On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?
What can you do to boost your immune system?
The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.
But that doesn’t mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren’t intriguing and shouldn’t be studied. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.
Adopt healthy-living strategies
Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Try to minimize stress.
What about diet?
Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognized that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies that tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases.
Immune System Boosters
Wondering how to boost your immune system? Eat more button mushrooms. Mushrooms are high in selenium and B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin. These minerals and vitamins are necessary for the immune system to work in tip top form. Mushrooms are also high in polysaccharides, sugar-like molecules that boost immune function.
Mushrooms have a savory quality that can enhance the flavor of many dishes. Not quite sure how to eat mushrooms? Try the following mouth-watering ways to serve up these tasty fungi.
Acai berry is a black-purple fruit that is derived from the acai palm tree in Brazil, Trinidad, and certain parts of South America. The fruit is high in anthocyanins. These flavonoid molecules are very potent antioxidants. They combat oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals. Antioxidants are credited with boosting immunity and lowering inflammation in the body. There’s never been a better time to enjoy an acai bowl!
Acai berry is such a potent antioxidant and stimulator of the immune system, researchers are studying it as a potential treatment for all kinds of conditions. Areas of study include acai use in people with
- increasing prostate specific antigen (PSA);
- cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome;
- lower rectum cancer, and
Oysters are a nutritional powerhouse from the sea. One 3-ounce serving of Pacific oysters provides 190% of the daily value of selenium, 45% of the daily value of iron, and 20% of the daily value of vitamin C, all for just 140 calories. One 3-ounce serving of oysters contains 16 grams of high-quality protein. The seafood also provides zinc and vitamin A. These vitamins and minerals in oysters are critical for proper immune function.
Ways to Eat Oysters
Most people are familiar with raw oysters served in the half shell, but there are many other ways to eat oysters. These include
- oysters Rockefeller,
- oyster stew,
- oyster stuffing,
- scalloped oysters, and
- grilled oysters.
Watermelon is an immune-boosting fruit. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has 270 mg of potassium, 30% of the daily value of vitamin A, and 25% of the value of vitamin C. Calories in watermelon aren’t much at all. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has just 80 calories. Watermelon also provides vitamin B6 and glutathione. The body needs these vitamins, nutrients, and compounds like glutathione for proper immune function.
What Do You Do with Wheat Germ?
Most people know wheat germ makes a tasty topping sprinkled on fruit, yogurt, or cereal, but what else can you do with it? Wheat germ is a versatile food that can be used in a variety of recipes.
- Combine wheat germ, herbs, and spices to make a breaded coating for baked chicken and fish.
- Use wheat germ instead of breadcrumbs in meatloaf and meatballs.
- Sprinkle wheat germ on top of baked apple crumble and similar desserts.
Dairy Health Food
Nutrition guidelines recommend adults consume 3 servings of dairy products per day. Low-fat yogurt provides 11 grams of protein, 250 calories, and almost 400 mg of calcium per 8-ounce serving. Low-fat yogurt can also help meet your daily requirement for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Adequate levels of vitamin D and other nutrients are necessary for robust immune function. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidus. These strains boost immune function and may even help reduce both the length and severity of colds. Beneficial gut flora are needed for proper digestion, detoxification, and immune function. Probiotics even help reduce eczema symptoms in babies.
5 Ways to Eat Yogurt
Most people eat yogurt straight out of the cup, but there are many other ways to enjoy this immune-boosting food.
Mix yogurt, fruit juice, and a bit of honey. Pour into molds and freeze to make yogurt pops.
- Enjoy cucumber salad with yogurt dill dressing.
- Make coleslaw with yogurt instead of mayonnaise.
- Serve fish topped with minted yogurt sauce.
- Use yogurt in creamy soup recipes to give them a tart kick.
A Cup of Immunity
About half the population in the United States drinks tea regularly. Antioxidants in tea called polyphenols and flavonoids are credited with boosting immune function. These compounds may also reduce the risk of heart disease. Drinking green tea favorably affects blood lipids, increasing good HDL cholesterol and decreasing LDL bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.
Orange Spuds Are Better
One medium sweet potato packs a whopping 120% of the daily value of vitamin A and 30% of the daily value of vitamin C, all for just 100 calories. These vitamins are crucial for immune function and great for your skin. Sweet potatoes are a cholesterol-free and fat-free food, so you get all the helpful, immune-boosting vitamins without the guilt. Sweet potatoes serve up a healthy portion of fiber, too.
Sweet Potato Recipes to Savor
The deep, rich color of sweet potatoes reflects the high vitamin A content. These bright, orange root veggies can be whipped up in a variety of ways. Try these sweet potato dishes on for size.
Broccoli to the Rescue
Broccoli is a nutrient-packed powerhouse to support your immune system. One cup of broccoli provides as much vitamin C as an orange. The veggie is also high in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Broccoli supplies an array of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and B6). Together, these vitamins and minerals help the immune system to run in top form. Another healthy compound offered up by broccoli: glutathione, the master antioxidant in the body.
Garlic and Cancer
Garlic boosts the portion of the immune system that is tasked with fighting viruses and cancer. Several studies have documented a link between garlic use and reduced rates of many different types of cancers. People who regularly consume lots of raw or cooked garlic have 30% to 35% fewer colorectal cancers than those who do not eat the allum. In one small study of people who had inoperable pancreatic, colorectal, or liver cancers, immune function was improved when participants took aged garlic extract for 6 months.
Be Positive to Boost Immune Response
Expect good things and your immune system will follow. A study of law students found that their immune systems were stronger when they felt optimistic. Make optimism work for you. Try to see the glass as half full, not half empty. Practice gratitude and think of at least three things that you are grateful for every day. Imagine the best outcome for situations, even difficult ones. You may not always be able to control events around you, but you can always decide how to respond to them. Respond with a good attitude to increase the chances of the best outcome and to strengthen your immunity.
A Multivitamin May Help
Some experts believe that taking a daily multivitamin can help ensure you’re meeting at least your daily minimum requirement for certain nutrients. Vitamins that are critical for immune function include vitamins A, C, D, and E. Zinc, selenium, and magnesium are minerals that your immune system needs to function at its best. These minerals are also critical for the function of many enzyme reactions in the body. Your immune system and body can’t function at their best without the basic building blocks they need to work properly.