How To Improve Your Immune System – Everything You Need To Know

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By Thomas Youngerman

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

immune system

The human body is a marvel of engineering, far more complicated than any man-made machine. It is composed of trillions of cells, an estimated 30 – 35 trillion in an adult, with 99% of your body’s mass composed of just six elements, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. When your body is in balance (homeostasis), your organs and systems function optimally without your conscious thought. 

This article will provide helpful tips on keeping your body in balance, focusing on your immune system, its vital role in your health, and how to support and improve your system. We will begin with some common-sense, practical thoughts on lifestyle choices and progress to more advanced holistic strategies, including digestive health, the microbiome, diet, exercise, sleep habits, and supplementation. 

immune system

The Immune System

Your immune system’s function is to protect you from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that can cause infections, diseases, and illnesses. The human immune system is an incredibly complex network, comprised of white blood cells, the complement system, the lymphatic system, antibodies, the thymus, the spleen, and bone marrow. 

There are various types of cells throughout your body that help recognize problems, communicate with other cells, and perform their functions. When the system functions properly, it identifies threats and stimulates a response to destroy them. Your properly functioning immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms.

Your digestive tract is home to some 100 trillion bacteria. In addition to digestion, these microbes regulate hormones, eliminate toxins, and produce vital nutrients. The beneficial bacteria, our “gut buddies,” represent some 70% – 80% of our immune cells. Clinical research proves that digestive health and the microbiome are crucial to immune support. If you want to stay healthy, taking care of your gut health is paramount. 

human immune system

The Importance Of Lifestyle Choices For Improving Your Immune System

Enhancing your immune system starts with smart lifestyle choices. First, reduce your exposure to toxins, no smoking, no vaping, and alcohol consumption in moderation. Wash your hands frequently, using soap, for a minimum of twenty seconds. Avoid stress as much as possible, alleviate stress with meditation or mindfulness. 

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep for repair and recovery, and supplementation are also lifestyle choices, ones we will explore in more detail. 

Exercise To Improve Your Immune System 

Regular exercise is one of the staples of healthy living. Exercise can improve cardiovascular health, help lower blood pressure, maintain healthy body weight, and effectively relieve stress. It contributes to your immune health by increasing blood flow, delivering more oxygen to the immune system’s cells, and substances to do their job efficiently. 

Whether your choice of exercise is endurance training, resistance training, stretching, or balance movements, pick the one you enjoy, and odds are much better you will stay the course. Exercising strictly for the sake of exercise, in a discipline you don’t enjoy, won’t last. Walking is an often overlooked but excellent exercise; start small, set goals, and progress over time.

One word of caution. Ironically, overtraining can decrease your immune function. Going too hard, too long, without sufficient rest and recovery can cause chronic fatigue and knock down your immune system. Be sensible. Studies indicate that regular, moderate-intensity physical activity improves immunosurveillance even better than high exercise workloads.

excercise to improve immune system

Your Immune Support Diet

In a moment, we will identify specific foods that support a healthy immune system; however, first, we must stress the crucial importance of diet in maintaining healthy body composition. In America today, over 70 million people, almost 40% of all adults, both men, and women, are obese. Risk factor assessments indicate that those at greater risk for severe respiratory illnesses are people of all ages with obesity and related conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Whether you are vegan or vegetarian, observe a Keto Diet, Lectin-free Diet, or intermittent fast. Maintaining an appropriate BMI (Body Mass Index) is crucial to your general health, immune health, and survival. 

eating immune boosting food

To support your immune health, we recommend incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet; they’re loaded with essential nutrients and antioxidants. Some foods believed to benefit your immune system include things such as:

  • Citrus Fruits, loaded with Vitamin C
  • Blueberries, with powerful antioxidants
  • Ginger, to decrease inflammation
  • Proteins: Grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry, free-range eggs, wild-caught fish
  • Carrots and squash for their antioxidant carotenoids
  • Spinach, with iron, and Vitamins A and C
  • Dark chocolate, another source of antioxidants
  • Yogurt, with active probiotic cultures and fortified with Vitamin D
  • Green Tea, packed with flavonoids 

Sleep Helps Your Immune System

The average adult needs seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. During sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, a protein type, some of which help promote sleep. Other cytokines are needed when you are under stress or have an infection or inflammation. Researchers in Germany have discovered that sleep improves immune cells known as T Cells that play an essential role in the body’s immune system. T Cells are responsible for combatting virus-infected cells such as flu, HIV, and herpes.  

Sleep deprivation can result in issues with mood, memory, and the release of stress hormones. It also decreases the production of protective cytokines. When you don’t get sufficient sleep or quality sleep, necessary infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced.

Some tips for a good’s night sleep:

  • Have a scheduled time to go to sleep each night
  • Have a comfortable, dark, cool sleeping environment
  • Eliminate distractions from electronic devices
  • Exercise promotes better quality sleep
  • Limit or eliminate consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine

Getting a good night’s sleep is proven to help support and improve your immune system.

Sleep to boost immunity

The Best Supplement Ingredients To Boost Your Immune System

The natural products industry prominently features immune products each cold and flu season, typically beginning in December and through February. Although bolstering your immune system seasonally is not a bad idea, we prefer to have a properly functioning system throughout the year to work appropriately whenever needed. 

Once you have incorporated the above suggestions, healthy lifestyle habits, exercise, diet, and sleep, should you feel you still need a little more help, supplementation may be the answer. Clinical research studies validate the use of certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs to improve your immune response by:

  • Combatting free radicals with antioxidants
  • Increasing white blood cell count to help ward off infections
  • Anti-Inflammatories to reduced chronic, low-level inflammation
  • Addressing any vitamin or mineral deficiencies

One of our favorite immune support stacks is the combination of Vitamin C, D3, and Zinc. All three of these products are sold as stand-alone ingredients online and in brick and mortar stores. 

  • Vitamin C, dosage 1 – 2 grams per day. C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress. It enhances the function of various immune cells to protect against infection, and clinical studies show that C can reduce the duration of colds. 
  • Vitamin D3, dosage – between 1,000 and 4,000 IU daily to combat upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D deficiency may negatively affect the immune system.
  • Zinc, dosage 30 mg / day. Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in immune cell development and communication. Zinc deficiency is common in older adults, which affects the immune system’s ability to function correctly. Studies show Zinc may help prevent respiratory tract infections or lessen the duration. 

Other clinically researched and proven ingredients that should be included in an immune-boosting regimen include Echinacea, Elderberry, Curcumin, and Garlic:

  • Echinacea – to address the common cold and infections. Echinacea is an anti-inflammatory thought to stimulate the body’s immune system.
  • Elderberry – may shorten the duration and severity of respiratory infections. In test-tube studies, elderberry exhibits potent antibacterial and antiviral activities.
  • Curcumin – is another potent anti-inflammatory, shown to improve the immune response 
  • Garlic – has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and is thought to enhance immune health by stimulating protective white blood cells. 

Last year microbiome research conducted in the U.S. approached $1 billion. As a result, the microbiome is universally recognized as playing a crucial role in maintaining wellbeing and supporting the immune system. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two of the most extensively studied and commonly used probiotics in the industry. 

Supplement manufacturers are combining probiotics and prebiotics in what they refer to as a synbiotic relationship – that’s not a typo, they’re referred to as synbiotic, not symbiotic. Synbiotics, such as Seed, are becoming more and more popular within the supplement industry. More recently, postbiotics have been introduced and may be the most beneficial biotic for immune health. We highly recommend either stand-alone probiotics and prebiotics, a synbiotic product, or a combination of the three to support digestive health and your immune system. 

How To Select A Supplement For Immune Support

When selecting an immune support supplement, in fact, any dietary supplement, we suggest the following important attributes for your consideration:

  1. Be sure the product is manufactured in a certified cGMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices)
  2. Look for the appropriate dosage for any product making structure-function claims based on clinical trials
  3. Seek products with no added fillers, artificial sweeteners, coloring, or flavorings. Seek all-natural when possible and Non-GMO verified.
  4. Transparency – products which list the dosage of each ingredient, no proprietary blends
  5. Independent third-party testing for quality
  6. Money-back guarantee – a guarantee demonstrates the confidence the manufacturer has in its products

Studying the package and the Supplement Facts panel and a little online research will answer these questions for any product you are considering.

Choosing Supplements for Immune Support

In Summary: Improving Your Immune System

Having a properly functioning immune system is a big deal. We hope the above has provided insights into the importance of digestive health, your microbiome, and your immune system. We also hope you find our suggestions and tips helpful in optimizing your immune system. Be healthy. 

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Thomas Youngerman

Thomas Youngerman is an entrepreneur and author in the health and wellness space with extensive experience in the supplement industry. He has owned multiple sports nutrition stores and served as the Category Manager and Director of Business Development for a regional chain of nutrition stores. Thomas created a successful line of men’s healthy aging supplements that was distributed in GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, and Kroger, and later sold to a West Coast corporation. Thomas was previously a certified nutrition coach. He has a strong understanding of nutrition, supplement formulations, DSHEA, cGMP, and FDA regulations.