We live in a constant interaction with our environment, and face thousands of new threats every day. Every hour, the organism holds a thousand battles with bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic pathogens, and we don’t even realize. What we know as good health and wellbeing is never perfect because we are constantly infected and colonized by many microorganisms. But why is it that we don’t get sick? Because the immune system is doing its job properly.
In times like this, the importance of the immune system is becoming more relevant every passing day. We are surrounded by new biological threats and have growing environmental hazards from modern industries. Recent pandemics have turned the world upside down, making us wonder if we can do something else to boost immunity.
The good news is that you don’t need expensive drugs to get an excellent immune system. All you need is information and making the most appropriate choices.
In this guide, we have gathered the most relevant information to boost your immunity in two different areas:
- Through maintaining appropriate nutrition
- Choosing smart supplements according to our needs
Immunity & the importance of nutrition
Immunity can be divided into two different branches. One of them is known as innate immunity, and it is the first-line defense of the body, made to attack any pathogen we can find without a second look. It is lethal and very fast, but not specific, and sometimes not enough to eradicate microbes and viruses. The other type, known as adaptive immunity goes through a process of microbial analysis to create targeted immunity against pathogens. It is more lethal, but takes more time to develop.
Both innate and adaptive immunity require thousands of enzymes and metabolic reactions to take place. They depend on many nutrients and substances, and that’s why nutrition is very important to maintain proper immunity. Additionally, all of this process takes extra energy, especially in moderate and severe infections, which place the body into metabolic stress and increased calorie demands.
In a nutshell, what do you need from nutrition when you have immune function issues? Here’s an overview of what to consider if you’re building an immune-strengthening diet (1):
- It should meet your calorie demands: Undernutrition is a common cause of immunity problems. That’s why weight-loss diets should not be extreme, and need to consider your calorie demands and your recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
- Proteins are important for the immune system: Several amino acids play an important role in your immunity. One of them is arginine, which aid in the creation of nitric oxide. This substance is used and secreted by macrophages to increase the blood flow to a critical area colonized by pathogens.
- The importance of vitamins and minerals: These nutrients incorporate into different enzymes, aiding in the process of adaptive and innate immunity. For example, we know that vitamin A and zinc play an important role in cell division, which is the only way to increase the number of white cells that will fight as soldiers for the sake of our health.
- Antioxidant substances are very helpful: We have antioxidant vitamins and other antioxidant substances that are not essential but help our body fighting pathogens and free radicals.
It may seem too much to handle at the same time, but it is not. You can cover all of the above by taking a plant-based approach to your diet and always favoring fresh foods against their processed counterparts.
Use more fruits and vegetables every day, try healthy snacks instead of potato chips, and use tea and herbal infusions instead of fizzy drinks and other high-sugar beverages.
Supplements & natural remedies for a healthy immune system
In some cases, we can’t find enough nutrients in our regular diet, and that’s why supplements stand as an alternative way to get them. If you follow a diet based on fruits and vegetables, it is unlikely you will have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, but if you’re suffering from an impaired immunity there are a few things you may want to try.
- Probiotic supplements: They should be in this list because most of us do not get enough probiotic foods. We usually recognize yogurt as a probiotic food, but the majority of us have never heard or tasted things like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Instead, we can just use daily probiotic supplements, which contain good bacteria that stimulate the immune system in the gut to stay alert against bad bacteria (2).
- Vitamin D: Some of us do not get enough vitamin D, especially if we live in northern countries and places where we don’t get much sunlight. The main sources of dietary vitamin D is through fish and seafood, and some of us are not used to eat fish twice a week. If you have low vitamin D, you are more likely to suffer from respiratory infections and other health problems (3).
- Zinc: This particular nutrient collaborates with our immunity in various ways. One of them is by favoring cell replication, as mentioned above. The other is through interfering with the passage and buildup of bacteria in the nose and the upper airways (4).
Additionally, we mentioned above something very important. Tea consumption can boost immunity in many ways, especially certain types of tea with key ingredients that share antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating activity.
What type of tea and what ingredients should you include in your blend? Here’s a list with carefully crafted ideas and recommendations:
- Leaves of Melissa: Balm leaves, leaves of Melissa, or Melissa officinalis has a direct effect in the immune system. According to a study with an extract of this herb, it stimulates the immune system through the formation of antibodies (humoral response). It also increases the capacity of cells of the immune system to respond against pathogens and other threats (5).
- Peppermint leaves: The effects of peppermint are highly varied, especially for the gastrointestinal system. Besides improving your gastrointestinal health, it stimulates the immune system and has innate antibacterial and antifungal properties that will add to your immune system to fight disease (6).
- Rose Hips: Rose hip tea contains very high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E, as well as other polyphenols and other substances with antioxidant activity. They contribute by strengthening and protecting the immune system and cells, acting as a support for all immune-related functions (7).
- Flowers of Chamomile: This herb contains apigenin, a phytochemical substance that maintains the appropriate balance in our cytokines. These cytokines are substances used by the immune system to communicate, and the majority of immune problems have to do with excessive or inefficient cytokine balance. That’s why this type of tea has been widely used to alleviate symptoms of cold and prevent respiratory conditions (7).
- Fennel Fruits: Fennel is a powerful antioxidant, and has quercetin and vitamin C. These substances modulate inflammation and improve the immune response without hurting the patient. It is also found to inhibit the growth of yeast and bacteria, especially Staphylococcus bacteria, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans (10).
- Hibiscus Petals: Hibiscus is a natural diuretic and has plenty of vitamin C. Additionally, it modulates the immune system by allowing the body to create more antibodies, which play an important role in adaptive immunity (11).
- Lavender Grass: Lavender contributes greatly to the immune system in various ways. It has a potent anti-inflammatory component, it has antioxidant substances, and reduces cortisol, a hormone that impairs the normal function of the innate and adaptive immunity. It increases leukocyte count and contributes to the formation of antibodies (12).
- Hawthorn Fruit and flowers: Sometimes an overactive immune system ends up hurting us instead of curing disease. That’s why the immunomodulatory activity of hawthorn comes into play. It regulates the normal immune function and alleviates the bad effects of pro-inflammatory substances in the body (13).
- Lemongrass: Similar to hawthorn, lemongrass acts in the immune system by modulating the formation and release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It has an anti-inflammatory potential that contributes to our immunity without harming the body (14).
- Cones of hops: It contains a substance called xanthohumol. This is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory activity. It is also antiproliferative, which means it reduces the rate of cell growth in tumors. When your immune system turns against your healthy tissue, this anti-inflammatory substance contributes to identifying microbes as the real enemy (15).
- Flowers of linden: Along with other herbs, linden flowers stimulate the production of normal white blood cells, and favors the activity of phagocytes and other cells of the innate immune system (16).
You have many herbs to choose from, and you can include them all in your blend to create an immunity powerhouse you can use instead of water or fizzy drinks.
If you combine the recommendations above with a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and cleaning your hands frequently, your immune system will behave as it should, protecting you from disease and allowing for an excellent quality of life.
- One of the main components of your immune health is a good nutrition. Thus, weight-loss diets should always focus on get the right amount of nutrients and calories for you.
- A plant-based diet gives you the complete set of vitamins and minerals your body needs to get the immune system to work properly.
- In many cases, we don’t get enough probiotic foods, vitamin D, and zinc. We can use them as supplements if we detect any deficiency in the immune system.
- Instead of drinking water or fizzy drinks, use herbal infusions as a part of your diet. Many herbs share modulatory and stimulant features that promote good immunity that works against microbes without causing damage to our healthy tissue.