How to Build and Support a Strong Immune System

Avoid stress, eat well and be well

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The pandemic has brought greater attention to the importance of maintaining a strong immune system. While receiving vaccinations helps improve immune response to communicable illnesses like the seasonal flu and COVID-19, supporting immune system health is also important for lowering risk for these and other illnesses.

Here’s what area experts recommend:

• “In these trying times with COVID-19, everyone is stressed and on edge but massage is very beneficial for relieving stress, muscle tension, improving range of motion, pain relief, and on the immune system which increases the activity of white blood cells that helps our body fight diseases and helps with the reduction of cortisol which over all helps to maintain homeostasis within the body.

• “I think massage therapy definitely helps with the immune system and your body all around. When your body is moving and working properly, everything goes smoothly. I work with chiropractors as well. The massage helps with the chiropractic care. When your body is working right, it eliminates toxins because you’re relaxed. It puts you into a relaxed state. I try not to have a clinical setting here so people feel more relaxed. It benefits your health. I rent offices from a chiropractor.”

— James Ligammare, licensed massage therapist and owner of Healing Hands Massage Therapy in Niagara Falls

• “In this whole COVID epidemic, people should really reconsider vitamin nutrition for disease prevention protocol. The recommendation now is zinc, vitamin D (because in the Northeast, we’re low in that), vitamin C and echinacea for an immune system improvement.

• “One thing we’ve come across in the past few years for people who have the mindset of an immune boost is elderberry. It’s a very powerful immune system stimulant.”

— Steve Giroux, pharmacist at Middleport Family Health Center, Middleport

• “Lifestyle things you can do are adequate sleep, exercise and manage stress. In addition, diet can potentially help. Eating a well-balanced, nourishing diet with adequate calories can help. Malnourishment and insufficient calories weaken the immune system.

• “It’s unlikely that a specific food will boost immune health. But a large portion of your immune system is in your gut. We want to make sure you have a happy, healthy gut so feed that microbiome the right stuff: high fiber, minimal refined and processed foods. If you drink, alcohol only in moderation.

• “Antioxidants can be helpful, so eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of color in your fruits and vegetables ensures you have a variety of antioxidants in your diet.
• “Eat healthy fats. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and tuna may help with immune function.

• “Vitamin D does play a role in immune health. Most people in Western New York are deficient in vitamin D unless supplementing. Talk with your healthcare provider about getting your vitamin D level checked. Sunshine is a great source, but we have a limited supply of that this time of year.”

— Amy Shults, registered dietitian and nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and owner of AMS Nutrition Counseling, PLLC in Lockport