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9 Ways to Supercharge Your Immune System

By Nicole W. | 2nd November 2017

Every winter around one in four of us falls prey to coughs and colds. Struggling on with a runny nose, stuffy head and sore throat is no fun - but what can be done? 

Fortunately, scientists have long studied our immune systems, and we know more about how to support effective immune function than ever before. If you want to avoid the latest bug circulating among friends and family here are some simple tips to keep your immune system firing on all cylinders...

Eat for Immunity

The foundation of a healthy immune system starts with the lining of the digestive tract, as this is a key barrier against germs. Any imbalance in the gut flora that lines the tract is often caused by poor diet, and maintaining a healthy level of ‘friendly’ bacteria helps to keep this lining strong. 

Try to eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, particularly garlic, kale, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach and peppers. Protein is also important as this is an essential component of white blood cells. Good protein sources are meat, fish, poultry, cheese and eggs. Probiotics found in yoghurts and supplements can also be beneficial.

Avoid simple sugars as these can impair immune function by as much as 50%. Sugar has zero nutrient-value and significantly reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight off viruses. Simple carbohydrates (those in white bread and many kinds of cereal) contribute to sugar intake. Instead, try complex carbs found in oats and wholemeal foods.

Try Immune Boosting Supplements

A number of supplements are believed to offer immune-boosting benefits. Some of the best known of these are:

Echinacea - This common garden flower may not only reduce inflammation but also seems to help fight the common cold. In one study, a preparation of echinacea reduced the chances of developing a cold by over 50%. Fortunately echinacea is commonly available as a cost effective and practical supplement.

Garlic - Garlic doesn’t just taste great; there is evidence that it may help to fight the symptoms of colds too. Studies suggest that the active ingredient in garlic known as “allicin” may not only prevent colds, but might also speed your recovery if you’re unlucky enough to contract one.

Zinc - Zinc perhaps hasn’t received the same level of interest as many other supplements, but it offers a huge wealth of potential benefits. Among these, zinc has a role to play in the immune system. Some studies have suggested that zinc supplementation is an effective way to keep your immune system healthy, particularly in more mature people. Foods rich in zinc include spinach, pumpkin seeds and beef.

Also, don’t forget about our old friend vitamin C. Studies suggest that vitamin C can be tremendously beneficial for the prevention of colds. Interestingly, they also seem to show that the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C are greatest in men. Great sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and rosehips, though many people rely on simple vitamin C supplements to meet their daily intake.

Exercise Regularly  

Regular exercise supports the healthy function of the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels that remove toxins from the body. It also helps to increase blood flow and release tension. Even moderate exercise has been proven to reduce the frequency of colds. Calmer forms of exercise such as yoga can also be beneficial in helping the body to recover from illness. Start to build up your fitness level slowly – it’s important not to place any undue strain on the body by doing too much too quickly.

De-stress

Prolonged feelings of stress can really take their toll on the immune system. This is because the body responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol which can result in a hyperreactive immune system. Visit a relaxing spa or enjoy some stress reducing activities such as meditation or listening to quiet music.
 

A lady with cucumber over her eyes

Quit Smoking

Cigarettes contain chemicals that trigger inflammation in the respiratory tract. They also increase the amount of respiratory mucous. Smokers are more likely to suffer from recurrent sore throats and are at increased risk of respiratory infections. If you smoke on a daily basis, add antioxidants to your diet to help combat some of the harmful chemicals.

Stay Hydrated

Water is absolutely essential as it benefits so many different bodily functions. It’s particularly important to energise your muscles, improve bowel function and flush toxins from the body. Try to drink at least two litres of water every day – approximately eight regular glasses.
 

A lady drinking water from a bottle

 

Avoid Large Crowds

Statistically speaking the more people you come into contact with, the more likely it is that one of them is ill. Remember, also, that people may be infectious long before they actually show signs of a cold. If you’re concerned about your immune system, winter is probably not the best time to attend a big event packed with people. 

Be Hygienic  

It’s particularly important during the winter months to establish a hygienic routine to reduce the spread of infections. Wash your hands regularly to kill germs, especially before making food. Some of the worst hotspots for germs are mobile phones, restaurant menus and door handles. 

Sterilizing surfaces at home can also go a long way to preventing the spread of infection, as can taking steps to avoid touching your face - which may transfer germs from your hands into your body. Pay particular attention to chewing your nails or rubbing your eyes - both of which are linked to infection. 

Get Enough Sleep

During sleep, the body grows and repairs cells throughout the body. However, when the body doesn’t get sufficient rest these cells are not replaced properly. Sleep deprivation also activates the body’s stress response and impairs the immune system. 

Studies have found that adults who slept for less than eight hours per night were three times more likely to suffer from a cold, compared to those who slept for eight hours or more. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, try adding a drop of lavender oil under your pillow to help calm the mind.

Try adding these 9 simple steps into your daily routine to supercharge your immune system throughout the winter.

Article by Nicole W.

Nicole has been working as a researcher and writer in the health industry for over five years. An avid runner and foodie, Nicole writes about the highs and lows of trying to follow a balanced lifestyle and has a keen interest in the complex relationship between nutrition and disease prevention.

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