The human race is continually exposed to organisms that gain entry into the body system through various means such as inhalation, ingestion, and or inhabiting skin and mucous membranes. The pathogenicity of the organism depends on the integrity of the body’s defense mechanism.
The body usually functions when the immune system is active (normal). Still, we are at a higher risk of developing infections when the immune system falls or rises above normal i.e., under- or over-active immune system.
You might already be thinking of ways to boost your immune system, and you should understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. The use of immune-boosting antimicrobial, antiviral herbs, accompanied by lifestyle changes, has been found to elicit a positive immune response. The immune system is designed to combat germs and protect the body against harmful invasions.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system primarily refers to a collaborative network of organs, white blood cells, and proteins that protect the body against invasion of foreign entities, viruses, bacteria and or any foreign substances.
A unique function of the immune system is that it works to neutralize and nullifies pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi that gain access to the body. It recognizes and neutralizes harmful substances from the environment, and combat against the body’s cell that becomes mutated and poses a threat to the overall body system.
In the background, the immune system works to protect us day in and out. Illness /disease ensue due to a compromise in the performance of the immune system. Studies have revealed that under-activity of the immune system can result in severe infections, tumors of immunodeficiency. Overactivity tends to result in allergic and autoimmune diseases.
For effective operation of the body’s natural defenses, the immune system must be able to identify ‘’self’’ and ‘’non-self’’ cells, organisms, and substances. Let’s check out the differences:
- ‘’Non-self” substances are referred to as antigen, and this includes proteins on the surface of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Cells of the immune system detect these antigens and act accordingly to defend the body
- ‘’Self’’ substances refer to proteins on the surface of our cells. Ordinarily, these cells proteins are identified by the immune system as ‘’self’’, but in a case where its own body is defined as ‘’non-self’’, and combats it, this process is referred to as autoimmune reaction.
It is interesting to note that the immune system continually adapts and learns to improve the body’s response to fight against bacteria or viruses that change over time. The immune system is made up of two parts, namely:
- Innate immune system functions as a general defense against pathogens.
- The adaptive immune system focuses specific pathogens that the body has previously been exposed to.
Both immune systems function to complement each other in eliciting a reaction against pathogens or harmful substances
Immune System Diseases
In exploring ways to boost your immune system, it is essential to understand that a more significant percentage of immune disorders ensue from either autoimmune attack or an excessive immune response. Diseases of the system include:
- Allergies and Asthma: allergies refer to immune-mediated inflammatory response, elicited against environment substances that is in itself harmless, called allergens. An immune reaction and allergy symptom results from an overreaction of the body to allergens, and this can cause one or more allergy based diseases such as Asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and food allergies.
- Immune Deficiency Diseases: when a part or more of the immune system is missing, causing it to react slowly to threat, it is called immune deficiency diseases. Some life-threatening conditions such as HIV/AIDS and drug-induced immune deficiency occurs due to severe impairment of the immune system.
- Autoimmune Diseases: attack on the body’s cells and tissues in response to an unknown trigger, are caused by autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel diseases, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes are examples of autoimmune diseases.
Immune System Boosters
The following are essential to note when exploring ways to boost your immune system; herbs, foods, supplements, essential oils and lifestyle factors.
Several of Echinacea’s chemical constituents provide significant therapeutic value, as they are powerful immune system stimulants. Studies have shown that Echinacea has the most significant effect on recurring infections.
Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012), revealed a maximal effect of Echinacea on recurrent infections, and an increase preventive effects on the common cold.
A study conducted at the University Of Wisconsin Medical School (2003), revealed significant immunomodulatory activities of Echinacea. Regarding several human experiments, several blind randomized trials, it is deduced that Echinacea has numerous benefits, which include immunostimulation and potent activity in the treatment of acute upper respiratory infection.
For thousands of years, berries and flowers of the elder plant have been used as medicine. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” in his practice, identified this plant significant to ways to boost your immune system. He employed elderberry in his practice, due to its extensive health benefits, and also its ability to combat cold. Flu, allergies, and inflammation.
Elderberry has been considered effective by several studies in boosting immunity, due to its significant effects on symptoms of common cold and flu.
A study published in Journal of International Medical Research revealed the effect of elderberry, within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, and relief of symptoms on an average of four days earlier, reducing the duration of the flu. It is gathered that there is less use of rescue medication in those on elderberry extract compared to placebo.
- Astragalus Root
Astralagus is a plant herb belonging to the legumes family, found to be effective in immune system boosting and disease-fighting. For thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, its root has been used as an adaptogen. There exist some preclinical trials that show intriguing immune activity, but astragalus forms part of the less studied immune-boosting herbs.
A recent publication in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine revealed a significant improvement of the toxicity induced by drugs such as immunosuppressants and cancer chemotherapeutics from astragalus-based therapy.
Researchers have also opined a beneficial effect of astragalus extract on the immune system, and its ability to guard the body against gastrointestinal inflammation and cancers.
Ginseng is the root of plants in the genus Panax, found to be effective in boosting the immune system and combating infections. Also, to maintain immune homeostasis and enhance resistance to illness or disease, the roots, stems, and leaves of ginseng has been found useful.
Ginseng, by regulating each type of immune cell, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells and B cells, enhances the performance of the immune system. It has also proven to elicit a defense mechanism effect against bacterial and viral infections, through the antimicrobial compounds present in it.
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine suggests, oral administration of ginseng extracts to be effective in inducing antigen-specific antibody responses. To keep the normal cells of the body harmless or destroyed, antibodies get binds to antigens, such as toxins and viruses.
The role of ginseng in antibody production has proven to help the body develop a defense against invading microorganism or pathogenic antigens.
- Bone Broth
Promoting the health of the gut and reducing inflammation caused by leaky gut syndrome, is vital in the function of bone broth in supporting the immune system. Sealing openings and promoting the integrity of the gut is facilitated by the collagen and amino acids (proline, glutamine, and arginine) found in the bone broth.
A healthy gut plays a significant role in maintaining immune function, and consumption of bone broth is significant in immune system boosting.
Ayurvedic medicine, over time, has regarded ginger’s consumption as part of ways to boost the immune system. Due to its warming effects, ginger is believed to helps break down toxin’s accumulation within our organs. Lymphatic system, the network of tissues and organs that help detox the body, and get rid of waste and unwanted materials, can be cleansed using ginger.
The immunonutrition and anti-inflammatory responses of the ginger root and ginger essential oil can be helpful in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Also, its antimicrobial potential helps in treating infectious diseases.
Ginger also has exerted a therapeutic against inflammatory disorders caused by infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, as well as physical and chemical agents like heat, acid, and cigarette smoke.
- Green tea
Green tea has been proven to possess antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties. It also has an antifungal and antiviral effect, hence its significance in immunocompromised patients.
The antioxidants and amino acids present in green tea help to combat germs and get well, so drinking a good-quality green tea are recommended daily to strengthen your immune system.
- Vitamin C Foods
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Vitamin C foods such as citrus fruits and red bell peppers helps to improve the health of your immune system.
Studies have shown that including a substantial amount of Vitamin C (along with zinc) in a normal diet tends to reduce symptoms associated with respiratory infections and minimize the complexity of illnesses like common cold, bronchitis.
Examples of Vitamin C foods that can be included, to maintain a robust immune system;
- Citrus fruits, including orange, lemon, and grapefruit
- Black currant
- Green and red bell pepper
- Beta-Carotene Foods
The antioxidant activity of beta-carotene allows it to exert an anti-inflammatory effect and fight oxidative stress. Researchers opined that taking beta-carotene diets and foods rich in carotenoids can be more helpful in promoting health than taking beta-carotene supplements.
Examples of foods rich in beta-carotene include yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens.
The following foods in the diet can help promote a robust immune system;
- Carrot juice
- Sweet potato
- Red bell peppers
- Collard greens
Consumption of probiotic foods and supplements is essential to counter food sensitivities, autoimmune diseases, and immune imbalance or weakened immune systems caused by leaky gut.
Probiotic, as a bacteria help to digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of the colon thereby creating a support system for body immunity
A study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggests that different cytokine responses may be induced by probiotic organisms. Immune-mediated diseases in infants can be prevented by improving the gut mucosal immune system and increasing the number of immunoglobulin cells and cytokine-producing cells within the intestines, with probiotics supplements.
- Vitamin D
Regulation of the innate and adaptive immune responses can be achieved with Vitamin D. As increased autoimmunity, as well as increased susceptibility to infection, is associated with Vitamin D deficiency.
Reports from a study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital with 19, 00 participants revealed that individuals with a lower level of Vitamin D were more likely to exhibit upper respiratory infection than those with optimal levels, with consideration on variables such as season, age, gender, body mass, and race.
Zinc supplements can be gotten over-the-counter, to combat against cold and other illnesses. It is believed to be effective in reducing cold-related symptoms and affects the course of a common cold.
A research evaluation supports that zinc has an interference effect on the molecular process that leads to bacteria build-up within the nasal passages.
Myrrh is a resin, or sap-like substance, which is one of the most widely used essential oils in the world. From time past, myrrh is effective in treating hay fever, clean and heal wounds, and stop bleeding. Its antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties help to strengthen the immune system.
Validation of myrrh’s antimicrobial efficacy when used in combination with frankincense oil against a selection of pathogens, was enhanced with a study conducted in 2012. Its anti-infective properties can help boo. Its anti-infective properties can help boost your immune system.
Oregano essential oil has healing and immune-boosting properties. Its natural antifungal, antibacterial antiviral, and anti-parasitic properties help to combats against infections.
A 2016 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found carvacrol and thymol as the active ingredients in oregano responsible for its antimicrobial activity.
Oregano oil has been found to exhibit antibacterial activity against many bacterial isolates and species, including B. laterosporus and S. saprophyticus.
To strengthen your immune system, it is important to incorporate a quality lifestyle of physical activity into your daily and weekly regimen.
A 2018 human study published in Aging Cell revealed that immunosenescence (gradual deterioration of the immune system) could be improved with adequate physical activity and exercise in older adults aged 55-79, as against those in the same age group who were physically less active.
The study also reveals that physical activity solely cannot prevent all the incidence of immunosenescence. However, decreased physical activity in relation to age can influence a decline in an individual’s immune system function.
- Reduce stress
Exacerbation of pathological immune responses and suppression of protective immune responses can significantly be influenced by chronic stress.
To achieve an optimal level of health and healing, it is essential to minimize stress levels. Its importance can’t be overemphasized, even though this may seem difficult in today’s world, as many are concerned about becoming ill.
- Improve sleep
Decreased sleeping time declines the proper function of your immune system. It is observed that sleep-deprived adults, especially those who have less sleeping time, are more vulnerable to developing cold than adults who has more sleeping time.
It is recommended that getting at least seven hours of sleep every night reduces the risk of common cold and flu.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption
To promote the health of the immune system and the ability to fight infection, it is essential to reduce the consumption of excess alcohol, as it dramatically impairs immune function.
A negative impact of alcohol on gut health decreases immune function, thereby increasing susceptibility to harmful pathogens. Hence, the need to reduce excessive alcohol consumption.
- Take Protective Measures
It is essential to protect oneself against germs and bugs within the environment, by observing the following measures;
- Washing of hand frequently, for at least 20 seconds
- Minimize touching your face
- Coughing and sneezing into your elbow
- Staying home when sick
- The prompt seeking of medical attention and treatment
Risk and side effects
It is advised to proceed with caution when seeking ways to boost your immune system. In a case whereby you are taking any of these immune-boosting herbs, supplements, and essential oils, it is essential to note that these products are extremely potent and its use should be considered for a short period, not more than two weeks at a given course, as it is important to observe a break in between doses.
Proper caution must be taken before taking essential oils in pregnancy; you are advised to consult your health care provider prior to its use.
Natural remedies such as supplements are best taken under the guidance of your physician or a nutritionist
- The immune system primarily refers to an interactive network of organs, white blood cells, and proteins that protect the body against invasion of viruses, bacteria and or any foreign substances.
- Unnoticeably, the immune system works to protect us day in and out. Illness /disease ensue due to a compromise in the performance of the immune system.
- The use of immune-boosting antimicrobial, antiviral herbs, accompanied by lifestyle changes, has been found to elicit a positive immune response.