Your immune system is your body’s version of the military and defence. It protects against disease, infection, and helps you recover after an injury. The better shape your immune system is – the stronger army you`ll have. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick.
No one knows how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level. As we age, our immune response capability becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more infections and more cancer.
While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases and, even more importantly, more likely to die from them.
Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system?
The good news is – yes, it is possible to boost your immune system. However, it`s a huge project as the immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity.
To function well, it requires balance and harmony. So, to boost your immune system you will have to take care of your whole body and soul. Here`s 13 ways how to do that.
13 Healthy ways to strengthen your immune system
Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy.
Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these listed shortly in the following table.
|2||Eat fruits and vegetables||• Citrus fruits
• Red bell peppers
• Green tea
• Sunflower seeds
|4||Maintain a healthy weight|
|5||Get adequate sleep|
|6||If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation|
|7||Try to minimize stress||• Meditation
• Talk therapy
• Art therapy
• Eating healthfully
|8||Moderate exposure to sunlight|
|9||Germs keep you healthy||• Lactobacillus acidophilus
• Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
• Saccharomyces boulardii,
• Bifidobacterium bifidum
• Bacillus coagulans
|10||Practice good hygiene|
|12||Take Vitamins||• Zinc
• Folic acid
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
• Vitamin D
|13||Cold water swimming|
1. Don`t smoke
Smoking is bad for your health, so it`s also bad for your immune system. Here’s the list of health hazards associated with light and intermittent smoking:
- heart disease due to high blood pressure and cholesterol-clogged arteries
- weakened aorta (an aortic aneurysm)
- premature death from cardiovascular disease
- lung, esophageal, stomach, and pancreatic cancer
- respiratory tract infections
- delayed conception in women and poorer sperm function in men
- slower recovery from torn cartilage and other injuries
- increased frailty in older men and women
- poorer health-related quality of life.
2. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong. Plan your meals to include at least 3 out of these 16 powerful immune system boosters.
Citrus fruits – Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. These are key to fighting infections. Popular citrus fruits include:
Red bell peppers – Citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C, but not the only ones. Red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus. They’re also a rich source of beta carotene. Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C may help maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.
Ginger – First off, ginger is antibacterial so it helps support the immune systemand it can help to prevent nausea and soothe an upset stomach. Ginger is also a natural blood thinner and contains a phenolic anti-inflammatory compound called gingerol that may be responsible for relaxing blood vessels.
Ginger may also help decrease nausea. While it’s used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin. Ginger may help decrease chronic pain and may possess cholesterol-lowering properties, according to recent animal research.
Broccoli – A compound found in broccoli and related vegetables may help boost the immune system, according to a new study. Broccoli is charged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fiber, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables. The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, eat it raw.
Turmeric – According to a research published in the journal PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science), curcumin, a compound found in turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties that helps boost immunity. You may know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries. But this bright yellow spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Garlic – Garlic`s immune-boosting features come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin that help the immune system fight germ. It adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for your health. Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, garlic may also help lower blood pressure and slow down hardening of the arteries.
Onion – In addition to high levels of vitamin C, onions contain numerous nutrients and phytochemicals, many of which offer potential benefits for your immune system. Onions contain fructans, a group of complex carbohydrates that provide soluble fiber. Fructans pass through the small intestine without being digested and go on to the large intestine where they provide food for the beneficial bacteria in your colon, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Because they promote growth of probiotics, fructans are referred to as prebiotics.
Spinach – Greens such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are immune-boosting foods that contain high levels of vitamin C, which not only packs a powerful antioxidant punch, it helps fight off infection and regenerate other antioxidants in the body, including vitamin E.
They also contain folate, another immune booster and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid.
Green tea – Polyphenols, potent plant antioxidants, are what’s believed to give green tea its immune-boosting effects. One laboratory study suggested that a particular type of polyphenols called catechins may kill influenza viruses.
Also, both green and black teas contain flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, another powerful antioxidant which has been shown to enhance immune function. Green tea is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells.
Yogurt – While more research needs to be done, there’s some evidence that some strains of probiotics can help boost the immune system and promote a healthy digestive tract. Look for yogurts that have “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.
Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.
Almonds – Eating almonds can help the body to fight off viral infections such as the common cold and flu, according to new research. They discovered that even after the almonds had been digested in the gut, there was still an increase in the immune system’s defence against viruses.
When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E is the second involved next to vitamin C. However, vitamin E is key to a healthy immune system. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, so it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Almonds are packed with the vitamin E and also have healthy fats. A half-cup serving provides nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
Kiwi – Kiwis are nutrient-dense and full of vitamin C. In fact, just 1 cup of kiwi provides about 273 percent of your daily recommended value. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient when it comes to boosting your immune system to ward off disease. Like papayas, kiwis are naturally full of a ton of other essential nutrients, including folate, potassium and vitamin K. Vitamin C boosts white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.
Papaya – Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find 224 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single papaya. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects. Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, B vitamins, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health.
Sunflower seeds – Sunflower seeds contain selenium which help your body fight against certain cancers, while also helping your immune system to control cell damage. Sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E, which helps maintain healthy skin, hair and nails. They are also full of other nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. They’re also incredibly high in vitamin E, with 82 percent of the daily recommended amount in just a quarter-cup serving. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. It’s important in regulating and maintaining immune system function.
Poultry – Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. About 3 ounces of light turkey or chicken meat contains 40 to 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of B-6. Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells. Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.
Shellfish – Some types of shellfish are packed with zinc. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells.
Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. So our bodies need zinc so that our immune cells can function as intended. Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include:
Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet. For adult men, it’s 11 milligrams (mg), and for women, it’s 8 mg. Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.
3. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
In fact, obesity is characterized by researchers as “ a state of low-grade, chronic inflammation.” This means that increased fat cells puts your body in a constant state of stress/immune response. Your body is always in a state of inflammation; your immune system is permanently “switched on.” Keep your weight under control and your immune system will thank you.
5. Get good night’s sleep
Your body can’t function correctly if you aren’t sleeping well. If you’re not getting more than five hours of sleep a night, your immune system can become depressed, just like you. This leaves you open to colds, flu, and infection. Have you been running around like crazy, and suddenly find yourself sick? That’s your immune system getting its payback.
6. If you have to drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
In such patients, alcohol impairs mucosal immunity in the gut and lower respiratory system. Alcohol consumption does not have to be chronic to have negative health consequences. In fact, research shows that acute binge drinking also affects the immune system.
7. Try to minimize stress
Your immune system is ready for anything you can throw at it. But it can only handle so much.
Stress has a significant effect on your immune system. During stress, a series of events release cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones from the adrenal gland. Together they help your body cope with stress. Normally, cortisol is helpful because it decreases the inflammation in the body that results from the immune responses caused by stress.
Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Despite the challenges, scientists are actively studying the relationship between stress and immune function.
So if a person is chronically stressed, stress hormones can affect the way the body functions over time. This increases your risk of health problems, including:
- digestive issues
- heart disease
- sleep disorders
- weight gain
- problems with memory and concentration
It’s important to find healthy ways to deal with your stress. Some good ways to reduce stress include:
- talk therapy
- art therapy
- eating healthfully
8. Moderate sun exposure
Exposure to sunlight is how your body naturally produces vitamin D. This helps ward off an array of bad things like depression, heart disease, and certain cancers. It’s even good for people with autoimmune disorders.
A fair-skinned person only needs about 10 minutes on a sunny day to get all the vitamin D they need. However, too much sun can cause temporary damage to your immune system and eventually lead to skin cancer. So, some sun is good for you, but you need to protect your skin when you plan to spend time outside.
When the sun is very strong, you should also wear protective clothing, such as:
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Long pants
- Wide-brimmed hats
Also, stay mostly in the shade when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
9. Germs keep you healthy
Your gut is filled with tons of bacteria and other things to help you digest your food.
Keeping a delicate balance in the immune system by eliminating invading pathogens, while still maintaining self-tolerance to avoid autoimmunity, is critical for the body’s health. The gut microbiota that resides in the gastrointestinal tract provides essential health benefits to its host, particularly by regulating immune homeostasis. Moreover, it has recently become obvious that alterations of these gut microbial communities can cause immune dysregulation, leading to autoimmune disorders.
Probiotic genomic and proteomic studies have identified several genes and specific compounds derived from probiotics, which mediate immunoregulatory effects. Studies regarding the biological consequences of probiotics in host immunity suggested that they regulate the functions of systemic and mucosal immune cells and intestinal epithelial cells.
Results of evidence-based analysis from human studies and animal models suggest that probiotics have potential for clinical effectiveness on intestinal diseases, including infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, atopic diseases, necrotizing enterocolitis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome, and extraintestinal diseases, such as allergy. The most commonly used probiotic microorganisms against these pathogens are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus,
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG,
- Saccharomyces boulardii,
- Bifidobacterium bifidum,
10. Practice good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly can prevent infections
Soap and water can remove bacteria from your hands and keep it from reaching your eyes, nose and mouth – and from infecting you. A University of Colorado study showed that students who washed their hands more often experienced fewer incidences of the common cold and flu.
Laughter helps your immune system. The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine, and there’s truth to that. Laughter releases dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, all of which can help decrease stress.
Twenty minutes of laughter a day may not keep the doctor away, but it may help keep your immune system working properly.
12. Take vitamins
If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — maybe, for instance, you don’t like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may bring other health benefits, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system. Taking megadoses of a single vitamin does not. More is not necessarily better.
There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, D, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube.
13. Cold water swimming
The effects of cold water on the immune system have been studied widely and there’s a reason why so many people who participate in cold water swimming are rarely sick. Cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions. Over time, your body becomes better at mobilizing its defenses.
Don`t let the cold water and weather scare you. Most health experts agree that the reason winter is “cold and flu season” is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs.
Everybody is unique and results may vary, so please check with your doctor or other qualified health care professional before taking any nutritional supplements or starting any exercise program or other self-care practices.
Compiled by Maria-Helena Loik
Photo credit: Pexels.com, Pixabay.com