6 Foods and Herbs to Support Immunity
Whether you're looking to defend yourself against cold and flu season, fend off Covid as much as possible, or just trying to stay healthy in general, it's crucial to keep your immune system healthy.
Your immune system is responsible for fighting infection. When it’s strong and robust, it helps you prevent sicknesses.
But, you actually don't want your immune system to be stronger, you want it to be balanced. You want to support it to allow it to recognize invaders and fight them off. And supporting it isn’t the same as boosting it (we’ll cover that in a minute).
Thankfully,Mother Nature in all her glory provides a wealth of natural options when it comes to herbs to support immunity.
Do You Need to Boost Immunity?
We mentioned that you don’t necessarily want your immune system to be strong. And this is important.
Immune boosters claim to boost the immune system. That means they can improve your body’s response to invaders.
That’s why the term immune boosters have become so popular.
However, too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little response. And there is very little evidence to support the claim that immune boosters actually effect your immune response.
Instead, what you want to do is support the immune system. And there are lots of things that do that.
Thankfully, many of them are not just going to support the immune system, they’re also going to help modulate it.
Immune modulators help to activate, boost, or restore normal immune function depending on what the body needs. They either increase or decrease your immune system to its optimum level of function.
Additionally, if you have autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to go into overdrive, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or MS, you don’t want to boost your immune system. It’s already in overdrive.
So that’s what we want - supportive immune modulators. And we have them.
6 Foods and Herbs to Support Immunity
Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, reducing your stress, and exercising are all important. And of course you want to wash your hands and try to avoid contact with people who are sick. But adding some oft these herbs to your regular health regimen will help give your immune system that extra punch of power.
Here are some of our favourite foods and herbs to support immunity.
Ginseng is perhaps the most well known functional food that possess active immune modulation potential.
Not only are the bioactive compounds found in ginseng good for their various health promoting activities (antioxidant, antibacterial, antimicrobial), they’re also celebrated for their ability to modulate immune function in the body, particularly with regard to cancer.
Hundreds of studies have shown the anti-cancer effects of ginseng, thanks mainly to improvements in cell-mediated immunity. Research also proves that ginseng can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and reduce the symptoms and the progression of inflammatory diseases. (Cytokines are small, soluble proteins that act as intracellular mediators in an immune response.)
You’ve likely heard someone recommend echinacea when you say you feel a cold coming on. And for good reason - it commonly functions as a supportive therapy in the treatment of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.
But it’s not because it boosts the immune system. It’s because it modulates it. Research shows that echinacea is an effective modulator of macrophage immune responses, and can increase the number of white blood cells, which fight infections, when the body needs them.
3. Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which are naturally occurring carbohydrates that can strengthen your immune defense. They also contain powerful immune modulators.
Other research shows that chaga extract may also help regulate the production of cytokines, which can stimulate blood cells and strengthen the immune system’s means of communication. This can help fight infections from minor colds to more serious illnesses.
Chaga mushrooms are also a rich, rich source of antioxidants - compounds that help inhibit or reduce damage caused by oxidative stress!
Garlic is a powerful antimicrobial herb, especially for the gut. And considering most of your immune system is in your gut, that’s important. Garlic is believed to be antibacterial, antiviral, and antiparasitic.
Garlic’s major claim to fame is allicin, the compound that makes garlic antibacterial. According research, this it was makes it possible for garlic to fight bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. Garlic is also ideal for strengthening the digestive system.
As for the immune system, garlic and its compounds induce a variety of immunomodulatory activities in leukocyte cytokine production. In particular, garlic has been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokine production, making it valuable as for therapeutic use in inflammatory conditions. Roasted garlic anyone?
Astragalus is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body balance out what needs balancing: lowering what is high and increasing what is low.
Astragalus has several immune-modulating actions through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on many different tissue types, including the skin, pancreas, liver, blood vessels, connective tissues, and neurons. More than 100 active compounds, have been identified in Astragalus, including polysaccharides, triterpenes, and flavonoids - all of which contribute to its immune modulating effects.
6. Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Just as chaga mushrooms have immune modulating abilities thanks to their high beta-glucan content, so too do turkey tail mushrooms. And like the other herbs and foods on this list, they also help to stimulate cytokine production.
Turkey tail mushrooms are also packed with antioxidants (again, like chaga), and have been shown to have antitumor properties, which are thought to be related to their immune-modulating effects.
These days, it is important that we do all we can to keep ourselves and our family healthy. These foods and herbs to support immunity can play a role in giving our immune systems what they need to be able to function properly. Stay healthy friends!