Boosting your immune system naturally
Updated: Jan 18
How can you improve your immune system? Your immune system acts like a shield, protecting you against disease-causing microorganisms. It’s a complex system always hard at work, adapting to various would-be invaders, remembering the old pathogens, and removing new ones virtually. For an immune system to function well, it requires balance and harmony. Researchers are exploring effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans.
General healthy living strategies together with the right supplements could help immune function and other proven health benefits. Walk into a store and you will find bottles of pills herbal preparations or supplements that support immunity or boost the health of your immune system. How do they help?
Vitamins and minerals to keep the doctor away
More than half a century of research has shown that Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant, protecting important biomolecules from damage by oxidants. Besides that, vitamin C helps to stabilize the structure of collagen, which is important for the skin, that act as a barrier against external stimuli, including pathogens. Vitamin C is necessary to prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions.
Ingredients from nature like Bioflavonoids have the potential to help the body maintain a proper balance of inflammatory cytokines and influence the immune system. Number of researches on bioflavonoids have found the unique benefits related to immune health, which is due to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help to properly maintain the function of cells within the immune system. Bioflavonoids was also known to function synergistically with vitamin C for enhanced immune support on a proper inflammatory response, as well as increasing absorption of vitamin C. Some studies have shown the effect of citrus flavonoids on chronic inflammation in helping to decrease the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by reducing nitric oxide production and inhibiting cytokine secretion (1).
Vitamin C is a popular choice for supporting immunity, but another key nutrient for the immune system is Vitamin D. Although well known for its function on strong bones, vitamin D does a lot more for your body, including support your immune system. Some studies have shown that a deficiency of vitamin D can increase one’s susceptibility to infection, such as tuberculosis, influenza and viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. One of the main functions of vitamin D is to help activate the ‘killer cells’ so that the immune system is capable to fight against foreign pathogens. The powerful vitamin can signal the body to create immune-boosting compounds to strengthen one’s innate and adaptive immune responses (2).
Besides vitamins, minerals like Zinc was found to have strong evidence in modulating immune function and reduce risk of infection. Cells were reported to be more activated and promote more inflammation in the absence of zinc (3).
Herbs can give your immune system a little boost
Remedies made from herbs and plants can be a powerful ally for your health and immunity. Research is beginning to confirm the efficacy of folk medicine people have been using for hundreds of years. Here are some of the Herbs that carry additional immune benefits:
1. Andrographis paniculata extract
Bioactives of Andrographis paniculata are believed to modulate the immune components and acts synergistically with immune system to improve its overall defending ability by inhibiting propagation of pathogens and stimulate the right amount of immune response (4).
The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with powerful antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamins that may boost your immune system, by playing a role in reduce inflammation, stress and help protecting your heart. Elderberry also contains anthocyanins that can inhibit the viral replication in the body (5).
3. Siberian Ginseng
Sometimes also known as Eleuthero, Siberian ginseng is traditionally used as an immune system booster and a general stimulant. Some research has reported Siberian ginseng increases lymphocytes- an important component of the immune system which act as the body’s primary defense against viral infections (6).
Besides taking herbs and supplements, practicing mindfulness to relax the body and mind to reduce stress is important. When we are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off foreign pathogens is reduced, and thus more susceptible to infections. Regular exercise also protects one against a variety of diseases, leading to general good health and healthy immune system.
In a nutshell, the immune system plays an essential role in protecting us from viruses and bacteria. Thus, supplementing the right vitamins and herbs to your diet, as well as lifestyle can maximize your immune system’s ability.
1. Panche A, Diwan A, Chandra S. (2016). “Flavonoids: An overview.” J Nutr Sci. 2016;5:E47
2. Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011 Aug;59(6):881-6. doi: 10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755. PMID: 21527855; PMCID: PMC3166406.
3. Gombart AF, Pierre A, Maggini S. A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 16;12(1):236. doi: 10.3390/nu12010236. PMID: 31963293; PMCID: PMC7019735.
4. Jayakumar T, Hsieh CY, Lee JJ, Sheu JR. Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology of Andrographis paniculata and Its Major Bioactive Phytoconstituent Andrographolide. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:846740. doi: 10.1155/2013/846740. Epub 2013 Mar 24. PMID: 23634174; PMCID: PMC3619690.
5. Andrzej Sidor, Anna Gramza-Michałowska, Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review, 2015. Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 18, Part B, Pages 941-958.
6. 12 potential health benefits of eleuthero, Miho Hatanaka (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319084