Immune system boosters are essential to maintaining vibrant health. In this article we’ll look at many ways for boosting your immune system naturally.
Your immunity system keeps you healthy and strong. It can prevent acute viral and bacterial infections like a cold or a flu as well as play an important role in long term health by preventing chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases and cancer.
I often see people in my clinical practice that have a damaged immune system. These people may have frequent colds and flu, chronic infections that don’t heal, seasonal allergies, frequent boils, frequent herpes virus outbreaks, numerous food allergies or intolerances, and cancer. It amazes me how often people assume that seasonal allergies or frequent upper respiratory viruses like a cold are normal. It’s not! These can be the beginning symptoms of a damaged immune system and they should be taken care of from a holistic standpoint with immune system boosters.
Many people ask me, “How can I boost my immune system?”. The good news is there is lots you can do to boost immune system naturally. The bad news is there is a lot of things you need to do for boosting your immune system naturally. Herbalist Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa likes to say that natural health is the good health made from a thousand small choices, and the immunity system is a great example of this.
Research is now showing that the majority of our immune system lies within our gut! Having chronic digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and dyspepsia could all lead to immune system diseases.
It can’t be said enough that eating good food leads to good health and is one of the best immune system boosters. But what is good food? It is my belief that one person’s healthy food is another person’s poison. I really like the book by William Wolcott:
Instead of giving a diet dogma about what is the right food to eat, it
teaches people how to recognize when foods are working for them and when
they aren’t. Do you feel hungry all the time? Do you often get bloated?
Do you have chronic constipation or diarrhea? Then it’s quite possible
that you aren’t eating the right foods for you.
One manifestation of this is what is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. The intestinal walls not only absorb nutrients from food but also act as a barrier to keep food particles out of the blood stream. If the intestinal villi become damaged (through food intolerance, excessive alcohol, NSAIDs, antibiotics, etc) then food particles can move into the blood stream. This can set off an immune response and is thought by many to be the cause of some autoimmune diseases.
For more information about Leaky Gut Syndrome see this article by Paul Bergner: Gastrointestinal: Leaky gut, molecular mimicry, microchimerism, and autoimmunity.
Vitamin D3 is being heralded as the nutritional breakthrough of the 21st century and is probably one of the best immune system boosters. We now know that the majority of modern people are very deficient in vitamin D3. We also know that vitamin D3 plays an extremely important role in many of our systemic functions and notably in our immunity system.
Vitamin D3 is made when our skin comes in contact with direct sunlight. For those of us in the northern latitudes this is only possible during late spring to early fall. Unless we are able to add extraordinary amounts of liver to our diets, supplementation is often necessary.
I encourage all of my clients to get their vitamin D3 levels checked. Once you know your particular levels you can supplement accordingly with products such as
I also encourage people to get appropriate sun exposure. This is 15-20
minutes of noontime sun with a lot of skin showing. If you have fair
skin you might need to work up to this amount.
Don’t burn your skin! Burning from sun exposure is harmful, but regular short term sun exposure is not.
The Vitamin D Council is a good source of information about Vitamin D3.
Vitamin C is an important immune system booster. It can be easily obtained through a whole foods diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw red bell peppers, brussel sprouts and kale all contain impressive amounts of vitamin C.
We all know that exercise is an important part of our health so it's no surprise that it also plays an important role in our immune system health. In fact, study after study shows that regular and moderate exercise prevents upper respiratory infections and perhaps even cancer.
One explanation for this is that exercise increases your circulation, which aids your lymphatic system in removing cellular debris and other metabolic wastes from your body. This increased circulation means that an immune system cell is quicker to attack invading pathogens and clear them from the body.
Sugar is our culture’s favorite white powder. Receiving our dose of this favorite drug is often the highlight of a social gathering, whether it be birthdays, weddings, most holiday celebrations or even the dessert following each meal.
Excessive sugar consumption creates a cacophony of problems, including nutrient malabsorption, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation and cardiac disease. High levels of sugar also provide fertile breeding grounds for cancer proliferation.
Whether high sugar consumption directly effects the immunity system or simply overwhelms your body with systemic inflammation that then leads to a damaged immune system is unknown. What is definitely clear is that high sugar consumption does not lead to good health.
So, you ask, what is high sugar consumption? We don’t really know. It’s amazing to think we haven’t had any major studies on the quantity of sugar consumption. Less is best in my book and sugar should only be eaten in very small quantities (a teaspoon or less) and not every day. By the way, whether it is honey, brown rice sweetener, cane sugar, beet sugar or high fructose corn syrup - it’s all bad in large quantities!
If you are consistently not getting enough sleep I would encourage you to examine your life to figure out how this can be changed. Sleep is crucial to our healing process and is one of the greatest natural immune system boosters. Long term sleep debt can lead to a host of serious diseases and even general malaise.
Poor sleep can rear its ugly head in many different ways. If you sleep many hours each night but wake up feeling unrested then seek help to get this issue figured out. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep, then seek help to get this figured out. In my mind there is no excuse for chronic sleep deprivations as this is one of the core needs of your body to function in a healthy manner.
You can read more about addressing insomnia with natural sleep aids in this article.
I know we are constantly bombarded with the evils of stress. Sometimes I wonder if it is simply another white noise precaution droning somewhere in the background along with exercise and good sleep.
But the truth is, stress is a major factor in many people’s lives. Of course we all have stress in our lives at some point. And some stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if you have excessive stress in your life you probably know it. A constant low grade level of stress, with no recuperation time, slowly degrades our entire well-being. Extreme stress over even a short period of time can also effect the health of the immunity system.
Adaptogen herbs can support the body’s resiliency to stress. However, lifestyle adjustments are often more important. You know what those immune system boosters are: good sleep, good attitude, peaceful days at home and at work, exercise and a healthy diet.
Herbs can have a profound effect on boosting your immune system. Some herbs can do this in the short term to help you avoid an acute illness or infection. We call those herbs immuno-stimulators and they often work by temporarily increasing phagocytosis (one of the important immune system functions). These herbs include Echinacea, spilanthes and chilies.
Some herbs, like elderberries, are exceptionally high in flavonoids which prevent pathogens from reproducing. This can help shorten the duration of a cold or flu.
Immunomodulating herbs are deeply nourishing and building tonic herbs that, when taken over time, restore health to a weakened immune system. Astragalus, reishi and codonopsis are some of my favorite herbs for the immune system.
You can obtain all these herbs at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Stop the presses! Scientists have now proven that our emotions effect our health. This new field of study is called psychoneuroimmunology or PNI.
PNI studies the relationship between your psychology and the immune system and nervous system.
Admittedly I find it a little funny that science is just catching on to this phenomenon. I don’t know about you but when I am dwelling in the depths of emotional despair or stressed beyond my abilities I know my health suffers! Even still, this is a pretty fascinating area of study.
My point here is that feeling good plays an important role as one of the immune system boosters. Taking tons of vitamin D3, eating a healthy diet and taking herbs as immune system boosters can only take you so far if you aren’t also addressing your emotional well-being.
A great book on this topic by Candace Pert is
There are many ways of how to boost immune system. Rather than seeking one magic silver bullet to miraculously solve your overall immune system health, consider it like a pie chart. Each slice of the pie can be represented by important immune system boosters such as restful sleep, exercise, healthy diet, immunomodulating herbs, sunlight, etc. Even one missing pie piece can effect the entire system.
Holistic health is often the health of a thousand choices and immune system health is no exception!
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal and co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and the Education Director for LearningHerbs. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.