The immune system is your body’s natural defense against infection and it’s the key to good health. To offer the best protection against viruses and bacteria, your immune system needs to be robust and resilient. That’s because the stronger it is, the better it can fight off viruses.
There are three key ways to optimize your immune system: Eat nutrient-rich foods, adopt healthy lifestyle habits, and take the proper supplements to help you stay ahead of pathogens that can make you sick.
Your immune system is made up of various organs, cells, and proteins. It plays a vital role in your body, protecting it from harmful substances or cellular changes that could make you sick. When your immune system detects foreign and potentially harmful microbes in your body, it quickly gets to work fighting them off. But sometimes your immune system can’t ward off these harmful microbes off easily. And that’s when you get sick. Many of the symptoms you experience while ill are actually caused by your immune system reacting to these unwanted “invaders.” The good news is that once your body has successfully overcome an infection, it will remember how to fight it. That means, the next time you come into contact with those same pathogens, you won’t get as sick, if you get sick at all. One example of this is chickenpox.
Unfortunately, some people have a weakened immune system. This can be due to an unhealthy lifestyle or underlying health conditions like heart disease or diabetes. The most common symptom of a weakened immune system is an increased risk of infection.
There is no magic immune system “booster” that will level up your defenses overnight, but there are things you can do to protect your immune cells and reduce your susceptibility to infection.
- Maintain a healthy diet. As with most things in your body, a healthy diet is key to a strong immune system. This means making sure you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. In addition to providing your immune system with the energy it needs, a healthy diet can help to make sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of the micronutrients that play a role in maintaining a strong immune system. This includes vitamin B6 (found in chicken, salmon, tuna, bananas, green veggies, and potatoes), vitamin C, (found in citrus fruits, as well as broccoli and spinach), and vitamin E, (found in almonds, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter).
- Minimize stress. Whether it comes on quickly or builds over time, it’s important to understand just how stress affects your health—including your immune system. During a period of stress, especially chronic stress, your body responds by initiating what is known as a “stress response.” This response is actually meant to help you handle the stress better. Unfortunately, it also suppresses your immune system, increasing your chances of infection or illness.
Stress is different for everyone. Given the effect it can have on your health, it’s important to minimize its effects. Studies show that activities like deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and exercise can effectively help reduce stress and its impact on your immune system.
- Try a supplement. Did you know that behind digestion, immune support is the next most popular reason people use probiotics? This makes sense since about 70 percent of the body’s total number of immune cells live in the gut. When the gut becomes populated with an overabundance of harmful bacteria, probiotics can help to restore your microbial balance. Probiotics have also been shown to secrete protective substances that may “turn on” the immune system.1 This can help prevent pathogens from taking hold and triggering an infection.
In addition to probiotics, there are other immune-supportive nutrients you can incorporate into your routine. Astragalus, for example, has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some evidence suggests it can enhance the immune system and reduce inflammation by increasing the body’s production of white blood cells, which are the cells in your immune system responsible for preventing illness.2
Zinc is another great nutrient to add to your immune-fortifying arsenal. Some studies have shown that zinc may reduce the duration of the common cold by one to two days.3
Lastly, we wanted to bring up Aged Garlic Extract (AGE). The aging process of AGE strengthens garlic’s antioxidant content, helping the body to make more lymphocytes, including powerful natural killer cells, as well as more antibodies.4
On the whole, your immune system does a pretty great job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But when it becomes run down or neglected, incorporating the above tips can help keep your immune system in fighting form.
- Fang Y & Polk D. Probiotics and immune health. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology 27 (6): 496–501.
- Denzler K, Moore J, Harrington H, et al. Characterization of the physiological response following In Vivo administration of astragalus membranaceus. Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine. 2016; 686-1078.
- Hickner, J. Zinc for the common cold – not if, but when. Journal of Family Practice. 2011; 60(11): 669-671.
- Percival, S. Aged garlic extract modifies human immunity. Journal of Nutrition. 2016; 146(2): 433S-436S.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.