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How to Boost Your Immune System

In the grocery store, there are numerous vitamins and items that promise to assist and strengthen your immune system. However, while it may appear to be a no-brainer, increasing your immune system is actually much more difficult than you might imagine — and for good reason.

Your immune system is quite complicated. It must be powerful and smart enough to fight against a wide range of illnesses and infections, but not so powerful that it overreacts inappropriately, resulting in allergies and other autoimmune disorders.

Your immune system is tightly controlled by a multitude of inputs in order to work in such a delicate equilibrium.

Despite its complexity, there are simple lifestyle changes you can do to assist your immune system fight off an infection or disease. Here are five scientifically supported techniques to guarantee your immune system gets all it needs to work efficiently, as well as why you shouldn't rely on pills to strengthen your immune system.

How to Boost Immune System

  1. Drink plenty of fluids

Water is the best. Many of us have heard that we should drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. That can be hard to do. Instead, try drinking a glass of water when you wake up to start your day off right. Your body is dehydrated from sleeping, so this is a great way to remedy that immediately. Another tip: If you like warm drinks in the winter, try non-caffeinated teas, which you can include in your daily water tally.

  1. Exercise regularly

We often think of exercise as a way to prevent chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, or as a way to keep weight in control. But exercise also can contribute to general good health including a healthy immune system. Exercise can promote good blood circulation, which allows your cells and substances of the immune system to move through your body freely to do their job efficiently.

  1. Stress less

Stress drains your ability to stay strong. If you have big or little stressors daily, your system is constantly pushed to overcome that stress. One way I de-stress is by giving myself time for "self-care." This means different things for different people, but essentially it's doing things that "refill your tank." I like to read a good book, get a massage or exercise. Even singing or a prayer can lift me up.

  1. Get a good night's sleep

Sleep is a regenerative process for your body. When you are sleep-deprived your natural immune cells, or T cells, go down, and inflammatory cytokines (inflammation cells) go up. That means good sleep results in strengthening your immunity.

  1. Eat foods with probiotics

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines probiotics as "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit." Research shows that probiotics are some of the best foods to boost immunity. Include regularly eating fermented and cultured foods that contain probiotics (look for "live active cultures" on the label). Some foods that contain probiotics are:

  • unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi

  • cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir (a thick, creamy and drinkable yogurt), lassi (an Indian drink made from a yogurt or buttermilk base with water) and leban (a liquid or semisolid food made from curdled milk

  • tofu, miso, natto (fermented soybeans), shoyu or tamari (types of Japanese soy sauce) and tempeh (an Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans)

  • kombucha (fermented, lightly sweetened black or green tea drink) and kvass (traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage commonly made from rye bread)

If you haven't tried probiotic foods before, the flavors can be strong, so you may want to start with a little at a time. Even a teaspoon or so a day can help you develop a taste for these beneficial foods. If you want to explore taking a probiotic supplement, talk to your health provider. There are a variety of options available in the vitamin section of natural food stores.

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help keep you well. Eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruits daily to ensure you're getting a variety of nutrients. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and quinoa, are also part of a healthy diet. Minimize processed foods, sugar and beverages that have no nutrients, like pop.

Although it can be challenging to do all of these things on an ongoing basis, do as much as you can. Consistently taking good care of yourself is the best way to support your overall health and immunity.

Immunity Support

Supporting means compensating for natural, age-related declines in immunity, the effects of stress, and other conditions antithetical to good health. Supporting immunity means providing your body with the tools it needs to function optimally.

Ways to Boost Immune System

  1. Don't smoke.

  2. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

  3. Exercise regularly.

  4. Maintain a healthy weight.

  5. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

  6. Get adequate sleep.

  7. Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.

How to Strengthen Immune System

In the midst of a worldwide health pandemic, having a healthy immune system is more crucial than ever. There's an unending supply of "immune boosting" vitamins, juices, and other goods on the market, but is it even possible to enhance your immunity, or is it all a marketing ploy?

In general, the immune system does an excellent job of protecting us from disease, but it occasionally fails and we become ill. The thought of improving your immune health is appealing, and many people argue that dietary modifications, vitamins and supplements, or other lifestyle adjustments are the cure for developing the perfect immune system. As appealing as those concepts may seem, the capacity to fine-tune your immune system is elusive for a variety of reasons.

There is still a lot that researchers don't understand about the complexities of immune responses. There is no scientific evidence of a direct correlation between diverse lifestyle changes and improved immune function. In fact, increasing the amount of cells in your body, whether immune cells or others, is not always a healthy thing.

Because the immune system contains many distinct types of cells that respond to different pathogens, determining which cells to "boost" and to what quantity is incredibly difficult. It is not something that can be accomplished with a glass of celery juice and a vitamin supplement.

Scientists aren't even sure what the answer is. What is known is that the body constantly produces immune cells. It creates more lymphocytes (white blood cells that are also immunological cells) than it can reasonably use. The additional cells spontaneously eliminate themselves through a process of cell death known as apoptosis — some before seeing any action, others after the conflict is won. There is no conclusive answer as to how many cells or what cell mix is optimum for the immune system to function optimally.

One research of immune response in 210 healthy twins aged 8–82 found that, while genetics play a part, the power of our immune system is primarily influenced by non-inheritable elements. This means that the pathogens we encounter throughout our lives, as well as individual lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, food, and exercise, all play a part in the strength of our body's defense system.

Researchers are still investigating the effects of various lifestyle factors on immunological response. Healthy living practices are always recommended as your first line of defense in gaining an advantage against invading pathogens. Every area of your body, not only your immune system, benefits from healthy living tactics like these tried-and-true basics:

"Focus on what you can control — your diet!" says Nicole Drepaniotis, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN, Nutrition Education Coordinator for Mather Hospital's Bariatric Center of Excellence. Good diet is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Eat protein-rich foods from lean animal and plant sources, colorful fruits and vegetables that give antioxidants, and foods high in fiber and probiotics. Stay healthy by eating well!"

Unfortunately, there is no magic drug or single food that can automatically enhance your immune system and keep you healthy. The most we can do is try to take care of ourselves and give our immune systems the best chance of completing its job.

The Takeaway

A truly healthy immune system depends on a balanced healthy diet over time,” says registered dietitian Maxine Smith. “It’s like training for a battle and preparing your body ahead of time so it can throw a good punch when attacked by viruses, bacteria and toxins. Other lifestyle practices such as regular exercise and good sleep will better prepare you for the battle.