How to Boost Your Immune System

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kevin Aister DO

Apr 21, 2020

Boosting the immune system health is a popular goal for health-conscious people. Many products, from diets and supplements to exercise plans, promise to improve immune function in the purchaser. Is it possible to boost your immune system? If so, how can you accomplish this?

Can you really boost your immune system?

The concept of ‘boosting’ your immune system is a little questionable. For most of us, our immune systems are doing a reasonably good job of fighting off invaders while leaving our cells intact. Making your immune system more aggressive might make it slightly better at tackling bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens — but it would also be more likely to attack your cells, resulting in autoimmune diseases. There are things you can do, however, that reduce the risk of autoimmune problems while making sure that your body can resist illnesses due to infection.

Diet and supplements

For most people in the developed world, the average diet provides most of what a body needs to stay reasonably healthy. While diet does affect the immune system, major immune disorders are typically only caused by serious deficiencies. Unless you are suffering from severe malnutrition, it’s unlikely that vitamin or mineral supplements will be more useful than merely improving your diet. Aim for a varied and balanced diet with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, with moderate amounts of healthy fats and lean protein.

One type of food or supplement that may help is a probiotic. These are foods and other preparations containing live bacteria cultures. When you eat them, some of the bacteria survive your digestive system and form colonies in your gut. This contribution to your intestinal microflora, it is theorized, can have positive benefits for your immune system. You can buy probiotics in capsule form, as to drinks, or as foods containing beneficial microbe colonies.

Exercise

Taking moderate physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Exercise helps to boost your immunity by ensuring good circulation, lowering your stress levels, and reducing inflammation. Exercise also helps to reduce autoimmune disorders.

Adequate sleep

When you’re not sleeping enough, your immune system suffers. You’re also more prone to other health issues, making infections more dangerous when they occur. In general, most people need to aim for around seven to nine hours of sleep per night. You may require more if you are currently unwell, undertake significant physical exertion, are pregnant or nursing an infant.

Smoking cessation

Smoking has several adverse effects on the body, including disruptions of the immune response. Ideally, you should stop using all nicotine-containing products completely.

Reducing alcohol consumption

While there’s some evidence to support the occasional consumption of certain alcoholic drinks, such as red wine, alcohol is generally very unhealthy. If you’re concerned about your health, try cutting down to a few drinks per week or giving up altogether.

Reducing stress

Stress can negatively impact your immune system. It can make you more likely to develop infections, while paradoxically also making you more prone to autoimmune disorders. You can reduce stress through exercise, as mentioned above. You can also lower your stress levels through meditation and discipline, such as yoga.

Vaccinations

One sure-fire way to keep your immune system functioning at its best is to make sure you have all your scheduled vaccines. Vaccines do boost your immune system by stimulating it to produce antibodies that can fight off disease.

If you’re suffering from repeated infections or have coughs and colds that never seem to go away, you might need to speak to your doctor. There could be an underlying problem that’s causing you to become ill more than you should be. Your doctor can also advise you on healthy lifestyle changes that will help you keep from becoming sick so often and to recover more quickly.

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