The immune system is a complex, hard-working, and life-preserving organ system. Many of its cells, enzymes, chemical messengers, and hormones are involved in complex chains of chemical reactions that require nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fats, and amino acids to function properly. So while you can’t boost your immune system, i.e., you can’t make it better than its physiology and immune potential, you can support its function.
The immune system is a system with interconnections that must remain balanced. So far, no scientific research supports the premise that lifestyle changes can make your immune system work better. As scientists continue to work on understanding the immune system, your best strategy for boosting your immune system is to optimize your overall health.
So, what can you do to help your immune system function at its best?
This seems a bit counterintuitive. Your immune system works hard to fight infection, so why would you want to minimize its exposure to pathogens that make you sick? Fighting infections is hard work, and your immune system is constantly challenged by bacteria, fungi, protozoans, helminths, and viruses you breathe into your sinuses and lungs, that live on your skin, enter your gastrointestinal tract and other bodily cavities, and invade your eyes, nose, mouth, and hair follicles. Your immune system is constantly working to fight infections and keep you from getting diseases.
Support your immune system by:
Stress causes cortisol release. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone released by the adrenal gland that increases blood pressure and blood glucose. Cortisol also helps control your sleep-wake cycle and regulates how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy. Your immune system responds to infection by increasing inflammation, and since cortisol interferes with appropriate regulation of inflammation, it should be no surprise that chronic stress is associated with getting more infectious diseases.1
Reduce chronic stress and cortisol by:
Sleep is necessary for your body to restore chemicals and enzymes depleted throughout the day, remove cellular waste, and repair damaged cells.
Tips to improve sleep:
Cellular metabolism, environmental toxins, and exercise cause the formation of highly unstable molecules called free radicals. These are unpaired oxygen molecules that have a free electron and are compelled to bind to another free electron. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress. Unpaired electrons bind to proteins and DNA, which can trigger cellular damage.
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of dietary antioxidants. Other sources of antioxidants include:
Exercise increases blood flow, reduces blood sugar spikes, and helps mobilize immune cells to fight infection. It also reduces inflammation, which improves immune function.
Vigorous exercise may temporarily weaken your immune function. Scientists define vigorous exercise that affects the immune system as an exercise that uses 60% or more of oxygen uptake and heart rate reserve and lasts 60 minutes or more.2
Follow exercise recommendations to support your immune function (choose one):
Alcohol consumption can change the gut microbiome, affecting your immune system. Alcohol also affects how well immune system cells attach to pathogens. Like blood glucose, alcohol consumption affects cytokine levels, which disrupts immune balance. Alcohol’s effects on the immune system seem to be dose-dependent. Low to moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce inflammation and enhance the ability of phagocytic cells to eat and destroy pathogens. Heavy doses of alcohol increase cytokines and temporarily reduce immune fighting cells.3
Nicotine suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation.4 Smoking affects how well neutrophils, a key immune fighting cell, can localize and fight pathogens. In addition, smoking causes inflammation in the lungs, which leads to tissue destruction and an increased risk of infection.
Carrying excessive weight can increase inflammation. Adipose cells (fat tissue) are hormonally active and secrete chemicals into the bloodstream, which may impact your immune system. Blood sugar spikes and persistently high blood sugar can increase cytokine production. Cytokines are chemical messengers in the immune system. When cytokines are at abnormally high levels, it may cause an imbalance in your immune system. High blood sugar can also make it harder for some of your immune cells to recognize pathogens and reduce their ability to fight infection.
Scientists have studied the effect of micronutrient deficiencies on the immune system. While it is a giant step to translate the effects of micronutrients on the immune system in cells or animals in a laboratory to humans, there is some evidence that micronutrient deficiencies adversely affect the immune system. So if you are not getting these micronutrients in your diet, ask your doctor whether you should supplement them.
Important micronutrients for the immune system:
Start a treatment plan with Vitamin D3 today!
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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10. Ehteshamfar SM, Akhbari M, Afshari JT, et al. Anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory impacts of berberine on activation of autoreactive T cells in autoimmune inflammation. J Cell Mol Med. Dec 2020;24(23):13573-13588. doi:10.1111/jcmm.16049
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