Staying illness-free in an environment full of pollution and processed foods can be challenging. To top it off, a high-stress lifestyle that leaves little time for sleep doesn’t help. And then there are common sedentary habits such as sitting in front of the computer at work or the television at home. Together, these factors can leave your immune system in shambles. So how do you get back on track? Follow these few easy steps and you should see your immunity improve.
1. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods
Your immunity may hinge on what you eat and drink. If you’ve been partial to processed convenience foods, even if they claim to be fat- and sugar-free, you may need to reconsider. Switching to a more wholesome diet rich in immune-boosting foods can make a difference. The list below highlights some of the more potent immune-boosting foods, but it is not exhaustive. The rule of thumb is to hunt down food high in polyphenols and antioxidants, including vitamins. Polyphenols modulate immune function and the activation of immune cells. Antioxidants prevent inflammation (a mechanism governed by the immune system) by fighting free radical damage.
- Go green: Enjoy antioxidant-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables.1
- Tuck into fruit: Eat fruits like pomegranate and blueberries for their antioxidant content.2
- Don’t fear smelly vegetables: Some foods like onions or garlic can be easily included in the diet for added flavor. They act as prebiotics, balancing gut flora and helping with overall immunity.3
- Brave the bitter: While some vegetables like bitter melon may not taste good, they have phenolic compounds like catechin, gallic acid, and caffeic acid. These are potent antioxidants. This vegetable-fruit is anti-inflammatory and is extremely beneficial for your immunity.4Kale is another acquired taste, but this green leafy vegetable can improve digestion and overall immunity.
- Sip on green tea: The popular brew from the Orient contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol that increases immune-regulating T cells. This improves both function and strength of your immune system.5
2. Fuel Up On Probiotics
There’s a strong case for the probiotics found in yogurt and fermented foods like pickles or cultured sour cream. Even fermented fish, eggs, or meat make the cut. These foods help increase the “good” bacteria that keep your gut healthy. This is an effective way to boost immune function and protect your system against “alien” microbes responsible for illness and infection.6Lactobacillus strains of probiotics, often found in yogurt, improve mucosal immune function in particular. In turn, this helps prevent diseases involving the respiratory system, intestinal mucosal membrane, and urogenital tract.7
3. Get Plenty Of Sleep
Do you sleep enough each night? A good night’s rest plays a central role in building your body’s defense system. Equally, when you go without sleep, it hits your body hard. As one study found, individuals who went 48 hours without sleep experienced a decline in their body’s white blood cell count, representing a weakening of the immune system. This posed less of a defense for fighting off infection or attack. Thankfully, this was reversible and immune function returned to normal when the subjects went through recovery sleep.8
Try your best to get enough sleep on a regular basis. Set a nighttime routine with soothing music and relaxing warm milk. Nod off in a darkened room at the same time every day. Your body needs a rhythm and pattern, so don’t stray too far from the plan. In general, aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. If you deprive yourself, you’ll end up stressed, disoriented, drowsy, and less efficient the next day.9
4. Pick Up Healthy Habits
According to a Harvard Health Publications feature on building immunity, certain consistent healthy habits can do wonders for your immunity.
- Exercise regularly, keep your blood pressure in check, and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke, quitting may be a good idea. It can significantly help your immune system, reducing your susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.
- For those who consume alcohol, enjoy the occasional drink – but don’t binge or make it a habit. Drinking excessively can weaken the immune system. Research has found that when it comes to certain illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis, alcoholism makes you more susceptible.10
- Make it a habit to wash your hands. This will keep them germ-free and help you avoid infections. Your hands can be a hub for infection-causing bacteria and microbes. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain, we often unconsciously touch our mouth, nose, and eyes several times a day. This can easily transfer germs from our hands into the body. If you’re cooking or serving food, the germs could pass on to the food. Equally, this can happen when you touch raw meat and don’t properly wash up. The bacteria and germs that were in the uncooked meat linger on your hands and could enter the body via the eyes, mouth, and nose upon contact.11
- Keeping stress levels under control may also help. Researchers have found that the body can undergo stress-induced immune changes. For the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, this can result in negative lasting changes. The immune system becomes inflexible and unbalanced, increasing the risk for complications or problems in the event of an infection or disease.12
- Last but not least, set up reminders for a complete health check from time to time. Depending on your age and stage in life, this will vary in frequency (annual or otherwise).13
5. Try Alternative Therapies
Ayurveda and other alternative therapies aim at improving overall wellness by balancing hormones and building immunity. As a result, infections are kept at bay.
Some herbal remedies that can improve immune function are already popular for treating other ailments. Ashwagandha, a popular herbal remedy, is said to help the body fight off infection. It can also exert an immunomodulatory effect on your system. The herb diminishes inflammation and protects your body by enhancing the ability of your immune cells to fight microbes.14Additionally, turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and helps modulate the immune system.15
Therapies like ayurvedic massage get the circulation in your body going. Some like the sarvanga dhara and panchakarma, a five-pronged treatment, use medicated liquids. These consist of herbs appropriate for your body type and health condition, as prescribed by a practitioner, blended into milk, buttermilk, or oil. They are administered via massages or poured over the body (or specific parts) to build immunity.16
Certain acupuncture and acupressure points are associated with immune-boosting effects. As researchers have reported, application of these methods can help ailments like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and sepsis.17
|↑1, ↑2||Lobo, Vijaya, Avinash Patil, A. Phatak, and Naresh Chandra. “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” Pharmacognosy reviews 4, no. 8 (2010): 118.|
|↑3||Corzo-Martínez, Marta, Nieves Corzo, and Mar Villamiel. “Biological properties of onions and garlic.” Trends in food science & technology 18, no. 12 (2007): 609-625.|
|↑4||Kubola, Jittawan, and Sirithon Siriamornpun. “Phenolic contents and antioxidant activities of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia L.) leaf, stem and fruit fraction extracts in vitro.” Food chemistry 110, no. 4 (2008): 881-890.|
|↑5||Wong, Carmen P., Linda P. Nguyen, Sang K. Noh, Tammy M. Bray, Richard S. Bruno, and Emily Ho. “Induction of regulatory T cells by green tea polyphenol EGCG.” Immunology letters 139, no. 1 (2011): 7-13.|
|↑6||Guarner, Francisco, and Juan-R. Malagelada. “Gut flora in health and disease.” The Lancet 361, no. 9356 (2003): 512-519.|
|↑7||Parvez, S., K. A. Malik, S. Ah Kang, and H‐Y. Kim. “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health.” Journal of applied microbiology 100, no. 6 (2006): 1171-1185.|
|↑8||Oztürk, L., Zerrin Pelin, Derya Karadeniz, Hakan Kaynak, Lütfi Çakar, and Erbil Gözükirmizi. “Effects of 48 hours sleep deprivation on human immune profile.” Sleep research online: SRO 2, no. 4 (1998): 107-111.|
|↑9||How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑10||Alcohol and the Immune System, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.|
|↑11||Show Me the Science – Why Wash Your Hands? CDC.|
|↑12||Segerstrom, Suzanne C., and Gregory E. Miller. “Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry.” Psychological bulletin 130, no. 4 (2004): 601.|
|↑13||How to boost your immune system, Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑14||Tiwari, Ruchi, Sandip Chakraborty, Mani Saminathan, Kuldeep Dhama, and Shoor Vir Singh. “Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Role in safeguarding health, immunomodulatory effects, combating infections and therapeutic applications: A review.” Journal of Biological Sciences 14, no. 2 (2014): 77.|
|↑15||Jagetia, Ganesh Chandra, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. ““Spicing up” of the immune system by curcumin.” Journal of clinical immunology 27, no. 1 (2007): 19-35.|
|↑16||Sadikot, Yasmin. “The influence of Autumn and Winter on Skin, from an Ayurvedic Perspective.” Professional Beauty July/Aug 2009 (2009): 233.|
|↑17||Liang, Fengxia, Edwin L. Cooper, Hua Wang, Xianghong Jing, Juan G. Quispe-Cabanillas, and Tetsuya Kondo. “Acupuncture and Immunity.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2015 (2015).|