The importance of keeping a strong and healthy immune system has never been more pertinent. One of the most important parts of your body, your immune system is made of a complex network of chemicals, processes and cells which protect you against disease, viruses, toxins and bacteria.
Year-round health is vital to keep your body happy in the general prevention of infections. But do you know how to build a strong immune system? A key component is balance and harmony for it to function properly, therefore you need to make sure you have the tools that will ensure that your body is happy and healthy.
You can do this by giving it regular boosts through natural vitamins, minerals and body-boosting plants or foods. In this feature, we’re focussing on the herbs you may not have known to have immune strengthening properties, and the supplements that will ensure your body gets the right enhancements at the right time.
Before we begin, there’s plenty of things you can get right that will ensure your immune system is given the best chance of staying strong and healthy.
Before you think about any supplements or herbs that will help you boost your immune system, there are plenty of best practices you can take in order to keep your body (and mind) happy:
Quit smoking - Nicotine, as one of the main components of cigarette smoke, suppresses the immune system and can cause inflammation of the lungs.
Regular exercise - More physical activity means more chance for your body to flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways. It also helps develop more antibodies and white blood cells to fight disease.
Plenty of sleep - While you’re asleep, your immune system produces a protein called cytokine which can help promote sleep. Cytokines also need to be in your body to help reduce infection or inflammation, so a lack of sleep will make it harder for your body to fight against illnesses.
Reduce your stress or anxiety levels - High levels of stress can lead to something more serious down the line like high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. Ensure you’re looking after your mind if the world around you is stressful.
Try and avoid infections - Simple steps like washing your hands regularly and (if you eat it) cooking meat thoroughly will help your body reduce the chance of becoming infected.
Drink more fluids - Your recommended daily water intake is two litres. While this isn’t always possible you should try and start the day right by drinking a big glass of water when you wake up in order to rehydrate your body. On colder days, choose non caffeinated teas to warm you up as they count towards your water intake.
Herbs to boost your immune system
Whether you get them through cooking or take them as supplements, natural herbs have been used for generations as immune system boosters. They tend to be full of allies that will help your body fight against infections and inflammations, take a look at some of our favourites below.
Echinacea - You may have turned to echinacea when you were already suffering from a cold or flu to help you recover. Taking echinacea supplements when you first start to feel unwell can help reduce the symptoms and also speed up your recovery time. It works to reduce inflammation within the body and boosts activity among the cells that are responsible for fighting off infections.
Curcumin - A compound found in turmeric, curcumin is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine. It’s known to lower the chances of heart and brain diseases and can give your dopamine and serotonin levels a boost. You can either take it as a supplement or you could ingest this wonderful spice through our vegan golden milk recipe, which contains ginger, another natural body booster.
Astragalus - Astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to treat a variety of different ailments. Today it is recognised as a powerful herb to aid your immune system. For people who feel their immune response is low and regularly suffer from coughs and colds, a daily supplement of astragalus could help improve their health. It increases the number and the activity of immune cells within the body, and can be taken all year round.
Ginseng - There are many wide-ranging types of ginseng available, including Asian, Siberian and American - and they all have different health-enhancing components. While the American ginseng can help the body relax, the Asian (or panax) ginseng can help boost your immune system thanks to the higher concentration of active compounds.
Ashwagandha - Originating from India, ashwagandha has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, the Indian health system. It is known to significantly increase white blood cell counts which help protect the body from disease and illness. It is also a general strengthening herb that helps the body through stress, increases natural energy levels and is a revitalising tonic.
Ginger - This versatile plant can be ingested through teas, cooking, or - if you’re feeling brave - through a ginger shot. Not only does it help you soothe indigestion or an upset stomach, it’s a well-known immune system booster, especially during cold and flu season.
Garlic - A delicious herb that goes well in nearly any meal (we often find ourselves doubling the recommended amount from the recipe). Garlic has been thought to boost the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells, and has also been used as an antiseptic, antibacterial or antifungal agent.
Tablets to boost your immune system
It’s not always possible to ingest the right vitamins or minerals for your body through food because of the stresses of everyday life. We get that, but there are alternatives that can help you ensure you’re getting the right boosters for your immune system through natural supplements.
Vitamin C - This powerful antioxidant protects your body against many infections, by helping and enhancing your immune cells. Vitamin C supplements have been proven to reduce the severity and length of respiratory infections like the common cold, as well as more severe infections like sepsis.
Zinc - Zinc is completely essential to help your immune system function, any deficiency in this mineral in your body increases the likelihood of infection and disease. Taking zinc long term has been found to be safe for most healthy adults providing they don’t go over their recommended daily dosage. Taking it in natural supplements that mix it with other natural nutrients makes it easier for the body to absorb and reduces the need to take a high dose.
Reishi Mushrooms - Part of a group of 270 medicinal mushrooms which have amazing immune-enhancing properties and known in Chinese medicine as the king of the herbs, reishi mushrooms are said to be able to promote longevity and health. Their effects include helping to increase blood flow and the reduction of inflammation.
Liquorice - Liquorice has both rejuvenating and nutritive properties and has long been used in both Eastern and Western medicine, traditionally for vitality and longevity. It is used for coughs and is good for soothing inflamed conditions of the gut. Some research also indicates strong anti-viral properties, making it a perfect ingredient to help boost your immune system.
Vitamin D - This nutrient is absolutely essential for the health and general function of your immune system. It’s something that is one of the highest deficiencies in the human population worldwide. A recent study showed that vitamin D supplements helped reduce respiratory tract diseases in 11,321 people as well as lowering their general infection rates.
Selenium - Selenium plays a key role in maintaining a healthy metabolism, increasing immunity and is a powerful antioxidant. Selenium may assist in reducing oxidative stress in the body, therefore reducing inflammation, contributes to the protection of cells and can reduce the chances of catching certain influenza strains.