Your immune system is an amazing machine. It’s responsible for keeping your body safe from outside invaders like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and toxins. There are two main parts of your immune system: the part you were born with (innate or non-specific system) and the part you develop from exposure to the environment (adaptive acquired, or specific system).
Your immune system is made of various organs, cells, and proteins – skin cells, blood, bone marrow, tissues and organs like the thymus and lymph glands.
A robust immune system is your best defence against illness and infection. Without it, you would have no way of fighting off harmful substances or changes within the body.
Your immune system has three main tasks:
- To fight pathogens (disease-causing “germs”) like viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites and get them out of your body
- To recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment
- To fight disease-causing changes in the body, like cancer cells
Your immune system is activated by antigens – things the body doesn’t recognize as belonging there. These are proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, viruses and fungi.
When the immune system cells come into contact with these antigens, a whole series of processes are stimulated in your immune system.
The good news is that once your immune system comes in contact with a germ, it will recognize it if it sees it again. This is why vaccines work to protect you against certain diseases.
In this special report, we’ll take a look at the top all-natural and safe immune boosters that everyone can take advantage of to strengthen their immune response, increase your resistance to disease and infection, and help you recover more quickly if you do become ill.
Get Plenty Of Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can lower your immune response and leave you more likely to succumb to infection.
In a study of 164 adults, the ones who slept less than six hours a night proved more likely to catch a cold than those who slept longer.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your body makes stress hormones like cortisol to keep you awake and alert – and that can suppress your immune system.
And you may also take longer to recover if you’re sleep-deprived. That’s because your body can’t make enough antibodies to fight off the disease if you’re not rested.
Your body also releases special proteins (cytokines) that help your immune system – but they only do that while you’re asleep. Your body does a lot of healing and regenerating while you’re asleep.
Typical adults should try to get seven or more hours of sleep daily to function properly.
Teens need eight to ten hours a night and younger children and infants need to get up to 14 hours of sleep to be at their best.
People who got a full eight hours of sleep had higher levels of T-cells than those who slept less, according to a 2019 study. And a 2015 study found that those who get seven hours of sleep are four times less likely to come down with a cold than those who were sleep-deprived.
Most people don’t get enough sleep, which is a shame because it’s an easy fix to a common problem.
Some tips for getting a good night’s sleep include limiting your screen time starting two to three hours before your bedtime. The blue light from the TV, computer screen or cellphone has been shown to disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle (circadian rhythm) so shut them all down.
Another thing to limit is caffeine use. If you’re having a tough time getting to sleep, try skipping caffeine after noon. Even if you think your body is used to it, a little caffeine can go a long way.
You can also try sleeping in a totally dark room that is cooler than the rest of your home, as your body cools down when it’s ready to sleep.
Avoid highly stimulating books or conversations right before bed, too. They get your adrenaline levels up and you’ll have more trouble calming back down.
Go to bed at the same time every night, even on your days off and have a set sleep schedule you follow before getting into bed.
If you’re still having trouble with your sleep, talk to your doctor.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy immune system, as well as many other of your body’s systems. You can’t perform at your best if you’re sleep-deprived.
Prolonged intense exercise has been shown to lower your immune response – however, moderate exercise actually boosts that response. Studies show that even one session of moderate exercise can increase vaccine effectiveness in those with compromised immune systems.
Exercise circulates your antibodies and white blood cells more rapidly, which helps them detect germs more quickly. “Being active this way also lowers stress hormones, which reduces your chances of getting sick,” Moyad adds.
According to a recent study of over 1,000 people, those who exercised at least five days a week had almost half the risk of coming down with the common cold than the more sedentary folks.
Regular moderate exercise can reduce inflammation, too, and that is known to improve your immune system. Exercise can also help your immune cells to regenerate regularly.
Examples of moderate exercise include 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking, jogging, swimming, steady bicycling, and light hiking three to five times a week.
Sunlight can stimulate your T-cells, special parts of your immune system that help fight off infection. And being outside brings you into contact with phytoncides and other plant products that can boost your immune function. It also boosts Vitamin D levels in your body, which help your immune system further.
You should also be doing strength training exercises twice a week to stay at your healthiest. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends two and one-half hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week as well as one hour and fifteen minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise.
Eat Whole Plant Foods
Today’s processed diet is a major cause of inflammation in the body. Our ancestors ate more raw fruits and vegetables and doctors have proven this is a healthier diet for your immune system (as well as other systems in your body).
Whole plant foods are rich in antioxidants and nutrients that strengthen your immune system.
Eating a colourful diet is not only artistically pleasing but fresh fruits and veggies are far better for you than processed foods and supplements.
Protein is also needed for immune health. Amino acids help build and maintain immune cells and a low-protein diet may reduce your body’s ability to fight off infection.
In a 2013 study, mice with a diet of only 2% protein were more severely affected by flu than mice who ate a normal (18% protein) diet.
There are three main vitamins needed by your immune system: Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E.
Vitamin C is one of the essential vitamins needed by your immune system. It’s important for you to get plenty of natural Vitamin C from your diet because your body doesn’t store that vitamin.
Anything you don’t use is flushed from the body by your kidneys.
The good news is that you can easily get enough Vitamin C from food without spending money on supplements. Fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits (and their juice), strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and spinach.
B6 or pyridoxine. It’s a water-soluble vitamin that isn’t made in your body, so you need to eat the right foods to get enough for your immune system.
Natural sources of B6 include chicken or turkey and cold-water fish like salmon or tuna. You can also get Vitamin B6 from green vegetables and chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus). So even if you’re vegan you can get plenty of B6 to strengthen your immune system.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is a powerful antioxidant. It’s found in nuts, seeds, and spinach. You do need to be more careful with Vitamin E because, since it’s stored in your fat, can actually build up in your body to dangerous levels.
Never take Vitamin E supplements unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so.
If you’re older or feeling particularly tired, you might also have your doctor check your Vitamin D levels. Most people get enough Vitamin D from simply going outside, where sunlight stimulates your body to make the vitamin.
However, if your doctor says you need more, taking 400 IU daily has been shown to increase disease-fighting cells like T-cells. Foods that contain Vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, salmon, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
Additional nutrients your immune system needs are zinc, folate, iron, and selenium according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Getting these from your food is better than using supplements, but you do need each of them to support your immune system.
Eating more whole plant foods can really improve your immune system.
Eat Health Fats
Eat Pre-Biotic Rich Foods
Fermented foods like yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and natto are rich in helpful bacteria called probiotics. These are the same bacteria that live in your gut and help your digestive system work properly.
Gut health and immunity are closely interrelated. Research has suggested that a healthy gut bacteria population can help your immune system tell the difference between healthy body cells and harmful invaders.
In one study, children who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 ml) of fermented milk daily had around 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases compared with the control group who didn’t drink probiotics. If you don’t regularly eat fermented foods, a probiotic supplement may be a good idea.
In another study of people infected with rhinovirus, those who took a supplement of the bacterium Bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune system response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than the control group did.
A typical daily dose of probiotics is between 1 and 10 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) daily. The key is to take these probiotic supplements or foods consistently to maintain a healthy gut and support your immune system.
It’s best to eat probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt or sauerkraut, but if you can’t include those in your regular diet, you should consider supplements to improve your immune response.
Limit Sugar Intake
The latest research states that added sugars and processed foods can contribute significantly to obesity, which can in turn reduce your immune system response.
One study of around 1,000 people found that obese people who got their yearly flu shot were twice as likely to still get the flu afterwards than non-obese people who got their vaccine.
Cutting your sugar and processed food intake can lower inflammation. It also aids in weight loss, of course, and reduces your risk of developing conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
And since all three conditions – obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – are known to weaken your immune system, “curbing your sugar intake is an important part of an immune-boosting diet,” according to Healthline.
Try to limit your sugar intake to 5% or less of your total daily caloric intake. If you’re on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, for example, you should get less than two tablespoonfuls (25 grams) of sugar in one day.
Reducing your sugar and processed foods can not only help you lose weight but can improve your immune system.
Dehydration is when your body doesn’t get enough water. It can reduce your physical performance, mood, focus, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These can also lower your resistance to disease.
Your first hint that you may not be getting enough water is a common feeling – thirst. You may also get a headache. You should be drinking enough fluid to create pale-yellow urine.
Water is best because it doesn’t have any added calories. Try to avoid too many sweetened drinks like fruit juice, sweet tea, or sodas.
While those can help hydrate you, the added sugar can reduce your immune response and negate the positive effects of drinking enough fluid.
Staying hydrated can boost your immune health. Water helps your body make lymph, which carries immune system cells like white blood cells. Try eating hydrating foods like cucumbers, melon or celery.
Also, try to avoid overdoing diuretics or water-reducing substances like caffeine.
As a general guideline, you should drink whenever you’re thirsty and continue drinking until your body no longer signals it needs liquid. You may need more fluid if you exercise, work outside, or live in a hot climate.
There’s a strong link between your immune system and your mental health. Stress and anxiety make poor germ fighters.
Studies have shown that just having anxious thoughts can lower your immune response in as little as half an hour.
Constant stress makes it even harder to fight off viruses and bacteria. Stress makes your body produce cytokines, molecules that trigger inflammation that can reduce your immune response.
Research at Carnegie Mellon University found that if you’re stressed, you’re more likely to come down with the common cold.
In one study, healthy adults were exposed to the cold virus, then quarantined for five days and monitored. Those who reported stress were twice as likely to get sick.
There is also evidence that sorrow if it lasts a long time, can lower your body’s immunity. This effect can last for up to six months – and can go on even longer if your grief is deep or doesn’t ease.
Talk to a doctor or therapist if you suffer from anxiety or grief that doesn’t seem to be letting up in a reasonable time period.
Antioxidants Build A Strong Immune System
It’s no secret that antioxidants are incredibly beneficial to good health. It’s believed the antioxidants in food can help prevent cancer, reverse or slow ageing, enhance your immune system, increase your energy and improve heart and other organ health.
Given all we know about antioxidants and their beneficial properties, it’s amazing more people don’t get enough fruits and vegetables, the primary sources of antioxidants. Experts recommend a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but getting 7-10 servings is much better.
There are 10 steps to getting more antioxidants into your diet.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be a hurried toaster tart on the way out the door. Throw some strawberries, 100% juice and yoghurt into a blender; pour your delicious mixture into a cup and head out the door. You’ve just added one to three servings of fruits to your daily intake. Or throw some berries onto your cold or hot cereal.
Here’s an easy way to get more antioxidants in your diet. How about a handful of raisins for a snack, or some fresh red grapes? Dip some strawberries in yoghurt. You’ll feel decadent, but the berries provide the colour you’re looking for. Need crunch? How about some baby carrots dipped in hummus? Consider a handful of pecans for crunch and a nice antioxidant boost.
Lunch and dinner
It might sound trite, but adding a salad to each of your main daily meals can add loads to your overall health and well-being. They don’t have to be boring, and they don’t have to be just salad greens. If you’re going classic, add some red pepper slices to your green salad, some tomatoes to the Greek salad, or tart cranberries to your field greens. Whip up a broccoli salad for lunch, or be adventurous and mix up a rice salad with a mélange of fresh vegetables like string beans, tomatoes, peppers and red onions.
Berries, with or without yoghurt or a small amount of dark chocolate are a wonderful way to end your day of healthy, antioxidant-rich eating.
Replace your soda with herbal tea or coffee with almonds, both of which boast antioxidant compounds. Have the occasional small glass of wine with dinner, or for a real change of pace, pour a glass of chai tea.
Think outside the box
We know we can get our antioxidant fix from berries, salads and the like, but researchers say powerful antioxidants can also be found in a variety of unexpected foods, like russet potatoes, artichokes, and small red beans. The beans, in fact, may have more antioxidant power than blueberries, experts say. So to your rice salad full of vegetables, add some beans for even more antioxidants.
You think you’re being good, preparing vegetables each night for your family’s dinner. But if you’re overcooking the vegetables, you’re cooking out a lot of the beneficial properties of the antioxidants. Steam (don’t boil) vegetables, and stop cooking them when they will have all of their bright colour and most of their bite.
Plant a garden
Experts believe that people who plant and harvest vegetables from their own yards are far more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits than people who buy their produce from the store. So plant a garden, watch it grow and eat the fruits (literally) of your labour.
Take your healthy diet on vacation
Too many of us consider going on vacation an opportunity to take a vacation from everything, including healthy eating. Think of vacation as a way to be introduced to new foods. Order an interesting vegetable dish in a restaurant and then pay attention to how the chef prepared the dish.
Learn to cook
If you’re cooking, you’re not opening bags and boxes. Cooking involves scrubbing and peeling vegetables, preparing whole foods and paying attention to how things are cooked. If you’re ordering out every night, you’re far less likely to be eating the whole foods and natural fruits and vegetables that provide the base for our antioxidant intake.