Easy Ways To Boost Immune System Naturally
The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly has prompted increasing queries online on various ways to boost immune system or avoid contracting a disease. With people panic buying toilet papers, facial masks, hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, antimicrobials, and canned foods, who wouldn't want to search various ways on how to strengthen the immune system?
However, it's easy to be misguided because it is usually challenging to spot misinformation online. That is why we decided to list down different ways that you should consider to boost immunity. Here, you'll find information and facts that we gathered from trusted sources such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and academic papers written by professionals and scholars.
But first, let's discuss the basics.
So, what is the Immune System?
The immune system is a group of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to defeat invading pathogens. It fights microbes or foreign substances that may cause an abnormality in the normal processes of the body systems. Simply put, it is a set of biological structures and processes that protect your body from diseases or infection.
What do you need to know about the Immune System?
Scientists say that there are lots of evidence that prove genetics playing a role in the strength of the immune response, affecting an individual’s ability to fend off diseases. Various scientific studies also show that nonheritable factors affect the immune system. These factors include diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and more.
Take a look at the most practical ways to strengthen your immune system naturally and keep yourself safe this pandemic season.
Easy Ways to Boost Immune System Naturally
Here’s what you should do to help your body combat illness by boosting your immune system
1. Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet
Consuming nutrient-rich foods is always going to be at any list involving health and wellness. And knowing that diet can affect immunity, you are probably wondering if there are foods that can boost the immune system. While there are many foods containing nutrients or vitamins that serve as a natural immune booster, there is only a limited amount of food that you can eat in a day. The best way to get as much as you need is to simply eat the foods that have the highest amount and variety of nutrients.
Essentially, you may want to include carbohydrates, fiber, minerals, protein, small amounts of fats, vitamins, and water in your diet. Now, let's take a look at some nutrients that our immune system needs and which foods we can find them in.
One of the essential nutrients that help fight molecules known to damage the immune system is vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C works as an antioxidant, aiding in the reduction of oxidative damage caused by harmful molecules in the body. It also lowers the risk of certain diseases, helps in the repair of our body tissues, and assists in enzymatic production.
Here are some familiar sources of Vitamin C:
- citrus fruits
- kiwi fruit
- green and red peppers
- orange or grapefruit juices
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant like Vitamin C. These two support the immune system’s response against free radicals.
To increase your vitamin E intake, you can add these foods to your diet:
- beet greens
- collard greens
- nuts (almonds, peanuts)
- red bell pepper
- soybean oil
- wheat germ oil
Adding these Vitamin E food sources will help protect body cells from damages caused by free radicals; it will also help stop free radical production in the cells entirely.
Zinc is a mineral needed by the body in small amounts to revitalize the white blood cells that defend the body against foreign invaders like microorganisms and the like.
Good food sources rich in zinc include
- Seeds (pumpkin, sesame)
- Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, oysters)
- Whole grains
- Zinc-fortified breakfast cereals
Here’s a tip from Harvard Experts though, zinc can be absorbed more efficiently if taken by people who have zinc deficiency or if it is consumed in small doses.
Beta-carotene and other Carotenoids
Carotenoids are pigments found in plants and are responsible for the colors of various vegetables and fruits. Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid, a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation by increasing the levels of disease-fighting cells in the body.
A diet that has plenty of carotenoids should include any of the following:
- dark leafy greens
- green leafy vegetables
- red and yellow peppers
- romaine lettuce
- sweet potatoes
Beta carotene is usually found in herbs or spices including:
To maximize the amount of vitamins and nutrients you take in, it makes sense to spend your intake wisely. Also, before deciding to make changes in your dietary intake, consult with your primary health care provider. Some foods, supplements, and medications that don't mix well. And according to heart.org, even super healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables (yes, fruit and vegetables), can cause unintended and possibly harmful interactions with any current medications you might be taking.
2. Limit the amount of your sugar intake
Research suggests that high levels of sugar have direct and harmful effects on the immune system, especially on the white blood cells. They also increase inflammatory markers in the body. For instance, drinking a liter of soda decreases the reactivity of white blood cells by 40%.
And since WBCs perform an essential function involving immunity by killing microorganisms through phagocytosis, the risk for getting infection increases with high sugar levels.
3. Avoid junk foods
Yes, you should avoid junk foods. Junk foods contain lots of salt, also known as sodium. High levels of sodium in the blood can cause the immune system to become more responsive. According to one study conducted on mice, it was revealed that high levels of sodium chloride (formula name for salt), promote tissue inflammation as well as autoimmune diseases.
If you haven't heard about autoimmune diseases before, know that they are conditions that occur when the body's natural defense system (immune system) can't tell the difference between foreign cells and our body's cells. This causes the body to attack or destroy the healthy cells mistakenly.
Currently, there are around 80 types of autoimmune disorders. Some of those are listed below:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
4. Limit eating fatty foods
The University of Gothenburg discovered that fatty foods could weaken the immune system. While the research was done in mice, strong evidence suggests that the immune system becomes less active with a lard-based diet. Furthermore, the study revealed that white blood cells even got worse at dealing with bacteria.
Be sure to read more about types of fats to know more about them, including possible benefits in specific amounts, and harmful effects.
5. Add herbs and spices to your meals
Herbs and spices not only give some flavor to food or garnish dishes but offer health benefits as well. One of these benefits includes boosting the immune system. Here’s a short description of how:
Has anti-inflammatory properties.
Help prevent heterocyclic amine (HCA) from forming, a chemical that may increase the risk of cancer.
Slows the progression of certain cancers, boosting the immune process. It also has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.
Plays a significant role in combating harmful substances called free radicals.
Aids in fending off pathogenic or harmful microorganisms
Herbs like basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, and thyme have long been prized since ancient times throughout the world for their medicinal properties. Unless otherwise it’s contraindicated to your health, it’s probably a good idea to add any in your diet.
Boost your immune system with herbs!
6. Take multivitamins or dietary supplements as appropriate
Dietary supplements are getting popular over the past couple of years. In fact, in one study conducted in 2017, researchers say that in the United States, seventy percent (70%) of older adults reported that they take dietary supplements.
The question, however, is that if you should take multivitamins and dietary supplements? Or are they a waste of money?
Well, we can’t answer all these questions for you. Why? Because deciding to take multivitamins or a dietary supplement is like tailoring specific treatment to individual characteristics of each person. Depending on your current health condition, you may or may not need certain nutrients or vitamins.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, several nutrients are under-consumed. These include vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as calcium, choline, magnesium, and potassium.
If you decide to take dietary supplements, just remember that they should never be a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. It is always better to get vitamins and minerals directly from the food that you eat, such as fruits and vegetables.
If you are still unclear whether you need daily supplements, you can consult your primary care provider. He/she will check if you lack any type of vitamins or minerals. You will be assessed if you belong to any high-risk groups for vitamin or mineral deficiency.
For example, older individuals with osteoporosis may need additional supplements such as calcium and vitamin D. Female adults may require extra hormonal supplements, and those who have problems with digestion may benefit from gut solutions.
7. Maintain a regular physical activity as advised by your physician or therapist
Physical activity or exercise has several effects on the human body systems, including the immune system. It can have both positive and negative impacts on the normal functioning of the immune system. This means that exercise can influence an individual's vulnerability to certain types of infection.
Epidemiological studies suggest a relationship between the occurrence of diseases or infection and the intensity of physical activity. In one study involving over 500 adults, researchers discovered that individuals who participated in one to two hours of moderate exercise were linked to ⅓ reduction in the risk of acquiring upper respiratory tract infection. This observation was compared to persons who had an inactive lifestyle. Furthermore, it has been found that exercise can induce anti-inflammatory effects, which means that exercise or physical activity, in moderation, may enhance the immune system’s function.
So if you want to help your immune system, you can exercise with caution.
8. Sleep at least seven and a half to nine hours per night
Besides cell, tissue, and organ repair that happens when we sleep, our immune system also releases some important compounds or chemicals. One of these compounds include cytokines that help the immune system in warding off inflammation.
Simply put, if you don’t get enough sleep, you may not have adequate amounts of the compound cytokines to keep you from acquiring an infection or getting sick. Research also says that the production of white blood cells and antibodies can decrease over time without adequate sleep.
9. Drink alcohol only in moderation
The Alcohol Research Current Reviews show evidence that alcohol drinking disrupts the pathways of the immune system in a complex way. This disturbance that it causes consequently impairs the body to fight microorganisms and infection, increasing the risk of potentially acquiring fatal illnesses such as COVID-19, pneumonia, and other types of infection. Some research summarizes that too much alcohol intake contributes to organ damage and impedes recovery from tissue injury.
The key thing to remember is that there are a number of ways that increased alcohol consumption can impair the immune system, making individuals more likely to get sick. So if you can’t avoid drinking alcohol, at least drink in moderation.
10. Wash your hands frequently
The immune system does a pretty remarkable job of protecting us against infection and other disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it needs help. Having white blood cells, macrophages, and those kinds of stuff is useful, but the first line of defense is always to live a healthy lifestyle. Following a general guideline like frequent handwashing is one of the crucial steps in keeping the immune system strong.
Handwashing may sound simple, but it is an excellent way to start giving your immune system a head start. Like soldiers, our cells in the immune system can have the upper hand if the germ can’t pass the first line of defense and fail to invade our bodies in the first place.
11. Avoid smoking
Inhaling tobacco smoke can cause damage to the body’s organs and systems including the immune system. Besides cancer-causing chemicals, tobacco products contain more than 70 harmful compounds such as:
Not to be confused with carbon dioxide, which is a food for plants; carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. It is colorless and odorless, which makes it hard to be detected. In large doses, carbon dioxide can quickly cause death as it takes the place of oxygen that our blood carries. In people who smoke, the carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the blood, making it harder for the oxygen to travel to different organs, muscles, and cells in the body.
Surprised? Yes, it might sound weird, but it is true. Tobacco smoke has a lot of metal components that may cause cancer. These metals may include arsenic, cobalt, beryllium, chromium, lead, cadmium, and nickel.
You probably know what lead does to the brain, kidney, and other organs of the body. Knowing that should give you an idea of what high levels of heavy metals do—it makes you sick.
The word oxidizing may sound like a big scary word, but ‘oxidizing chemical’ simply means that it is a material that can give off oxygen. Chemicals such as these also react to oxidize combustible materials (or stuff that you can burn). They can damage organs in the body, such as the heart muscles, lung cells, and blood vessels.
Oxidizing chemicals also react with the fats or cholesterol in the body, which can lead to plaque build-up on the walls of the artery. This action does not only lead to stroke, heart disease, and blood vessel but also affects how the blood gets transported to the different parts of the body. If the blood flow can get disrupted, this means that some components of the immune system, such as the white blood cells may also be negatively affected.
Radioactive compounds damage our DNA, a molecule that makes up our genetic code. They are also believed to be carcinogenic.
Tar is the term given to solid particles that are suspended in tobacco smoke. These particles are composed of chemicals, including carcinogens or cancer-causing substances. It is the sticky substance that causes brown to black stains in the fingernails, teeth, and lung tissue.
These substances have the following effects on the immune system:
- higher risk to infections not limited to coronaviruses, pneumonia, or influenza
- longer-lasting illnesses
- lower levels of antioxidants that protect the body such as vitamin C in the blood
- more severe diseases
12. Try to minimize stress
The mind and body are closely linked to each other. For this reason, several maladies and illnesses are directly connected to levels of all types of stress, including emotional stress. Researchers even studied the link between the immune system and stress.
However, there are many challenges that hinder scientists in studying stress and immune function. For one, stress varies for every individual, which makes it very difficult to define. What is stressful to one person may not be to another. For instance, one person who is extremely stressed at work may experience stomach upset, allergies, and even chronic diseases.
Despite these challenges, such as stress being a subjective condition, professionals have found a way to confirm stress. They measure things that reflect stress, including increased heartbeat rate in a minute, as well as respiration, and levels of certain chemicals or hormones released in the body.
Effects of Stress in the Immune System
According to the American Psychological Association, stress hurts immunity, including the body's ability to ward off infection. Emerging evidence is tracing linkages about how the immune system gets affected by stress. And here they are:
- Severe stress may increase the odds of developing an autoimmune disease.
- Intense stress may suppress certain functions of the immune system.
- The immune system’s fight-or-flight response stays turned on, which over-exposes the body to cortisol (nature's built-in alarm system) and other stress hormones.
- Increased inflammatory chemicals or compounds as inflammatory response feeds off stress.
- Recurring stress can dysregulate immune function, inducing patterns of immune suppression, and hyperactivity of the immune system.
However, many studies that connect emotional or psychological stress to the immune system do not take into account several factors that may have an effect on the findings. These factors include (and are not limited to) age, alcohol, caffeine, diet, general health, medications, nicotine, physical activity, sleep patterns, and the use of prohibited drugs. Although some researchers try to control these factors, it is usually unlikely to gain complete control over any experiments or research studies. Just know that there are connections between stress, illness, and the immune system. So try to de-stress as much as you can!
Give your immune system a boost!
The bottom line is that there is no all-in-one solution or magic pill guaranteed to protect you from coronavirus or any infection and diseases. But, there are ways to take care of your body and give your immune system the best chance to perform well. You can try any of the ways we discussed above after being sure it is appropriate and not contraindicated for you.
Healthy reminder before trying any of the ways to boost the immune system naturally:
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your physician to determine if any of these natural ways to boost the immune system is appropriate for your current health condition.