10 Ways to Boost your Immune System
With the schools starting back I’ve been thinking about how to give ourselves the best chance of fighting viruses.
In fact, for the past twenty years I’ve been on a mission to find out what really works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to boosting immunity.
In this post, I’m sharing with you what I’ve found does work, both through dedicated research and trial and error.
(Trigger alert: in this post I mention Covid-19).
Here are ten ways to boost your immune system.
1. Get more sleep
I’ve written about sleep before, but for good reason. If sleep could be bottled, the pharmaceutical company selling it would be the largest and most lucrative in the world. Fortunately for us though, it’s free and getting enough sleep is a wonder-drug.
As we move into autumn and the days draw in, try increasing your sleep window so that you can easily get a minimum of eight hours of sleep. For me, that often means I need to be in bed for 8.5 – 9 hours. And if you see some early warning signs that your body is fighting a bug, giving yourself permission to have a really long sleep can sometimes keep it at bay.
2. Make it a priority to manage your stress levels
Stress directly increases the body’s likelihood of succumbing to illness and disease. The first step for managing stress is noticing our own signals of when we are stressed instead of ignoring them.For me, it’s getting snappy with my family, forgetting to eat, waking up in the night and unable to drop back off, neglecting self-care, working late into the evenings and even starting a sore throat or cold.
The sooner you can notice stress, the sooner you can tackle it. Once you notice the sources of stress, try asking yourself, “what’s in my power to change here?”. And if you know that something needs to change and yet it keeps not happening, why not schedule a free coaching session to support you with the change?
3. Eat raw garlic!
Garlic is truly a super food. It has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and is most potent when it’s raw. It will boost your immune system immediately.
There has been more than one occasion when I’ve felt myself coming down with something and I’ve eaten a raw clove of garlic. It’s not pleasant and it usually deals with it immediately. And the great thing is that people in that Zoom meeting won’t be able to smell your breath! Go on- be brave.#
[Pssst…. you can also get it as a supplement in capsules].
4. Take Elderberry syrup
Elderberries are extremely high in vitamin C, which is essential for helping the body to fight infection. In September, elderberries are in abundance in hedgerows. Here is my home-made recipe for elderberry syrup.
1 cups (240g) fresh elderberries
2 cups (350ml) water
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon of cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon bark (or 1 teaspoon of dried cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons raw honey
Put everything except for the honey into a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a steady simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve and allow to cool. When cool, add the honey and mix well. Store in the fridge of up to 3 months and take 1tsp at the first sign of illness or for prevention.
If you’re reading this in the middle of winter, it works just as well with dried elderberries which can bought here.
And if you’re really short on time, Pukka Herbs do a ready-made elderberry syrup available here by mail order.
5. Eat real food and cut out the processed stuff
Cutting out, or at least drastically cutting back on all processed food will give your immune system a huge boost. Our bodies were designed to run on food as it appears in nature so aim to really minimise foods that come in packets or boxes.
Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, meat and fish will give your body the fuel it needs and support the gut microbiome. Having a healthy microbiome is central to a robust immune system and research shows our microbiome can be altered by what we eat, for better or worse. And if this all-out approach seems impossible right now, start by cutting out sugar and increasing your intake of leafy greens: broccoli, kale, cabbage, sprouts, spinach, cauliflower.
6. Move regularly and build up a sweat
One of the many reasons that movement and exercise is so important is that it acts as a ‘hormetic’ stressor. It helps the body to adapt to the ordinary stresses and strains of life and therefore to be more resilient.
Also, sweating is key way that the body removes toxins, obviously important in preventing illness. Exercising regularly, at an appropriate level, has been shown to boost immunity in healthy older adults.
7. Get outside in nature
Being in nature has been shown to have a whole host of health benefits and to boost immunity too.
One study found that the effects of being in the woods increased the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are a central part of the body’s immune system, supporting it to fight of viruses and tumors. And the effect wasn’t just immediate, it lasted for 30 days!
If you’re working from home and are lucky enough to live near a green space, why not have your lunch break outside? Or go for a walk during a 121 call?
8. Chat to a good friend
When you have a relaxed conversation with a trusted friend, you’re actually giving your health a boost. Social connection has been found to benefit the functioning of the cardiovascular system, hormone regulation and immune function.
An important meta-analysis of a range of studies found that ‘people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships’. That’s quite a finding, so you’ve got every reason to stop work, take a break and call that friend now. Your immune system will thank you for it.
9. Get your vitamin D levels checked
Adequate vitamin D is important to boost your immunity and give it the best chance of fighting off infection. Vitamin D regulates T cells which are part of the immune system.
In addition a recent study found that patients with COVID-19 who received supplements of vitamin D were significantly less likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit. The research suggested that it reduced the severity of the illness.
It is best to get vitamin D from sunlight exposure. However, the reality is that if you are at far Northern latitudes, you’re unlikely to get enough vitamin D during the winter months even with plenty of time outside.
Make sure that you check your levels before supplementing though because too high levels of vitamin D can be toxic since it is processed in the liver. Ensure that you work with a qualified practitioner who knows what they doing and supplement wisely.
10. Resolve tensions in your relationships
Work to resolve tensions in your relationships. Have you ever noticed yourself get a cold after a difficult interaction? Or developing a sore throat shortly after you’ve held back from saying something you really needed to?
One study found that hostile communication in a marriage relationship increased inflammation in the body, and inflammation in the body makes us less resilient and more susceptible to illness.
This blog for my other business has a host of tips around handling tensions in relationships, including this one on five tips for having difficult conversations.
I also recommend the book and courses by Oren Jay Sofer on mindful communication.
Sources of research
Garlic as a super food. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: A double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11697022
Our diet can influence our gut microbiome. Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448089/
Exercise and immunity. Is Regular Exercise a Friend or Foe of the Aging Immune System? A Systematic Review . https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/Abstract/2008/11000/Is_Regular_Exercise_a_Friend_or_Foe_of_the_Aging.8.aspx
Impact of being out in nature for immunity and increase of Natural Killer cells. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
Social connection beneficially affecting cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems. Social Support and Helath: A Review of Physiological Processes Potentially Underlying Links to Disease Outcomes. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5
Stronger social relationships and mortality risk. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910600/
Vitamin D regulates T cells. Vitamin D and 1,25(OH)2D Regulation of T cells. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425186/
Impact of Vitamin D supplementation on COVID-19 patients. Effect of Calcifediol Treatment and best Available Therapy versus best Available Therapy on Intensive Care Unit Admission and Mortality Among Patients Hospitalized for Covid-19: A Pilot Randomised Clinical Study. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960076020302764?via%3Dihub
Hostile communication increasing inflammation. Hostile marital interactions, proinflammatory cytokine production, and wound healing. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16330726/
Always consult a physician if you are concerned about your health. This article does not constitute medical advice nor is it intended to replace medical advice.
None of the links in this article constitute recommendations, they are simply what I have found to work in my own life. Nor am I an affiliate of any of the companies or people linked to.