Strengthening your immune system can help reduce your frequency of catching colds, and even reduce their severity. There are tons of supplements marketed as immune boosters, but what does the scientific literature say? Research shows when you haven’t been getting enough sleep or the right nutrition, your immune system can’t function optimally to defend against illnesses. Rather than loading up on supplements when you feel a cold coming on, the best way to strengthen your immune system is to keep it healthy and strong in the first place.
Immune System Basics
When you’re out of shape, deprived of sleep, or stressed out, it takes a toll on your immune system and bogs down its function. Immunosuppressive foods and drinks also slow immune function (sugar, excessive caffeine, and alcoholic beverages are common culprits). Stress hormones also suppress the immune system, and chronic stress can result in weaker immunity over time.
Parts of the Immune System
The immune system is made up of the thymus gland, bone marrow, lymph nodes, lymph vessels, and beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- The thymus gland and bone marrow are responsible for producing white blood cells the body needs to combat pathogens.
- Beneficial bacteria in the gut signal to your intestinal lining to begin secreting mucus that contains the bacteria, preventing its spread into the bloodstream. Good bacteria also help control populations of bad bacteria and yeasts like Candida albicans.
- The lymphatic system collects waste products from fighting off pathogens, such as dead cells, and carries them out of the body.
8 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Immune system
There’s no shortcut to strengthening your immune system since it’s built over time. Diet, sleep, and exercise are critical factors that play into the health of your immune system, and they’re the best place to start. To truly strengthen your immune system, examine your stress levels and find ways to reduce and better cope with stress.
- Workout Regularly
Exercise is so effective as an immune function enhancer that it can improve vaccine responses in patients. Whereas overtraining can suppress the immune system, exercising at a moderate intensity on a consistent basis boosts your immunity at all ages. It works by lowering inflammation, assisting with lymphatic drainage, lowering stress hormones, improving sleep, and stimulating the thymus gland.
- Bolster Your Diet with Micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals serve vital functions in your immune system. Whereas sugar, alcohol, and tobacco are immunosuppressants, fruits and vegetables help support and protect your immune system by providing the nutrition it needs.
- Hydrate More
Water is needed for every function in the immune system, and drinking only when you’re thirsty typically isn’t enough to keep you hydrated. Electrolytes are also important for maintaining fluid balance. Boost your daily hydration level by drinking more water and also incorporating sports drinks or fresh fruit juice.
- Take Probiotics or Eat Fermented Foods
Microorganisms take up as much as three percent of your body weight. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, which occur naturally in fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. They can also be obtained through supplements. Supplementing with probiotics has been shown to shorten colds and flus by strengthening your immune system.
- Supplement with Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc
Taking certain supplements can boost your immune system, especially if you have any deficiencies. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that supports the production of immune cells found to help shorten colds. Vitamin D plays a role in the production of new immune cells, while zinc supports their function. Supplementing with these also helps your body fight off common viral infections.
- Try Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms are taken in powder or pill form to help lower anxiety and stress. However, reishi mushrooms also benefit your immune system by promoting homeostasis in its activity level. In this way, it helps downregulate your body’s inflammatory response, while stimulating immune function as needed.
Meditation is a well-known technique for managing stress, but did you know it also boosts your immune system? Meditation is shown to increase the activity of genes related to immune function. This increased activity results in more cellular communication and effective responses within the immune system. Meditating can be as simple as sitting still for ten minutes a day, or you can look into the wide range of meditation styles being taught today.
- Get Good Sleep
The importance of quality, sufficient sleep for immune function is well-documented. Sleep deprivation over time reduces the immune system’s response to threats. Just like sleep is required for storing short-term memories as long-term ones, it’s also important for the body’s immunological memory processes. Without enough sleep, your nervous system can’t transport and deliver all the messages your immune responses depend on.
The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Exercise, stress management techniques, and going to bed at the same time every night go a long way in improving your sleep quality. If you’re still struggling to get enough hours, try using melatonin as a natural remedy for insomnia.
Final Tips for Better Immune Health
The immune system has numerous moving parts, all of which rely on meeting your nutritional needs. There are many herbs and supplements out there touted for improving your immune system. However, eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep are typically the best ways to support your immune system.
- “Chapter Fifteen – Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions” by Richard J. Simpson, Hawley Kunz, Nadia Agha and Rachel Graff, 5 September 2015, Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science.
- “Water, hydration, and health” by Barry M Popkin, Kristen E D’Anci and Irwin H Rosenberg, 1 August 2010, Nutrition Reviews.
- “Probiotics and their Effects on Metabolic Diseases: An Update” by Juhi Aggarwal, Gaurav Swami and Mayur Kumar, 1 January 2013, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.
- “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold” by Harri Hemilä and Elizabeth Chalker, 31 January 2013, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
- “Vitamin D and the Immune System” by Cynthia Aranow, MD, 15 December 2015, Journal of Investigative Medicine.
- “Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites” by Cristina Lull, Harry J. Wichers and Huub F. J. Savelkoul, 9 June 2005, Mediators of Inflammation.
- “Sleep and immune function” by Luciana Besedovsky, Tanja Lange and Jan Born, 10 November 2011, Pflügers Archiv – European Journal of Physiology.