Looking to annoy friends and family? Next time one of them says, “I feel sick,” give them a patronizing smile and say, “No, what you feel is your immune system working!” Then quickly take cover from the tissue box, NyQuil bottle, or teacup flying straight for your head.
You’d be intolerable, but you’d be right. The symptoms that we develop when we’re sick are actually our body fighting against the virus or infection, not symptoms of the sickness itself. Now, with that in mind, imagine what “boosting,” our immune response would do. You’ve probably seen that phrase thrown around willy nilly in an effort to get you to buy all sorts of magic bullets to prepare for flu season. But “boosting” is precisely the wrong word and here’s why--if you BOOST the immune response, then that runny nose would become a river of snot. The fever that’s warming the bacteria to death would turn your body into a Thanksgiving Day broiler. And that hacking cough that’s reminiscent of a chain-smoking aging rock star? Well, that one goes to eleven.
In fact, having an overactive immune system can be just as dangerous as having a sluggish one. Autoimmune diseases, in which the body’s immune system mistakes benign tissues for harmful viruses and bacteria and begins attacking itself, are on the rise in America. A long-term study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and published in April of 2020 found an overall increase of antinuclear antibodies (a common marker of autoimmunity) of 50% in the past 25 years, with the most dramatic increase occurring since 2011. Since our genes haven’t changed that much in the past two-plus decades, researchers theorize environmental changes, including diet and lifestyle, are to blame.
Balancing Your Immune System
So why all the confusion and what’s the actual goal? What we want is a balanced immune system. Much in the way adaptogens work by giving our body only what it needs in order to return to a state of equilibrium, our strategy for preventing sickness should be to find this same sense of equilibrium for our immune system. Instead of trying to turbo-boost the immune system or kill the sickness (notice how aggressive these verbs are?) what we really should be looking for is a softer sense of harmony and balance. It’s time to stop trying to strong-arm our immune system. It’s like waking up to a bad hair day–you’ve gotta work with it. So how do you do that? Read on, gentle warrior.
Tend to your gut’s garden.
Home to 500 different types of gut bacteria, amounting to 100 trillion microorganisms, our gut is a complex ecosystem that relies on us to keep it balanced. It’s also where 70-80% of our immune system lives, which is all the more reason to keep it happy. Feed it fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, fermented foods such as yogurt and miso, and prebiotic foods like apples, leeks and garlic and your immune system will thank you.
Enzymes called sirtuins have been found to play a significant role in immunity by mediating the body’s adaptive responses to stresses and lowering inflammation. An easy way to activate sirtuins is by exercising, and, since exercise has been shown to cut the mortality rate in half, you can live a healthier and longer life, and look good doing it.
Easier said than done these days, we know. But meditating, getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and sometimes just having a good cry (or scream) can all help us to chill the F out and support our immune system at work. Perhaps even more importantly, learning how to get along with our partners is crucial to our health. In a particularly sobering (and kind of disturbing) study, during a series of meetings researchers at Ohio State University inflicted small cuts on volunteers and then had them discuss either happy or stressful subjects with their spouses. In sessions when the couple argued, the wounds took, on average, a day longer to heal than after sessions where only the happy stuff was discussed. And when couples exhibited high levels of hostility, two days longer was the norm.
science is finally catching up. In addition to having the highest antioxidant capacity of just about any food out there, Chaga mushrooms are able to regulate the immune system. Reshi has also been found to regulate the immune system as needed and reduce fatigue. And another antioxidant superstar, Turkey Tail mushrooms, has been found to improve the immune function of patients receiving chemotherapy.
So if you’re looking for a turbo boost, we’re not your mushrooms, but if you want to give your immune system a helping hand to do what it does best, check out our oat milk lattes. They’re packed with functional mushrooms that will help to keep you healthy (and honest.)