With contagious diseases making national headlines, I thought it timely to discuss simple ways to optimize the body’s immune function. First, you’ll want to get some sleep. It’s the simplest and the cheapest immune booster available. Why?

While you sleep, your immune system goes to work. It releases a type of protein called cytokines which fight inflammation and infection. Conversely, when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s production of infection-fighting antibodies slows down. So, let’s make sleeping the badge of honor!

The second easiest way to avoid getting contaminated by germs is do something physicians and nurses do several times a day: Wash your hands. An antibacterial soap isn’t necessary, but you do need to wash longer than you’re probably used to doing. Two minutes is ideal.

To nourish your immune system with antioxidants and vitamins, make sure you’re consuming plenty of colorful, raw vegetables during this period, and cut down on alcohol and processed foods. As far as immune-boosting supplements, I have a few favorites.

  • Colostrum. Colostrum is in the mother’s milk produced within the first 72 hours of a calf being born. It contains numerous immune-boosting antibodies including immunoglobulin which are critical to the body’s immune response. Add colostrum to smoothies and shakes.
  • Mushroom blends/tinctures: Newer to Western medicine, mushrooms have been used for centuries in other cultures for their immune powers and are very simple to add to coffee, smoothies, etc. The tinctures tend to be more expensive than the powders. Both are very good. Look for blends, such as Four Sigmatic, that include well-studied varieties such as meshima, reishi and lion’s mane.
  • Vitamin D. Especially during flu season, you’ll want to get a blood test to ensure your Vitamin D level is adequate. Low levels can affect your sleep as well as your immune system. Surprisingly, you can be deficient in vitamin D even if you live in a sunny climate. It is the number one blood test abnormality on PGA tours and golfers are in the sun all day! Also, some people have a genetic abnormality that prevents them from converting sunshine to vitamin D. Depending on what your blood test reveals about your levels, take between 5,000 IUs and 10,000 IUs daily with food. You can take vitamin D in liquid form, which is absorbed slightly better.  

Insider’s tip: When you feel like you’re catching a cold, these two nutrients are backed by a ton of research:

  1. Zinc. This is a quick way to boost the immune system. It’s most effective if you start taking it within 24 hours of symptoms. That first day, take it every six hours (one tablet/four times a day). Zicam is a good brand.
  2. Vitamin C. The best way to get this is through natural sources such as lime, lemon and orange juice. But if you avoid juices because of the sugar content, take one gram of Airborne or Emergen-C twice daily.