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How To Boost Your Immune System

Last Updated: June 22, 2023

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Understand the function of the immune system and how one can make healthy lifestyle changes to strengthen the immune system and improve the immune response naturally.

 

What is the immune system?

how to boost your immune systemThe body’s immune system, comprising innate and adaptive systems, is a collection of cells, organs, organ systems, and proteins fighting infections, foreign pathogens, and particles. The immune system is what protects us from getting sick. The immune system naturally evolves as people are exposed to microbes, viruses, and bacteria to continue fighting infectious diseases. 

 

Healthy Ways to Boost the Immune System

Some immune systems are more resistant to infections than others. Studies demonstrate that your lifestyle can affect how well your immune system can protect you from chronic diseases, viruses, and disease-causing pathogens.

Although bolstering immunity can be challenging, various lifestyle and dietary changes can strengthen your body’s defenses and fight off harmful disease-causing organisms or pathogens. Diet, age, exercise, stress, and other factors influence your body’s immune response.

All body functions, including the immune system, function well when supported by a healthy lifestyle and protected from environmental stresses. Below are a few strategies to boost your immunity naturally.

 

Balanced Diet

Research shows that living in poverty puts you at a higher risk of infectious diseases. It is still in debate whether consuming certain foods, including refined sugar intake or processed foods, will adversely impact the immune system; however, micronutrient deficiencies, including iron, copper, beta carotene, and vitamins A, C, E, and B6, do negatively impact your health and immune response.

To incorporate the proper micronutrients, eating a balanced diet, including whole plant foods like nuts, whole grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, is critical. These foods are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that can provide your body an advantage in fighting against harmful pathogens.

Antioxidants help reduce inflammation by combatting free radicals, unstable compounds that can build up in the body and cause inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to several conditions, including cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

The fiber in whole plant food is beneficial for your body as it feeds the community of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome, improving one’s immunity and preventing the entry of foreign pathogens through the digestive tract.

Vitamins in fruits and vegetables also provide additional health benefits for the immune system. Eating healthy foods rich in nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C enhances immunity and can lower your susceptibility to disease.

 

Supplementation

While supplements cannot replace the nutrients obtained through your diet, supplements can be beneficial for you if you have a deficiency in their diet. Taking supplements with a healthy diet will not necessarily improve your immune system; however, supplements can boost the immune system if deficiencies exist.

Vitamin C and D supplements have positive effects for reducing the duration of a cold or the chances of getting sick. Supplementing vitamin C with zinc can also reduce the duration of a cold. Other supplements, such as Echinacea, can also promote faster recovery from cold and flu season and lower symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections.

You may not need supplements if your diet provides adequate vitamins and nutrients; however, if you are worried about nutrient deficiencies, it is best to consult a doctor before taking vitamins and supplements.

 

Limiting Sugar Intake​​

Consuming high amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars can increase your likelihood of becoming overweight or obese and, as a result, put you at a higher risk of illness.

Limiting sugar intake can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of chronic health issues like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Conditions associated with excessive sugar consumption, like diabetes and obesity, can weaken the immune system. Therefore with these conditions, it is essential to monitor your sugar intake.

Professionals recommend that less than 5% of your daily calories should be composed of sugar. Reducing or limiting added sugars can lower the risk of conditions that weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to sickness and infections.

 

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods can help with fostering a healthy immune system. Fermented foods contain probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria surrounding the digestive tract. Examples of fermented foods include tofu, soybeans, kimchi, natto, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. Probiotic supplements can also replace the consumption of fermented foods, but it is important to consult your doctor when considering starting a supplement.  

Studies show that increasing gut bacteria can help immune cells fight off infection by effective differentiation between healthy cells and harmful pathogens. In children, fermented foods can help lower the risk of infectious diseases. Although, if you decide to give your child fermented foods, it is best to consult a health expert prior to consumption.

A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for a healthy immune system; therefore, consuming probiotics or fermented foods can help your immune system identify and target foreign pathogens, enhancing immunity.

 

Healthy Fats

In addition to fermented foods, healthy fats can boost our immune response to harmful pathogens by lowering chronic inflammation in the body. Healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil, which reduce the risk of chronic inflammation-related diseases like type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The anti-inflammatory properties of these fats can also strengthen your immune system by combating harmful bacteria, viruses, and illness.

 

Water and Hydration

Staying hydrated and drinking water is important for your immune health. Water contains no sugar, additives, or unhealthy calories; there you must drink plenty of water to benefit the body and improve overall health.

Dehydration can result in physical symptoms such as headaches, digestion problems, disturbances in mood, decreased focus, and impaired kidney and heart function.

The consequences of dehydration can make your body more susceptible to illness. Water is crucial to the body because lymph and blood require water to circulate the immune cells.

You are constantly losing water through sweating, exercise, bowel movements, and urination. Therefore, to support the immune system, you must keep track of your daily water intake and drink enough fluid daily.

When you are adequately hydrated, your urine should be a pale yellow. Adults should ensure to drink plenty of water even if they are not thirsty, as it is natural for adults to lose the urge to drink water. Limiting the intake of sweetened coffee, tea, and fruit is also important due to the higher added sugar content.

 

Reduced Stress Levels

Reduce stress levels, one way to boost your immune systemThere is a close link between the body and the mind; various diseases are connected to emotional stress. While stress is challenging to define and is a subjective experience, stress, and anxiety are linked to immune health. Stress can affect your immune response.

Chronic stress can suppress the immune system by promoting immune cell function and inflammation imbalances. Prolonged psychological and physical stress can especially weaken the immune system in children, increasing their risk of infections and viruses.

Stress can also indirectly impact your immune system by influencing lifestyle behaviors, including less water intake, unhealthy diet, sleep disturbances, or less frequent exercise.

Some ways to manage and minimize stress include practicing meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, exercising, or participating in a hobby you enjoy. Contacting a therapist or counselor is important if you are unable to control or manage your stress levels successfully.

 

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is a significant component of healthy living because it has many benefits for your body. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve blood pressure and cardiovascular health and protect you against many diseases.

Although prolonged or excessive exercise can weaken the immune system, moderate exercise can boost your immune response.

Exercise also has anti-inflammatory effects and can enhance immune regulation by regenerating immune cells. You can engage in moderate exercise, including swimming, jogging, brisk walking, cycling, and light hiking. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

 

Healthy Sleep Patterns

Sleep is critical for a well-functioning and balanced immune system. Poor or inadequate sleep can make your body more susceptible to illnesses and weakens the immune system. If you sleep less than seven hours every night, you are more vulnerable to viral infections and colds.

Inadequate sleep can increase the chance of viral infections because poor sleep results in lower natural killer cell activity. This results in a higher risk of viral infections and cancer, inflammatory cytokines, antibody production, and increased risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases, all of which perpetuate the cycle of infection.

Younger children and infants need up to fourteen hours of sleep, adults require seven to eight, and teens require eight to ten hours. Getting enough sleep can boost your immune system, and resting while sick will also increase the speed and time of recovery.

Some ways you can use to improve sleep patterns and disturbances include using a sleep mask, sleeping in a dark room, creating a sleep schedule (going to bed at a set time each night), and regular exercise.

You should also limit screen time before bed to achieve better sleep quality. The light emitted from electronic devices such as cell phones or TV can disrupt circadian rhythms and your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

 

Good Hygiene

It is important that you practice good hygiene to maintain a healthy immune system and boost your immune response.

Good personal hygiene habits can defend your body against germs and stop infections from beginning and spreading. Some tips for good hygiene include frequent handwashing when preparing food and covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.

 

Limited Alcohol Consumption and Smoking

Alcohol can impair the body’s defense against infections and can result in organ damage, hindering tissue injury recovery. Similarly, if you smoke, your body’s immune defenses are lowered and you are at a higher risk of disease. Therefore it is critical that you avoid excessive alcohol use, limit your alcohol consumption and smoking.

Immunity is the body’s defense against harmful disease-causing pathogens and organisms. If you have a weak immune system, you are more susceptible to chronic conditions and illnesses. Therefore, you must make the right diet and lifestyle choices that will help boost your immune system and keep you healthy.

References

Six Tips to Enhance Immunity | DNPAO | CDC

6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System | Houston Methodist On Health

Six Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally Before You Get Sick

How to boost your immune system - Harvard Health

9 Ways to Boost Your Body's Natural Defenses

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