We are continually exposed to organisms that are inhaled, swallowed or inhabit our skin and mucous membranes. Whether or not these organisms lead to disease is decided by the integrity of our body’s defence mechanisms, or immune system.
When our immune system is working properly, we don’t even notice it. But when we have an under- or over-active immune system, we are at a greater risk of developing infections and other health conditions.
If you are wondering how to boost your immune system, be advised that it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. It’s a matter of strengthening your immune response with lifestyle changes and the use of immune-boosting antimicrobial and antiviral herbs. But hopefully you find comfort in knowing that your body is made to combat germs and protect your body from harm.
What is the role of the Immune System?
Our immune system works to protect us every day, and we don’t even notice it. But when the performance of our immune system is compromised, that’s when we face illness. Research indicates that underactivity of the immune system can result in severe infections and tumours of immunodeficiency, while over activity results in allergic and autoimmune diseases.
For our body’s natural defences to run smoothly, the immune system must be able to differentiate between “self” and “non-self” cells, organisms and substances. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:
- “Non-self” substances are called antigens, which includes the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Cells of the immune system detect the presence of antigens and work to defend themselves.
- “Self” substances are proteins on the surface of our own cells. Normally, the immune system has already learned at an earlier stage to identify these cells proteins as “self,” but when it identifies its own body as “non-self,” and fights it, this is called an autoimmune reaction.
The amazing thing about the immune system is that it’s constantly adapting and learning so that the body can fight against bacteria or viruses that change over time. There are two parts of the immune system:
- Our innate immune system works as a general defence against pathogens.
- Our adaptive immune system targets very specific pathogens that the body has already has contact with.
These two immune systems complement each other in any reaction to a pathogen or harmful substance.
Immune System Diseases
Before learning exactly how to boost your immune system, first understand that most immune disorders result from either an excessive immune response or an autoimmune attack. Disorders of the immune system include:
- Allergies and Asthma: Allergies are an immune-mediated inflammatory response to normally harmless environmental substances known as allergens. The body overreacts to an allergen, causing an immune reaction and allergy symptoms. This can result in one or more allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis and food allergies.
- Immune Deficiency Diseases: An immune deficiency disease is when the immune system is missing one or more of its parts, and it reacts too slowly to a threat. Immune deficiency conditions, like HIV/AIDS and drug-induced immune deficiency, are due to a severe impairment of the immune system, which leads to infections that are sometimes life-threatening.
- Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune diseases cause your immune system to attack your own body’s cells and tissues in response to an unknown trigger. Examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Many of Echinacea’s chemical constituents are powerful immune system stimulants that can provide significant therapeutic value. Research shows that one of the most significant Echinacea benefits is its effects when used on recurring infections.
The berries and flowers of the elder plant have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Even Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” understood that this plant was key for how to boost your immune system. He used elderberry because of its wide array of health benefits, including its ability to fight colds, the flu, allergies and inflammation.
Several studies indicate that elderberry has the power to boost the immune system, especially because it has proven to help treat the symptoms of the common cold and flu.
3. Astragalus Root
Astragalus is a plant within the bean and legumes family that has a very long history as an immune system booster and disease fighter. Its root has been used as an adaptogen in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Although astragalus is one of the least studied immune-boosting herbs, there are some preclinical trials that show intriguing immune activity.
The ginseng plant, belonging to the Panax genus, can help you to boost your immune system and fight infections. The roots, stems and leaves of ginseng have been used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness or infection.
Ginseng improves the performance of your immune system by regulating each type of immune cell, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells and B cells. It has also proven to possess antimicrobial compounds that work as a defence mechanism against bacterial and viral infections.
Because of ginseng’s ability to play a role in antibody production, it helps the body to fight invading microorganisms or pathogenic antigens.
5. Bone Broth
Bone broth supports immune function by promoting the health of your gut and reducing inflammation caused by leaky gut syndrome. The collagen and amino acids (proline, glutamine and arginine) found in bone broth help to seal openings in the gut lining and support its integrity.
We know that gut health plays a major role in immune function, so consuming bone broth works as an excellent immune system booster food.
Ayurvedic medicine has relied on ginger’s ability for how to boost your immune system before recorded history. It’s believed that ginger helps to break down the accumulation of toxins in our organs due to its warming effects. It’s also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, our network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.
Ginger root can treat a wide range of diseases with its immunonutrition and anti-inflammatory responses. Research shows that ginger has antimicrobial potential, which helps in treating infectious diseases.
It’s also known for its ability to treat inflammatory disorders that are caused by infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria and parasites, as well as physical and chemical agents like heat, acid and cigarette smoke.
7. Green Tea
Studies evaluating the efficacy of green tea show that it contains antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties. It works as an antifungal and antivirus agent, and may be helpful for immunocompromised patients.
Strengthen your immune system by drinking a good-quality green tea daily. The antioxidants and amino acids present in this tea will help your body to fight germs and get well.
8. Vitamin C Foods
Vitamin C foods, like citrus fruits and red bell peppers, improve the health of your immune system by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Studies display that getting enough vitamin C (along with zinc) in your diet may help to reduce the symptoms of respiratory infections and shorten the duration of illnesses like the common cold and bronchitis.
The best vitamin C foods to add for a strong immune system include:
- citrus fruits, including orange, lemon and grapefruit
- black currant
- green and red bell pepper
9. Beta-Carotene Foods
Beta-carotene has powerful antioxidant activity, allowing it to help reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress. Instead of taking beta-carotene supplements, researchers propose that beta-carotene can promote health when taken at dietary levels, by eating foods rich in the carotenoid.
The richest sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange and red fruits and veggies, and leafy greens. Adding the following foods to your diet can help promote a strong immune system:
- carrot juice
- sweet potato
- red bell peppers
- collard greens
Because leaky gut is a major cause of food sensitivities, autoimmune disease and immune imbalance or a weakened immune system, it’s important to consume probiotic foods and supplements.
Probiotics are good bacteria that help you digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of your colon and support your immune system.
11. Vitamin D
Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses and a vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.
Research proves that vitamin D works to maintain tolerance and promote protective immunity. There have been multiple cross-sectional studies that associate lower levels of vitamin D with increased infection.
One study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital included 19,000 participants, and it showed that individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for variables such as season, age, gender, body mass and race. Sometimes addressing a nutritional deficiency is how to boost your immune system.
Zinc supplements are often used as an over-the-counter remedy for fighting colds and other illnesses. It may help to reduce cold-related symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold.
Research evaluating the efficacy of zinc shows that it can interfere with a molecular process that causes bacteria build-up in the nasal passages.
Oregano essential oil is known for its healing and immune-boosting properties. It fights infections naturally due to its antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-parasite compounds.
Several scientific studies show that oregano oil exhibited antibacterial activity against a number of bacterial isolates and species, including B. laterosporus and S. saprophyticus.
14. Maca Root
In the 1930s, Russian scientists studying plant medicine coined the term adaptogen to refer to a plant that promoted nonspecific benefits to an organism while inducing NO negative side effects.
An adaptogen is a substance which raises the non-specific resistance in an organism. Adaptogens enable the body to enhance its power of resistance and adapt to external conditions. They work with the body’s natural rhythms to help rebuild weak immune systems, re-mineralize poorly nourished bodies, and increase energy and endurance.
Incorporating physical activity into your daily and weekly regimen is extremely important to strengthen your immune system.
A 2018 human study published in Aging Cell revealed that high levels of physical activity and exercise improve the immunosenescence (gradual deterioration of the immune system) in older adults aged 55 through 79, compared to those in the same age group who were physically inactive.
The study also highlights that physical activity doesn’t protect against all of the immunosenescence that occurs. However, the decrease in a person’s immune system function and activity can be influenced by decreased physical activity in addition to age.
16. Reduce Stress
Studies prove that chronic stress can suppress protective immune responses and exacerbate pathological immune responses.
In order to promote health and healing, you need to minimize your stress levels. This can be difficult today, especially when people are concerned about becoming ill, but it’s important.
17. Improve Sleep
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your immune system won’t be able to function properly. In fact, research analysing the vulnerability of sleep-deprived adults found that those who slept less than six hours a night were more than four times likely to get a cold than adults who slept more than seven hours.
To reduce your chances of catching colds and the flu, make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.
18. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Consuming too much alcohol can certainly impact immune function, which is why you’ll need to cut back on alcohol to fight infections and promote immune system health.
Alcohol negatively impact gut health, decreasing immune function and making you more susceptible to harmful pathogens. Stick to one or 2 alcohol drinks a week, or less, to boost your immune system.
19. Take Protective Measures
When there are germs and bugs going around, it’s important to protect yourself and those around you. This means:
- frequent hand washing, for at least 20 seconds
- minimize touching your face
- staying home when sick
- coughing or sneezing into your elbow
- seeking medical attention and treatment when needed
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting supplementation if you have any underlying health conditions. Additionally, consider starting with a lower dosage and working your way up to assess your tolerance and prevent adverse effects on health.
Can’t find what you are looking for or, aren’t sure of which is the correct product to use for you? Book a consultation with us, we can recommend what supplements are better suited for your body by coming in for a check up