Fruits and vegetables have a lot more to offer the immune system than just their vitamins and minerals. The phytonutrients, antioxidants, fibers, oils and acids in fruits and vegetables, which are responsible for their various flavors and colors, are also responsible for their many health, healing and immune- modulating properties. These bioactive compounds are used by the body to directly combat inflammation and infections and support detoxification and immune cell function through a multitude of mechanisms, many of which have yet to be fully understood.
Oranges and Yellows
Due to their vitamin-C content, citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons have been touted as cure-alls for the cold and flu. Although vitamin C is integral to proper immune function, citrus fruits have a lot more to offer than just one vitamin. Research published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” confirms that over 8,000 flavonoids have been identified with many coming from citrus. Some of the most well-studied flavonoid compounds in citrus, such as quercetin, rutin, hesperidin, apigenin and tangeretin, have all shown some ability to target immune malfunctions such as excessive inflammation and cancer development.
Compounds in cranberry juice have been shown to be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections while also decreasing the use of antibiotics in the elderly. Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are red berries from China that have immune-regulating properties as evidenced by a 2009 study from “Journal of Medicinal Food”, which showed daily consumption of goji juice increased immune cells called lymphocytes and antibodies called immunoglobulin G when compared to a placebo. Lycopene is the most potent antioxidant in tomatoes and the same pigment molecule that gives red bell peppers and watermelon their red color . However, there are also many additional compounds in tomatoes and tomato products that can protect the DNA of immune cells from oxidative damage and therefore promote proper immune function.
Blues and Purples
Exercise benefits the skeletal system and the cardiovascular system, but strenuous exercise increases inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can put a strain on the immune system. Blueberries are full of potent antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help to counter exercise-induced stresses on the immune system by increasing anti-inflammatory compounds and natural killer cells – immune cells which help fight infections. Purple grapes are also full of similar anthocyanin antioxidants, and regular consumption of 100-percent grape juice can increase antioxidant status as well as circulating levels of immune cells called gamma delta T cells in the intestines and lungs. The importance of gamma delta T cells is just starting to be fully appreciated as experiments have shown that they act both as a first line of defense against certain pathogens and also link the innate and adaptive branches of the immune system.
Greens and Whites
Cancer is one of the ultimate immune disorders as cancerous cells need to evade multiple immune defenses and checkpoints in order to become malignant and spread. Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have beneficial effects on several types of cancer through their powerful anticarcinogenic agents such as sulforaphane, isothiocyanates and indoles. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale are rich in vitamin A, vitamins C, chlorophyll, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, which have immunostimulatory and immunoprotective effects while the sulfur-rich molecules in garlic known as allyl compounds work on numerous immune pathways by being antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anticarcinogenic.
Top 10 Immune System Boosters
When searching for how to boost your immune system, look to these 10 herbs, supplements and essential oil
6.Ayurveda medicinehas relied on ginger’s ability for how to boost your immune system before recorded history. It’s believed that ginger helps to break down the accumulation of toxins in our organs due to its warming effects. It’s also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, our network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.
Ginger root and ginger essential oil can treat a wide range of diseases with its immunonutrition and anti-inflammatory responses. Research shows that ginger has antimicrobial potential, which helps in treating infectious diseases. It’s also known for its ability to treat inflammatory disorders that are caused by infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria and parasites, as well as physical and chemical agents like heat, acid and cigarette smoke.
The ginseng plant, belonging to the Panax genus, can help you to boost your immune system and fight infections. The roots, stems and leaves of ginseng have been used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness or infection. Ginseng improves the performance of your immune system by regulating each type of immune cell, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells and B cells. It also has antimicrobial compounds that work as a defense mechanism against bacterial and viral infections. (18)
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that ginseng extract successfully induced antigenspecific antibody responses when it was administered orally. Antibodies bind to antigens, such as toxins or viruses, and keep them from contacting and harming normal cells of the body. Because of ginseng’s ability to play a role in antibody production, it helps the body to fight invading microorganisms or pathogenic antigens. (19)
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses and a vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. Research shows that vitamin D works to maintain tolerance and promote protective immunity. There have been multiple cross-sectional studies that associate lower levels of vitamin D with increased infection.
One study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital included 19,000 participants, and it showed that individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for variables such as season, age, gender, body mass and race. Sometimes addressing a nutritional deficiency is how to boost your immune system.
Myrrh is a resin, or sap-like substance, that is one of the most widely used essential oils in the world. Historically, myrrh was used to treat hay fever, clean and heal wounds and stop bleeding. Myrrh strengthens the immune system with its antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
A 2012 study validated myrrh’s enhanced antimicrobial efficacy when used in combination with frankincense oil against a selection of pathogens. Researchers concluded that h myrrh oil has anti-infective properties and can help to boost your immune system.
Oregano essential oil is known for its healing and immune-boosting properties. It fights infections naturally due to its antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-parasite compounds. A 2016 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that the main compounds in oregano that are responsible for its antimicrobial activity include carvacrol and thymol. (24)
Several scientific studies found that organeo oil exhibited antibacterial activity against a number of bacterial isolates and species, including B. laterosporus and S. saprophyticus.
In the quest for how to boost your immune system, proceed with some caution. If you are using these immune-boosting herbs and essential oils, remember that the products are extremely potent and should not be taken for more than two weeks at a time. Giving yourself a break in between long doses is important.
Also, if you are pregnant, be cautious when using essential oils and reach out to your health care provider before doing so. Any time you are using natural remedies like plant supplements, it’s a good idea to do it under the care of your doctor or nutritionist.
- The immune system is an interactive network of organs, cells and proteins that protect the body from viruses and bacteria or any foreign substances.
- When our immune system is working properly, we don’t even notice it. It’s when the performance of our immune system is compromised that we face illness.
- Plants, herbs and minerals can be used to prevent and fight infections due to their antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.
- The top 10 immune system boosters include echinacea, elderberry, colloidal silver, probiotics, astragalus root, ginger, ginseng, vitamin D, myrrh and oregano.