Can you do anything to boost your immune system or are you stuck with the immune system you were born with? Scientific research shows us that while genetics plays a strong role in your immune system, there is a lot you can do to boost your immune system – the group of cells and tissues in your body responsible for fighting infection and keeping you healthy.
Boosting your immune system is especially important when it comes to fighting off COVD-19 and will be helpful in fighting off other infections that make you vulnerable as well. In this post, we’ll share evidence-based ideas for actions you can take that can boost your immune system.
Please note – While all the activities we have listed in this post can boost your immune system and put you in a better position to fight off viral infections, we still recommend that you follow the WHO and CDC guidelines to help slow the spread of SARS-Cov-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
There are five evidence-backed steps you can take to boost your immune system
Get enough sleep
This is the first on our list because in an era where we are staying at home and have all the “distractions” at home to keep us from sleeping, we can ignore the importance of sleep. While you may not have to wake up each day to rush to an office, sleep is still important even if you’re self-isolating.
How exactly does sleep help with your immune system? During sleep, the cells in your body undergo different processes including various immunological processes.
For instance, when you sleep, your body releases immunological chemicals known as cytokines. Some of these cytokines are necessary for making repairs within your body, helping you sleep better, and also prime your immune system to fight infections effectively.
When you’re sleep-deprived, you are missing out on these natural processes. Thus you will be at a greater risk for succumbing to infections. Experts recommend that adults get eight hours of sleep each night.
It is recommended that teenagers and children get at least ten hours of sleep each night.
Reduce stress levels
Researchers have shown in several studies that stress can lead to different serious health conditions including heart disease.
Stress can also affect your immune system adversely. In one study, the researchers studied the effect of stress in medical students on their production of natural killer cells – an immune cell type that fights viral infections.
Interestingly, they found that the stress of a three-day exam period for these medical students was enough to reduce their levels of natural killer cells. Researchers have also found that the higher the stress level, the more likely the immune system is affected.
In the case of the medical students, the three-day exam period was a short-term stressor and so even though their number of natural killer cells were reduced, other components of the immune system stayed relatively the same.
On the other hand, chronic stressors – or stressful situations that are prolonged – can ravage a person’s immune system. The current pandemic has introduced different levels of stressful and traumatic experiences into people’s lives.
Thus, if you are having a hard time coping during this time, it may be beneficial to chat with a mental health professional so you can have the tools to heal.
Take Vitamin C
Vitamin C has earned its rightful place in science as the vitamin that helps your body heal wounds quickly. Vitamin C is used regularly in the medication regimen for burn patients. In burn patients, vitamin C is very effective in helping these patients heal from their injuries.
And it can help boost your immune system to fight infections effectively. Experts recommend that you consume 65-90mg of vitamin C daily. While too much vitamin C may not be harmful, it is best to stay within these recommended limits.
Vitamin C occurs naturally in citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines and lemons. There is also an abundance of vitamin C in vegetables like spinach and broccoli.
Take Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is another vitamin that is essential to several biochemical processes in your immune system. They are particularly important in the production of white blood cells and in particular, a group of immune cells called T-cells.
A subset of T-cells called cytotoxic T-cells are important in fighting viral infections.
Taking a vitamin B-complex supplement is helpful in boosting the immune system because it will usually contain vitamin B6 as well.
You can find vitamin B6 naturally in foods like fish, eggs, soy beans and brown rice.
Consume probiotic supplements
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that populate your gastrointestinal tract. These healthy bacteria are known to interact with immune cells in your intestines to promote an overall healthy immune system. Foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha are great sources of probiotics.
In this 2017 study, researchers showed that volunteers who took probiotics for 28 days had an improved immune response when they were exposed to a rhinovirus infection as compared to the control group.