When you're sick, or when you know that colds, flu, and other illnesses are going around, it's comforting to reach for your favorite immune-boosting foods and drinks. Vitamin C, zinc, honey, citrus fruit, chicken soup -- everyone has a go-to food or beverage they trust to get through illness. If you're like most people, you probably keep an eye out for brand new immune health options. Here are some of the top foods and supplements for fighting off infections, along with some other measures you can take to keep your immune system in peak condition.
Nutrition and Your Immune System
The immune system is a complex one. It includes many different cells and structures within your body and involves most of your organs in one way or another. To keep this finely tuned engine running, it's crucial to consume a varied and balanced diet that includes a range of different nutrients. You can certainly help immune system nutrition with supplements, but they won't be as effective if your overall diet is lacking.
Immune System Boosting Foods
Fresh fruits and vegetables: Have you ever heard the expression "eat the rainbow"? There's a lot of truth to the idea that you should pile your plate with fruits and vegetables in different colors. Those appetizing shades don't just make your meals more appealing. They also mean that your food contains a good spectrum of various antioxidants and other vitamins. Leafy greens, citrus fruits, and healthy root vegetables like carrots and beets will help your body handle infections more effectively.
Bone broth: There's a lot of buzz around bone broth these days. It contains a lot of valuable nutrients, including plenty of healthy minerals. Bone broth also has a lot of collagen -- something that's important for many of your body's systems, including immune function.
Protein: Getting adequate amounts of lean protein from organic, free range meats or healthy beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds ensures your immune system has the building blocks needed for healthy and optimal immune function. Immune cells, antibodies and other immune factors are composed of proteins and making sure your diet has enough allows you immune system to fend off external insults like bacteria and viruses.
Chicken soup: This ever-popular home remedy is excellent for a range of illnesses. It's very nourishing, making it a great choice if you've lost your appetite. Studies have shown that traditionally made chicken soup does seem to have antibiotic and antiviral properties, helping to put you on the road to recovery.
Herbal teas: Several herbal teas can help with various infections. If you have a sore throat, for example, sage tea can help. It's a natural antiseptic, helping to kill the bacteria living in your throat. Ginger tea is also good for coughs and colds, as it's a natural anti-inflammatory.
Best Vitamins for Immune System Health
Vitamin C and zinc: These two are famous for their immune-boosting power. While you can certainly have too much of a good thing (it's not a great idea to consume massive quantities of zinc), it does seem like high doses of vitamin C, and more modest amounts of zinc can shorten the duration of colds and flu. You can take them separately or as a combination supplement.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants help your body to "mop up" free radicals -- toxic compounds that can impair your immune response. You can get them from fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as in supplement form.
Vitamin D: Deficiencies in this vitamin are ubiquitous, especially in people who don't get enough sun. A lack of vitamin D is associated with an elevated risk of all kinds of illnesses, including serious infections. It's also important for bone health and mood stability. Supplements can help you access vitamin D's immune system-boosting powers.
Natural Immune System Boosters
As well as eating a healthy, varied diet that includes a few quality supplements, there are plenty of other things you should do to keep your immune system functioning at its best.
Sleep: Quality sleep is vital for proper health, and many of us don't get enough. Sleep deprivation, especially over the long term, can wreak havoc with your immune health. Aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. It's a good idea to turn off your electronic devices at least a couple of hours before bed, as staring at a brightly lit screen right before you lie down can make it harder to sleep.
Exercise: You don't have to spend hours at the gym to benefit from the immune-boosting effects of exercise. Regular moderate exercise improves immune function, as well as supporting your health in many other ways. Even a daily walk of half an hour can make a big difference to your ability to resist infection and protects your heart and lungs too.
Smoking cessation: Smoking is particularly bad for your heart and lungs, and it can harm your immune system, too. If you smoke, you're more vulnerable to infections generally. Infections of the lungs and sinuses are prevalent in smokers and can be harder to treat. If you decide to wean yourself off cigarettes with nicotine patches or gum, you'll need to quit these too. Nicotine itself inhibits the immune response and can impair healing.
Cutting down alcohol: Over-consumption of alcohol can severely impact your immune system, making you more prone to develop infections and making it harder to fight them off. Skip the hot toddies in favor of immune-supporting herbal infusions, such as ginger and honey.
While foods, drinks, and supplements can help strengthen your immune system, they need to be incorporated as part of a holistic approach to immune health. If you want the full benefit from the vitamins and other supplements you take, make sure you're looking after your health in different ways.