When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of us researched ways to give our bodies some extra help. Along with wearing masks and social distancing, having a strong immune system is our greatest weapon in the war against this respiratory disease. There are many ways we can strengthen our natural defense systems, pandemic or not. The immune system is amazing, and it works hard daily to protect us from harm and lessen the impact of germs and viruses.

The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defend the body against infection. Its main parts include our bone marrow, white blood cells, antibodies, thymus, spleen, complement system, and lymphatic system. These cells and proteins work in tandem to capture and kill harmful microbes and remove old or damaged red blood cells. Our white blood cells are our first line of defense against diseases, as they are constantly searching for invaders.

An amazing fact is that our immune system keeps a record of previous infections, giving us quicker recovery times and reduced symptoms. Because of this, a good way to strengthen your immune system is to stay up to date on recommended vaccinations. If you haven’t already, get your COVID-19 vaccines and booster shot, along with your yearly flu shot. In an article for Houston Methodist, Katie McCallum explains, “Your immune system is smart, but vaccines train it to be even smarter — helping it learn how to recognize and fight off certain disease-causing illnesses. It’s much safer for your immune system to learn via vaccination than through infection with these harmful germs.”

Drinking water is another way to boost your immune system. Drinking water helps circulate lymph, the clear fluid that carries immune cells throughout our bodies. We lose water by exercising, sweating, and using the bathroom, and it needs to be replaced to keep our immune system running smoothly. Maintaining healthy eating habits helps boost the immune system with essential vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet should contain plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

Vitamin A is important for immune system health, and you can get your daily intake by eating fish, dairy, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and carrots. Vitamin B6 is another nutrient that is good for your immune system, and it is found in green vegetables, potatoes, tuna, and salmon. Vitamin C can stop infections or shorten their impact. Citrus fruits like oranges and tangerines are good sources of vitamin C. You can also eat spinach, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, or papaya to get this vitamin. Lastly, vitamin E is an antioxidant that is important for your immune system. Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds and peanuts.

Daily exercise helps with overall circulation and is a great stressbuster. Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily helps move immune cells throughout the body. In an article for Mayo Clinic, Edward R. Laskowski, MD, notes, “Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, and mowing the lawn. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, heavy yard work, and aerobic dancing.”

Adequate sleep is necessary for the body to rest and for the immune system to create infection-fighting cells. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep to maintain their health. Plus, a good night’s rest is a great stress reliever. Stress can wreak havoc by lowering our system’s ability to fight harmful pathogens. Corticosteroid, the stress hormone, can lower the number of lymphocytes we have, which are the white blood cells that attack invading bacteria or viruses. It’s important to incorporate methods of reducing stress in our daily lives. Exercise, prayer, deep breathing, and meditation are commonly known methods, but taking a warm bath, drinking herbal tea, journaling, or creating art are other ways to de-stress.

Another strategy to maintain a healthy immune system is to frequently wash your hands. There is no way to overestimate how important good hygiene is to preventing illness. We use our hands much more than we realize, as we touch different surfaces throughout the day, and those surfaces may have harmful pathogens on them. We also touch our eyes, nose, and mouth with our hands, and they are three major gateways to infection. Washing your hands with soap and water for twenty seconds is a simple way to give your immune system a fighting chance against pathogens.

A strong immune system is usually indicated by a person’s ability to recover well from colds and the flu. A person with a weak immune system would not be able to fight off the virus, leaving the patient with a cold indefinitely. Signs of a strong immune system include being able to sleep soundly throughout the night and recovering quickly from an illness. Also, if you have a healthy immune system, your wounds recover quickly, you feel energetic, and you have little to no gastrointestinal issues.

Do you often feel tired or fatigued? Are you still tired after getting adequate sleep? If your immune system is struggling, your energy levels will plummet. “That’s because your body is trying to conserve energy to fuel your immune system so it can fight off germs,” explains Nadia Hasan, DO, in an article for Penn Medicine. Frequent bouts of diarrhea, constipation, and gas are also signs of a poor immune system. An article for Johns Hopkins Medicine by Helen Fields quotes Dan Peterson, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. According to Peterson, “[a] huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI [gastrointestinal] tract.” The good bacteria and microorganisms that live in your gut can help fight infection and support the immune system.

There are many IFANCA halal-certified products that advertise immune support, and all are sold as nutritional supplements. For example, one product is Pedialyte Immune Support in peach mango or raspberry lemonade flavors. Pedialyte products can be found at any major retail store.

Protecting and strengthening our immune system is quite easy if we stick to the tried-and-true methods of maintaining good hygiene, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in moderate exercise daily.

Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer living in Atlanta, GA. Her artwork and writing can be found at www.kellycrosbyart.com.