The immune system does a valuable job against micro-organisms which cause diseases. Yet, sometimes it may fail to defend our organism properly: a germ may overcome the immune barriers successfully and make us get sick.
Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost the immune system? What happens if you improve your diet? What happens if you take vitamins and herbal preparations? What happens if you change your lifestyle? In this article I will be dealing with how to boost the immune system naturally, with natural remedies and supplements. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is made of a complex net of cells, organs, and tissues that work together to defend the organism from external invaders (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites), which may get inside of it through food, wounds, the air we breathe and sexual intercourses. Besides fighting pathogenic agents (micro-organisms that may cause illnesses), the immune system fights also those cells in the organism which have anomalies, (like cancer cells) and cells that have been damaged or infected by viruses.
It is impossible to conceive life without the immune system, as the organism would be exposed to a risk of getting sick thousand of times higher than normal and, since it wouldn’t have defensive barriers, it would be impossible for the organism to survive. Diseases like AIDS made it clear to everyone how important a role the immune system plays for our health. When functioning properly, it can fight the “invaders” attacking the organism which is continuously exposed to viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
A valuable defensive role is played by tonsils, organs that have always been the subject of heated dispute: a few pediatricians state they play a key role in the immune system, yet some others assume they are little or not functional at all.
For their position on the upper airways and their lymphoid structure (made of lymphocytes, cells showing anti-infective and immune action), tonsils have a precise role: they are the first defense barriers against germs and bacteria, that get in the organism through the air we breathe and the food we eat.
The immune system wouldn’t be the same without tonsils, as it would be more exposed to infections (pharyngitis, laryngitis, and tracheitis).
There are two types of immune response:
- Nonspecific immune response; all those inherent defenses (with rapid reactions) we have had within us since our birth.
- Specific immune response; which involves the ability to recognize those pathogenic agents which have overcome the nonspecific immune response.
The human body is the ideal environment for the reproduction of lots of micro-organisms, and it is up to the immune system to prevent them from reproducing, unless, like in the bowel or in the vaginal eco-system, the coexistence is a reciprocal advantage.
The immune system functioning involves the most complex mechanisms in the human body, as its role is to protect each cell by millions of potential invaders, some of which are unknown. If the immune system doesn’t work properly, the organism proves more prone to infections, and major pathologies (like cancer) may have a paved way.
When the immune system gets lower
The immune system gets lower, basically, for two reasons:
- no-pathological causes (namely, not related to any pathologies);
- pathological causes (that develop concurrently with other pathologies).
As concerns no-pathological causes, it is important to point out special conditions like pregnancy or old age may make the immune system lower. People who have a healthy lifestyle, but having a lower immune system, may suffer from pathologies just the same.
Alcohol abuse, stress, and taking specific medications may negatively affect the immune power of the organism.
Boosting the immune system with nutrition
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” With these words, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, synthesized his thought on wellness 2500 years ago.
For some time now, scientists have found out that people who live in poverty and are undernourished, or follow an unbalanced diet, are more vulnerable to infective diseases. Little research has been carried out so far on the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies have been conducted on the correlation between nutrition and the onset of diseases: it does not exclude the hypothesis of a correlation!
Thus, following a well-balanced diet is essential to boost the immune system.
Fresh vegetables like spinach, chicory, orange-yellow horticultural products, like pumpkin and carrot, since they are rich in beta-carotene, boasting antioxidant properties, may tackle the onset of infections.
It recommended eating whole cereals, legumes, oily seeds and wheat germs as often as possible since they provide the proper intake of minerals, such as iron, zinc, selenium, and group B vitamins, which are immune-protective.
Citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, and wild berries are recommended as well, as they are rich in Vitamin C, which helps protect the respiratory tract and boosts white cells, thus promoting the proper functioning of the immune system.
Boosting the immune system against cancer
There are foods which belong to the vegetal world and should be eaten more often than ever, also for the prevention of diseases like cancer:
- Garlic: has antibacterial and antibiotic properties. According to a few studies, one stove of garlic in our dishes a day is enough to battle viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. As it is a natural antibiotic, it is has been tested to develop medications to cure several types of cancers.
- Honey: you’d better prefer it to sugar! The nutrients it contains have bactericidal properties, and it acts as a natural antibiotic. A spoonful of honey helps disinfect the upper airways, preventing and battling cough, cold and sore throat.
- Dark chocolate: we should never give it up, as it can boost a group of lymphocytes, enhancing the adaptability of the immune system to changing infections.
How to boost the immune system of children
You often see children pass through many diseases, especially in the cold seasons, where classrooms seem to function like microbe incubators.
Cough, cold, and high fever may negatively affect the developing immune system of a child.
Though a few easy steps may help the development of the immune system of children and here follows what they are:
- Open wide the windows!
Second-hand smoking and city smog are two risk factors for recurrent infections. This is the reason at home not only is it recommended not to smoke, but it is essential to let the air flow through the rooms.
- Wash your hands as often as possible
Cold, high temperature, and flu: the most effective way to battle them is to wash your hands as often as possible, and the same rule applies as regards children.
- Don’t anticipate the times
After the flu, even though the child seems to recover, maybe he’s not so. It is suggested to wait 1-2 more days, to give the immune system the opportunity to heal properly, before going back to school, thus avoiding relapse.
- Sleep a lot and eat well
Healthy nutrition, rich in fresh fruit, and sleeping well promote the proper development of the immune system.
- Antibiotics only in extreme cases
If a child has frequent infections, the worst thing to do is to administer him lots of antibiotics.
Antibiotics save a million lives every year, and their effectiveness is beyond dispute.
Yet, the problem arises if they are taken carelessly and for any symptoms; in fact, most infections affecting children in their early years are of viral origin, and antibiotics are then useless.
The excessive use of these medications may lead to antibiotic resistance, and major consequences may occur just when they might be helpful to cure serious diseases.
What damages the immune system
The antibiotic resistance is the perfect example to understand how the immune system may be damaged beyond redress, yet there are also specific elements that may damage the immune system.
Let’s see what they are, then:
Saccharose lowers the immune system and is harmful to our health. Also, it may decimate the germicide ability of white cells and prevent a few nutrients from being assimilated.
- Sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation may make you more prone to inflammation. It is showed that sleeping at least 7 hours a day promotes staying in good health.
A Harvard University study showed drinking alcohol constantly may reduce by 40% the production of brain cells in adults. In the long run, this condition leads to immune deficiency in two ways: nutritional deficiency and white cell reduction.
The way we manage, react, and get confronted with stress is a crucial factor for our health. Lots of people cannot understand that stress levels really affect our immune system. Chronic stress may make you more prone to colds and seasonal flu and may promote more severe pathologies, like cardiac diseases and diabetes.
It has been shown dehydration may trigger specific types of cancers. It is essential to keep good hydration to support the immune system and battle infections. Dehydration may also affect sleep and flushing toxins out of the organism.
How to boost the immune system naturally
Phytotherapy is the medical science comprising using herbs and plants for curing and preventing diseases or disorders of the organism.
Nowadays more and more people have recourse to natural remedies to cure mild diseases.
Let’s think of natural supplements, for instance, which provide the proper amount of antioxidants.
In order to define the origin and treatment of pathologies, modern phytotherapy refers to the same principles as traditional medicine, which are based upon evidence of effectiveness, though using only plant-related remedies.
Here follow a few of the supplements which are used the most to boost and promote our immune system.
Before resorting to natural remedies and supplements to boost the immune system, it is recommended to seek medical advice, even more so if you suffer from specific pathologies, if you’re pregnant or nursing, or if you’re on medications. It is so, because even natural remedies may interfere with the activity of medications, may cause side effects and may have counter-indications.
What’s more, it is suggested to buy titrated and standardized products; it is the only way to know what and how many substances you will take.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea angustifolia) is the ultimate immune-stimulant plant. It is not by chance, actually, its extracts are packed in countless immune system booster supplements.
The immunostimulant activity ascribed to echinacea seems to be due to the glycoproteins and polysaccharides packed in this plant. Even though they are less known, echinacea boasts anti-inflammatory properties ascribed to alkyl amides, that inhibit the enzymes responsible for the synthesis of phlogistic chemical mediators.
Uncaria (Uncaria tomentosa) – may be better known as cat’s claw – is a climbing plant for centuries used in traditional medicine.
Even though it is less known than echinacea, uncaria has similar effects. In fact, it is said to have immunomodulatory properties. According to research, the oxindole alkaloids packed in uncaria can boost the production of interleukins (proteins secreted by the immune system) at the alveolar level, thus promoting to boost the body’s defenses.
Lots of supplements packed with uncaria extracts are recommended to support the immune system above all in cold winter months to prevent seasonal ailments.
Also, this plant boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which are helpful to protect cells from free radicals.
Astragalus is a flowering plant in the family Fabaceae. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Forever used in traditional medicine to cure and prevent cold and flu, astragalus has shown to have immunostimulant properties- backed by several studies- which are carried out through different action mechanisms, such as an increase in the proliferation and activity of lymphocytes B and T and an increase in the activity carried out by macrophages, which are cells of the immune system.
It is important to point out astragalus boasts hepatoprotective and antioxidant properties.
In light of what above written, it is not surprising the extracts of this plant are part of the composition of several food supplements helpful to boost the immune system and carry out a tonic-adaptogenic action.
Acerola (Malpighia punicifolia) is an evergreen plant native to Mexico and known for its high Vitamin C content. Since it is packed with sizeable amounts of this vitamin, acerola supplements are widely used in all those cases where vitamin C intake is necessary, like in cases of cold, flu, and convalescence.
What is more, this plant also contains other vitamins, such as Vitamin A and B, minerals, and flavonoids, that work synergistically with vitamin C.
Rosehip is the fruit that develops from the blossoms of the wild rose plant. It ranges in color from orange to purplish-black and usually develops in the latter part of the growing season, around late summer to autumn.
Just like acerola, hip rose is much known for its high vitamin C content, which makes it another potentially helpful natural remedy to boost the immune system. It is no surprise, actually, popular medicine has been using this plant for years to battle cold and flu.
Food supplements packed up with acerola are often used for its antioxidant properties and to promote the immune system.
Immune system supplements
Ingredients: The Immune Support formula combines vitamins, antioxidants, herbals and traditional wellness botanicals. This supplement contains: Vitamin E, green tea extract, Beta-Glucans, Graviola Leaf powder, Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi mushrooms, Vitamin C, quercetin, selenium, Raspberry fruit powder, pine bark extract, grape seed extract, pomegranate extract, Olive leaf extract, Panax Ginseng root powder, mushroom complex, herbal complex and other…
Immune Support aims to provide a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and botanical extracts to support a healthy immune system in as many ways as possible.
This supplement contains advanced extracts and herbs from East and West.
Both Beta-Glucans from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Arabinogalactan from larch are special kinds of carbohydrate that support the immune system. Scientists think the body associates Beta-Glucans with pathogenic microorganisms and so reacts accordingly. A similar rationale is applied to Arabinogalactan.
Green tea is widely consumed for its powerful antioxidant properties. It also has other specific benefits in support of the immune system. Graviola is a large spiky fruit from the Americas, and its leaves possess properties that when taken as a dietary supplement can also support a healthy immune system. Panax ginseng, Olive leaf, Cat’s Claw, Grape Seed, Pine Bark and Pomegranate make this formula truly international, taking the best from many lands and cultures.
Source Naturals Wellness Formula
Ingredients: This supplement contains: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D-3 (as cholecalciferol), Zinc (as zinc ascorbate), Selenium (as sodium selenite), Copper (as copper citrate), Garlic Clove extract, Propolis, Elderberry Fruit Extract, Echinacea purpurea and pallida Root Extract (1.5:1), Polygonatum odoratum Rhizome, Boneset Aerial Parts, Isatis Root & Leaf, Horehound Aerial Parts, Olive Leaf Extract (15% oleuropein), Bioflavonoids, Elecampane Root Extract (4:1), Andrographis Aerial Parts Extract (10% andrographolides), Eleuthero Root Extract (5:1), Mullein Leaf, Goldenseal Root Extract (5% alkaloids), Astragalus Root, Angelica Root, Pau D’Arco Bark Extract (3:1), Cayenne Fruit, Boneset Aerial Parts Extract (4:1), Horehound Aerial Parts Extract (4:1), Grape Seed Extract (Proanthodyn™), Ginger Root, Isatis Root Extract (4:1), Angelica Root Extract and other…
Benefits: Packed with a high potency of vitamin C plus 25 more vitamins, minerals, time-tested herbs, and powerful antioxidants, Wellness Formula® is the most complete formula for everyday immune support.
This Herbal Defense Complex is designed to support the immune system when under physical stress. Wellness Formula® contains a powerful combination of herbs, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals formulated to boost your well-being.
Ingredients: This supplement offers 23 individual active ingredients (many more than you will find in other products), including a wealth of natural immune boosters such as Royal Jelly, Bee Propolis & Manuka Honey.
Immune Nu contains over 188% of the minimal Nutritional Daily Value (NDV) of Vitamin C and has 12mg of Vitamin E. Now add to this Bee Propolis Extract, Royal Jelly Extract, Whole Acerola Cherry Fruit and eighteen other nutrients, vitamins and minerals and you have a really heavyweight in your corner.
Benefits: Just take 2 of these vegie capsules per day to begin your journey towards a better wellbeing and a stronger immune system.
When our immune system cannot work properly and defend our organism because of many reasons (cold season approaching, stressful lifestyle, pathologies, and wrong nutrition), it may be a suitable option to have recourse to natural remedies and supplements. Echinacea, uncaria, astragalus, acerola, and rosehip are among the most used remedies to boost the immune system naturally, thanks to their components carrying out antioxidant and adaptogenic actions.
Yet, before having recourse of natural remedies and supplements to boost the immune system, it is recommended to seek medical advice, even more so if you suffer from specific pathologies, if you’re pregnant or nursing, or if you’re on medications. It is so, because even natural remedies may interfere with the activity of medications, may cause side effects and may have counter indications.