Your immune system is pretty much your best friend in the fight against the microorganisms that cause disease and sickness in your body.
And unfortunately, no one’s immune system is going to have a 100% success rate. It might deal with 99.999% of the bad stuff that tries to get you sick – but every so often something is going to get through and you’re going to feel under the weather.
That being said, are there ways to improve your immune system and make it even less likely that you get sick?
Now, before we get into the nitty gritty, there’s something to cover first.
Your immune system is a fantastically complicated and incredibly detailed piece of machinery. It has so many interlocking parts, systems, and subsystems that scientists are still scratching the surface of how it works and how it protects your body.
It’s not well known how all the different parts and systems of your immune system interact, but it is important to remember that boosting one part might not boost the whole.
Think about it like a car. If you didn’t know anything about how cars worked, you might think that making the wheels bigger would make the car go way faster. But once you learn about how the car works as a whole system, you’d quickly realize that that strategy isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Your immune system is something that is finely balanced to protect your body as much as possible. Its goal is to keep you healthy.
And without scientists discovering more about the granular way your immune system works, the best way to boost your immune system is to make some lifestyle changes that keep your body in the best shape it can be in.
That way, your body and your immune system get stronger in tandem, and they keep your body as healthy as can be.
That’s enough introduction. You want to boost your immune system, right?
Here are some of the best ways to improve your immune system and stop yourself from getting sick.
The Best Ways To Boost Your Immune System
1. Give Your Immune System Everything It Nutritionally Needs
Your immune system is just like your body – it needs the right fuel in order to keep going.
There’s been a lot of research on the subject of proper nutrition and immune systems. Scientists have found that those who are malnourished have greater risk of infection and disease than those who are living on an adequate diet.
Your immune system needs the right fuel to survive and flourish – and if it doesn’t get it, it leaves the door open for you to wind up getting sick.
Some research has been done about different nutrients and the immune system. Scientists have discovered links between the lack of nutrients like folic acid, iron, vitamin A, zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and copper, and increased risk of sickness.
If you suspect that you’re not getting all the nutrients you need through your diet – whether it’s one of the above or something else – then adding that nutrient into your diet might be a great way to improve your immune system and stop yourself from getting sick so often.
You can try adding more foods that contain the nutrient you’re missing to your diet. If you don’t like that type of food or don’t want to do that, a daily multivitamin has been shown by many promising studies to get your body the nutrients it needs.
Don’t just give yourself a massive dose of whatever you think might be missing – that’s been proven ineffective. If you really think you’re missing a vital nutrient in your diet, talk to your doctor and consider taking a daily multivitamin to fill in the gap and keep your immune system healthy.
2. Watch Out For Dubious Claims
Walk down the aisles of any drug store and you’ll probably find several products screaming slogans at you from the shelves about supporting your immune system and keeping you healthy.
Which makes sense – supplement companies and other shady conglomerates are in the business of making money. If they can promise people a benefit that they’re looking for, they’re going to do it, even if they’re not sure what they’re saying is actually true.
Even the leading scientists and cutting edge researchers today aren’t entirely sure how your immune system works as a whole. In fact – a lot of the things that you’d think would boost your immune system actually leave you worse off, like adding more blood cells to your blood stream (it increases your chance of a stroke).
So be skeptical about fantastic claims in the drug store aisle about boosting your immune system. Generally – they’re full of hot air. If anyone actually discovered a cheap and easy way to make your immune system more effective, they wouldn’t have to sell it in a drug store – it would be a massive achievement that would be celebrated the world over.
3. Keep Away From Stress
This is an area that’s being studied from many, many different angles – and the conclusions are far from certain.
There have been no studies that have conclusively proved a link between chronic stress and decreased immune system function. However, a huge reason that there hasn’t been a study like that is that doing that kind of study is nearly impossible.
First of all, think about what it means to be “stressed out”. What qualifies as “chronic stress”? Feeling stressed for an hour a day? 2 hours? 6?
Furthermore – what even qualifies as “feeling stressed”? Stress means different things to different people – and trying to normalize across a large population of people or figure out how different people feel stress is an impossible task.
Finally, a study like that would only work if you had a large group of people across a long period of time, so you could see when people naturally get sick and line it up with whether they’re feeling more or less stressed.
Add together all those factors and you have the type of study that’s nearly impossible to do, or if it’s done, nearly impossible to get any sort of valuable conclusions from.
So does that mean that there’s no link between stress and immune system function? Absolutely not!
Scientists have found links between stress and many different real medical conditions. More and more, scientists and doctors are realizing the very real link between how we feel and our health, and the link between our emotions and how our bodies function.
Think about conditions like ptsd– those are emotions that are wreaking havoc on the function of the body and causing very real physical health problems.
Other conditions like heart disease, hives, ulcers, and digestive problems have all been shown to be affected by emotional distress and stress in general.
So it’s not a stretch to say that stress can affect the immune system – and that chronic stress can lower your immune system and make you more prone to infection and sickness.
In the near future, we might get studies that offer real results proving what we suspect. But for now, avoiding stress is most likely a great way to avoid getting sick.
4. Treat Your Body Right And It Will Treat You Right
Everyone makes tons of different lifestyle choices every day that greatly affect how they feel and how their body functions. Those choices often have hidden consequences that affect them days, weeks, months, or even years down the line.
There are several different lifestyle choices and habits that have been demonstrated by scientists to negatively affect your immune system and hurt your ability to fight off sickness and infection.
If you want to boost your immune system and make it as strong as it can be, you should be doing these things:
- Wash your hands often and cook any raw meats and fish thoroughly to get rid of harmful bacteria
- See the doctor regularly for normal screenings to catch small problems before they turn into big problems
- Avoid being overweight or obese – try to stay at a healthy weight for your size and body type
- Add healthy foods to your diet, including fruits, vegetables, and foods low in saturated fat
- Avoid processed foods and try to eat whole foods instead
- Avoid smoking, and if you do smoke quit
- Get regular exercise to keep your body fit and strong
- Get the right amount of sleep so that you can stay well rested
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, or avoid it altogether
5. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About Cold Weather
Everyone’s heard the common refrain, “You’ll catch your death of cold!”
Common sense knowledge and folklore have been saying that staying out in the cold without adequate thermal protection weakens your immune system and gets you sick – but is it actually true.
Unsurprisingly, scientists are mixed.
Some researchers have found that people do get sicker when exposed to the cold – there was one study that found that cross country skiers who go out in the cold get upper respiratory infections more often.
Some researchers have found that the cold has no measurable effect on how often you get sick. Canadian researchers did a review of hundreds of different studies by different scientists and found no evidence for the cold depressing your immune system and causing you to be sick.
However, other researchers have found links between depressed immune systems and mice, and found that mice who were exposed to the cold wind up being worse off when it comes to fighting infection.
Those who say the cold has nothing to do with getting sick explain that people get sicker in the winter not because everyone is cold, but because everyone is trapped together inside touching the same surfaces, and that makes it easier for germs and other infections to pass between people.
So what’s the end result? What’s the final call?
Unfortunately, there is no consensus conclusion. Scientists need more time to study and measure the effect that cold has on the immune system.
What should you do in the cold? I’d say it’s pretty simple – put on a jacket!
6. Take More Care With Your Health As You Grow Older
So with all the different ways that scientists disagree on how different factors affect your immune system, is there anything that they DO agree on?
Unfortunately, yes. Scientists are all in agreement – the older you get, the more your immune system capability gets reduced, and the more at risk you are for different infections and sicknesses.
Virtually all scientists are in agreement that as the human body ages, it becomes more likely to get infections and diseases. There’s no universally agreed upon mechanism behind it, but many scientists suspect that it has to do with your T cells.
As your body ages, your thymus atrophies naturally and produces fewer T cells. That means there are less T cells in your body to fight infection, and it makes you more likely to become sick.
Diseases like pneumonia, respiratory infections, and the flu are huge causes of death for people over 65 – so it’s very important to do what you can to mitigate the natural depressive effect of aging on the immune system.
As always, making healthy lifestyle choices as detailed earlier in this article can help keep your immune system healthy and functioning even as you age.
In addition, many elderly show signs of micronutrient malnutrition – which means that your body isn’t getting the micronutrients it needs to function the best that it can.
The important micronutrients that often go missing from diets are many vitamins and minerals that play vital roles in your body.
Talk to your doctor about whether you might have any holes in your diet that could be causing micronutrient malnutrition. Your doctor will be able to discuss the different ways you can address that malnutrition – including diet changes, daily multivitamins, and other options.
7. Get Proper Exercise And Keep Your Immune System Strong
There’s a reason that proper exercise is in the list of lifestyle changes that can significantly strengthen your immune system and make you far less susceptible to infection and sickness.
Regular exercise has far too many benefits to list here, so suffice it to say that getting regular exercise will improve how you feel and how your body functions in too many ways to count.
Like we talked about before, your immune system is immensely complicated, and there’s significant discussion and disagreement about the direct mechanisms that affect it.
However, with exercise, many scientists believe that there are a few direct mechanisms that affect and improve your immune system directly. For instance, exercise helps to improve your blood circulation, which could take immune system cells where they need to go to fight infection and keep you feeling well.
Other research as to the effect of exercise on the immune system is ongoing. Scientists haven’t found a direct link between moderate, regular exercise and strengthened immune systems. However, with the sheer number of other health conditions that exercise helps you to avoid, including heart conditions, blood pressure issues, complications from obesity, and a near infinite list of others, it’s not a stretch to say that regular exercise helps keep your immune system functioning at its best.
So if you’re looking to stay healthy and avoid all kinds of different health conditions, the answer here is pretty obvious. Yes, you should be exercising regularly.
It stands to reason that if you don’t want to get sick from an infection or a germ, you also don’t want to get sick from cardiovascular issues or other conditions that are affected directly by exercise.
So bottom line, if you want to keep your body in great shape and stay as healthy as possible, get regular exercise.
8. Do Herbal Supplements Really Work?
You’ll find many people swearing up and down that herbal remedies and supplements can help you avoid sickness and keep your immune system bolstered against infection and disease.
Is that true? Unfortunately, the answer once again is, “we’re not sure yet.”
Research into different herbal remedies is ongoing, and scientists have been looking into the link between herbal remedies and immune system function for years.
There have been no strong conclusions found by scientists about the effect of different herbs on the immune system, and there’s no consensus that herbs are either helpful or harmful to your immune system function.
This all goes back to how complicated your immune system actually is. If scientists found beyond a shadow of a doubt that one particular herb increased the amount of T cells or antibodies in your body – you’d think that would be evidence that it boosts your immune system, right?
The problem is that scientists aren’t sure whether boosting one part of the immune system boosts the function of the system as a whole. In our car example, this is like putting bigger tires on your car- since the system needs to be in balance, having more antibodies might not do a thing.
If you take herbal supplements and believe that they help keep you protected from disease – keep taking them! The power of belief is a real thing, and the placebo effect has been measured time and time again by scientists. Just by believing that what you’re taking is helping your body, you could be boosting your body’s ability to fight off disease.
Plus, scientists aren’t saying that herbs don’t help your immune system – they’re saying that they don’t know the answer yet. Which, frustratingly enough, is the response to many questions about your immune system.
So if you’re looking for the best way to boost your immune system and keep it functioning at its peak, the best answer is to adopt lifestyle habits that make you healthier in general, and to do the things that keep you feeling as good as you can feel.
The Best Ways To Boost Your Immune System
- Give your immune system everything it nutritionally needs
- Watch out for dubious claims
- Keep away from stress
- Treat your body right and it will treat you right
- Don’t believe everything you hear about cold weather
- Take more care with your health as you grow older
- Get proper exercise and keep your immune system strong
- Herbal supplements may help