13 Ways To Boost Your Immune System

How to naturally boost your immune system before you get sick.

It’s that time of year again. Coughs, sneezes, and runny noses seem to be everywhere you go. And if you’re like most people, the thought of getting sick makes you shudder. While you can’t necessarily control whether or not you catch a cold or flu, there are ways to boost your immune system so that you’re less likely to get sick in the first place.

While you may be tempted to load up on over-the-counter medications, there are also many ways to boost your immune system naturally. In fact, many of these methods are just as effective – if not more so – than medication. So why not give them a try?

If you have diabetes, you are more susceptible to developing infections. High blood sugar levels can weaken your immune system, so it’s especially important for people with diabetes to boost their natural immunity.

Below are thirteen ways to boost your immune system so you can stay healthy all year long.

1. Get Enough Sleep

Blonde woman asleep in bed with white linens.Sleep is essential for good health. When you sleep, your body releases proteins that can help fight off infections. You are most likely to catch a cold or the flu when you are under stress or do not get enough rest. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

When you don’t get enough sleep, inflammation in your body increases, and your natural immunity decreases. Studies have found that people who don’t get enough sleep or get poor sleep (sleep disorders, frequent waking, etc.) are more susceptible to viral illnesses such as a cold or flu.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps your overall health and boosts your immune system.

If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, check out these science-backed tips for better sleep.

2. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is important for your immune system because it helps flush toxins and boost metabolism.

Dehydration weakens your immune system’s response. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day–especially when you feel like you’re coming down with something.

Make sure you’re drinking enough water. The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink about 13 cups (104 oz.) and women drink about 9 cups (72 oz.) of water per day. However, if you exercise or sweat during the day, you may need more than this recommendation.

Water is the best option for hydration because it does not contain sugar and empty calories.

One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is a headache. Many people mistake thirst for hunger, so drink a glass of water before eating anything and see if that helps you feel better! If not, try eating some fruits and vegetables which contain plenty of natural electrolytes.

3. Eat a Colorful, Well Balanced Diet

Rustic table with healthy whole foods laid out showing a well balanced diet.Your immune system needs a wide range of vitamins and minerals to work effectively.

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help fight free radicals in the body that may otherwise damage cells. Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables helps give your immune system the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Make sure you are getting enough vitamins E, C, B6, A, zinc, magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium. By eating a diet with a wide range of vegetables and whole foods, you’ll likely meet all of your vitamin and mineral needs.

Eating fiber also boosts immunity because it speeds food through the digestive tract quickly, so harmful bacteria have less time to multiply before they’re carried out of the body via bowel movements.

Be sure to discuss supplements with your doctor before adding supplements to your diet. This is especially important if you are on any medications, as some supplements can interact with medications and have side effects. Full disclaimer here.

4. Limit Added Sugars

Sugar is refined carbohydrates that the body rapidly absorbs.

When you have an infection, your white blood cells use stored sugar to generate more energy to fight the infection. If the body has too much sugar, this process will be less effective because there will be less sugars for white blood cells to use.

Stick to whole foods when choosing what to eat – rather than processed foods like candy and cookies, which are high in sugar and low in nutrients.

You should also limit or avoid simple carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, processed cereals, etc.). Simple carbs are absorbed quickly by the body and lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. If you regularly consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates, your immunity can weaken due to consistent decreases in white blood cell function.

5. Get Regular Exercise

Older black man working out with weights for regular exercise.Regular exercise has been shown to boost your immune system and fight off colds and flu.

Exercising regularly increases the proteins in the body that promote cell growth, resulting in an increased production of white blood cells. As your muscles work during physical activity, they produce compounds called cytokines. Cytokines help protect you from infection by binding to immune cells and transporting them throughout the body.

The lymphatic system is also stimulated by physical activity, resulting in an improved ability for immune cells to find infections. Exercise can be especially effective when recovering from a sickness because it speeds up metabolism – feeding more oxygen into the bloodstream while removing toxic waste products that lead to compromised immunity.

Although there are some myths that cold weather can make you sick, the truth is that being physically active outside in sub-zero temperatures can actually protect you from illness.

6. Alcohol in Moderation

While a small amount of daily alcohol may help boost immunity, excessive drinking can have the opposite effect.

Alcohol decreases your body’s ability to fight off infection because it impairs judgment, causing you to make poor food choices and increasing the likelihood that you will become dehydrated if exercising heavily.

Excessive alcohol use also weakens the immune system by decreasing white blood cells for extended periods. So if you feel yourself getting sick, it may be best to hold off on having a few drinks.

In addition, if your liver is overworked from processing too much alcohol, it cannot process medications as well – preventing them from being effective. Consuming more than three drinks a day is linked to a weakened immune response.

7. Try To Minimize Stress

Stress plays a significant role in immune system function.

Long-term stress can cause you to have a weakened immune response. Stress decreases the availability of neurotransmitters necessary for cell growth, reproduction, and protection. Short-term stress is beneficial because it promotes alertness and increases energy expenditure. Long-term stress has been shown to decrease levels of antibodies which make you vulnerable to infection.

Lonely people are also more likely to get sick than those with stronger social support systems because loneliness causes the brain to increase the production of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” This may reduce inflammation in blood vessels but will also lower immunity by decreasing the activity of white blood cells that protect against illness.

Getting adequate sleep every night is important because it helps restore your immune system’s functions after a stressful day.

Make time for hobbies and exercise that can help you relax. Relaxing activities like meditation, deep breathing, lymph massage, and yoga have been shown to promote relaxation processes. These activities calm the nervous system and increase immunity. Be sure to schedule time for yourself to do things that you enjoy. It’s also ok to say no. Don’t overcommit yourself to the point where your quality of life suffers.

8. Limit Your Caffeine Intake

Two glasses of green tea on a rustic table.While small amounts of caffeine may not cause any problems for your health, consuming more than 500 milligrams at once may hurt your ability to fight infection.

Caffeine causes you to release cortisol in response to elevated blood sugar levels from drinking caffeinated beverages – an unnecessary stressor when already suffering from decreased white blood cell activity caused by a cold or flu virus.

Caffeine also decreases blood flow to your organs, including your immune system. Constricting blood vessels makes it more difficult for white blood cells to travel through the body successfully – causing them to get caught in traffic jams.

Stick with Green Tea Instead

Green tea contains an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been shown to stimulate activity in natural killer cells which are the first line of defense against invading viruses and bacteria.

9. Keep Current With Recommended Vaccines

Your doctor will be able to advise you on which vaccines you should receive and keep current. The CDC also recommends certain vaccinations for people with diabetes.

Having up-to-date vaccinations is an effective way to prevent serious illnesses and decreases susceptibility to colds and flu.

The flu vaccine helps protect you from getting the flu because it contains killed viruses that train your immune system for infection by similar viruses – strengthening and preparing your immune system to fight off those viruses in the future.

10. Increase Omega-3 Consumption

Foods rich in Omega-3 laid out on a wood table.Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the health of your immune system. They reduce inflammation, improve circulation to your organs and support proper cell development.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA.

EPA is in cold-water fish like salmon, trout, sardines, and tuna. DHA is abundant in fish oil supplements and sea vegetables like seaweed. ALA is found in flaxseed oil – 1 tablespoon contains 7200 mg of ALA.

Increase your consumption of foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids to collaborate with white blood cells to increase their ability to fight off infection by invading microorganisms. Aim to consume at least two servings of fish or two tablespoons of flaxseed oil every week to obtain enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

11. Eat Fermented Foods

Your body’s microbiome – a collection of microorganisms living in your intestinal tract – consists of both “good” and “bad” bacteria, which help train your immune system to recognize friendly bacteria while attacking foreign invaders.

Probiotics, or foods that contain these beneficial bacteria, can be found in fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi and other fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir cheese.

While it may not be possible to eat fermented foods every day, increasing the number of servings you consume each week can improve overall immunity. This happens because probiotics create a barrier to prevent harmful bacteria from invading the small intestine, where they could cause severe health problems.

12. Take Care of Yourself

Woman washing her hands with soap.Following good personal hygiene is your first line of defense in preventing illness and infection. 

Stop illness before it begins by adopting these simple habits:

  • Get regular check-ups by your primary care physician.
  • If you are sick, stay home until you are better.
  • Wear gloves when you do the dishes or take out the garbage.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after you cough or sneeze, after using the bathroom, before touching foods, and anytime they feel dirty.
  • Try not to share towels, toothbrushes, pillows, makeup, clothes or headphones.
  • Keep your nails clean and short because bacteria can grow under long nails.
  • When you are around someone ill, wash your hands when you get back home. If others in the house are sick too, it’s good to wipe down commonly touched surfaces, including doorknobs and light switches with disinfecting wipes.

13. Beware of Overdoing Supplements

While vitamin supplements can be beneficial if you are deficient, taking large amounts of vitamins may actually make it harder for your body to fight infection.

If you walk into any drug store or health food store, you’ll likely see a large area dedicated to vitamins and supplements specifically marketed to boost immunity. Be careful of overdoing supplements and be especially wary of “megadosing” on any vitamin, mineral, or supplement.

The below vitamins and supplements have been shown to strengthen your body’s immune response. However, if you’re already getting the recommended daily amount of these vitamins through your diet, you likely do not need to supplement.

Please consult your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet. This is especially important if you are on any medications, as some supplements can interact with medications and cause side effects.

Ginseng – Ginseng has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years to boost immunity and improve energy levels.

The Bottom Line

While you may not be able to avoid catching a cold, flu, or other viruses, there are natural ways you can boost your immune system to help your body fight off illnesses. This is especially important if you have diabetes, as people with diabetes are more susceptible to developing infections.

You can make lifestyle and dietary changes that will strengthen your immune system. These include staying hydrated, eating a well-balanced diet, reducing sugar, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, practicing good hygiene, and managing stress levels.

If your healthcare provider has found you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals, you may also benefit from supplements to help boost immunity.