8 Foods and Herbs that Boost Your Immune System

Wednesday Nov 7 | BY |
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Sweet potatoes are full of beta-carotene, which help increase the production of fighting T-cells.

The immune system, which is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body, is our main method for fighting infections and cancer. Having a strong immune system gives us many advantages, including some that may surprise you.

For example, a study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications confirmed that men with strong, healthy immune systems are typically seen as more attractive by women.

Another study from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at Exerter’s University in the U.K. found that a strong immune system can help us reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s disease and elderly dementia.

A third study from Johns Hopkins found that people with HIV who for years and even decades show extremely low levels of the virus in their blood and who never experience full-blown AIDS and remain symptom free without treatment because of the strength of their immune systems.

In fact, a strong immune system can help us avoid all sorts of infections, diseases, and other health problems. Unfortunately, the common Western lifestyle can significantly hamper the health of the immune system. A lack of sleep, for instance, along with consuming too much sugar and fat, smoking, failing to get regular exercise, experiencing too much stress, not drinking enough water, and being overweight can all weaken the immune system.

If you’re interested in living with optimal health, try these tips to make sure your immune system is as strong as it can be!

Many foods can help boost your immune system because they help support the production and action of key cells.

  • Carrots & Sweet Potatoes: Most yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain beta-carotene. This nutrient helps increase the production of T-cells, which orchestrate the immune system’s response to infected or malignant cells.
  • Garlic: This spice stimulates the production of infection-fighting white cells and boosts natural killer cell activity. It also increases the efficiency of antibody production.
  • Spinach: It’s high in antioxidants, which protect the cells against environmental pollutants. Other foods high in antibiotics include berries, red beans, and artichokes.
  • Kiwi & Oranges: These are high in vitamin C, which helps protect against infection.
  • Salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids increase the activity of phagocytes, which are the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. They can also protect the body against damages from infection. Other sources include flaxseed and mackerel.
  • Oysters: These are high in zinc, which increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer.
  • Tuna: Tuna is rich in selenium, which increases natural killer cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. Other sources include lobster, shrimp, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts.
  • Reishi Mushroom: The active constituents in this mushroom are thought to include both beta-glucan polysaccharides and triterpenes. Extracts of reishi can stimulate macrophages and alter the levels of TNF and interleukins—overall enhancing the immune response.

Though we all try to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep, life sometimes gets in the way! When that happens, adding a few key herbs to our daily routine can help us keep the immune system strong and protecting us from illness.

  • Echinacea: Echinacea is widely used to fight the common cold and upper respiratory infections, as well as urinary tract infections and gum disease. Scientific studies have found that taking Echinacea when you first notice cold symptoms can help reduce symptoms. Taking Echinacea also seems to help lower the risk of recurrence of vaginal yeast infections. Overall, Echinacea has been found to stimulate the overall activity of the cells responsible for fighting infections.
  • Ginseng: A 2004 study found that subjects who took a ginseng extract had a lower incidence of acute respiratory illness than those who didn’t. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2005 found that ginseng reduced the duration of colds, as well as the symptoms.
  • Curcumin: This spice from turmeric was found in studies to nearly triple the levels of a protein called catheliciden anti-microbial peptide, which in turn, boosts the activity of the immune system.
  • Astragalus: According to the American Cancer Society, astragalus, which is a Chinese herbal medicine taken from a plant that is a type of bean, enhances the immune system and fights disease, including cancer and heart disease. In fact, in the U.S., researchers are looking at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Barberry: Though studies are still preliminary on this one, the University of Maryland Medical Center states that barberry contains the chemical berberine, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria, and may help the immune system function better. It’s used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, as well as immune-related skin conditions like psoriasis.
  • Mistletoe: Laboratory studies have suggested that mistletoe may support the immune system by increasing the number and activity of various types of white blood cells. European mistletoe showed a strong anticancer effect on certain types of cancer cells in a 2004 study.
  • Propolis: A sticky material produced by bees, propolis is rich in antioxidants and other beneficial chemicals. A scientific review published in 2007 reported that propolis increased the activity of macrophages and natural killer cells and the production of antibodies.
  • Cat’s Claw: Long used to prevent and treat disease, the inner bark of cat’s claw is used to make liquid extracts, capsules, and teas. Small studies have shown that cat’s claw stimulates part of the immune system, but more human studies are needed. It contains antioxidants and oxindole alkaloids that may enhance the immune system’s capacity to destroy pathogens.

Do you have a favorite natural immune booster?

* * *

Laine Bentley, “Study: Women Are Attracted to Men with Strong Immune Systems,” LA After Dark, March 21, 2012, http://blogs.laweekly.com/afterdark/2012/03/sex_study_male_immune_systems.php.

John Phillip, “Strong immune system found to be key defense against Alzheimer’s disease,” Natural News, August 18, 2012, http://www.naturalnews.com/036855_immune_system_Alzheimers_disease_prevention.html.

“Rare case explains why some infected with HIV remain symptom free without antiretroviral drugs,” e! Science News, August 12, 2008, http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/08/12/rare.case.explains.why.some.infected.with.hiv.remain.symptom.free.without.antiretroviral.drugs.

“Six Simple Steps to Naturally Build Your Immune System,” Squidoo, http://www.squidoo.com/build-immune-system-naturally.

“8 Foods that Boost Immunity,” Ask Dr. Sears, http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/family-nutrition/foods-boost-immunity/8-foods-boost-immunity.

“Journal of the American Geriatrics Society”; A Placebo-Controlled Trial of a Proprietary Extract of North American Ginseng To Prevent Acute Respiratory Illness In Institutionalized Older Adults; Janet E. Mcelhaney et al.; 2004.

“Canadian Medical Association Journal”; Efficacy of an Extract of North American Ginseng Containing Poly-Furonosyl-Pyranosyl-Saccharides For Preventing Upper Respiratory Tract Infections: A Randomized Controlled Trial; Gerald N. Predy et al.; October 2005.

“Turmeric boosts immune system—study,” Daily Mail, June 13, 2012, http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/turmeric-boosts-immune-system-study-1.1318158#.UFuAV3bCMYY.

“Reishi Mushroom,” Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/reishi-mushroom.

“Astragalus,” American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/astragalus.

“Barberry,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/barberry-000224.htm.

“Questions and Answers About Mistletoe,” National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/mistletoe/patient/page2.

“Journal of Ethnopharmacology”; Propolis and the Immune System: a Review; J.M. Sforcin; August 2007.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. Candice says:

    Great list. I love sweet potatoes!

    Here’s a favorite of immune-booster of mine: goji-white tea. Goji berries are packed with antioxidants. I throw a large spoonful in a cup of white tea (also anti-oxidant rich, with antimicrobial/antibacterial properties) with a teaspoon of raw honey (which contains similar properties). It tastes great, and even the kids are happy to drink it.

    On a day-to-day basis, a high raw diet, with a wide variety of vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits has proven effective in helping me skip the colds and flu that make the rounds with my family and friends.

  2. IH says:

    My immune boosting herb at the moment is oil of oregano. Thanks again for the good information that you provide

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