Natural Ways to Support Your Immune System

Dec 14, 2022

Our bodies are simply amazing. They take vigil 24/7 ensuring our health and safety are of the highest priority. Our immune system specifically leads our ability to resist disease through the activities of specialized cells and systems in the body.

There are two types of immunity: the innate or non-specific and the humoral or specific. The innate system allows our bodies to activate a broad, general response to foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. The humoral system on the other hand allows our bodies to learn and improve on repeated exposure. If your immune system malfunctions you may experience an auto-immune reaction or disease such as asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, hashimoto’s thyroiditis and many other autoimmune conditions.

While nutrients from food should be our first line of defense in supporting our immune systems, there are some situations where we dont get enough nutrients from food and/or need extra support. I.e. nutrient depletion is soil, digestive issues, or just simply wanting extra support around cold and flu season. This is where supplements can be beneficial.

Listed below are some suggestions for supplements that optimize and support the immune system.

Vitamin D3 - Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system, T cells, will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body (1).

Vitamin C - Championed by Linus Pauling as an antiviral and anticancer nutrient, vitamin C is an excellent immune system supporter. White blood cells use vitamin C to combat infections, and in the face of inflammation or nasty microbes, levels of vitamin C are depleted. So topping up this nutrient in times of stress is crucial.

Elderberry - Elderberries are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants in the form phenolic acids, flavanols, and anthocyanins. These polyphenols support the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells. Elderberry extracts have been shown to help reduce the length and severity of influezna as well as inhibit the growth of some bacteria (2,3). 

Vitamin A - Vitamin A is one of the most widely studied nutrients in relation to immune function. It is well known to enhance white blood cell function, enhance your resistance to infection and cancer causing agents, and helps maintain skin and mucus membrane which assist in the defense of infection (4).

Zinc - The Cochrane Review found that zinc reduced both the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold. And using zinc preventatively helped prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use by children. Zinc is an important molecule for thymic proteins, which are immune molecules made by your thymus gland. Without zinc, you lack this immune defense (5).

Probiotics - Probiotics are a very well documented optimizer of the immune system. 70% or more of our immune system is controlled by what happens in the gut, and friendly bacteria are the most important component of that immune system. These bacteria assist the immune system by increasing the numbers of white blood cells (T lymphocytes). Probiotics also help improve digestion and protect the body from harmful pathogens such as Candida.

Echinacea - Preclinical studies lend biological plausibility to the idea that Echinacea works through immune mechanisms. Numerous clinical trials have been carried out on Echinacea preparations: it appears that the extracts shorten the duration and severity of colds and other upper respiratory infections (URIs) when given as soon as symptoms become evident (6).

Medicinal Mushrooms - Evidence continues to emerge, confirming how mushrooms’ proteins, trace minerals, polysaccharides, amino acids and fiber promote overall heath. These and other compounds found in mushrooms are now believed to help support immune function, protect against environmental stressors, and support healthy gut flora among other things.

Garlic - Whole garlic contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, this compound turns into allicin, the main active ingredient in garlic (7). Allicin converts into sulfur-containing compounds which have been show to increase some white blood cells therefore enhancing immune function. 

Quercetin - This plant-based flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. It can be found in foods like apples, broccoli, onions, and tomatoes. This powerful antioxidant has plenty of benefits including supporting the immune system and modulating inflammation (8). 

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While nutrients are clearly important for a healthy immune system, other lifestyle factors play a crucial role.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise plays a vital role in supporting immune function, contributing to a healthier and more resilient immune system. Numerous studies have highlighted the positive impact of regular physical activity on immune function, helping to defend the body against infections and illnesses.

One key way exercise benefits the immune system is by promoting the circulation of immune cells throughout the body. Physical activity increases the heart rate and improves blood flow, allowing immune cells to move more efficiently and reach infection sites faster. This improved circulation also helps flush out toxins from the body, reducing the risk of illness (9).

Additionally, exercise has been shown to stimulate the production of antibodies and white blood cells, both crucial components of the immune system. These immune cells are better equipped to detect and combat pathogens when an individual engages in regular exercise (10). 

A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2020 demonstrated that individuals who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise experienced fewer sick days and milder symptoms when they did fall ill (11).

Incorporating regular physical activity into your weekly routine can lead to a stronger and more effective immune system, reducing the risk of illness and promoting overall health and well-being. It’s important to note that long-term, intense exercise can have a negative effect on your immune function so it’s all about finding what works best for you.

Prioritize Sleep

During sleep, the immune system becomes more active, producing a variety of immune cells like cytokines and T cells. These cells play a important role in defending the body against infections. Adequate sleep also helps regulate the production of antibodies, which are crucial for a healthy immune system (12). 

A study in the "Journal of Experimental Medicine" (2015) found that sleep-deprived individuals were more susceptible to infections (13). Additionally, quality sleep enhances the body's ability to form immunological memory, enabling it to recognize and combat pathogens more effectively in the future (14).

As we can see, prioritizing a good night's sleep is essential for maintaining a robust immune system. It's a simple yet powerful way to strengthen your body's natural defenses against illness. So, don't underestimate the value of those precious ZZZs—they might just be your best defense against illness.

The Importance of Proper Hydration 

In the quest for a strong immune system, we often focus on diet, exercise, and sleep while neglecting a crucial factor: hydration. Not only is water a life-sustaining fluid, it also plays a pivotal role in supporting our body's defense mechanisms. Several studies have highlighted the profound impact of adequate hydration on immune function, and here's why it’s important.

Water ensures that our bodily fluids, like blood and lymph, maintain their optimal viscosity, facilitating the transportation of immune cells and molecules. Additionally, water helps remove waste products and toxins, preventing them from interfering with immune responses.

Low water consumption or dehydration can compromise the mucous membranes in our respiratory and digestive tracts, making it easier for pathogens to infiltrate. A well-hydrated body can maintain these barriers effectively.

A study found that dehydration significantly impairs immune function by reducing the production of salivary antimicrobial proteins (15).

Not only does the quantity of water we consume matter but also the quality. Drinking polluted, unfiltered water may negatively affect the immune system. Numerous contaminants like plastics, heavy metals and pesticides have been shown to be carcinogenic and immune suppressors (16).

Adequate hydration is essential for a robust immune system so drinking enough water will help keep your defenses strong and your health intact.

Reduce Processed Sugars 

In our modern diet, processed sugars are all too prevalent and easily accessible. However, their detrimental effects on our health extend beyond weight gain and dental issues. Research suggests that reducing processed sugars can significantly benefit our immune systems, offering a powerful incentive to cut down on these sweet temptations.

Processed sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose, can lead to chronic inflammation and weaken the immune response. One study found that excessive sugar intake can suppress the activity of white blood cells, hampering their ability to fend off pathogens (17).

Moreover, a diet high in processed sugars can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, known as the microbiome. Another study linked sugar-rich diets to a decrease in beneficial gut bacteria, which play a pivotal role in immune function (18).

By reducing processed sugars not only supports a healthier weight and lowers the risk of chronic diseases but also helps reinforce your body's defenses against infections. Opt for natural sugars found in fruits and whole grains, and try to prioritize healthy fats and proteins to reduce sugar cravings.  

Managing Stress 

Stress not only affects our mental well-being but also plays a significant role in our physical health. Emerging research has shown that managing stress is crucial for supporting a robust immune system.

Chronic stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that when consistently elevated, can suppress the immune response. A study found that chronic stress can impair the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections (19).

Additionally, stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as poor sleep, overeating, and a lack of physical activity, further weakening the immune system. According to the American Psychological Association, these behaviors can compromise the body's ability to fend off illnesses.

Practicing stress management techniques like mindfulness meditation, exercise, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can help regulate cortisol levels, strengthen immune function, and improve overall health.

All information presented and written within this article are for educational and informational purposes only. Any nutrition, lifestyle and product recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before starting any new supplements, diet and exercise program please check with your doctor or practitioner.

(1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100307215534.htm

(2) https://www.rombio.eu/rbl1vol16/17%20Badescu.pdf

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28198157/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162863/

(5) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ebch.1859

(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15035888/

(7) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/garlic-fights-colds-and-flu#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

(8) https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com/blogs/quercetin-and-immune-health/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387807/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387807

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6367881/

(12) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22071480/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568388/

(14) https://journals.aai.org/jimmunol/article/187/1/283/86370/Sleep-after-Vaccination-Boosts-Immunological

(15) https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/h2012-054

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7644792/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9471313/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284805

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119

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