6 Ways to (Naturally) Boost your Immune System

Garlic and spices on a wooden background
Photo: Unsplash

Without fail, it seems like this time of year, I get sick. However, with a busy toddler, I’m doing everything in my power to help boost our immunity to prevent any type of sickness from creeping up on us.

The winter season is when we need our energy more than ever, but the hustle and bustle can be absolutely draining, which can send our immune systems spiraling. Thankfully, there are science-backed methods to boost our immunity in some very natural ways. They are cost-effective and accessible to everyone, not to mention some of them taste really good!

Here are 6 ways to keep your immune system at its peak performance and keep the sniffles at bay. 

Get Friendly with Garlic

Let’s be honest, my last name is Zanini, so my Italian husband always has garlic in the house. When I saw a study that showed when healthy people took a garlic supplement for three months in cold and flu season, their immune cells became more active than those who took a placebo, I was in! Reap the benefits by taking a high-quality garlic supplement or, if you don’t mind the garlic breath, use raw, crushed garlic — in everything from salad dressings to homemade hummus — which showed similar results to garlic pills in another study.

Go with Your Gut

More and more studies are exploring the link between our immune system and our gut. The bacteria, or microbiota, that live and thrive in our gut play a major role in the strength of our immune system. To keep the healthy flora in tip-top shape, get probiotics from fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, yogurt and kombucha. Research indicates that probiotics improve the immune response and increase production of immune cells.

Focus on Fiber

Prebiotic fiber is the specific type of food that keeps the gut bacteria happy and healthy. When bacteria ferment this fiber in our gut, short chain fatty acids are released. Studies show that these short chain fatty acids play a role as immuno-modulators and increase the production of T-regulatory cells, which help to regulate other immune cells and the immune response. Translation? Eating plenty of prebiotic fiber from artichokes, onion, garlic, asparagus, bananas and jicama helps give your immune system that extra boost it needs during the cold and flu season.

Ditch the Spoonful of Sugar

Evidence suggests that simple sugars in foods such as cookies, sweetened beverages and many highly processed foods can negatively impact white blood cells’ defense mechanisms to guard the body from foreign invaders. Yet another reason to reduce sugar intake and opt for whole fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth most of the time.

Get Some Sun

Or vitamin D, that is. Studies show that vitamin D is a major immune system regulator that plays a role in the expression and activation of several types of immune cells, meaning those with low vitamin D levels are more likely to get sick. Be sure to get at least 15 minutes of daily SPF-free sun exposure and consume vitamin D-rich food sources such as cod liver oil and oily fish like salmon and herring. Or consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

Spice it Up

Spices and roots such as turmeric, clove, coriander and ginger have been shown to act as anti-inflammatory agents, improve immune system response, increase antibodies and act as antibacterial agents in the body. Spices couldn’t be easier to incorporate into your diet — use them whenever you are cooking to add a boost of flavor. You even can make your own immune-boosting spice mix so you always have it on hand.

Finally, don’t forget to sleep. It’s the ultimate stress-fighting, immune-boosting strategy. (And if you are a new mom like me, well … try your best!)

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Lori Zanini, RD, CDE

Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian, author, national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Lori Zanini Nutrition. She helps individuals simplify diabetes nutrition, one meal at a time. Visit her online at LoriZanini.com and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.