Your immune system is your body's first line of defense against disease and serious illness. But how can you keep it operating at peak efficiency? Beyond simple instructions to wash your hands against the common cold, there are a wide range of hacks you can undertake to keep your immune system working effectively.
But what does peak efficiency mean for you? For the most part, you want to modulate your immune system to work effectively and fight off disease so that you can maintain good health, without having it go into overdrive and cause problems where there shouldn't be any, such as allergies or rheumatoid arthritis. But how do you manage to hit this magical midpoint? Here is a look at the top seven ways to improve your immune system's response.
How To Boost Your Immune System Naturally
1. Drink Plenty of Fluids
By staying properly hydrated, which means both drinking plenty of fluids as well as avoiding alcohol, you can help improve your immune function. It achieves this end by improving other functions within your body and allowing it to operate more effectively. As an example, dehydration impacts digestion, heart and kidney function, which are a big part of keeping your immune system functioning properly. Older adults are especially susceptible to dehydration, as the body's ability to signal its need for liquids decreases as we age.
2. Get Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Vitamins A, C and D are all active in your body's immune response. Vitamin A is found in a wide range of leafy green vegetables found in a healthy diet such as spinach and kale, and it helps your immune system respond quickly to changing conditions as well as fight off infections. Vitamin C, found in many citrus fruits, is a solid immune booster, working well against colds, upper respiratory infections and is one of the three compounds often be deficient in many severe COVID-19 cases, along with zinc and Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in a few foods, especially fortified milk and juice, wild-caught fish such as salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms. By keeping your diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, you'll keep your body full of healthy phenolic compounds and antioxidants to help keep a strong immune system and maintain a balanced diet.
3. Consider Adding Medicinal Mushrooms
As our world turns to more natural remedies, medicinal mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine have come to light as some serious options for a strong immune system. Research shows that many of these mushrooms have health benefits far beyond simple immune-boosting potential. Cordyceps helps improve liver and kidney function, fights cancer, helps fight diabetes, works with a range of auto-immune disorders and boosts cardiovascular and athletic performance. Turkey Tail mushroom has a range of antiviral properties, working against colds, influenza and even HPV, the virus that often leads to cervical cancer, while its other properties fight off a range of digestive-tract cancers and helps the immune system recover quickly after chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Reishi mushrooms not only improves immune response, it also lowers blood pressure, improves quality of life for cancer patients while fighting the disease and relieves stress while boosting energy from conditions such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia syndrome.
4. Add Fermented Foods and Probiotics
Did you know that eating yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut can actually make you healthier? Probiotics and fermented foods help feed your body's signaling system, making it easier for your immune system to pick up the differences between healthy cells in your body and those that need to be attacked to keep you healthy. Studies have shown that either eating more fermented foods or adding probiotic supplements to the diet help you get sick less often and make it easier for your body to fight off infections that do gain a toehold.
5. Exercise Regularly
We're not saying that it's time to sign up for a marathon, as excessive strenuous exercise can actually suppress the immune system, but regular moderate exercise boosts it. Exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines, reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate. Try for 2.5 hours of weekly brisk walks, jogging, swimming, bicycling, or light hiking to keep your immune system benefiting from this easy hack. Bonus: exercise also helps you lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease and improves your mood!
6. Keep Stress Under Control
You probably know that stress can impact your cardiovascular health and digestion, but did you know that it also impacts your immune system? Long-term stress can suppress immune function, especially in children who have suffered psychological trauma, promote inflammation, which leads to many metabolic diseases including diabetes, and creates imbalances in immune cell function. Take a walk, get out into nature, undertake meditative activities that help you relax, journal or practice mindfulness to help bust your stressors, but if these approaches don't work, take a little time to see a licensed therapist or counsellor to deal with your stress issues before they cause more problems.
7. Get Plenty of Sleep and Rest
Sure, you may be able to function on six or fewer hours of sleep, but that doesn't mean that you should. Lack of sleep and chronic insomnia lead to higher susceptibility to illness and increases inflammation in your body, which can lead to a range of physical maladies. If you're having trouble sleeping, try setting up a calming routine. Exercise in the afternoon or early evening, have a cup of chamomile, lavender or other calming tea, try journaling to let go of stressors that keep you awake or use binaural audio through headphones to wind your brain down for sleep. Another culprit for poor sleep habits is blue light, a specific wavelength of light that keys your brain to stay awake. Try limiting screen time after dark, invest in blue light blocking lenses or see if you can set up blue light blockers on your devices, a commonly available setting or app.
When you take the time to develop a solid understanding of the different ways you can naturally boost and keep your immune system working effectively, you can make great choices to improve your health in a wide range of ways. Take things slowly and only make one or two changes at a time, so that you can tell whether they're helping improve your health. Make sure to take time to seek medical advice so that everyone is on board and you can avoid any unintentional bad reactions that you may not have considered while trying to build a healthy immune system.