If you want to improve your immune health, you may be wondering how to help your body fight disease. While boosting your immunity is easier said than done, various diet and lifestyle changes can strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight off harmful pathogens or disease-causing organisms.
Here are 9 tips to naturally strengthen your immunity.
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely linked. In fact, poor or poor quality sleep is linked to increased susceptibility to illness.
In a study of 164 healthy adults, those who slept less than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night.
Getting enough rest can strengthen your natural immunity. Plus, you can get more sleep when you’re sick to allow your immune system to fight the disease better.
Adults should aim for 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while adolescents need 8 to 10 hours and younger children and babies up to 14 hours. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed as blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer can disrupt your circadian rhythm or your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or wearing a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
Inadequate sleep can increase your risk of getting sick. Most adults should sleep at least 7 hours a night.
2. Eat more whole vegetable foods
Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that can give you an edge against harmful pathogens.
The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by fighting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they accumulate in your body at high levels. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain types of cancer.
Meanwhile, the fiber in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome or the healthy bacteria community in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can enhance your immunity and help prevent harmful pathogens from entering your body through your digestive tract.
Also, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which can reduce the duration of the common cold.
Several whole plant foods contain antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C, all of which can decrease your susceptibility to disease.
3. Eat healthier fats
Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, can increase your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system.
Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory properties can help your body fight the harmful bacteria and viruses that cause disease. Omega-3 fatty acids, like those in salmon and chia seeds, also fight inflammation.
Healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3s are highly anti-inflammatory. Since chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system, these fats can naturally fight disease.
4. Eat more fermented foods or take a probiotic supplement
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract. These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto. Research suggests that a burgeoning network of gut bacteria can help immune cells differentiate between normal and healthy cells and invasive harmful organisms.
In a 3-month study of 126 children, those who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 ml) of fermented milk daily had approximately 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases, compared to a control group. If you don’t regularly consume fermented foods, probiotic supplements are another option.
In a 28-day study of 152 people infected with rhinoviruses, those who supplemented with the probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than a control group.
Gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Fermented foods and probiotics can strengthen your immune system by helping you identify and attack harmful pathogens.
5. Limit added sugars
Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbohydrates may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity. Obesity can also increase your risk of getting sick.
According to an observational study of about 1,000 people, obese people who received the flu shot were twice as likely to get the flu as non-obese people who got the vaccine.
Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and help you lose weight, thereby reducing the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Since obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of a diet that boosts the immune system.
You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equates to about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Added sugars contribute significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, all of which can suppress your immune system. Decreasing sugar intake can decrease inflammation and the risk of these conditions.
7. Stay hydrated
Hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.
Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, concentration, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to the disease. To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Water is recommended because it contains no calories, additives, or sugar.
While tea and juice are also hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea due to their high sugar content. As a general guideline, you should drink when you are thirsty and stop when you are no longer thirsty. You may need more fluids if you exercise vigorously, work outdoors, or live in a warm climate.
It is important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not adequately indicate thirst. Older adults need to drink regularly, even if they are not thirsty.
Since dehydration can make you more susceptible to disease, be sure to drink plenty of water every day.
8. Manage your stress levels
Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health. Long-term stress promotes inflammation as well as imbalances in immune cell function. In particular, prolonged psychological stress can suppress the immune response in children.
Activities that can help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. You can also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, either virtually or in person.
Reducing your stress levels through meditation, yoga, exercise, and other practices can help your immune system to function properly.
9. Supplement wisely
Supplements are easy to turn to if you hear complaints about their ability to treat or prevent COVID-19. However, these claims are unfounded and false.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is no evidence to support the use of any supplement to prevent or treat COVID-19. However, some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body’s overall immune response:
- Vitamin C: According to a review of more than 11,000 people, taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children. However, supplementation did not prevent the cold from starting.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency can increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementation can counteract this effect. However, taking vitamin D when you already have adequate levels does not seem to provide additional benefits.
- Zinc: In a review of 575 people with the common cold, supplementation with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33%.
- Elderberry: A small review found that elderberry may reduce symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections, but more research is needed.
- Echinacea: A study of more than 700 people found that those who took echinacea recovered from colds a little faster than those who received a placebo or no treatment, but the difference was negligible.
- Garlic: A high-quality 12-week study of 146 people found that supplementation with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by approximately 30%. However, more research is needed.
While these supplements demonstrated potential in the studies mentioned above, that does not mean that they are effective against COVID-19.
Additionally, supplements are prone to mislabelling because they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Therefore, you should only purchase supplements that have been independently tested by third-party organizations such as United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab.
Although some supplements can fight viral infections, none have been shown to be effective against COVID-19. If you decide to supplement, be sure to buy products that have been tested by a third party.
The bottom line
You can make several lifestyle and diet changes today to strengthen your immune system. These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress levels. Although none of these suggestions can prevent COVID-19, they can strengthen your body’s defenses against harmful pathogens.