If you’ve been feeling weak lately and have noticed that you’re getting sick a lot with minor colds and flus, you may have a compromised immune system.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to fortify your immune system through lifestyle choices like diet.
Here are some foods that are great for your immune system:
1. Yogurt And Other Probiotics
“Probiotic organisms are claimed to offer several functional properties including stimulation of the immune system,” one review states(1).
“Probiotics can enhance nonspecific cellular immune response characterized by activation of macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells, antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocites, and the release of various cytokines in strain-specific and dose-dependent manner.”
High-quality organic varieties of yogurt are the best (just make sure to skip brands loaded with sugar). Yogurt also contains vitamin D, which is also good for your immune system(2).
Other probiotic-containing fermented foods include kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.
Garlic is widely known for its immune system boosting properties.
“Garlic (Allium sativum) holds a unique position in history and was recognized for its therapeutic potential,” write the authors of one study(3).
“Garlic could be useful in preventing the suppression of immune response associated with increased risk of malignancy as it stimulated the proliferation of lymphocytes, macrophage phagocytosis, stimulates the released of interleukin-2, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interferon-gamma, and enhances natural killer cells.”
In other words, if something is compromising your immune system, garlic could be a way of helping to get it back up to par.
While garlic supplements are widely available, nothing really beats fresh garlic for a therapeutic dose.
3. Oats And Barley
Oats and barley, which contain oat beta-glucan (ObetaG), have been proven to improve immune function in animals(4); in one 2004 study, soluble oat fiber combined with moderate exercise was found to increase immune function and decrease risk of infection, especially respiratory infection, in mice(5).
Chock full of fiber, oats and barley also help keep your digestive system running smoothly, which improves your overall health.
4. Certain Types Of Tea
Green tea has been shown to protect against some degenerative diseases, and act as an immune modulator “in immunodysfunction caused by transplanted tumors or by carcinogen treatment.”(6)
Incidentally, it has also been linked to the prevention of lung, colon, esophagus, mouth, and stomach cancers, and reduce the risk of several chronic diseases.
While black tea has a few of the same functions, it’s not quite as effective.
5. Wheat Germ
Wheat germ deprivation can have a serious impact on the immune system, one pilot study shows.
“Bioactive molecules that can gain access to body tissues through the gastrointestinal tract may interact with immune regulator circuits and effector functions,” the study authors explain(7). “Among these are plant lectins, such as wheat germ.”
When they fed rats diets either containing or deprived of wheat germ, they found that the rats who were deprived of wheat germ showed significantly less immune system response.
6. Vitamin C
Everyone knows it – but not everyone actually pays attention to it. Most people supplement with vitamin C tablets, but vitamin C is readily bioavailable in lots of foods, including oranges, spinach, broccoli, pomegranates, and tomatoes.
“A large number of trials… document that adequate intakes of vitamin C and zinc ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold,” one review states(8). “Furthermore, vitamin C and zinc reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea infections.”
“The health-promoting perspective of ginger is attributed to its rich phytochemistry,” one study says(9).
“Ginger has staring[sic] potential for treating a number of ailments including degenerative disorders (arthritis and rheumatism), digestive health (indigestion, constipation and ulcer), cardiovascular disorders (atherosclerosis and hypertension), vomiting, diabetes mellitus, and cancer.”
Most of the health effects of ginger come down to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, but it can also act as an immune system booster as well.
Building A Better Immune System Through Diet
The effects of diet on the immune system are real.
“Nutrient status is an important factor contributing to immune competence: undernutrition impairs the immune system, suppressing immune functions that are fundamental to host protection,” one paper explains(10).
So if you’re not getting the right foods, your immune system could be compromised. But if you take the time to learn about the effects that various foods can have on your body, you could be on your way to a more functional immune system – which means a lot less down time.