How to Keep Your Disease-Fighting Machine Humming

Simple choices you can make to get that germ-kicking powerhouse – the immune system – in fighting shape

In the last year-plus, we’ve thought a lot about our immune systems and what we should be doing to keep them in tiptop shape – or at least strengthen them. How best do we nurture that complex so important germ-fighting network? We asked Dr. Nick Draper, a primary care physician at Aurora Health Care, for his expert advice. 

Do immune-boosting supplements and vitamins work? Which should we take and why?

First and foremost is maintaining healthy habits: stress management, sleep, diet and exercise. Most of the nutrients we need are those found in food – fruits and vegetables, fiber, healthier proteins – but a multivitamin is also not a bad idea. And many diseases can be impacted by vitamin D levels. Supplementing in the winter when sunlight is reduced is a great idea. Zinc can help fight off nasty bugs, so again, a multivitamin with that can help.

Which food choices can we make to help strengthen our immune systems?

COVID, if anything, has pushed us back to the basics – nutrition, for one. A lot of berries are nutritional powerhouses and more exotic fruits such as kiwi, which provide potassium, are good choices. Stay away from sugary/starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes that can raise blood sugar. Good fiber and cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and radishes) are important. The produce aisle should be the first and last thing you hit at the grocery store.

 

 

We know stress is detrimental to the immune system, but it seems like a natural byproduct of life. Any advice on how to manage it?

Some stress is good – it tends to motivate us to reach our goals. But being able to identify stressors in your life and whether they are problems can be hard. When you don’t know your next steps, talk to a doctor. There’s catharsis through talking. Sometimes it helps to have someone advise you, whether it’s “Get outside and enjoy more sunshine” or trying meditation or acupuncture.

Is there one thing you think is absolutely essential to immune health?

Sleep, and making sure it’s good, quality sleep. So important. And if you’re not getting that, maybe you need to meditate at night or look at how late in the day you’re consuming caffeine. If you need more energy later in the day, there are great foods to naturally boost your mood, like nuts and fresh fruit.


TO KETO OR NOT TO KETO? 

SCAN THE SHELVES at any local grocery store and you’ll FInd products claiming to be “keto friendly.” Bread, crackers, pastas and snack bars, to name a few. FAT Like the once-in-vogue Atkins diet, eating keto (KEE-toe) style means low carbs and high fat. SpeciFIcally, keto cuts down carbs to 5%-10% of your daily caloric intake. Another 10%-20% comes from protein, while the remaining 70%-85% is fat. Keto is more restrictive than the somewhat similar Atkins diet in that it limits protein (there is no such cap in Atkins) with the goal of keeping the body in ketosis for the whole diet. This means that the body depletes its stores of glucose and instead uses fat for fuel, which is where the weight loss component comes into play. One of keto’s drawbacks is that it restricts fruits, vegetables and legumes – and their important nutrients. It’s also a true challenge to keep up that diet combination to maintain ketosis. On the flip side, it might lower blood pressure, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and raise “good” HDL levels. Why does keto stay in the spotlight? It might be that enticing blend of burning fat while consuming lots of it.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s July issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.