When the temperature drops and the snow starts to fall, everyone becomes obsessed with boosting their immune system. But honestly, why not do it all year round? Beyond flu season, honing a healthy immunity will keep you in tip-top shape. The first step, of course, is lifestyle choices.
And it’s not just about warding off the sniffles. The immune system inhibits neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.1 It’s also in charge of clearing out apoptotic cells, or “sick” cells that kill themselves to avoid harming healthy ones. Have a wound? A thriving immunity aids tissue repair, proper healing, and prevents infection.2
Clearly, the immune system has a lot on its plate! This complex network of cells, tissues, and organs works hard to keep you well, but it needs your help. Everything you consume makes a difference.3 Ready to let your immunity thrive? Check out these seven natural immune boosters.
Turmeric doesn’t just add color and flavor to food. Its active compound, curcumin, positively affects immune cells like lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells. “Bad guys” such as viruses and bacteria won’t stand a chance.4 Top it off with the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, and your defense system will thrive.5 To enjoy turmeric, sprinkle it into meals or smoothies. Turmeric tea can also be brewed for a spicy, flavorful drink.
Don’t let stress hinder your immune system. As an adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha helps you achieve much-needed balance. In turn, immune cells are protected and increase in number.6 A 2017 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that ashwagandha has the power to control immune response, protect the brain, and fight cancer.7
Ashwagandha is available in the form of capsules, tinctures, and powder. At the health food store, you can find beverages infused with ashwagandha.
Garlic contains allicin, one of nature’s most powerful anti-microbial agents. It works by destroying the membranes of fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Allicin even cuts off oxygen and reduces growth, forcing germs to die. Phagocytosis, or the process of immune cells “eating” bacteria, also improves.8 It’s certainly worth the stinky breath! Whole garlic can be roasted for a savory snack. Add it to rice, soup, or plain yogurt for an easy dip.
4. Green Tea
As one of the most popular drinks in the world, green tea is a must. The high level of phytochemicals have been shown to fight cancer and DNA mutations. Immune cells work harder, while harmful cells are forced to stop growing.9 Drinking green tea even protects the skin from UV rays, giving you protection from the inside out.10 Enjoy green tea hot or cold. To switch things up, infuse fruit or add to smoothies.
5. Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms aren’t your typical grocery store veggies. They offer potent health-promoting polysaccharides with antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anticancer effects. Better yet, consumption lowers energy intake and obesity risk, allowing overall health to improve.
There are over 2,000 species, but popular immune-boosting options include cordyceps and reishi. Find them as capsules, tinctures, and even coffee.11 12 13
For centuries, ginger has been prized by ancient Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern medicine.14 And when you look at the long list of benefits, this makes perfect sense! Ginger is an anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and antimicrobial food, and it’s all thanks to active compounds called gingerols.15 Your immune system will appreciate the extra hand.
Ginger is also extremely versatile. Brew hot tea or add it to smoothies. When cooking, both fresh and powdered ginger can be used.
Ginseng is another adaptogenic herb. Traditionally, both Korean and American ginseng are used to enhance immunity.16 They’re packed with phytochemicals, giving the body a significant antioxidant boost. As for ginsenosides, ginseng’s major active constituents? These compounds improve heart health, cognition, and cancer risk. Like garlic, ginseng can be used fresh. You can also take it as tea, capsules, or tinctures.17
Don’t forget about daily habits. To support your immune system, make stress relief and sleep a priority.18 Finally, stay active to increase helper T cells and immune response.19 20
|↑1||Joshi, Neeraj, and Sarika Singh. “Updates on immunity and inflammation in Parkinson disease pathology.” Journal of Neuroscience Research (2017).|
|↑2||Heneka, Michael T., Markus P. Kummer, and Eicke Latz. “Innatte Immunity and Neurodegeneration.” Annual Review of Medicine (2018).|
|↑3||Immune System Research. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.|
|↑4||Abdollahi, Elham, Amir Abbas Momtazi, Thomas P. Johnston, and Amirhosein Sahebkar. “Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin in Inflammatory and Immune‐Mediated Diseases: A Nature‐Made Jack‐of‐All‐Trades?.” Journal of cellular physiology (2017).|
|↑5||Karimian, Maryam Saberi, Matteo Pirro, Muhammed Majeed, and Amirhossein Sahebkar. “Curcumin as a natural regulator of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1.” Cytokine & growth factor reviews 33 (2017): 55-63.|
|↑6||Vetvicka, Vaclav, and Jana Vetvickova. “Immune enhancing effects of WB365, a novel combination of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) extracts.” North American journal of medical sciences 3, no. 7 (2011): 320.|
|↑7||Chandran, Uma, and Bhushan Patwardhan. “Network ethnopharmacological evaluation of the immunomodulatory activity of Withania somnifera.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 197 (2017): 250-256.|
|↑8||Madineh, Hossein, Farrokh Yadollahi, Farshad Yadollahi, Ebrahim Pouria Mofrad, and Majid Kabiri. “Impact of garlic tablets on nosocomial infections in hospitalized patients in intensive care units.” Electronic physician 9, no. 4 (2017): 4064.|
|↑9||Butt, Masood Sadiq, and Muhammad Tauseef Sultan. “Green tea: nature’s defense against malignancies.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 49, no. 5 (2009): 463-473.|
|↑10||Katiyar, Santosh K. “Skin photoprotection by green tea: antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects.” Current Drug Targets-Immune, Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders 3, no. 3 (2003): 234-242.|
|↑11||Friedman, Mendel. “Mushroom polysaccharides: chemistry and antiobesity, antidiabetes, anticancer, and antibiotic properties in cells, rodents, and humans.” Foods 5, no. 4 (2016): 80.|
|↑12||Zhou, Xuanwei, Zhenghua Gong, Ying Su, Juan Lin, and Kexuan Tang. “Cordyceps fungi: natural products, pharmacological functions and developmental products.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 61, no. 3 (2009): 279-291.|
|↑13||Benzie, Iris FF, and Sissi Wachtel-Galor, eds. Herbal medicine: biomolecular and clinical aspects. CRC Press, 2011.|
|↑14||Ahmad, Bilal, Muneeb U. Rehman, Insha Amin, Ahmad Arif, Saiema Rasool, Showkat Ahmad Bhat, Insha Afzal, Ishraq Hussain, and Sheikh Bilal. “A review on pharmacological properties of zingerone (4-(4-Hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-2-butanone).” The Scientific World Journal 2015 (2015).|
|↑15||Semwal, Ruchi Badoni, Deepak Kumar Semwal, Sandra Combrinck, and Alvaro M. Viljoen. “Gingerols and shogaols: important nutraceutical principles from ginger.” Phytochemistry 117 (2015): 554-568.|
|↑16||Im, Kyungtaek, Jisu Kim, and Hyeyoung Min. “Ginseng, the natural effectual antiviral: protective effects of Korean Red Ginseng against viral infection.” Journal of ginseng research 40, no. 4 (2016): 309-314.|
|↑17||Yu, Zhuo-ping, Dong-dong Xu, Lai-feng Lu, Xiao-dong Zheng, and Wei Chen. “Immunomodulatory effect of a formula developed from American ginseng and Chinese jujube extracts in mice.” Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B 17, no. 2 (2016): 147-157.|
|↑18||Cohen, Sheldon, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. “Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 16 (2012): 5995-5999.|
|↑19||Besedovsky, Luciana, Tanja Lange, and Jan Born. “Sleep and immune function.” Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology 463, no. 1 (2012): 121-137.|
|↑20||Nickel, Thomas, Henner Hanssen, Ingrid Emslander, Verena Drexel, Gernot Hertel, Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss, Claudia Summo et al. “Immunomodulatory effects of aerobic training in obesity.” Mediators of inflammation 2011 (2011).|