Immune System Booster: Drinks, Foods, Rest, and More
The immune system is your body’s defense, helping protect against infection from harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Dietary supplements containing vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other substances are popular immune system boosters. Many people use immune boosters to protect against illness and support the body’s healing process when fighting an infection.
This article explores the potential benefits of the most popular immune system boosters, including vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, echinacea, elderberry, and probiotics. It also covers the best ways to build your immune system to support your overall health.
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There are several immune boosters, and each offers benefits for strengthening your body's natural defense mechanisms. These boosters encompass a range of approaches, including vaccines, nutritious foods, supplements, and lifestyle habits. Immune boosters can support your immune system and reduce the risk of illnesses. Here is an overview of the different types of immune system boosters and their potential benefits.
Vaccines train your body’s immune system to recognize and defend against specific diseases. Many vaccines contain small, harmless pieces of disease-causing germ or a weakened form of the germ itself. When you get a vaccine, your immune system learns how to recognize and fight that particular germ, so if you are exposed to that germ in the future, you do not get sick or have protection from complications of the disease.
Vaccines help protect against many different diseases, including:
The best way to consume natural immune boosters is through a nutrient-dense diet. Certain foods have immune-boosting properties due to their rich content of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds.
Incorporating these immune-boosting foods into your diet can provide your body with the nutrients it needs to enhance immune function and strengthen your defense against illnesses:
Dietary supplements and herbal extracts provide concentrated doses of specific vitamins and minerals that may help support immune function, though they are not necessary if you're eating a balanced diet. Some popular supplements for immune support include:
When shopping for immune-boosting supplements, exercise caution if you see products that claim to be “immune-boosting” without scientific evidence to support the statement. While legitimate immune-supporting supplements are available, the market is flooded with misleading or unsubstantiated claims. Here are some guidelines to help you make informed decisions:
Certain beverages, such as green tea, herbal tea, and fresh juices, are a refreshing and flavorful way to support immune health. The following beverages can help keep you hydrated while providing nutrients to help fortify your immune defense:
Foods that contain immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and probiotics can help strengthen your immune system but cannot guarantee complete protection from getting sick. There are certain times when you may benefit from taking immune system boosters, such as:
When you’re sick, immune boosters may help relieve symptoms and support your body’s healing process. Vitamin C and zinc, for example, may help reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms and are known for their relatively quick impact.
If you have signs of low immunity or are immunocompromised due to an underlying medical condition (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, cancer), immune boosters may help enhance your immune function and strengthen your body’s ability to fight infections.
Certain signs can indicate your immune system is weak and could use a boost, including:
Healthy lifestyle choices are the best way to build and strengthen your immune system. To optimize your immune function, aim to:
Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, vitamin D, and elderberry extract are popular supplements that may shorten the duration of certain illnesses, such as the common cold or the flu. Consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance around supplements based on your needs.
Although immune boosters can be helpful, keeping your immune system strong is a continuous process, not an instant fix. Healthy lifestyle habits—including a nutrient-dense diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, and healthy body weight—are ideal for maintaining a robust immune system.
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Garbarino S, Lanteri P, Bragazzi NL, et al. Role of sleep deprivation in immune-related disease risk and outcomes. Commun Biol. 2021;4(1):1304. doi:10.1038/s42003-021-02825-4Citrus fruitsLeafy greensBerriesGarlicYogurtVitamin CVitamin D:Zinc:Elderberry extractEchinaceaGreen teaHerbal teasFresh juices or smoothiesGinger/turmeric infused waterExercise regularlyGet enough sleepMaintain a healthy weightManage stress effectivelyEat a nutrient-dense diet Quit smoking and limit alcohol