Our bodies are pretty amazing things—they can overcome the toughest challenges and create another life, among many other impressive feats. A big part of why our bodies are able to perform these functions is our immunity system. This intricate system is our first line of defense against harmful germs and allows us to recover from sickness and injury.
While our immune systems are already very efficient, there are things we can do to boost its powers. Like the system itself, keeping it in tiptop shape requires a delicate balance, with a lifestyle that is geared towards good overall health.
Harvard Health Publishing gives some guidelines for how to boost immunity: Get regular exercise, eat healthy foods and avoid undercooked meat, don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, get enough sleep, frequently wash hands, and avoid stress.
You can also add these essentials for immunity to your diet:
Probiotics. Just as there are germs that cause diseases, there are also bacteria and yeasts that are good for you. They are primarily known for being good for your gut, battling the bad bacteria in your tummy, but studies suggest that a healthy digestive system contributes greatly to overall health.
Fermented foods are the typical source of these live microorganisms. Some probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet: yogurt (try Greek as it has a higher protein content than regular yogurt) labeled with “live and active microorganisms”; kimchi, the traditional Korean fermented dish; sauerkraut, which is fermented, thinly cut raw cabbage; kefir, a fermented milk drink; tempeh, a fermented soybean product; and miso, a traditional Japanese ingredient also made from soybean.
Just note: When buying commercially produced fermented foods, check the labels to see that they’re not loaded with sodium or sugar.
Garlic. There’s nothing quite like the irresistible aroma of sautéed garlic wafting from the kitchen. This aromatic herb does more than tickle your nostrils and taste buds. It may also help with recovery from the common cold. In a study published in Advances in Therapy, volunteers were given garlic supplements over a 12-week period. Those who took it were found to be less likely to get a cold and to recover faster if infected.
Elderberry. Also known as sambucus, elderberries are small black, blue-black, or red berries that grow in clusters.
Research in the European Cytokine Network found black elderberry extract to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of the influenza virus. The study concluded that in addition to having antiviral properties elderberry extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing the production of healthy proteins. It added that elderberry extract “might therefore be beneficial to the immune system and activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases.” It could also have “an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments.”
Zinc. In a review by the Cochrane group, an international group of researchers, of 15 studies have found that taking zinc may shorten the duration of an upper respiratory infection. There are still no guidelines as to how much zinc should be taken but the review is promising and brings us one step closer to finding a cure for the common cold!
Vitamin C. This vitamin is known as one of the best vitamins for immunity, shortening the times you’re down with the common cold. (Unfortunately, there is still no cure for the common cold!)
Vitamin C is also great for iron absorption, another crucial nutrient when it comes to immune function. Citrus fruits are the usual source of Vitamin C, but it’s also present in spades in vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
Vitamin D. It seems that the sunshine vitamin is good for more than keeping bones strong: A study in the Journal for Investigative Medicine states that autoimmune cells are responsive to Vitamin D, making it a promising supplement for those with autoimmune disease.
Curcumin. Curcumin is the compound that gives the turmeric spice its yellow-orange color. Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine for ages.
Recent studies have looked into its efficacy when it comes to improving skin quality, improving memory and mood, lowering the risk of heart disease, and potentially treating cancer, among others.
While there have been no conclusive findings, studies have shown plenty of promise. One such study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology states that “curcumin’s reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer might be due in part to its ability to modulate the immune system.”
Check out Healthy Options for a wide array of organic supplements and vitamins that you can take to help boost your immunity. You may want to consult your doctor if you’re interested in trying anything new, particularly if you have existing medical conditions or are taking medications.