Desperately trying to ward off a cold? Up your chances of staying healthy by learning how to boost your immune system naturally.
- Written by Genevieve Howland
- Updated on September 11, 2019
Maybe your toddler just got another cold and you’re trying to keep it from spreading to the rest of your family. Or, maybe you’re coming down with a cold yourself and you want to support your immune system. Or, perhaps you just feel like your body could use a little extra TLC during flu and cold season! If you’re wondering how to boost your immune system, read on.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Factors that contribute to a weakened immune system
- How to boost your immune system naturally
- Plus. the best foods and vitamins to support your immune system
What Causes a Weakened Immune System?
If you’re wondering how to boost your immune system, the first step is to learn what causes a weakened immune system in the first place. This is especially important, because once you pinpoint the underlying cause, you can make necessarily lifestyle changes.
Below are the most common causes of a weakened immune system:
- Lack of sleep: When you don’t receive enough sleep, your body goes into “stress mode,” and as a result, immune function dips. (source). Need sleep tips? Check out this post.
- Not enough exercise: In addition to providing feel-good endorphins, exercise can also support immune function. (source). Too busy to workout? Check out this easy routine you can do on the go.
- Poor diet: Eating too much sugar can actually weaken your immune system. Both natural and artificial sugars can limit your body’s ability to fight off potential threats. (source) Need help kicking the sugar habit? Check out this post with 6 tips.
- Water quality and quantity: Drinking contaminated water can suppress your immune health—this is especially true in children. (source) Check out your water quality here.
- Stress: Stress affects your physical and mental health, and too much stress can take a toll on your immune system. Find easy ways to reduce stress levels here.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Low levels of vitamin D are linked to more frequent illnesses, increased autoimmune diseases, and longer duration of illnesses. (source) Sunshine is the best way to get this vitamin but if you need to supplement, be sure to use a vitamin D/vitamin K combo to keep your body’s minerals balanced.
- Pregnancy: In order to protect the baby from mama’s immune system, the body naturally weakens a pregnant mother’s immune system during pregnancy. (source) This is a great reason to keep on supporting your immune system during pregnancy!
- Autoimmune disease: This is a less common reason for a weakened immune system, but can be a contributing factor. Work with your doctor to find holistic ways to treat your autoimmune disease.
Signs of a Weak Immune System
You may need to boost your immune system if you experience any of the following:
- Chronic fatigue
- Recurrent colds/infections that are longer in duration
- Wounds that are slow to heal (even just a small cut that doesn’t heal quickly)
- Excessive allergies
- Dry itchy skin/eczema
- Chronic dry nose/eyes
- Digestive problems, including diarrhea, cramping, constipation
How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally
Not sure how to boost your immune system? There are so many great, all-natural home remedies. Read on to learn about my favorites:
Staying hydrating and drinking water helps boost your immune system by making sure your body gets enough oxygen. (source) It also helps your kidneys flush out toxins.
Experts suggest that you aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or exercising a lot need even more water. Check out this post to learn more about how much water you need to drink and the benefits you’ll get from staying adequately hydrated.
In addition to water, you can receive hydration from other sources including:
Interestingly, water doesn’t always have to be consumed to be beneficial. Studies show that talking a cold shower can increase the disease-fighting white blood cells in the body, leading to fewer sick days.
2. Eat ginger
Ginger supports the immune system, thanks its high antioxidant content. (source) You can find ginger either in powdered form in the spice aisle or in root form in the produce section. Ginger is also a key ingredient in Fire Cider.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with ginger? Try:
- Adding it to tea
- Grating it into soup
- Grating it onto fish
- Adding it to baked goods
To make a tasty tea:
- Grate 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger into a cup of boiling water
- Add 1 teaspoon of raw honey
- Add 1 slice of an organic lemon
3. Get enough vitamin D
Insufficient vitamin D intake has been linked to poor immune system function, so if you’re interested in how to boost your immune system, its important to make sure you get enough of this vitamin each day. (source)
Foods rich in vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks
You can also find vitamin D in cod liver oil.
4. Try ginseng
Like ginger, ginseng is also a root. Ginseng helps to support the immune system by supporting each the different types of cells of your immune system. (source) Supplements do exist, but it’s easy to use this root in your everyday cooking.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with ginseng? Try:
- Grating dried ginseng root into a cup of boiling water and steep as a tea
- Adding dried ginseng root into soup broth
5. Take probiotics
Fun fact: 70-80 percent of your body’s immune system resides in your gut! So it only makes sense to support healthy gut function to kickstart your immune system into gear.
6. Eat turmeric
Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it can also help support healthy immune function. (source) Turmeric is often taken as a supplement in America, but turmeric (in the form of golden milk) is actually used around the world to support healthy immune function. In fact, turmeric milk is like the “Grandma’s chicken noodle soup” of the Eastern hemisphere.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with turmeric? Read this post to find a delicious and easy golden milk latte recipe.
7. Eat garlic
Garlic is another well-known immune booster, but you don’t have to eat garlic bread all year long. There are actually many tasty was to incorporate more garlic into your diet.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with garlic? Try:
- Smashing a clove and mixing in a little raw honey
- Roasting a whole bulb: Slice off the top, drizzle with olive oil or coconut oil, then roast until soft
- Eating pesto, tzatziki, or homemade hummus
8. Take vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most popular immune boosters out there. A study from the University of Helsinki found that a dose of 6-8 grams per day help to shortened the duration and severity of the cold. (source)
However, guzzling orange juice or taking a mega dose of vitamin C in one sitting isn’t going to help much. That’s because vitamin C is water soluble, which means your body will just eliminate the excess. Most mamas find that dividing your daily dose throughout the day helps to avoid losing this vitamin through your urine.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with vitamin C?
- Skip the artificially flavored vitamin C packaged packets and find vitamin C sourced from real plants.
- Try camu camu powder—it’s the highest food-based form of vitamin C, with 50 times the vitamin C of oranges.
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods, like oranges, strawberries, kiwis, and spinach.
9. Get plenty of zinc
While zinc is likely to be included in most multivitamins or prenatal vitamins, you can still boost your immune system by choosing zinc-rich foods. Oysters are the number one source of zinc. One 3-ounce servings contains a whopping 493 percent of your daily recommended value! (source)
Other sources include:
- 3 ounces of beef chuck (47 percent DV)
- 1 ounce of cashews (11 percent DV)
- 1 serving of oatmeal (7 percent DV)
You can also find zinc in a supplement form.
10. Eat mushrooms
Perhaps you’ve seen the explosion in mushroom-related products? There’s even mushroom coffee! There’s a good reason for this. Mushrooms are really quite good for you, and they can even support a healthy immune system. That’s because mushrooms contain a compound called beta-glucans that improve your immune system by activating killer cell function. (source)
All that means is that mushrooms contain a special compound that encourage your killer cells to their job and eliminate invading cells. Pretty cool! Time to add reishi and shiitake mushrooms to your shopping list.
11. Get your beta-glucans
So you want the benefits of beta-glucans, but you’re not into mushrooms? No problem! You can find beta-glucans in plenty of foods besides mushrooms.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with beta glucans? Try:
You can also get the ultimate beta glucan supplement here.
12. Get exercise
Exercise is another wonderful way to support your immune system.
A 2017 study revealed that the body needs only 20 minutes of exercise before the immune system starts to reap the rewards.
And the even better news? There are dozens of ways to incorporate more exercise into your life.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with exercise? Try:
- Going on a family walk after dinner
- Incorporating pregnancy -safe exercises into your daily routine
- Walking your dog an extra block or two
- Doing gentle at-home exercises
13. Get plenty of rest
Because lack of sleep can compromise your immune system, it’s important to prioritize your sleep. Between the sleep struggles of pregnancy and the chaos of raising a family, getting enough sleep isn’t always easy.
- Resisting the temptation to binge-watch shows late at night
- Putting down your cell phone after dark to decrease blue light exposure
- Setting a “bedtime” reminder on your phone
- Creating your own relaxing bedtime routine with herbal tea or a lavender-essence bedtime bath
But how much sleep do you really need? According to the American Sleep Foundation, adults need at least seven to nine hours. (source)
Supercharge Your Immune System
While the above are great daily habits to boost your immune system, the following remedies aren’t intended to be used daily, because the are immune stimulants. They’re better suited for when you feel a cold coming on, or are entering cold and flu season.
What’s an immune stimulant?
Immune stimulants are substances (both chemical and natural) that stimulate, or encourage, the immune system to react.
Instead of strengthening the immune system over time, immune stimulants signal the immune system to act. So when immune stimulants—like elderberry or astragalus root—are taken regularly, they can actually overstimulate your immune system.
Though they are effective remedies, save the below for when you feel like your immune system needs an immediate boost.
1. Try elderberry
Elderberry syrup is extremely popular in naturally-minded community. Many mamas find that elderberry helps to support the immune system during times when extra support is needed, like when one member of your family is already sick.
The studies support the anecdotal stories, too. In fact, even when up against the flu, elderberry syrup shortens the duration of the illness. (source)
While you can make your own syrup, you can also find elderberry in pre-made formulas, which is perfect if you don’t have a lot of extra time.
Tip: Many elderberry recipes contain honey, so avoid giving those to babies under one year.
2. Take astragalus root
Astragalus root is the dried root of the astragalus plant. Being native to China, this root has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. And studies support this: One study found that astragalus root enhances the body’s immune response, may even help prevent viral infections.
Not sure how to boost you immune system with astragalus root? Make a tincture with the dried root or take it in capsule form.
3. Take echinacea
You’ve probably seen echinacea in garden stores. It grows as a beautiful purple flower. But this little flower packs a powerful punch, and is great if you need to kick your immune system into gear. In fact, a 2017 study showed that Echinacea purpurea was effective in helping the body fight against the flu virus.
While you could dry some echinacea flowers and make your own tea, you can save yourself the trouble and purchase a tea blend that already contains echinacea.
4. Try homeopathic remedies
If you’re starting to feel the onset of a cold, or trying to prevent yourself from catching whatever everyone else in the family already has, there are some homeopathic remedies that can help stimulate your immune system. Though the following may help, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about what’s best for you—specific remedies depend on your symptoms.
- Oscillococcinum: Though studies are limited, there is evidence that this homeopathic remedy reduces the duration of influenza, as well as symptoms like fatigue, headache, body aches, chills, and fever.
- Cold calm: This homeopathic remedy is said to relieve symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and minor sore throat.
- Other homeopathic remedies include: Aconite (influenza/cold and congestion), Arsenicum (digestive issues), Baptisia (influenza, common cold, and sore throat), Belladonna (cough, cold, and fever), Bryonia (stomach and intestinal discomfort), Eupatorium-perfoliatum (influenza, fever, cough, diarrhea), Gelsemium (influenza, colds, fever, diarrhea), Nux-vomica (digestive issues, headache), Rhus-toxicodendron (influenza, digestive issues, fever).
How About You?
Have you tried any of these remedies for boosting your immune system? Which ones work for you?