Even the healthiest of people get sick every now and then. But by fine-tuning certain aspects of your health routine, such as diet and stress management, you can help strengthen your immune system’s defense against bacteria, toxic chemicals, and viruses that cause conditions like the common cold and flu.
Here are four ways to support your immune system naturally.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Following a diet rich in antioxidants is essential to supporting your immune system. Abundant in many fruits and vegetables, antioxidants combat free radicals (chemical by-products known to damage DNA and suppress the immune system).
Choosing healthy fats (such as the omega-3 fatty acids available in oily fish, flaxseed, and krill oil) over saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) may help increase your body’s production of compounds involved in regulating immunity. For an additional immune boost, try adding garlic (shown to possess virus-fighting and bacteria-killing properties) and ginger (a natural anti-inflammatory) to your meals on a regular basis.
Drinking plenty of water and steering clear of sugary beverages, like soda and energy drinks, may also help fend off infection by flushing out your system.
Working out regularly can mobilize your T cells, a type of white blood cell known to guard the body against infection. In a 2006 study of 115 women, participants who engaged in moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) for an average of 30 minutes daily for a year had about half the risk of colds as those who did not work out routinely.
Regularly engaging in intense, vigorous activity like running, on the other hand, may weaken your immune function and leave you more susceptible to viral infections. However, animal-based research suggests that supplementing with the antioxidant quercetin could reduce flu risk among athletes.
Reduce your stress levels.
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on immunity, according to a 2004 review of 293 studies with a total of 18,941 participants. The review suggests that while short-term exposure to stressors can rev up your immune defense, prolonged stress may wear down the immune system and increase your vulnerability to illness.
To keep your stress in check, incorporate a relaxing practice like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing into your daily routine. Or try tai chi, a gentle Chinese martial art found to increase immune defense against shingles in a 2007 study of 112 older adults.
Take herbs and supplements.
Although scientists have yet to determine whether vitamin C can enhance immunity, there’s some evidence that this antioxidant can reduce cold incidence.
Herbs such as Andrographis, AHCC, astragalus, echinacea, and elderberry, meanwhile, may help reduce the duration and severity of your sickness if taken as soon as you start to experience cold or flu symptoms.
Keep in mind that scientific support for the claim that any remedy can prevent or treat colds and other infectious illnesses is limited. If you’re considering the use of any remedy, make sure to consult your physician first. Self-treating any condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.