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Featured image for "How to Build Your Immune System Naturally" blog post. Getting the flu is not the only sign your immune system may need a boost.

How to Build Your Immune System Naturally

Maybe you’re one of the many people who think that getting a cold is normal–especially during the colder season. As a result, you have come to accept the consistent experience of headaches, pain in the sinuses, and sore throat as completely normal. Maybe, you may have been wondering if there are methods on how to boost the immune system naturally. Maybe there is a new normal out there.

Did you know that there may be easy ways to help shield yourself from the cold, cough, and flu? Also, that suffering from a simple cold’s discomfort does not need to be part of your “normal” seasonal routine? Finding the root of the problem and making small changes can be the piece missing when learning how to build your immune system naturally.

One way to do this is to ensure that your immune system is in its best possible infection-fighting state. This way, you may be protected from simple colds and other kinds of diseases, whatever the season is. How? Check out what the following tips on how to build your immune system naturally!

* Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you purchase through these links. However, this commission comes at no additional cost to you.

How to Build Your Immune System Naturally with Everyday Ingredients

Nutrition is an important first step when learning how to build your immune system naturally. What we eat affects everything we do and how our bodies function. We’ve written about how the immune system fights off foreign invaders before but did you know that very accessible food actually strengthens those tiny soldiers we house in our bodies? Something important to consider.

It seems that every November through February, many people regularly develop colds for most of their lives. These illnesses are just something they come to expect, and as a result, is normalized. One winter, maybe you jumped up and thought, “I’ve had enough of this!” and looked up what changes were essential for strengthening the immune system. After talking to your doctor, you may have figured out an action plan to incorporate into your nutritional plan. Potential solutions to the question of how to build the immune system naturally can come from small habit changes.

Now, everybody is not the same, and many people can have adverse reactions to certain ingredients. A lot of this research we’ve done on our own, and this is in no way a substitution for medical advice. But, in the spirit of sharing information, we’ll detail some of the foods and ingredients we’ve incorporated daily to strengthen our immune systems.

Vegetables in a market.
There are many delicious and healthy food you can incorporate into your diet that may help to support a healthy immune system.

Glutamine

 

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is a necessary part of the immune system. We need proteins to create the defensive structures which fight off diseases and any pathogens that may enter our system. Protein is considered essential for human beings, but especially so when it comes to developing a strong immune system.

Glutamine is a key amino acid that comes from consuming protein and is used by immune system cells to fuel the immune system defense system. Now, we expect you do not want to read a whole 8th-grade biology textbook on the immune system here, but how our friends’ leukocytes and cytokines function is through digesting and then getting energy from glutamine. Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” Well, glutamine is the powerhouse of our immune system!

One way to integrate glutamine into your system is by consuming stocks and broths from free-range chicken or grass-fed beef. These liquids are made from the boiling of either chicken or beef bones, which contain nutritious (and oftentimes delicious!) marrow and collagen. Drinking one cup of broth each day could also be a source of a boost to immune system health.

You can actually make your own bone broth, and you’ll find that it is very easy and somewhat sustainable. If you cook a lot of your own food, you’ll end up accumulating a fair number of food scraps, especially those leftover from onions and carrot greens. With cooking your own food, there is also the curse of having things go bad before you get to use them. We have a good technique for getting around that, limiting food waste, AND making delicious stock.

If you are a carnivore, we recommend saving the bones from your chicken dinners. Put them in the freezer and forget about them until you collect enough to fill half of a pot (whatever size pot you have works, as long as it is at least a couple of gallons). Every other Sunday, we like to take all of our kitchen scraps and bones, cover them in water, and cook them for many, many hours. Adding a dash of vinegar to this stock will help pull out the collagen, increasing the nutritional benefits.

The nice thing about making your own chicken stock is that it is a pretty inexpensive way of increasing the glutamine in your life. Homemade stock is easy to freeze and can last a while, providing easy access to nutrition in the future.

Veggie bone broth soup.
Homemade bone broth can be used as a base for many delicious soups and stews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beta-glucan

 

Beta-glucans are the sugars, also known as polysaccharides, that are found in the cell walls of fungi, yeasts, and algae. The “immunostimulant” properties of beta-glucan have been used for a very long time, mostly through cooking and eating mushrooms. Some sources believe that beta-glucan may function as an “alternate and supportive” immune system, complimenting the immune system with supportive pathogen-tackling.

All of this information may mean that regular consumption of mushrooms such as reishi, maitake, and shitake mushrooms might help prevent infections. In the absence of mushrooms, you may take beta-glucan supplements that may help you fight against cough, colds, and flu during the cold season (although, as per usual, under your doctor’s supervision).

Beta-glucan can also be found in oats, barley fiber, and seaweed, so there are many potential sources of supplementing beta-glucan.

One of our personal favorite ways of supplementing beta-glucan and increasing our mushroom intake is through drinking mushroom tea, particularly tea made from reishi mushrooms, which has a warm, nutty flavor. Mushroom tea is not that expensive and caffeine-free, which is an added bonus when you are looking for something warm and flavorful but do not want to stay up all night.

Assortment of mushrooms.
There is a vast assortment of mushrooms that can serve as a good source of beta-glucan.

Zinc

Zinc: it’s not just an element! Zinc is an important building block for your immune system.

Zinc is perhaps one of the MVPs of boosting the immune system naturally. Zinc deficiencies are often marked by an increase in infections and a weakened immune system (yes, it is essential). Zinc research has shown that it supplements the increased production of essential immune system cells while also decreasing oxidative stress (also known as an antioxidant). Many human beings are deficient in Zinc.

Maybe you’re looking to boost some zinc in your life: steamed oysters may be great sources of Zinc. Cooked oysters are PACKED with Zinc. Zinc is an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies cannot produce Zinc on their own. Cooked oysters have approximately 52 mg of Zinc every three ounces, approximately five times the amount of recommended daily intake of Zinc.

If you do not like oysters, you may include grass-fed beef, which is potentially also a good source of Zinc. Red meat has around 9 mg of Zinc every three ounces. If you’re vegetarian or vegan and are on a plant-based diet, you can eat some pumpkin seeds, which may be one of the highest plant sources of Zinc, with every 100g of pumpkin seeds containing an average of 7.99 mg of Zinc.

We want to stress thatwe are not saying to eat 100g of pumpkin seeds because that would be way too many! The ~8mg of zinc/100 mg makes math a little bit easier down the road and helpful if you are considering adding pumpkin seeds to your nutritional planning.

 

Elderberry

Elderberry is famous for its medicinal uses and immune system support, dating back over 1500 years in use. Elderberry is often combined with Zinc when consumed, having a powerful combined effect. Black elderberries have been used for their anti-bacterial and anti-viral support.

Elderberry oftentimes comes in syrup form and is a lovely shade of dark purple. Some people do consider it to be an acquired taste, a little too sour and sweet, so they opt into taking elderberry supplements. Like most supplements, elderberry supplements can be powerful and interact with medication, so it is important to communicate this with your doctor if you do try it.

The lovely flowers and berries of the black elderberry plant are used for adding supportive vitamins, immune system boost, and antioxidants. Some scientific studies have shown the impact of elderberries for their anti-inflammatory usage in addition to all of the immune system support. Elderberry syrup can be found in health food stores and is sometimes paired with Zinc in immune system supplements.

 

Eliminate Added Sugar

Eliminating sugar as a means of building your immune system naturally is a slightly controversial subject. Sugar is delicious, and it is in everything! When people say, “eliminate sugar,” they usually mean ADDED sugar, as eliminating sugar completely while still being able to eat most foods would be impossible.

To reiterate the point above, sugars can and do naturally occur in foods like fruit and grains. Fructose is a prevalent food sugar. Added sugar, however, is the extra corn syrup in a soda or in ketchup as a means of providing sweeter ketchup. Added sugar is put in foods during production and most often associated with processed foods.

Sugar intake could dramatically weaken the immune system. Some studies have shown that increased sugar intake can suppress your immune system. An excess of sugar has been found to limit the number of immune cells that are produced, leading to more bacteria and pathogen growth.

Many scientists consider sugar to be a drug because they know how it may adversely impact the body and the brain. Refined sugar and other artificial sweeteners may impair the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria. Instead, you might want to use honey as your sweetener, but even then, only in reasonable amounts.

Eliminating and being mindful of added sugar is one of those life-long habits that goes a long way. Not only is it part of how to build your immune system naturally, but it is also essential to general wellness.

When you first try to eliminate added sugar, it may not be easy. Truth is, if you keep buying premade foods and going out to eat, it makes it difficult to track the amount of added sugar in a meal. What’ll end up being the key to changing these difficult habits is cooking your own meals from scratch.

There is some evidence that cooking things from whole ingredients is healthier than processed foods. Not only is it delicious and oftentimes sugar-free, but it also can incorporate a lot of healthy bacteria into gut biomes. Cooking from scratch is important to consider when you want to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet.

Spoonful of sugar.
Eliminating added sugar in your diet may be a significant step in helping to support your immune system.

Reduce Cortisol: Take Time to Laugh

Taking the time to laugh might greatly improve your immune system. This might be one of the most important tips to boost immune system health! When you laugh, your body may produce more antibodies that are capable of killing viruses and bacteria. This could increase the volume of potent antibodies in the respiratory passages, nose, and other points of entry for germs in the body. This then may empower your natural protection against cough, colds, and flu.

During finals season in college, you may have stayed up all night studying, worrying a ton about your tests, and spend all day writing a million papers. As soon as you would get home for winter/summer break, you would crash and end up with a huge bug. What was happening was that you were stressing yourself out so much that it was weakening your immune system. This stress, on top of the germ-filled university, would result in getting sick after all of your finals were done.

Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone that usually functions in an anti-inflammatory way, creating an immune response that is a reaction to a stressor. However, having chronic stress and consistently elevated cortisol levels can lead to immune system resistance because of too many stress hormones. With a constantly increased amount of stress hormones like cortisol, immune response cells are produced at a constant rate and compromise the immune system.

What this means for you is that if you are chronically stressed, your immune system can suffer from it. Now, everyone deals with stress differently, and it is one of those things that everyone has to figure out for their own, but laughing, enjoying shows, and finding balance with stressors is an easy and enjoyable way when you are figuring out how to boost your immune system naturally.

 

Exercise: Go Cycling or Swimming

Regular cycling or swimming may help improve the functioning of the body’s lymphatic system. A major task of the lymphatic system is to look for toxins, pick them up and flush them out of the body. Imagine that there is a highway system in your body, carrying toxins out and providing support to your immune system. Sometimes, the lymphatic system can get clogged, which is like adding a rush hour to a busy highway. So many things trying to get cleared out with not enough space!

Exercising is helpful in clearing out that debris that can build up in your lymphatic system. The easier your lymphatic system can clean things out, the better your immune system can respond to any potential threats! When your immune system responds to potential threats early on, then diseases and bugs are stopped quickly. Here, exercise leads to a chain of events benefiting and naturally building your immune system.

Although the circulatory system relies on the pumping of blood from the heart, the lymphatic system depends on the contraction of the muscles. So, when you regularly spend time exercising, you may be giving your muscles more opportunities to contract and rev up your lymphatic system.

Besides the lymphatic system, there are several theories as to why exercise may benefit immunity. Some researchers believe that the rise in body temperature can stall bacteria growth. Others believe that exercise limits the stress hormone build-up, which, as we talked about before, can maybe cause your immune system to not work as well.

All in all, physical activity has many benefits, and if a side effect is a stronger immune system? That only adds to the potential laundry list of reasons to exercise!

Something you can add to your routine is jumping on a small trampoline, which may help with cleaning out and increasing the functionality of the lymphatic system. Not only is jumping up and down on a small trampoline a lot of fun, but you’ll also feel much better after doing it. Although, always be cautious if you ever jump on a trampoline; getting injured will NOT help your immune system, and you should talk to your doctor beforehand.

Bicycle on the edge of a cliff.
Bicycling is a fun and healthy activity that may help to support a healthy immune system.

Limit Caffeine and Other Stimulants

You may want to start saying no to caffeine, alcohol, and cigarette smoking. These things could cause a compromised immune system due to their chemical content. Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes might be considered by the body to be toxins. Heavy consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes could lead to nutritional deficiency.

Although some believe that caffeine in smaller dosages may provide benefits to your immune system, too much caffeine may cause issues in the future. Some evidence shows that large amounts of caffeine can work as an immunosuppressant, meaning it can basically prevent your immune system from working. You might not have to give up your morning cup of joe, but moderation is maybe something to consider.

Alcohol, while sometimes fun, can maybe cause immune system issues in the future. Alcohol not only has a direct effect on our organs but also can disrupt sleep. A good night’s rest is sometimes considered essential to a strong immune system—having effects on cortisol and regeneration.

After limiting your alcohol intake, you may find that your sleep improved immensely, and you’ll generally feel better. In support of sleep, you can also start taking some sleep supplements, which may help a lot.

You have probably heard a lot about the potential issues of smoking cigarettes on the overall wellbeing of a person, but they can have an effect on the immune system. Statistically, it is found that smokers are sick more often than nonsmokers, probably due to smoking’s impact on both innate and adaptive immunity through constant stress. Smoking is one of those things to be mindful of generally, but especially if you are looking to help your immune system.

Cups of beer.
Limiting alcohol consumption may help to improve your immune system.

Get Some Sun!

 

Ahh, yes, good old vitamin D. While too much sun can be cancer-causing and hurt skin cells, moderate amounts of sunlight help our bodies produce more vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually a hormone and a key player in how our immune system works.

Vitamin D’s synthesis affects not only human’s calcium production and strengthens bones but also is present in immune cells. Vitamin D can be somewhat described as the immune system’s response manager, monitoring both the innate and adaptive immune system responses. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with a higher likelihood of getting sick.

While sunlight can be bad at high levels (like almost everything else), moderate levels are sometimes necessary in order to modulate our body’s circadian rhythms and immune system support functions. How you get your sun is really up to you!

If you go biking, think of it as an opportunity to get many birds with one stone, so to speak. Biking is a great form of exercise, makes you happy, and also takes you outside into the sun. If you’re thinking of how to build your immune system naturally, you want to make it as easy as possible. Having one thing that covers a lot of bases will be been helpful.

…And Get Some Sleep!

While vitamin D and balancing your circadian rhythm may prove helpful in building your immune system naturally during the daytime, sleep is also essential in repairing cells and for immune system responsiveness. When you do not sleep, it puts a lot of stress on your whole system. A lack of sleep can lead to getting sick all the time.

During sleep, our immune system releases protective immune system cells to go around and more-or-less clean up everything. Sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in the production of these essential cells and can lead to a greater risk of infections.

What is considered the optimal amount of sleep changes from person to person. Like healthy eating habits, it can take some time to figure out what kind of sleep regimen will work best. The more sleep you get, on average, may have a great effect on your body’s ability to rebuild itself. When we go to bed, we’re not just starting a new day; we are also making room and fighting infections.

Good sleep hygiene is a great habit to develop, and as is something usually missed by younger people who are doing all-nighters for finals. Some things you can do to make sure you have a good night’s sleep is to have some tea and sleep supplements. These can help you wind down.

What also helps with sleep is turning off all of the screens about an hour before you want to go to bed. Turning off blue lights helps your body know it is nighttime and time to rest, and looking at screens too late in the night can end up confusing things.

Take Probiotics to Potentially Build Your Immune System Naturally

 

Seventy to eighty percent of our immune system lies within the gut, in the living bacteria found in our digestive system. Those trillions of bacteria that dwell in the intestines have the responsibility of fighting diseases and assisting the absorption of nutrients.

The gut microbiome functions as a training ground for our immune system’s cellular response. The immune system and gut microbiome work together in order to keep the host, us, safe from invading diseases. However, sometimes you only know something is good when it is gone. The impact of overusing antibiotics makes the bacteria living in our digestive system less diverse.

The diversity of our gut biome is important when it comes to having a functioning immune system.

While you might think of bacteria as a bad thing, but the bacteria found in our intestines kind of function like coworkers with our immune system cells. We know it is not fun to think about bacteria and the inside of our gut, but probiotics can take out a lot of the icky-ness involved. Probiotics are helpful when it comes to regulating immune responses and cells. Probiotics are helpful in rebuilding a lot of the diversity lost from the overuse of antibiotics.

This diversity is why it is a must to keep the population of these bacteria not only strong but in proper ratios as well. One way to ensure that the gut has a balanced population of beneficial bacteria may be to consume fermented foods such as kimchee, kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt. Fermented foods are delicious and oftentimes make a great topping on sandwiches and other savory meals.

You can also enjoy your own homemade pickles to potentially get a daily dose of probiotics. Knowing that the majority of our immune system lies in our gut should lead us to increased consciousness that whatever we eat could directly impact our immune health. Keeping in mind these tips to boost immune system functions may be very beneficial in your life!

Research has also found that the number of different vegetables that you eat has an impact on your gut biome. While eating vegetables is important for nutritional value alone, having meals with multiple kinds of vegetables is helpful in building a diverse gut biome. As has been previously mentioned, a diverse gut biome can be helpful in training and building your immune system naturally.

Bowl of yogurt.
Yogurt, a food that may have properties to possibly boost immune system health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

We completely understand that getting sick all the time is difficult, inconvenient, and draining. Lots of times, it seems like there is no way to fix the hand you’re dealt when it comes to immune systems. You may have been thinking for a long time that getting sick every winter, after finals, and during the spring was something unavoidable.

However, learning how to build your immune system naturally may not be as complicated as you initially thought. After taking the time to review our resources and plan ahead, you’ll have learned many ways of boosting your immune system through making small adjustments in your life, some of which may make a major impact. Of course, this is not the advice of a doctor and you should always check in with your doctor first to see if you’re going in the right direction. Before making any health-related changes in your life, always consult with a medical professional!

*Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professionals. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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