Dr. Frank Lipman
Chief Medical Officer at THE WELL
Wondering how to boost your immunity naturally? Incorporate these easy-to-enact tips to ward off invaders and fortify your health.
Over the last few years, strengthening our immune systems has become a top priority. However, as we've all settled into living with COVID-19, thanks to vaccines and treatments, many have steadily let their guards down. I'm here to remind you: This isn't a time to skimp on taking care of your immune system. And this is especially true as we enter flu season.
Due to a variety of factors — improved pandemic conditions, increased travel, relaxed masking measures, more social engagements — experts are concerned that this year's flu season could be more active than the ones we've experienced the last couple years.
That's why it's important to incorporate as many immunity-boosting behaviors as possible into your daily routine — and the sooner, the better. Your mission: to fortify your body against opportunistic invaders, making it harder for them to take hold in your system.
While that might sound like a pretty big undertaking, it doesn't have to be — as long as you know how to boost your immune system naturally like a pro. The first step? Start with a multi-pronged approach that includes health-supporting foods and immunity-boosting supplements, as well as reinforcing the behaviors and habits that can help keep you well.
Below, a round-up of 30 of my favorite easy, do-right-now tips to help kick your immunity into gear.
How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally
Think of Food as an Edible Medicine Cabinet
Food keeps us going, nourishes our bodies and has the power to be a form of holistic medicine — especially when we’re feeding the billions of beneficial bacteria that live in our gut, where roughly 70 percent of our immune system resides. There are a variety of foods that boost your immune system — and some that can do more harm than good. Read on for more.
1. Ditch sugar and processed foods — now.
Sugar is, in a word, garbage — and when viruses are making the rounds, the sweet stuff can make getting sick far easier by starving your beneficial gut bacteria and over-feeding the bad guys. Processed foods have a similar impact, weakening immunity with chemicals, allergens and virtually no bug-fighting nutrients. So, ban processed junk from your table too.
2. Go heavy on garlic and onions.
Take advantage of the allium-rich veggies, known for their powerful anti-viral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties… and they taste great too! They provide your gut with the fiber and prebiotics it thrives on, and they work just as well raw or cooked. Point being: Start chopping those garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks, shallots to enjoy daily.
3. Eat your greens.
Greens (think: spinach, kale, chard, broccoli raab, bok choy) are some of the best foods that boost your immune system. Work greens into every meal to front-load your system with the phytonutrients and fiber that make your good belly bacteria happy and in turn, keep your immune defenses strong.
In addition to salads at dinner, add a pile of spinach under your morning eggs. Dump a fistful of kale into your soup at lunch and into dinnertime salads and stews. Like smoothies? Toss some greens in there as well. Before you know it, you’ll be a greens machine.
4. Add prebiotics to your plate.
Fiber from plants feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, strengthening your microbiome, which is good for your immune system! Apart from garlic and onions, seek out radishes, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and tomatoes. In addition, the dense, chewy parts of the vegetable (such as the stalks of broccoli or the bottoms of asparagus) are the most nutritious for gut bacteria. So don’t chop off the stalks — eat them!
5. Have a scoop of fermented food.
Simply put, a healthy gut makes the rest of you less vulnerable to bacterial and viral enemies. Put a scoop or two of fermented foods on your plate a few times a week to feed your gut the probiotics it needs to function optimally.
You can ferment virtually any veggie you like or buy items such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or kefir to get your dose. Not a fermented food fan (at least not yet)? Try adding a splash or two of organic apple cider vinegar to salads or a tablespoon to a cup of hot or cold water with a bit of lemon juice and/or monk fruit sweetener to taste.
6. Drink a warm immunity-boosting beverage.
For the next few weeks, ditch the wine, beer and cocktails. Instead, brew up hot tea drinks made with herbs such as andrographis, elderberry and astragalus that help build up your immunity. Add bone broth to your repertoire as well. Broths made from healthy, grass-fed animals deliver amino acids like arginine, glutamine and glycine — all of which are excellent immunity reinforcements.
7. Spice up your meals.
Ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and cayenne pepper — load them on! Not only will they add considerably more flavor to everything you eat, but they also provide powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and antiviral benefits. Plus, they aid in digestion.
You can also find highly concentrated curcumin — seven times more concentrated than food-based sources — in our Turmeric Protect supplement.
8. Add in coconut.
Coconut oil is tasty, immunity-boosting add-in for smoothies or your morning Bulletproof-style coffee. Just a teaspoon a day will add extra flavor and healthy fats while supporting immunity with its antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Add in Supportive Supplements
In addition to eating healthfully, I often recommend supplements as extra support for the immune system and overall well-being. Here are the ones I consider the best supplements for the immune system:
9. Antiviral herbs
Add antiviral and antibacterial herbs, such as andrographis, astragalus, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, elderberry extract and lomatium, extract to your list.
10. Medicinal mushrooms
Look for a mixed formula that contains cordyceps, chaga and maitake. In addition to their many healing and adaptogenic properties, mushrooms contain beta glucans which have immune-modulating effects.
RELATED: The Secret Immune-Boosting Power of Mushrooms
11. NAC (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine)
A precursor to the powerful antioxidant glutathione, NAC also supports respiratory health by acting as an antioxidant and expectorant, helping to thin out and loosen mucus in the air passageways. Dosage is usually 2-4 grams a day.
RELATED: NAC: The Do-It-All Supplement You've Never Heard Of (Until Now)
The master antioxidant — but most oral glutathione is foul-smelling and poorly absorbed, so look for s-acetyl-glutathione or liposomal glutathione.
13. Vitamin D3
Ideally, your D levels should be in the 50 to 70 miligram/mililiter range, so have your doctor test yours. Then you both can determine how much is needed to close the gap. For most people — especially those who live in the Northern hemisphere — a daily maintenance dose of 2,000 IU a day could do the trick. But again, it's important to know your current level best you start stocking up on this immunity-friendly supplement.
14. Vitamin C
To protect against infection, take 2-3 grams of vitamin C every day. Our Superpowder contains more vitamin C than 10 oranges; it comes in powder form, making it easy to add to your everyday morning routine.
Support your gut health with a probiotic, preferably one with at least 20-50 billion viable organisms and several types of good bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two of the most highly regarded strains.
Add 25 miligrams of zinc per day on a short-term basis for an additional immune boost and, if you feel a cold coming on, to help shorten its duration.
17. Fish Oil
Taking 1-2 grams of a high-quality fish oil daily will help keep immunity defenses strong. Just make sure yours contain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA — and no fillers.
Animal studies suggest spirulina — an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water — may boost the immune system and have antiviral properties. Dosage is about 15 grams per day.
Treat Your Body Right
Another key to boosting your immune system is taking care of your body and mind. Being generous with self-care will not only help you keep your mental health in check, but will also benefit a healthy immune system.
19. Sleep more than usual.
Make sleep a priority and shoot for seven to eight hours a night to give your body the time it fully needs to rest, repair and refresh you for the next day. When you fall short or your energy is flagging, take a brief 20-minute power nap, ideally no later than 4 p.m. to avoid disrupting your nighttime routine.
20. Bust stress.
Stress torpedoes your immunity, so you need to reduce it to keep immunity humming. One of the easiest ways to de-stress anywhere, anytime, is to meditate. Breathing exercises work wonders too. Add a few moments of yoga at the start or end of your day for an added round of relaxation and immunity boosting.
21. Wash your hands a lot
Go with the classic soap and hot water routine for at least 30 seconds as often as you can. If you don’t have access at a given moment, be sure to avoid all contact with your eyes, nose and mouth to keep germs from finding their way into your body.
22. Exercise — but don’t over-do it.
Movement of any kind will boost immunity, but overdoing it will have the opposite effect. Translation: Go easy.
23. Clean your nasal passages.
Regularly spritzing your nasal passages with a saline solution or using neti pot helps keep passages moist and less prone to forming the tiny cracks through which microscopic viral invaders enter your body.
24. Stay well hydrated.
Whether you’re feeling thirsty or not, drink plenty of water. Doing so will help keep lungs moist and mucus flowing, clearing lungs of the material that can collect and create conditions for opportunistic infections to thrive.
RELATED: How Much Water Should You Actually Drink Per Day?
25. Soak up some rays.
If the sun is shining, find a nice spot outdoors and soak up the sun for a few minutes. (I repeat: a few minutes!) Doing so will lift your spirits, help regulate your sleep/wake cycle, stimulate vitamin D production and — you guessed it — boost immunity.
26. Create a barrier.
To minimize direct contact with germ-covered surfaces, just add gloves. No gloves? In a pinch, use coat sleeves as an impromptu barrier. And be conscious of where you put your hands. The less contact hands have with communal surfaces — handrails, subway poles, doorknobs, etc. — the better. Other frequent points of contact: Shared office printers and copy machines, ATM machines, credit card machine pens or anything with a touchscreen, to name a few.
27. Hit the sauna – doctor’s orders.
Time spent in the sauna — dry, steam or infrared — is a pleasurable way to de-stress. What’s more, saunas raises the body’s core temperature by a degree or two which revs up production of your disease-fighting white blood cells. (Pro tip: Book an infrared sauna sesion at THE WELL New York.)
28. Bypass the hand dryer.
Those deafening air blowers in public restrooms tend to blow germs into the air as they dry. My advice? Carry an extra paper napkin in your pocket and towel off instead or drip dry.
29. Clean up on-the-go.
Antibacterial hand wipes and sprays contribute to antibiotic resistance, so they’re not ideal by any stretch. Until you can wash with soap and hot water, clean up with a non-GMO, alcohol-based wipe or sanitizing spray scented with essential oils as a first line of defense.
30. Seal your skin.
With frequent hand-washing often comes cracked skin through which germs can enter. To keep cracks at bay, moisturize frequently with coconut oil or Weleda’s Skin Food or Beautycounter’s hand cream.