8 Ways to Support Your Immune System

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8 Ways to Support Your Immune System

Immunity is a “whole body” activity. Your skin, your mouth, and your nose are just some of the entry points for an infinite number of possible attackers.

Bacteria, viruses, mould, and other microbes are in the air and water. They can also be on your food and are often spread by others who are unaware of the potential harm they are “sharing.”

Immunity – or lack of it – starts at the cellular level. The immune system involves your skin, intestines, nasal mucosa, blood, lymph, white blood cells, stem cells, b-cells, and many other organs and tissues.

Factors that impair immune function include nutrient deficiencies, contaminated air, water and food, unhealthy lifestyles, and too much exposure to harmful microbes.

The immune system is the body’s chief defence system, designed to protect the body against germs, viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. A weakened immune system leaves the body vulnerable to virtually every type of illness and disease, especially when you move between climates, countries, and time zones. 

Maintaining a healthy immune system reduces your chance of viral infection, colds, and the flu. Try using some, or all of these natural ways to help support your immune system and maintain good health.

1. Vitamins and supplements for a healthy immune system

Vitamin C

There is some evidence that high doses of vitamin C may decrease the length of cold symptoms by as much as 8–14%.[1] This antioxidant protects your cells against free radicals, improves tissue healing, and helps your body form blood vessels, muscle, and collagen.[2] Good food sources include citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, leafy greens, and tomatoes.[3]

Vitamin D

Research shows a link between vitamin D and respiratory infections.[4] People with the lowest blood vitamin D levels report having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu. These risks are even higher for those with chronic respiratory disorders, such as asthma and emphysema.

While vitamin D can be obtained in the diet through oily fish such as salmon and sardines,[6] it is generally believed that supplementation is the most viable way to ensure adequate intake.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is needed for tissue in the respiratory and digestive tracts to support a healthy immune response.[7] This can be found naturally in foods such as beef liver, sweet potato, spinach, and carrots.[8]

Vitamin E

Adequate vitamin E levels support both parts of the immune system – innate defences (what we’re born with) and adaptive defences (what we develop).[9] Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, peanuts, and peanut butter.[10]


Zinc is essential for communications between the immune system’s two parts, the innate and adaptive defences, helping to coordinate an effective immune response.[11] Zinc can be found in oysters, beef, pork, chicken (dark meat), and baked beans.

Plant sources include pumpkin seeds, yogourt, cashews, and chickpeas but contain far less zinc than animal sources.[12]


Iron helps with an effective immune response; white blood cells such as neutrophils and T-cells need this to help fight infections.[13] Iron can be found in white beans, dark chocolate, lentils, spinach, and tofu. It can also be found in lean meats, seafood, and poultry.[14]


Selenium deficiency impairs both innate and adaptive immune defences and can worsen viral infections.[15] Selenium can be found in brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats.[17]

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut. They provide numerous health benefits in the body and also play an important role in stimulating the immune system.[18]

They can be found naturally in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogourt, and in drinks such as kefir and kombucha.

2. Your herbal immune system essentials


This popular herb works by increasing the numbers and the activity of white blood cells. Echinacea purpurea stimulates the immune system via standardized levels of three bioactive constituents: alkylamides, polysaccharides, and cichoric acid.

It also increases the production of signaling proteins critical to the immune system response.[20] Echinacea is traditionally used in herbal medicine to help relieve symptoms of colds and upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).[21]

Reishi mushroom

Reishi has been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to calm the mind and restore emotional balance. As a preventative treatment, reishi can stimulate the immune system and improve immune function.[22]Reishi is used in herbal medicine to support the immune system.[23]


Astragalus has antiviral action and enhances the body’s production of immunoglobulin, stimulates macrophages, and activates T-cells and natural killer cells.[24] Astragalus is used in herbal medicine to help maintain a healthy immune system.[25]


Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex.[26] Elderberry is used in herbal medicine to help relieve symptoms of colds and flus (such as coughs, sore throat, and mucus buildup of the upper respiratory tract).[28]


The use of allicin, the primary active agent generated by garlic, for general well-being is on the increase and its role as an antioxidant has been widely investigated.[29] Garlic is traditionally used in herbal medicine to help relieve the symptoms associated with URTIs and catarrhal conditions (such as nasal congestion or buildup of excess mucus).[30]


Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties that help boost immunity.[31] Turmeric is traditionally used in Ayurveda to relieve pain and inflammation.[32]

Oregano Oil

Oregano has anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects and has a history of use for respiratory disorders.[33] Oregano oil has potent antimicrobial actions due to the presence of the compounds carvacrol and thymol, making it effective against bacteria and viruses.[34] It is best taken in oil form, either as liquid drops or in capsules.

8 Ways to Support Your Immune System

3. Eat your immune system healthy!

Poor nutrition is the most common cause of a weakened immune response. Foods that are good natural sources of the immune-boosting antioxidants include kiwi fruits which contain more vitamin C per gram than oranges;[35] Chinese cabbage, an excellent source of vitamin A; and avocado, known as nature’s superfood because it provides the optimum healthy ratio of fat, carbohydrate, protein, and vitamin E. You can also step up your intake of dietary zinc by eating more seafood, eggs, turkey, and pumpkin seeds.[37]

It is also important to indulge in whole foods such as in-season fruits and vegetables; non-refined grains (quinoa and brown rice); and healthy fats and proteins (beans, wild fish, nuts, and seeds). When possible, incorporate ingredients with immune-supportive effects into your everyday diet, including:

  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Ginger
  • Raw honey
  • Coconut oil
  • Green tea

Avoid consuming large amounts of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol, which can weaken immune function and deplete important nutrients. In some cases, key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc may be supplemented for additional support.

4. Colourful eating

There’s not one food that stands out as being THE most important for your immune system. It’s your diet as a whole that matters. However, as usual, it’s those dietary big guns – the fruit and vegetable family – that can make the greatest difference. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals that help your immune system stay fighting fit! Try to include a wide colour spectrum in your diet to maximize the range of nutrients you get.

5. Sleep

Studies show that sleep deprivation can make adults more susceptible to illness by reducing natural killer cells, the immune-system weapons that attack microbes and cancer cells.[38] It’s important to get at least 7−8 hours of sleep each night.[39]

8 Ways to Support Your Immune System - exercise

6. Exercise

Incorporating moderate exercise, such as a 30-minute walk, on a daily basis can benefit your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Research shows that exercise increases the number of natural killer cells, may help clear bacteria from the lungs and airways, increases the circulation of white blood cells in the body,[40] inhibits bacterial growth due to an increase in body temperature,[41] and slows the release of stress hormones in the body.[42]

7. Hand washing

Proper and frequent hand washing will help reduce your exposure to bacteria and viruses. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Lather your hands with soap by rubbing them together with the soap – backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Singing Row Row Row Your Boat 2x does the trick!

8. Hydration

Drinking water is important to stay hydrated and keep your airways moist. Inhaled viruses stick to the back of the nose and throat. If you can keep those areas moist, those mucous membranes do a better job of keeping the bugs out. Dry mucous membranes are not as effective at staving off pathogens. You want to drink at least half your body weight in ounces (example a 68 kg/150 lb  person needs to drink 2.2 litres/75 oz).

The last cough

It is natural for us to become ill each year. By exposing our bodies to new viruses strengthens our immune system and keeps it up-to-date so it can help with future infections.

By following the above recommendations, eating a nutritious diet and by improving your lifestyle choices, your immune system will be closer to being in balance. When you have a healthy immune system, you will reduce the severity and shorten the duration of each subsequent illness.

The next time you feel a sore throat or malaise coming on, rather than waiting for the “bugs” to invade, be proactive naturally and stop them in their tracks. If you are unsure about what you should take, consult your physician.

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References :

[1] Hemilä H & Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; Issue 1.

[2] Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

[3] Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

[4] Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 91(5):1255-1260.

[5] Loeb M, Dang AD, Thiem VD, et al. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation to reduce respiratory infections in children and adolescents in Vietman: A randomized controlled trial. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2019; 13(2):176-183.

[6] Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin D [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

[7] Sirisinha S. The pleiotropic role of vitamin A in regulating mucosal immunity. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2015; 33(2):71–89.

[8] Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/

[9] Lee GY, Han SN. The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity. Nutrients. 2018; 10(11):1614. Published 2018 Nov 1.

[10] Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin E [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/

[11] Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017; 9(12):1286.

[12] Office of Dietary Supplements – Zinc [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

[13] Cronin SJF, Woolf CJ, Weiss G, Penninger JM. The Role of Iron Regulation in Immunometabolism and Immune-Related Disease. Front Mol Biosci. 2019; 6:116. Published 2019 Nov 22.

[14] Office of Dietary Supplements – Iron [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

[15] Guillin OM, Vindry C, Ohlmann T, Chavatte L. Selenium, Selenoproteins and Viral Infection. Nutrients. 2019; 11(9):2101.

[16] Avery JC, Hoffmann PR. Selenium, Selenoproteins, and Immunity. Nutrients. 2018; 10(9):1203. Published 2018 Sep 1.

[17] Office of Dietary Supplements – Selenium [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/

[18] Giorgetti G, Brandimarte G, Fabiocchi F, et al. Interactions between Innate Immunity, Microbiota, and Probiotics. Journal of immunology research. 2015; 501361.

[19] Kanauchi O, Andoh A, AbuBakar S, et al. Probiotics and Paraprobiotics in Viral Infection: Clinical Application and Effects on the Innate and Acquired Immune Systems. Current pharmaceutical design. 2018; 24(6):710-717.

[20] Fonseca FN, Papanicolaou G, Lin H, et al. Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench modulates human T-cell cytokine response. International immunopharmacology. 2014; 19(1):94-102.

[21] Goel V, Lovlin R, Barton R, et al. Efficacy of a standardized echinacea preparation (ECHINILIN) for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy & Therapeutics. 2004; 29(1):75-83.

[22] Lin Z-B. Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Immuno-modulation by Ganoderma lucidum. J Pharmacol Sci. 2005; 99:144-153.

[23] Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/

[24] Li X, Qu L, Dong Y, et al. A Review of Recent Research Progress on the Astragalus Genus. Molecules. 2014; 19(11):18850-18880.

[25] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. (2003). Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

[26] Torabian G, Valtchev P, Adil Q, et al. Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Journal of Functional Foods. 2019; 54:353-360.

[27] Zahmanov G, Alipieva K, Denev P, et al. Flavonoid glycosides profiling in dwarf elder fruits (Sambucus ebulus L.) and evaluation of their antioxidant and anti-herpes simplex activities. Industrial Crops & Products. 2015; 63:58-64.

[28] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. (2003). Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

[29] Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, et al. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014; 19(8):12591-12618.

[30] Felter H, & Lloyd J. Kings American Dispensatory. 1983. Sandy: Eclectic Medical Publications.

[31] Uchio R, Muroyama K, Okuda-Hanafusa C et al. Hot Water Extract of Curcuma longa L. Improves Serum Inflammatory Markers and General Health in Subjects with Overweight or Prehypertension/Mild Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019; 11(8):1822

[32] Shehzad A, Rehman G, & Lee YS. Curcumin in inflammatory diseases. BioFactors (Oxford, England). 2013; 39(1):69-77.

[33] Zhang XL, Guo YS, Wang CH, et al. Phenolic compounds from Origanum vulgare and their antioxidant and antiviral activities. Food Chemistry. 2014; 152:300-306

[34] Lu M, Dai T, Murray CK, & et al. Bactericidal Property of Oregano Oil Against Multidrug-Resistant Clinical Isolates. Frontiers in microbiology. 2018; 9:2329.

[35] United States Department of Agriculture – Kiwi, raw [Internet]. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/341571/nutrients

[36] United States Department of Agriculture – Orange, raw [Internet]. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/341436/nutrients

[37] Office of Dietary Supplements – Zinc [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

[38] Irwin MR, & Opp MR. Sleep Health: Reciprocal Regulation of Sleep and Innate Immunity. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017; 42(1):129-155.

[39] Canada P. Are Canadian adults getting enough sleep? Infographic – Canada.ca [Internet]. Canada.ca. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-adults-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html

[40] Bigley AB, Simpson RJ. NK cells and exercise: implications for cancer immunotherapy and survivorship. Discov Med. 2015; 19(107):433-445.

[41] Roberts NJ Jr. Temperature and host defense. Microbiological reviews. 1979; 43(2):241-259.

[42] Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, et al. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017; 249:102-108.


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