The expression “We are what we eat” encapsulates the belief that the food we ingest has affected how we are (physically, mentally, and emotionally) through subtle yet profound ways. Our diet has a profound impact on our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. This is in part due to its role in promoting a healthy, “well-functioning” immune system. Food delivers essential nutrients to our cells to perform essential metabolic processes that keep us alive. Furthermore, nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and arginine are essential for our immune system to perform its functions such as regulating immune cell proliferation and generating molecules such as a nitric oxide to effectuate vasodilation and other inflammatory responses. In addition to meeting our basic needs in essential nutrients, there is increasingly more evidence that the type of foods that we consume will impact our health. This is because foods also contain non-essential food components that promote our health, often termed “bioactive molecules”. For example, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables contain fiber which promotes gut health. The majority of our immune cells are found within the “Gut-associated lymphoid tissue” layer of our intestine. This makes sense, as it allows our immune system to respond swiftly and effectively to any pathogenic microorganisms that we may accidentally introduce into our body when we ingest food. Thus, our gut can be seen as a rich, dynamic community where our immune system interacts with microorganisms that inhabit our gut. From the perspective of our gut microbiome, dietary fiber is known as a prebiotic which feeds, nourishes the microorganisms in the gut. Furthermore, whole fruits and vegetables contain a rich, diverse variety of antioxidants and bioactive molecules such as polyphenols that protects our cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables have been shown to protect against metabolic disease (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hepatosteatosis, liver disease) as well as chronic illnesses associated with inflammation (i.e, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders). The Western diet, characterized by a diet high in sugar, trans/saturated fats, and low in fiber, micronutrients, and low in bioactive molecules, has been positively associated with “metabolism-induced inflammation”. As KOSO is a rich source of prebiotics, probiotics, nutrients, and bioactive molecules derived from whole foods, it is undoubtedly an excellent therapeutic drink to consume in order to promote gut health.
Physical activity and exercise have a direct impact on our immune system. The scientific studies focused on deconstructing the mechanisms in which physical activity affects our immune system is known as the field “Exercise immunology”. When scientists study the effect of physical activity on our immune system, we have to first consider the intensity and duration of the exercise. Heavy exertion in physical activity has been associated with “transient immune dysfunction, elevated inflammatory biomarkers, and an increased risk of upper respiratory disease”. In the short term, exercise causes oxidative damage. However, the long-term benefits of exercise greatly outweigh the negative short-term effects of physical activity. In the long term, physical activity is immensely beneficial some studies have found that physical activity is associated with lower rates of viral and bacterial infection, decreased mortality, and risk of respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia. Furthermore, regular physical activity increases our white blood cell count and is associated with a reduced risk of systemic inflammatory associated with chronic diseases such as obesity, arthritis, atherosclerosis, liver disease, various types of cancers, and more. This may be in part due to the anti-tumorigenesis effects of exercise.
Meditation and yoga
Mindfulness meditation is a holistic approach that has been used to promote mental wellbeing, which in turn has been shown to help with sleeplessness, insomnia. Furthermore, there has been increasingly more interest in studying its effect on our immune system and understanding the mechanisms through which these practices confer physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. Meditation may promote a healthy immune system by decreasing stress and anxiety, promoting a state of calmness, and improving sleep.
Getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising regularly, and practicing meditation and yoga and be immensely powerful ways in which one sets a foundation of beneficial habits that promote a healthy immune system!