‘Tis the season for sniffles, sneezes and sore throats! We can’t do much about the toxins, bacteria and viruses that we’re exposed to– but we can strengthen and support our immune systems which will help prevent these invaders from doing harm in the first place. Here are 20 ways to boost your immune system naturally to help keep you healthy and feeling good year-round!

1. Garlic. Garlic is one of nature’s most powerful immune boosters. It is a natural antimicrobial and unlike most antibiotics, garlic does not destroy the body’s normal flora. To unlock the healing powers of garlic, it must sit for 10 minutes after cutting. A sulfur-based compound called alliin and an enzyme called alliinase are separated in garlic’s cell structure when it is whole. Chopping garlic ruptures the cells and releases these elements, allowing them to come in contact and form a powerful new compound called alliicin which is also responsible for the garlic’s “bite” (more bite = more healing benefits). A favorite winter remedy and immunity enhancer containing garlic is Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar’s fire cider. You can also try combining garlic with lemon, raw honey, ginger and cayenne for a healing and soothing immune boosting tea.

2. Catch some Zzz’s. Getting enough sleep keeps our immune systems primed and ready to fight off invaders. It is also the crucial time when our bodies restore and repair themselves. Shoot for 8 hours of good quality sleep a night and try taking a 20-minute catnap if you are falling short. Here are some great tips to help ensure a good night’s rest.

3. Emotional Well-Being/Stress Management. Depression, negative states of mind, grief and stress produce corticosteroids which depress immune function. By doing breathing exercises, meditating, practicing yoga or simply doing things you enjoy, you can help boost immunity, relieve tension and enhance physical and mental resilience. These meditation exercises calm the mind and have been proven to significantly strengthen immunity.

4. You Are What You Eat. Eating refined sugars and processed, packaged foods regularly makes it tough for your body to maintain a strong immune system. These foods lack essential vitamins and nutrients and make your body work overtime to process and digest foods that the human body wasn’t designed to eat. Try incorporating more whole foods (foods as close to their natural state as possible) into your diet– especially fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.

5. Go Green. Speaking of raw vegetables, dark leafy greens are loaded with phytonutrients. A recent study has also shown that green veggies are the source of a chemical signal that’s important for a fully functioning immune system. These chemical signals ensure that immune cells in the digestive tract and skin function properly. For a delicious way to drink your greens and get your morning off to a good start, check out Kimberly Snyder’s Glowing Green Smoothie recipe. Sometimes I also add liquid chlorophyll drops to my water bottle throughout the day. Truly a wonder food, chlorophyll rebuilds and replenishes red blood cells, is highly alkaline, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.

6. Elderberries. This immune boosting botanical is packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Elderberry syrup has a long history of use in traditional European medicine and is so highly regarded that it has been called the “medicine chest of country people.”  This proven remedy is known to shorten the duration of colds to 3-4 days and is also effective against 10 different strains of the flu. Elderberry preparations are traditionally taken early enough to head off a massive viral invasion from the get-go. We recently started making our own elderberry syrup which is easy to prepare and saves a lot of money.

7. H20. Drinking plenty of pure filtered water helps flush out any harmful toxins that your immune system would otherwise have to deal with. Remember, not all water is the same. Tap water is acidic and laden with chemicals. Bottled water is unfortunately not much better.  The EWG found that most bottled water is just tap water in a plastic bottle which leeches BPA (a potent hormone disrupter that has been associated with many health problems). The best water for your health is one that filters all harmful contaminants, helps to balance pH levels and gives you the added benefit of antioxidants. Save money and reduce exposure to chemicals in your water by getting a good quality water filter. Be sure to use a reusable non-toxic bottle such as the ones made by Lifefactory.

8. Vitamin D. Research shows that vitamin D, which is made when our skin is exposed to sunlight, plays a vital role in activating white blood cells that protect the body from illnesses. The best way to optimize Vitamin D levels is through safe, smart and limited sunscreen-free exposure to the sun. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of vitamin D. Mycologist Paul Stamets discovered that you can naturally multiply their levels of vitamin D by exposing them to sunlight. Vitamin D-enriched mushrooms are best made from June until September and can be dried as the high vitamin D levels generated will last for more than a year! This is especially beneficial for people living in colder climates.

9. Get moving. Too little exercise can lead to a stagnant lymphatic system and weaken the immune system. Studies have shown that remaining active through regular exercising can help boost your immune system by increasing the amount of white blood cells in your body to help fight off any forms of illness. It is important to note that too much exercise or too vigorous exercise produces corticosteroids which can strain your body and depress immune function. Moderate exercise such as Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga, swimming and walking are good options for boosting immunity. My personal favorite is breathwalking.

10. Vitamin C. This master immune booster helps immune cells mature, has an antihistamine effect, controls excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can suppress immunity and is antibacterial and antiviral. It works by increasing the production of antibodies and in particular, raises levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Because your body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, it is important to include it in your diet. Papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, brussels sprouts, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe and kale are all rich in vitamin C.

11. Zinc.  This trace element is essential for cells of the immune system. A zinc deficiency affects the ability of T cells and other immune cells to function as they should. Nuts and seeds are a good vegetarian source of zinc. While it’s important to have sufficient zinc in your diet, too much can actually inhibit the function of the immune system.

12. Healthy Fats.  Essential Fatty Acid’s (EFAs) are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesize, and must be obtained through diet. They boost the immune system and have also been shown to lessen inflammation and increase the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. Plant based foods rich in EFA’s include spinach, winter squash, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, nuts and seeds. Another way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to add chia seed oil or flax seed oil to a smoothie. The Total EFA by Health From the Sun is a great vegetarian supplement available for adults and kids.

13. Balanced pH. An alkaline body can prevent disease and is much healthier, as illnesses and infections mainly occur in an acidic body. Excesses of meat, dairy and refined sugars make your body more acidic (I could dedicate an entire post on the benefits of ditching meat and dairy altogether but I’ll save that one for another time). There is a lot of information on this subject. Learn more about naturally improving your pH balance here.

14. Coconuts and Coconut Oil. Breast milk aside, “Co-co” is my toddler’s favorite beverage. Interestingly enough, coconut water contains high amounts lauric acid, which is one of the compounds in breast milk that aids the body in fighting infection. This medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) actually disrupts the lipid membranes of offending organisms. Coconut helps balance the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in your digestive tract, is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial which are both beneficial in fighting infections, warding off disease, and boosting your immune system. When selecting coconuts and coconut oil, make sure you choose organic ones that are unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and are non-GMO.

14. Only eat what you need. Restricting calories may reduce levels of compounds in the body that depress your immune response. Overweight adults who reduced their daily caloric intake by nearly a third boosted their immune response by 50% according to a Tufts study published in the Journal of Gerontology. Those who cut calories by ten percent had smaller improvements. The finding is intriguing because if restricting calories boosts immunity, it may be an indication that the aging process is slowed down in people who carefully control their diets. A weakened immune response is a well-known sign of aging with T-cells becoming less effective as we grow older.

15. Fermented Foods. If you are serious about boosting your immunity, then adding traditionally fermented foods is essential. One of the most healthful fermented foods is kefir. Kefir is an ancient cultured, enzyme-rich food full of friendly microorganisms that balance your “inner ecosystem” and strengthen immunity. Besides kefir, other good fermented foods include natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, Greek yogurt, and olives.

16. Propolis. This bee resin is one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world, if not the broadest spectrum, according to master herbalist Donnie Yance. Propolis is also the richest source of caffeic acid and apigenin, two very important phenolic compounds that aid in immune response. Please note if you have an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to bee stings or bee products (including honey), you could react to propolis in the same way.

17. Essential Oils. These combinations of healing essential oils covers a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity and contain properties that strengthen the immune system. Due to their effectiveness against highly infectious germs, including viruses and bacteria, they are one of nature’s most powerful natural home remedies. dōTERRA’s On Guard essential oil blend contains wild orange essential oil, combined with clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary while Young Living’s Thieves essential oil blend also contains five different therapeutic grade essential oils, including lemon, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary.

18. Turmeric. This general immune system booster has a high antioxidant capacity, is an anticancer agent, aids in digestion and controls inflammation. It acts like a vacuum cleaner for your system, vacuuming up free-radical debris that can cause disease. Turmeric is 5 to 8 times stronger than vitamins C and E, and even strong enough to scavenge the hydroxyl radical, which is considered by some to be the most reactive of all oxidants. To derive turmeric’s full anti-inflammatory benefits, you should use it with a pinch of black pepper. Our family cooks with turmeric on a regular basis. One of our favorite dishes is Kitchari, a traditional one pot Ayurvedic dish that’s known for its ability to gently detox the body and balance all three doshas. There are different variations of this recipe. My husband has come up with his own recipe over the years which I have posted here.

19. Tea Time! Studies suggest that people produce three times more interferons, powerful proteins that attack and destroy viral invaders on contact, if they sip 20 ounces of black tea daily. Credit goes to unique tea antioxidants called alkylamine antigens. These compounds have been shown to rev up interferon production in as little as two weeks. Matcha is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground powder, completely unfermented. It has up to seventeen times the antioxidants of wild blueberries, and seven times more than dark chocolate. Tulsi tea, coming from the holy basil herb, has been used for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic medicine to support immune health, memory, heart health and vision. Be sure to bob your tea bag up and down for 15 seconds while you brew. According to UCLA researchers, jiggled tea bags release up to twice as many antioxidants as bags that are left to steep untouched.

20. Wash your hands. While washing your hands may not affect your immune system directly, it helps prevent infection and illnesses by reducing the amount of germs and bacteria your immune system has to fight. Keep nails short and wash hands frequently with good, old-fashioned hot water and chemical-free soap, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before handling food. Ditch antibacterial soaps and sanitizers that are loaded with toxins which increase the risk of creating resistant bacteria and over-dry and crack the skin, making transmission of viruses that much easier. A few cloths sprinkled with drops of essential oils with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties such as lavender, cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, thyme and rosemary are good when on-the-go. Clean Well also makes a line of non-toxic products.

What do you do to naturally boost your body’s immune system? Please share by leaving a comment below!

The information about the use of herbs and essential oils contained in this site is not meant to be a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before administering or taking herbal remedies, especially during pregnancy, when breastfeeding, or with children. To locate an experienced herbalist in your area, contact the American Herbalists Guild. To locate a licensed naturopath in your area, contact the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Photo by Earth Quarterly.