Healthy Living Magazine

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Cheryl Patterson provides some practical tips on boosting your immune system by building up resilience to stress.

Most of us hate getting sick, and go to almost any lengths to avoid it, loading up on echinacea and vitamin C at the first sign of a cold. And we know that a healthy diet is an excellent measure for strengthening our resistance to illness. However, equally important is building up our resilience to stress.

Many of us have heard that stress can play a role with illness. Research supports a direct link to stress and a decrease in immune defences.

A study by S. Segerstrom and G. Miller, on psychological stress and the immune system confirmed that stress could diminish cellular immune response, leading to vulnerability to illness. They indicate, “Th1 cytokines [molecules], which activate cellular immunity to provide defense against many kinds of infection and some kinds of neoplastic disease, are suppressed.” In other words, some protective cells are not active during stress.

Apparently stress hormones, such as cortisol, can create this shift in lack of cell immunity, as can sugar.

According to Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc, ND, Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic, Toronto, whether a high blood sugar level results directly from foods we eat or as a reactive physiological response to stress – pumping stored sugars into the bloodstream – both are “equally damaging.” She says, “The end result is higher blood glucose which suppresses immune function.”

Also, given the resources the body needs to cope with stress, it results in a depletion of the reserves and energy needed to fight off illness.

The good news is that a healthy person is a resilient one. Segerstrom indicates, “The immune system is remarkably flexible and capable of substantial change without compromising an otherwise healthy host.”

So, it makes sense to eat in support of an immune system that can handle the worry of finances, work, relationships and other stress that we throw at it.

Building resilience from stress means eating foods (and supplements if needed) rich in vitamins B,C, E, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, and that have antioxidants to help prevent the buildup of sugars, fats and hormones released into the bloodstream from stress, and will boost both the depleted nervous and immune systems.

Foods and supplements to build your resilience to stress:

Brown rice, oats and other whole grains stabilize blood sugar levels. 

Orange and dark green vegetables, and fruits have vitamins B, C and iron, and antioxidants. 

Fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Hazelnuts, almonds and cashews are rich in antioxidants and magnesium. And pistachios have both calming and anti-inflammatory effects. 

Supplements such as vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, potassium and the amino acid tyrosine will help replenish depleted reserves.

Physical activity is also an essential part of eliminating the toxic effects of stress in the bloodstream, and helps replenish the body, in addition to maintaining equilibrium. Frank indicates, “Stress reduction techniques – yoga, tai chi, massage therapy, breathing exercises, meditation,” are helpful.

And social support – having someone to talk to – can make a world of difference with well being. Even fifteen minutes of turning that ruminating chatter from the inside out can help restore your equilibrium.

Building a strong immune system means reducing the negative effects of stress and calming the nervous system, before it has a chance to have a significant affect on our physical health. A little care can go a long way toward greater health and less sickness.

Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.

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