8 Proven Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Even those who already practice a healthy lifestyle can still get sick from time to time. There are always ways to add a little extra support to your body’s primary way of defending itself from bacteria and viruses.

Every day, our immune system is working hard, fighting off harmful organisms, bacteria, and viruses, to keep us healthy. Maintaining good diet and lifestyle habits can go a long way toward helping those fighters do their job even better.

In this article, we’re going to look at eight proven ways you can naturally and easily boost your immune system. 

1. Eat More Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria found in fermented foods and supplements. Your body naturally has billions of these bacteria in your gut, but if the ratio of healthy to unhealthy bacteria in your gut becomes unbalanced, it can lead to health issues. 

Researchers are still understanding specifically how probiotics benefit your immune system, but there’s evidence that probiotics improve your gut barrier function and your body’s adaptive immune response. (1)

One review of studies published in 2015 looked at the effect of probiotics on upper respiratory tract infections. (2) The researchers concluded that probiotics may have the potential to reduce your chances of getting sick and the length of illness.  

The following are some foods you can add to your diet to increase probiotics your daily intake of probiotics:

Take-Home Message 

Probiotics have the potential to boost your immune system. Adding foods like yogurt, kimchi, or a probiotic supplement to your diet may help your body fight off illnesses. 

2. Minimize Stress in Your Life

When you feel stressed, your body undergoes a series of hormonal changes to help it cope. Everybody feels stressed occasionally, but when stress becomes persistent over weeks or months, it can have serious consequences for your immune system.   

Here are some of the ways that chronic stress weakens your immune system: (5)

  • Increases inflammation
  • Suppresses function of immunoprotective cells that fight invaders
  • Decreases the number of immunoprotective cells available to fight infection
  • Increases chances of developing cancer
  • Suppresses function of T cells and adaptive immune system.

Finding ways to manage your stress like including more relaxing activities in your day and addressing the root cause of your stress may help you stay healthy. Some people find the following helpful:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Relaxing walks
  • Enjoying some sunshine
  • Listening to calming music

Take-Home Message 

Chronic stress can suppress your immune system and increase inflammation throughout your body. Reducing stress in your life can help keep your immune system strong.

3. Avoid Refined Sugar and High-Glycemic Carbs

A diet high in sugar and high-glycemic carbs can promote chronic inflammation in your body. When your body is chronically inflamed, your immune system focuses on dealing with the inflammation and its ability to target foreign invaders becomes compromised. 

Along with suppressing your immune system, a high-sugar diet has been found to increase your risk of developing other chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. (6) For those with a sweet tooth, try substituting your usual sweets with fruit.

Minimizing your consumption of foods like the following can help you decrease your intake of sugar and high-glycemic carbs:

  • Baked good
  • Milk chocolate
  • Coffee and tea with added sugar
  • Candy
  • High-sugar cereals
  • Most cereal and granola bars
  • White bread 
  • Sugary juices
  • Sugary sauces

Take-Home Message 

Reducing your intake of foods with added sugar can reduce inflammation throughout your body and improve your immune system.

4. Add Turmeric to Your Diet

Turmeric is a root that’s been consumed in Southeast Asia for thousands of years for its health benefits. The compound in turmeric called curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory that may reduce your risk of developing conditions that can compromise your immune system such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. (7)

Your immune system is made up of two parts: your innate immune system and your adaptive immune system. Your innate immune system is your body’s natural defense against all foreign invaders whereas your adaptive immune targets specific viruses and bacteria it was previously exposed to. New research is starting to look at curcumin’s ability to fight against cancer by interacting with the cells that make up your innate immune system. (8)

Take-Home Message 

Turmeric may increase the function of your immune system by reducing inflammation throughout your body.

5. Consume More Citrus Fruits 

Most citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in your body and supports both your adaptive and innate immune systems. (9) Vitamin C’s benefits for your immune system are well-documented and include:

  • Supporting your skin’s ability to keep out viruses
  • Enhancing the strength of cells that ingest foreign invaders
  • Helping your body fight against infections

It’s worth noting that many citrus fruits are relatively high in sugar. If you’re trying to reduce your overall sugar intake, you can try adding lemon or lime juice to your diet. These juices are good sources of vitamin C with few calories. 

Here’s an approximation of how much vitamin C is in some common citrus fruits:

  • Guava – 126mg per fruit
  • Grapefruit – 79mg per fruit
  • Orange – 70mg per fruit
  • Lemon – 31mg per fruit
  • Lime – 20mg per fruit
  • Tangerine – 17mg per fruit

Take-Home Message 

Adding more citrus fruits to your diet can help you increase your intake of vitamin C. Lemons and limes are the lowest calorie citrus fruits. 

6. Add Omega-3s to Your Diet 

Supplements such as krill oil contain the two healthy omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. DHA may enhance the activity of your B cells. (10)  B cells are a type of white blood cells that help your body fight against foreign invaders and prevent infections. EPA may also benefit your immune system by reducing inflammation throughout your body. 

Along with taking an omega-3 supplement, you may want to add more fatty fish to your diet as well. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are all great sources of omega-3s. 

Take-Home Message 

Omega-3 supplements may have the potential to reduce inflammation and help your body fight against viruses and infections.

7. Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly can have a huge impact on your immune system. Exercising lowers your risk of developing diseases that cause inflammation and immune suppression such as obesity, high cholesterol, some types of cancer, and diabetes. (3)

When you exercise, your blood vessels relax, and your heart can more easily pump blood throughout your body. This increased blood flow allows for the cells that make up your immune system to better circulate throughout your body. 

According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. (4) Moderate-intensity activity includes brisk walking, easy cycling, or easy jogging. 

Keep in mind, however, that consistently exercising too much can result in overtraining, which suppresses immune function. Research has found that during intense physical exertion, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. (11) 

Take-Home Message 

Exercising regularly reduces your chances of developing diseases that suppress your immune system. Exercise also allows the cells that protect your body to better circulate. Be sure to maintain a moderate-intensity workout to prevent overtraining.

8. Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is the time where your body and brain repair itself, and the energy you've stored throughout the day is utilized to fight off potential infections. Poor sleep will, over time, lead to increased inflammation in the body, and could make you more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. (12) Most adults (ages 26-64) should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. (13)

When you are sleeping, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. These proteins need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep. (14)

Take-Home Message 

Poor sleep will over time lead to increased inflammation in the body, and could make you more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Most adults (ages 26-64) should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Sources


  1. Azad, M., Sarker, M., & Wan, D. (2018). Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics on Cytokine Profiles. BioMed research international, 2018, 8063647.


  1. Hao, Q., Dong, B. R., & Wu, T. (2015). Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (2), CD006895.


  1. Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. Journal of sport and health science, 8(3), 201–217.


  1. American Heart Association. (2018). American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids.


  1. Dhabhar F. S. (2014). Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic research, 58(2-3), 193–210.


  1. Rippe, J. M., & Angelopoulos, T. J. (2016). Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients, 8(11), 697.


  1. Hewlings, S. J., & Kalman, D. S. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its' Effects on Human Health. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 6(10), 92. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods6100092


  1. Mukherjee, S., Baidoo, J., Fried, A., & Banerjee, P. (2020). Using curcumin to turn the innate immune system against cancer. Biochemical pharmacology, 113824. Advance online publication.


  1. Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.


  1. Gutiérrez, S., Svahn, S. L., & Johansson, M. E. (2019). Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(20), 5028.


  1. Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201-217.  doi:0.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009


  1. Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1):121–137. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0


  1. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary Hirshkowitz, Max et al. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Volume 1, Issue 1, 40-43


  1. Lange T, Dimitrov S, Born J. Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Apr;1193:48-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05300.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 20398008.

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