We talk an awful lot about our immune systems. Or maybe that’s just me? I know that immune system health and natural immunity are topics that come up all the time around here. Over the past couple of years, I’ve half-jokingly asked if anyone knew where I could buy a new one. I seemed to have misplaced mine. It’s time to really start looking into how to boost immune system strength.
The immune system is a collection of special cells, organs, and substances that defends the body against infection and illness. It monitors the body at the cellular level and attempts to rid it of anything unfamiliar.
It’s …. important.
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The most commonly known immune deficiency is, of course, AIDS.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
But you can certainly have a compromised immune system without having AIDS. Allergies are an example of an immune system running amuck. Like a terrified dog attacking friend and foe, the immune system can’t tell the difference between a virus and a peanut. Considering that allergies can be fatal, imagine how very powerful a healthy immune system is.
Antigens and Our Immune System
Any substance that enters the body that the immune system does not recognize is known as an antigen. When an antigen enters our bodies, the immune response is triggered and the attack to get rid of it begins.
Our immune system, when healthy and working properly, has the ability to destroy anything containing a particular antigen, including, germs, viruses, and cancer cells.
It’s safe to say that without our immunity, we wouldn’t be around too long because our immune system is a tireless warrior protecting our health. There are bacteria and viruses everywhere, not to mention helminths (worms) and tiny mites that carry infection and our immune systems continuously fight all types of bacteria, viruses and various parasites.
We also use our immunity to fight and kill cancerous cells that can pop up in our systems. Clearly it’s not always successful – just like we get flu, colds, worms and other infections, we also get cancer. People with a poor immune system get cancer at higher rates than those whose immune system is working properly.
It is therefore of great importance to be sure and take care of our immune system health. Thankfully, some of the ways in which we can do this are also beneficial in other ways to our overall health.
What are some ways we can maximize the effectiveness of our immune system to stay as healthy as possible? The biggest problem I have found, when your immune system has taken a beating, is that you’re too sick and tired to get up and figure out how to fix the problem.
Choose Foods to Boost Immune System
This means getting enough nutrition through fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. There are nutrients in these foods that act as antioxidants, scavenging your body for oxygen free radicals that can damage cellular systems. Research has shown that increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet can improve the ability of immunizations to “take hold.”
When you’re feeling exhausted, and catching ‘every bug that goes around’, it can seem extremely difficult to make healthy meals. I have been there, groaning at the thought of even preparing pre-frozen meals. You KNOW you need to eat healthier if you want to feel better, but every thing you do is just a tremendous effort.
If that’s the situation you are in, please enlist help and find ways to get your fridge and freezer stocked with meals that are both healthy and super easy. Powdered greens, which can be added to water, both hot and cold drinks, and even mixed into food, are a super efficient way to boost your veggie intake, and it’s one of the methods I used to get my family back on our feed again. The ones we use daily, and this is an affiliate link, are It Works, primarily because of the incredible variety and quantity that they manage to squeeze in.
There ARE others, though, and you may find locally-sourced powdered greens at your Farmer’s Market. Yes, if you may recognize this image – it’s my friend and farmer Cathy Munro of Bramble Hill Farm.
Stay away from tobacco smoke
Tobacco smoke ruins immunity, even if you aren’t the actual smoker.
Hopefully by now most of us are becoming aware of the health problems caused by living in a house or driving in a car where people smoke.
Children have an increased risk of getting middle ear infections and lung infections when exposed to second hand smoke by way of parents or family members smoking around them. Cigarette smoke in the household, and on the clothes of adults in the house, greatly increase the risk of SIDS. Adults are more prone to getting bronchitis and pneumonia when exposed to tobacco smoke.
The toxic ingredients in smoke lessen your ability to fight off all kinds of infections.
Cut down on alcohol
Those who excessively drink alcohol have an increased risk of getting infections from a poor immune system. Pulmonary infections are particularly likely to happen in heavy drinkers.
That doesn’t mean that it’s unhealthy to have a drink every once in a while. Just keep it in moderation. If you’re drinking every day, or finishing bottles all by yourself, you might want to look into that.
Most people now know what probiotics are.
If you’re one of those who hasn’t discovered them yet, probiotics are one of the best things to reach mainstream medicine. They’re found in some yogurts and in lacto-fermented foods and they can be purchased in capsule form.
Probiotics consist of living spores of healthy bacteria or living organisms themselves. They colonize the gut and displace the “bad bacteria” that can make you sick. With probiotics, you can have a healthier gut immune system and can avoid gastrointestinal upset from bacteria or fungi in the gut.
If you’re dealing with a compromised immune system, foods containing probiotics should be part of your daily diet. Start your day with a dish of yogurt. Add a tablespoon of homemade kimchi or sauerkraut to your dinner plate.
Garlic is an antimicrobial agent in and of itself. It boosts the immune system in a general way but is inactivated by heat. This means you’re not getting the benefit when you cook with it.
To get the health boost, add garlic last to your meal just before serving. (Watch – I’ll be doing a feature on garlic soon and you’ll love it!)
Get vitamin D
Many people in the Northern Hemisphere are deficient in vitamin D and this can negatively affect immunity, particularly in the winter months.
You can get vitamin D with exposure to the sun or you can take a vitamin D supplement. As some people need a lot of vitamin D and others don’t need as much, have your vitamin D level checked periodically until you find a dosage of vitamin D that brings your level into the normal range.
In the summertime, just ten to fifteen minutes of sunlight per day can be a big benefit to your immune system.
Eat shitake and Maitake mushrooms
Studies have shown that really concentrated extracts of these types of medicinal mushrooms have enhanced the immune system of women who have breast cancer. While eating the mushroom alone hasn’t been studied, it may have a beneficial effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people. Another that people are talking about is Chaga mushroom – which looks less like a mushroom and more like a piece of burnt wood attached to a tree.
If you don’t have any medical reasons to avoid mushrooms (like a serious fungal allergy), it is worthwhile to add them to your diet.
Immune Supporting Herbs
There are tons of immune-supportive herbs out there and probably yet to be developed.
Some important ones are eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and American ginseng. These have been used in Chinese medicine for millennia to prevent infection and keep the body healthy. They can be found at health food stores everywhere and even at certain pharmacies. Do your research before adding these to your health care, and do speak to a medical professional.
Echinacea is good for respiratory infections, especially when taken early in the course of the infection. Make a tincture yourself or get one from a reputable herbalist.
The important thing to remember about Echinacea is that you don’t take it all the time. Have it on hand so that you can dose up the minute you can feel an infection starting, but don’t continue taking it after you’re feeling better.
And here’s a bonus tip that I added after I created the graphics!
Detox Your Environment
Still struggling with health and immunity issues? Still wondering where your immune system went?
Recently, I went through my entire house with the help of a good friend. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. The funny thing is that I thought my household cleaners were generally safe. I grew up with Mr. Clean and these ‘ordinary’ cleaners, after all. And shampoo? I mean, it’s just shampoo, right?
They’re not TOXIC, they’re just … well, yes, they’re pretty toxic when you’re dealing with a weak immune system.
Over the course of a week, we replaced my soap and shampoo with an unscented African Black Soap (which I’m loving). I use it for my hair, face and body.
We tossed out window cleaners, floor cleaners and even dish soap and mixed up bottles of cleaners using castille soap.
The harsh Cascade dishwasher detergent was replaced with a natural brand using organic ingredients – suddenly I can be in the kitchen when the dishwasher is running and I don’t feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest.
Tide Free replaced the scented laundry soap, and I just found a local seller of soap nuts, so that’s next.
After a week, I’m noticing smells that I hadn’t been aware of before and I have more energy than I have had in the past several years.
A year ago, I wondered if I would ever get my immune system working well again. Since then I’ve learned to decrease the constant but unnecessary assaults on it, improve my diet and take a few simple steps strengthen my immunity. Now my joke is that I’m aging backwards – and it feels great! If you’ve been wondering how to boost your immune system, rest assured that the answer is not difficult or complicated, but it’s definitely worth the effort!