Tips For Building Your Immune System & Staying Healthy This Winter
Dr. Bay of Innate Wellness Group
New York, New York
DC: Doctor of Chiropractic
CDN: Certified Dietician Nutritionist
CNS: Certified Nutrition Specialist
Dr. Kelly Bay practices functional medicine in midtown Manhattan and specializes in treating chronic illnesses, in addition to her nonprofit work with HIV positive individuals. Dr. Bay received congressional recognition and was honored by the LGBT Network for her functional medicine work in the HIV+ community in December 2019.
First and foremost, how does the immune system exactly work and fight disease?
The immune system is made up of a complex network of organs/tissues, cells, proteins and chemicals that defend your body against foreign substances that it does not recognize. Examples include: bacteria, viruses, toxins, parasites, fungi and more. Your immune system tags these invaders, destroys them and keeps a record of every pathogen it has defeated, so if the body is exposed again, the pathogen can be destroyed quickly and efficiently. The two subsystems of the immune system are called innate immunity and adaptive immunity which work together to provide a general defense against these harmful substances. In addition to defending the body against foreign invaders, it's also important to remember that the immune system also has to maintain the body's tolerance to self.
WebMD tells us that “certain nutrients may help your immune system stay strong and help its ability to fight the virus. These include vitamin D, high-dose vitamin C, zinc and potassium if you’re deficient.” What are the benefits of Vitamin D for a healthy immune system?
Vitamin D influences important cells in the immune system. Proper T cell activation requires sufficient amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D also positively influences gut microbiome diversity, which is also important when it comes to immunity and health. This explains why low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased risk of infections, certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. Making sure your vitamin D status is up to par can greatly reduce your risk of upper respiratory infections in particular, which is especially relevant right now.
What are exactly the benefits of Vitamin C for a healthy immune system?
I'm a big fan of vitamin C and I take a liposomal form every day. Vitamin C is an incredibly important antioxidant for the immune system, with roles in both adaptive and innate immunity. It not only scavenges free radicals, combating oxidative stress, but it is needed by important immune cells for them to function properly. It is a natural antihistamine, improves B and T cell performance and proliferation, enhances microbial killing and protects against oxidative damage. Vitamin C is needed by the body for the immune system to respond adequately to pathogens and to prevent damage from harmful invaders. Studies have shown that vitamin C can combat upper respiratory illnesses by shortening the duration of the cold and improving symptoms. Sub optimal levels of vitamin C can put you at greater risk of infection because it directly impairs your immune system function.
Any other immunity boosting vitamins or supplements you recommend?
There are so many minerals and vitamins that are integral for proper immune function. Every person has their own bio-individuality, so I think getting a thorough lab evaluation of your nutrient status, to reveal where you may be suboptimal, is really the best approach when it comes to making sure your immunity is up to par. I've seen a surprising amount of nutrient deficiencies over the years in my patients, which you don't expect to see in this day and age. If you know exactly what your body is missing, a supplement protocol can be curated specifically to your needs.
If we're talking about general recommendations, I'm a big fan of sulforaphane. This compound can be found in many cruciferous vegetables, but is found in highest concentrations in broccoli sprouts. In the winter months, I take a few spoonfuls of broccoli sprout powder a day. Sulforaphane positively modulates the immune system, upregulates the production of the body's most powerful antioxidant, glutathione and can also help protect against respiratory inflammation as well.
Heathline recommends “Eat More Whole Plant Foods” for a healthy immune system. We’ve also heard the phrase “Food is Medicine” – what plant foods should we eat to maintain a healthy immune system?
Eat the rainbow. Eating a really diverse array of non-starchy plant foods is really important to keep a diverse gut microbiome and to get a variety of beneficial vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which are essential for a robust immune system.
Speaking of plants, you’ve touted chlorophyll’s antioxidant properties in the past, what are the benefits of drinking liquid chlorophyll or chlorophyll water as we get through these winter months?
Chlorophyll is a powerful antioxidant and has a wide variety of benefits. Consuming chlorophyll on a regular basis can help reduce your risk of developing cancer and aid your body in eliminating toxins. It is a natural anti-inflammatory which can help reduce chronic inflammatory problems such as arthritis. This is because it reduces the production of TNF-α, which is a pro-inflammatory chemical. It is also a natural antimicrobial and has some activity against candida albicans as well. Chlorophyll can even help improve your CoQ10 production, which is important for energy production and cardiovascular health. This is why I've always been a big fan of chlorophyll water, especially if you don't consume as many leafy greens as you should.
How important are antioxidants in strengthening the immune system?
Antioxidants are essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. Antioxidants have a chemical property where they behave as electron donors that help protect your body's cells, by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Free radicals play a role in infections and diseases such as upper respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, cancer and more. Our bodies require sufficient amounts of antioxidants to help disarm the free radicals we are subjected to on a regular basis. For example, our lungs utilize important antioxidant defenses to combat any external free radicals we come into contact with. The lungs are particularly vulnerable to free radicals because of the external sources we come into contact with in our environment, such as cigarette smoke, smog or pathogens. Antioxidants play a big physiological role when it comes to immunity and protecting our bodies from harmful substances.
Most of us will be sheltered in place this winter social distancing, how important is exercising wherever and whenever we can for our immune systems?
Exercise is definitely important when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. Regular physical activity can improve white blood cell circulation and regulation to help your body fight infections. It also reduces the production of stress hormones, which are able to lower your immunity when elevated.
We often hear that sleep restores the body, why is it important to get enough sleep? How much sleep should we get each night?
Sleep is very important for immunity and aiming for 7-8 hours per night is ideal. This is because lack of sleep can negatively impact your immune system. When you sleep, certain bodily activities slow down and the energy is redirected for repair and immunity. Both short term and long term sleep deprivation can greatly increase your risk of getting sick.
In the winter months, we sometimes forget to hydrate enough. How important is it to hydrate during these winter months?
Hydration is always important in my opinion. It seems like a very basic thing, but optimal hydration is actually very challenging for many people. I think hydration is always on the mind in summer months, because it's so hot, but it is equally important in winter months and sometimes forgotten about. The air in winter can often be very dry, which can encourage dehydration. So it's important to make sure you're getting half your body weight in ounces of water daily, to help stay warm (water helps you with temperature regulation), stay up to par with immunity and keep your joints well lubricated.
A positive mindset is vital for health and well-being. Relieving stress and anxiety is said to be key to the immune system, what are the best ways to manage stress?
My favorite stress management technique is meditation and it has had a profound impact on my life. I love the free meditations MNDFL Meditation offers on their Instagram, because they have every kind of meditation exercise you can think of.
Stress reduction techniques are so important for optimal health because stress hormones can depress your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, so it's really important to practice regular stress management skills. Being out in nature, practicing breathing exercises, practicing gratuity and working out are great stress reduction strategies as well.
What else can we do to strengthen and support our immune systems? Any other winter tips for staying healthy?
Support your gut microbiome! It's integral for healthy immunity. Eating a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables, incorporating prebiotic fiber sources such as chicory, sunchokes, asparagus, leeks, plantain, etc can be really helpful in diversifying your gut microbiome. It's important to also keep in mind that things like alcohol and excess sugar can negatively impact your microbiome. Taking a high quality probiotic that meets your needs can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Where can our readers find you?
You can check out my Instagram: @drkellybay or my website: www.drkellybay.com
I practice in midtown Manhattan at LP Wellness (800 2nd Ave #802, New York, NY 10017) and am taking in person and virtual appointments!
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