8 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

The immune system is a fascinating and complex network that defends the body. Mosby’s Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes the immune system as “The group of organs, cells and chemicals that protect the body from harmful viruses, bacteria and abnormal cells. It includes bone marrow, proteins, the thymus, the spleen, the lymphocytes and other white blood cells.”

1. Don’t Drink Too Much or Smoke ― At All

It may seem that drinking alcohol doesn’t have much to do with the immune system. In fact, some have bought into the myth that daily drinking is beneficial for the body. But Addiction.com breaks down the issue pretty succinctly. “Long-term excessive alcohol intake also suppresses monocyte function as well as a variety of other basic immune responses. As a result, alcoholics have increased risks for a number of dangerous infections, including HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and pneumonia. Alcoholics also die more frequently from these infections than people without alcohol-related issues.”

It may seem that even casual drinking is harmless, especially wine. But it’s important to note that the body receives alcohol as a toxin. Therefore, the liver has to break it down to eliminate it. Addiction.com says, “The liver can only process alcohol very slowly (less than a single standard drink per hour), and any level of intake that swamps the liver will raise the risks for organ damage.” Protect your immune system and strengthen it by not indulging in alcohol.

Of course, we all know that smoking cigarette is harmful to the body in a plethora of ways. However, being around cigarette smoke at all is particularly harmful to the body’s immune system. According to Smokefree.gov, a website published by the United States National Cancer Institute, “Cigarette smoke contains high levels of tar and other chemicals, which can make your immune system less effective at fighting off infections. This means you’re more likely to get sick. The continued weakening of the immune system can make you more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It also decreases your body’s ability to fight off cancer.”

Senior man and woman sleeping. Senior man and woman resting with eyes closed. Mature couple sleeping together in their bed.

2. Get Enough Sleep Each Night

Recently my daughter had the stomach flu. As I was caring for her, I was also trying hard to keep the house super-clean so that the rest of the family didn’t pick up the bug. I made sure my son was eating well, washing his hands and not sharing Popsicles with his sister. Because he was bored without his sibling playmate, I agreed that he could have a sleepover with his buddy across the street. The next morning, he came home wiped out because, at the sleepover, he and his friend were up playing video games until 1 a.m. and got out of bed at 6 a.m. to continue their video game marathon. Sure enough, by evening, my sleep-deprived son was as sick as his sister.

According to a representative of The Valley Sleep Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, “One reason our immune system function is so closely tied to our sleep is that certain disease-fighting substances are released or created while we sleep. Our bodies need these hormones, proteins and chemicals to fight off disease and infection. Sleep deprivation, therefore, decreases the availability of these substances leaving us more susceptible to each new virus and bacteria we encounter. This can also cause us to be sick for a longer period of time as our bodies lack the resources to fight whatever it is that is making us sick properly.”

Get regular, solid sleep every day to strengthen your body’s immune system. Keep track of how much sleep you get. Be sure to devote around seven or eight hours to your pillow at night.

3. Find Effective Ways to Manage Your Stress

Ever find yourself coming down with an illness just after you’ve experienced some major stress? According to Fawne Hansen, the author of “The Adrenal Fatigue Solution,” “Getting sick after a stressful event isn’t just a coincidence. Your brain and immune system are in constant communication with one another, which means that psychological upsets can result in physical symptoms. Your immune system is intrinsically linked to your stress levels.”

A friend of mine’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. When they were discussing causes with the oncologist, they were told that stress was a huge factor. The oncologist shared that in a large majority of cases he sees, the patients report going through an incredibly stressful event almost exactly one year before their cancer diagnosis.

Find a way to manage your stress. Whether it’s intense exercise, meditation, yoga, art or getting hooked on a Netflix series, find a way to unwind and destress every day. Your immune system is weakened by unmanaged high-stress levels.

4. Take ― or Eat ― Your Vitamins

The Cleveland Clinic put out a report linking three easy-to-obtain vitamins to a strengthened immune system. Their researchers recommend vitamins C, B6 and E to bolster the immune system.

Vitamin C

Your body doesn’t produce vitamin C on its own. That’s why we call it an essential nutrient. Your body also doesn’t store vitamin C, so it’s important to make doubly sure you consume it every single day.

Taking vitamin C will help your body produce more interferon, a protein that protects cells in the body from viral infections.

If you can get ample amounts of vitamin C in your diet ― fantastic. If you know you don’t eat enough foods that are rich in this nutrient, take vitamin C tablets to strengthen your immune system.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 detoxifies your liver. It also helps the body to produce red blood cells. Vitamin B6 is another essential nutrient that your body needs to function well but cannot produce on its own.

Eating foods high in vitamin B6 is a terrific way to keep your immune system functioning at its best. If you don’t eat plenty of vitamin B6-rich foods, consider taking a B6 (or B-complex) supplement. The best way to take B vitamins is through an injection. However, if you don’t have a fresh needle and syringe handy, the next best way to take vitamin B6 supplements is under the tongue, with a tablet that dissolves quickly. Swallowing a B vitamin pill is not as effective.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a serious immune booster. Because it is a strong antioxidant, it fights free radicals in the body and helps our cells work effectively.

It isn’t generally recommended to take vitamin E in supplement form. Rather, eat nuts, seeds, leafy greens and olive oil to get the daily recommended amount of this essential nutrient.

Stay on top of your nutrition and keep your immune system strong by making sure you get a good dose of essential vitamins and nutrients each day. A good quality multivitamin is a great idea to make sure you’re covered on this end.

5. Exercise

It has been hot where we live. So, in the evenings, when the sun goes down and my fair-skinned children don’t have to cake themselves in sunscreen, I’ve been taking them to the neighborhood pool to burn energy. I don’t always want to swim with them. So, even though my oldest child says that it’s embarrassing, I take my gym shoes and speed-walk laps all around, just inside the gated swimming pool while I watch them play. I stop at certain spots to do push-ups against a brick pillar each time around. I get a pretty decent workout while they swim their little hearts out.

I exercise for several reasons, but one of them is that it strengthens my immune system. According to Medline Plus, “Exercise causes a change in the antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. [Exercise causes] these antibodies or WBCs to circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.” Medline Plus also says, “Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones.” We know that stress hormones are no good for the immune system. Finally, it is suspected that the elevated body temperature from exercising can help prevent certain harmful bacteria in the body from growing.

Aim to exercise at least every other day for about 40 minutes. A brisk walk is a good start. Then, add in some more intense work. It’s excellent for your immune system.

6. Stay Hydrated

Although it may seem elementary, it would be remiss if we left this one out. Drink water. Drink in the mornings and all through the day. Stay away from any other beverage when you’re thirsty. Hydrate yourself first, then perhaps enjoy some coffee or tea.

Water flushes toxins from your body. It oxygenates your blood and promotes healthy lymphatic functions. Drink plenty of it all day long to keep your immune system strong.

7. Avoid Refined Sugar

Dr. William Sears, the author of “The Inflammation Solution,” says, “Excess sugar depresses immunity. Studies have shown that downing 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution ― about 20 teaspoons of sugar or the amount that is contained in two average 12-ounce sodas ― can suppress the body’s immune responses. Simple sugars, including glucose, table sugar, fructose and honey, caused a 50 percent drop in the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria.” Stay away from refined sugar to keep your immune system fighting strong.

8. Load Up on Raw Garlic

If everyone in your household is sick, pretend there’s a vampire invasion and run for the raw garlic. One 2014 study from The Journal of Nutrition found that garlic can boost the immune system with the release of an enzyme called alliinase. The research states, “Allinase turns the allin inside the garlic into something called allicin. This allicin is a highly unstable compound that breaks down to form sulfur-containing compounds which are responsible for having a drastic effect on the immune system.”

If I’m surrounded by people coughing or I know my immune system is challenged, I cut up five cloves of garlic into pill-sized pieces and swallow them down with a tall glass of water. If I’m feeling adventurous, I find a way to eat raw garlic instead. I put five crushed cloves on top of salsa or hummus and eat it that way. It must be raw, however. The immune-boosting enzymes of garlic are destroyed by heat.

Keep Your Immune System Strong

All of these suggestions will not only strengthen your immune system, but they’ll increase your health in a multitude of ways. Take an active role in strengthening and protecting your immune system and staying healthy. Salud!