Boost Your Immune System With Diet & Supplements

Inside your body there is an amazing protectio­n mechanism called the immune system.

It is designed to defend you against millions of bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins and parasites that would love to invade your body. On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick.

Whether by themselves or in conjunction with other therapies and treatments, foods are powerful, omnipresent healing tools. Eating the foods that are inappropriate for you will depress your immune response and make problems worse, just as eating the right ones will help your body deal with challenges more effectively. Since eating is not optional, it makes sense to have foods work in your favor. Here are some especially healing foods and nutrients.

GARLIC - raw & crushed
This flavorful member of the onion family is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. The immune-boosting properties of garlic seem to be due to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin and sulfides. Garlic can also act as an antioxidant that reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream. Garlic may protect against cancer, though the evidence is controversial. Cultures with a garlic-rich diet have a lower incidence of intestinal cancer. Garlic may also play a part in getting rid of potential carcinogens and other toxic substances. It is also a heart-friendly food since it keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels.

VITAMIN C - acerola & rosehips
Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosters for many reasons. There has been more research about the immune-boosting effects of Vitamin C than perhaps any other nutrient. Vitamin C supplements are inexpensive to produce, and it's available naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Also, you can buy a vitamin-C-fortified version of just about anything.

Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering blood pressure and interfering with the process by which fat is converted to plaque in the arteries. As an added perk, persons whose diets are higher in vitamin C have lower rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Foods rich in vitamin C:
papaya, red peppers, rosehips, brussel sprouts, strawberries, kiwi, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cantaloupe, parsley, lettuce, lemons and grapefruit.

MUSHROOMS - shiitake & reishi
Mushrooms have dominant immune boosting properties. There are over 200 species of mushrooms with proven medicinal value, particularly immune enhancing properties, and cultures throughout the world have been using mushrooms for this particular purpose. 

The latest theories suggest the digestive enzymes in mushrooms have immune enhancing properties when consumed. This would mean that a fresh mushroom would contain about 3 times the immune enhancing power of a cooked or otherwise prepared mushroom.

There are other natural substances within the structure of a mushroom that provide the immune system power of warding of illness such as antimicrobial substances. In its natural environment, the mushroom relies on these antimicrobial substances to prevent the mushroom from succumbing to bacteria, viruses, or microorganism from attacking them. When consumed by humans, these substances carry over into the digestive system and provide the same health effects for the human body.

The immune system is not the only system to be enhanced through the regular consumption of mushrooms. While the immune system benefits greatly, mushrooms can also benefit the endocrine and adrenal systems almost as a great deal.

Mushrooms have been used throughout the world for centuries for strong health and long life. The use of mushrooms to assist with health has the potential to lead to a significant decrease in medical care especially during the cold and flu season.
Healthiest mushrooms to eat: reishi, shiitake, maitake, crimini and oyster.

VITAMIN E - sunflower seeds & almonds
This important antioxidant and immune booster doesn't get as much press as vitamin C, yet it's important to a healthy immune system.

Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, those that seek out and destroy germs and cancer cells. Vitamin E enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. Vitamin E may also reverse some of the decline in immune response commonly seen in aging. It has been implicated in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the Harvard School of Public Health study of 87,000 nurses, Vitamin E was shown to cut the risk of heart attacks by fifty percent.

It's not difficult to get 30 to 60 milligrams every day of Vitamin E from a diet rich in seeds, vegetable oils, and grains, but it's difficult for most people to consume more than 60 milligrams a day consistently through diet alone. Supplements may be necessary to get enough vitamin E to boost your immune system.

Foods rich in vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach, collards, blueberries, mango, peanut butter, flaxseeds, asparagus, hazelnuts, and wheat germ oil.

CAROTENOIDS - squash & spirulina
Beta carotene increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells, and helper T-cells, as well as being a powerful antioxidant that mops up excess free radicals that accelerate aging. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by interfering with how the fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream oxidize to form arterial plaques. Studies have shown that beta carotene can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially strokes and heart attacks, giving scientific credence to the belief that a carrot a day can keep the heart surgeon away. Beta carotene also protects against cancer by stimulating the immune cells called macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factor, which kills cancer cells. It has also been shown that beta carotene can increase the production of T-cell lymphocytes and natural killer cells and can enhance the ability of the natural killer cells to attack cancer cells.

Beta carotene is the most familiar carotenoid, but it is only one member of a large family. Researchers believe that it is not just beta carotene that produces all these good effects, but all the carotenoids working together. This is why getting carotenoids in food may be more cancer-protective than taking beta carotene supplements.

The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, which itself has anticancer properties and immune-boosting functions. But too much vitamin A can be toxic to the body, so it's better to get extra beta carotene from foods and let the body naturally regulate how much of this precursor is converted to the immune-fighting vitamin A. It's highly unlikely that a person could take in enough beta carotene to produce a toxic amount of vitamin A.

Foods rich in carotenoids: carrots, spinach, kale, collards, tomatoes, apricots, squash, mango, pink grapefruit, spirulina, chlorella, cabbage, berries.

Astragalus is a powerful immune enhancer. According to researchers at University of Maryland Medical Center, astragalus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, often in combination with other herbs, to strengthen the body against disease. Medical journals suggest the herb may stimulate the immune system and the body’s ability to resist and combat various diseases. 

Astragalus may also inhibit the spread and growth of cancer cells. It contains antioxidants, which protect cells against damage caused by free radicals, byproducts of cellular energy. Astragalus is used to protect and support the immune system, for preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, to lower blood pressure, to treat diabetes, and to protect the liver. In particular it triggers and arms the body's T cells, the cells in the body that seek out and destroy any invading bacteria and viruses.

Astragalus has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic (helps eliminate fluid from the body) properties. It is sometimes used topically for wounds. In addition, studies have shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it is indeed effective at preventing colds.

In the United States, researchers have investigated astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements have been shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy. Research on using astragalus for people with AIDS has produced inconclusive results.

Recent research in China indicates that astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits to people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function.

sun & supplements
The so-called sunshine vitamin, which can be obtained from food (only in small amounts) or manufactured by human skin exposed to the sun, plays a key role in boosting the immune system, researchers believe.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system – T cells – will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.

For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and "transform" from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of invaders. The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

Professor Carsten Geisler from the Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, said: "When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a signaling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it searches for vitamin D. "This means that the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease. If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilize. ” The discovery, the scientists believe, provides much needed information about the immune system and will help them regulate the immune response.
For the research team, identifying the role of vitamin D in the activation of T cells has been a major breakthrough.“Scientists have known for a long time that vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and the vitamin has also been implicated in diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, but what we didn’t realize is how crucial vitamin D is for actually activating the immune system – which we know now, ” said the researchers
- flax & chia
A study found that children taking a half teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less severe respiratory infections and fewer days of being absent from school. The omega 3 fatty acids in flax oil act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. Essential fatty acids also protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. When taking essential fatty acid supplements, take additional vitamin E, which acts together with essential fatty acids to boost the immune system. 

Foods rich in omega 3: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, spirulina and walnuts


The properties in cat's claw greatly enhance the immune system by stimulating the immune response, and act as antioxidants to rid the body of free radicals, or bad cells. Compounds found in cat's Claw also work to kill viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that cause disease, and they work to inhibit healthy cells from becoming cancerous. This herb has anti-inflammatory properties that help to relieve arthritis, gout, and other inflammatory problems. In addition, cat’s claw promoted healing of wounds; helps in the treatment of ulcers; and may help in relieving chronic pain. Also, many health practitioners have reported successes using the herb to treat Crohn's disease.


Several studies have shown how elderberry causes an immune boosting effect when fighting off colds and flu. One of these studies by Zakay-Rones et al in 2004, evaluated 60 people with flu symptoms. Those people that took elderberry extract had improvement in their symptoms 4 days earlier than those that did not.

In another study by Barak et al in 2001, the benefits of elderberry were again demonstrated by evaluating the elderberry extract, Sambucol. This was a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial and showed that Sambucol reduced flu symptoms down to 3-4 days duration. They also noted a significant increase in antibody levels against influenza in the study group. Further evaluation showed that those patients treated with elderberry extract had significantly higher levels of various cytokines (chemicals produced by the immune system during inflammation). The most notable of these increases was TNF-α, which is one of the main cytokines involved in fighting virus infections. And finally, a recent study by Roschek, et al, showed that blocking the infection of H1N1 (swine flu) is another one of the antiviral benefits of elderberry. 

pumpkin seeds & sea vegetables
Zinc is thought by many nutritionists to be the most important mineral supplement because it is commonly deficient in the diet. Zinc is the nutrient that aids the immune system. This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc has been shown to slow the growth of cancer.

Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc, and whose immune system often weakens with age. A word of caution: too much zinc in the form of supplements (more than 75 milligrams a day) can inhibit immune function. It's safest to stick to getting zinc from your diet.

Foods rich in zinc: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, crimini mushrooms, sea vegetables, green peas, spinach, yeast, asparagus, miso, summer squash, and broccoli.

oats & mushrooms
Beta glucan is the strongest immunity enhancer known to science. They (Beta 1,3/1,6 Glucan) are classified as a highly refined carbohydrate, made up of a string of glucose molecules, with the fats, proteins and other polysaccharides removed. Beta Glucan is recognized by the FDA and is given a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) rating.

It contributes potent, diverse, overall enhancements to the immune system, having a systemic effect that can best be described as non-specific immune stimulation combined with free-radical scavenging activity. Considered a biological response modifier of the immune system, beta glucan has been shown to stimulate both humeral and cell-mediated immunity as well as to activate macrophages more effectively than any other agent known. Activating macrophages strengthens the immune system significantly and protects against various pathogens. One example of the result of macrophage activation is the appearance of gamma interferon which increases the production of nitric oxide and superoxide, directly leading to an immunological war on microorganisms.

Nothing rivals beta glucan for immune enhancement. There is no other substance human-made or natural that has the published studies, as does beta glucan, to back up it's immune enhancing ability.

Numerous scientific studies on animals and humans, originating from such prestigious institutions as the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, Baylor College of Medicine, Brown Medical School, Tulane University and Harvard Medical School have demonstrated the great value beta glucan has to strengthen our immune systems and even the potential to help against tumors and cancer growth. 

Foods rich in beta glucans: oats, mushrooms, yeast, and barley.

GLUTATHIONE - avocados & asparagus
Glutathione is essential for the function of immune cells. In people with immune deficiency, glutathione levels fall well below the normal levels in blood and immune cells. Restoring glutathione levels to those found in healthy people will help immune deficient patients. Glutathione has three major roles in the immune system: antioxidant (a cell's most important antioxidant), immune booster (a component of the immune response) and detoxifier (a detoxifying agent in our body). Glutathione is implicated in maintaining normal brain function.

The research is overwhelming that glutathione pills do not make their way across the instestinal tract intact much less across the cell membrane into the cells. Rather, glutathione is made from inside the cells from specific glutathione creating proteins that assemble. All you need to create it are cysteine, glutamate and glycine which is easily obtained from certain foods, selenium and/or N-Acetyl Cysteine.

Foods that boost gluthathione levels are: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, avocado, spinach, bilberry, turmeric, garlic, cauliflower, peaches and watermelon.

SPICES - oregano & turmeric 
Early traders crossed continents to find them. Some were prized above gold. They are the perfect pick-me-up for anyone under the weather, and you probably have most of them in your kitchen cupboard already. In the East, they're used to combat everything from the common cold to life-threatening conditions, and the more they're researched, the more evidence there is for their therapeutic effects. 
'Spices are part of nature's rich spectrum of healing,' says Heidi Troughton, yoga expert and nutritionist based in Derry, Ireland. And Heidi is convinced that the more we can introduce them into our Western diet, the better. 
'The more people know how to use them, the more they'll be tempted to eat more deliciously spiced vegetables,' she says. 'And vegetables are packed with health-boosting properties, so it can only be a good thing.'

Some of the most healing spices are: Oregano, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric. Please research each spice individually. There are many studies done on each individual spice in regards to immune system.

A deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with decreased immune function. In a controlled trial, people with vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia were also found to have markedly decreased levels of white blood cells associated with immune function. Restoration of vitamin B12 stores by means of injections improved levels of these immune cells, suggesting an important role for vitamin B12 in immune function.

Low blood levels of vitamin B12 appear to be widespread in HIV infection. Vitamin B12 supplementation has been shown to improve both T-cell counts and natural killer cell activity in people with significant vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 and folate are both involved in the production of genetic material.

Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to poor immune function, and B12 therapy was also found to improve immune function in B12 deficient individuals. Finally, clinical and experimental evidence indicates that biotin also plays an essential role in the capacity of the immune system to respond to antigenic challenge.

VITAMIN B6 - avocados & bananas
Of all the vitamins, vitamin B6 is one of the most important for the development and maintenance of a healthy immune system, and consequently protects against cancer as well as infection. Vitamin B6 and your immune system are linked because of the vitamin’s involvement with protein metabolism and cellular growth. Vitamins, as well as protein, calories and minerals, are key to a healthy immune system because they’re involved in the growth of white blood cells which fight off infections. Vitamin B6 helps your immune system keep the spleen, lymph nodes and thymus healthy; these organs, in turn, make your white blood cells.

Studies have shown that if your body has a vitamin B6 deficiency, your immune system will suffer. It will decrease your body’s antibody production and restrain your immune system’s response. In order to keep a healthy immune system, vitamin B6 foods should be rich in your diet.

Foods rich in B6: potato, banana, oatmeal, avocado, peanut butter, spinach, garlic, snapper beans, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and brussel sprouts.

Coconut oil supports the immune system by ridding the body of harmful microorganisms, thus relieving stress on the body. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for being antiviral and antibacterial. Studies have been done on its effectiveness in lowering the viral load of HIV/AIDS patients. Most bacteria and viruses are encased in a coat of lipids. Lipid-coated viruses and bacteria are easily killed by MCFA, which primarily destroy these organisms by disrupting their lipid membranes. Medium-chain fatty acids, being similar to those in the microorganism's membrane, are easily attracted to and absorbed into it. The membrane literally slits open, spilling its insides and killing the organism. Our white blood cells quickly clean up and dispose of the cellular debris. MCFA kill invading organisms without causing any known harm to human tissues.

Fermented foods contain live, active cultures of probiotic bacteria, which help to restore and maintain balance of the intestinal flora and contribute to a healthy digestive system. The beneficial bacteria produce enzymes that aid in digestion and short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells of the intestine; they also enhance the immune system by deterring growth of pathogenic microorganisms. Friendly bacteria have a powerful, beneficial effect on your gut's immune system, your first line of defense against pathogens, and aid in the production of antibodies.

There are many other health benefits of fermented foods.  Fermented dairy products show increased levels of folic acid which is critical to producing healthy babies as well as pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin. Fermented foods have also been shown to lessen the effects of anti nutrients such as Phytic acid, which is an antinutrient that binds up minerals preventing full absorption of minerals in the gut. The bioavailability of amino acids particularly lysine with its antiviral effects and methionine – increases with lactic acid fermentation.

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