6 Powerful Ways to Bolster Your Immune Health

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walk in nature to boost immune healthAs we move into cold and flu season, many people are wondering how to power up their immune system to stay healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of nutrition, lifestyle, and preventative strategies for strengthening immune health. Scientists and doctors are seeing the impact that poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle habits have on disease risk, severity, as well as long-term consequences. Now more than ever, it is critical that we make attaining and maintaining good nutritional status and healthy lifestyle practices top priorities.

The immune system plays a vital role in overall health by protecting the body from pathogens. It is a delicate balancing act because if the immune system is underactive, it can fail to protect the body from foreign invaders. If the immune system becomes overactive, it can trigger autoimmune issues in some people.

Fortunately, there are many actionable steps you can take to help prime your body so that it can quickly and effectively respond to immune challenges. Below is a comprehensive plan for strengthening your immune system naturally.

How to Bolster Your Immune Health

1. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
2. Optimize Gut Health
3. Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits
4. Order Functional Lab Testing
5. Supplement With Targeted Nutrients
6. Take Steps to Prevent Infections

1. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet

healthy foods support immune healthYour food choices provide daily input for your health and well-being. Nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, whole grains and healthy fats are rich in the necessary building blocks that your immune system needs in order to function at its best. Healthy foods have so many powerful benefits, such as helping balance inflammatory pathways, reducing oxidative stress, increasing antioxidant levels, supporting the growth and activity of immune cells, and promoting gut microbiome and metabolic health.

7 Powerful Immune Boosting Foods

1. Vegetables provide a spectrum of important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber. Eating a wide variety of organic, colorful vegetables, such as red bell peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, red cabbage, garlic, onions, asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and tomatoes, provides a comprehensive array of beneficial nutrients.

2. Berries are particularly high in antioxidant phytochemicals, which help to combat free radicals and boost the strength of your immune system. Key berries to include in your diet are red raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and grapes.

3. Protein provides essential building blocks (amino acids) to help build and repair tissue and support the production of antibodies. Amino acids also regulate gene expression. High-quality protein examples include pastured eggs, pastured chicken and turkey, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and other seafood, beans and legumes, tofu, whey and pea protein.

4. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that support gut microbiome health and have anti-inflammatory benefits. Key examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh and yogurt.

5. Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidant phytochemicals. Almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are all excellent choices.

6. Healthy fats like omega-3 essential fatty acids found in wild-caught fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and have anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, clove, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and garlic provide antioxidants and have powerful immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.

Poor nutrition (a diet that includes a lot of refined grains, sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods) has been shown to increase infections, slow healing from injury, and increase susceptibility and complications from illnesses. Limiting these pro-inflammatory foods is a critical part of supporting optimal immune function.

5 Dietary Immune System Offenders

1. Added sugar has many unhealthy effects, including suppressing immune function, increasing inflammation, and promoting obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

2. Processed foods can cause inflammation and negatively impact gut microflora.

3. Harmful chemicals such pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, heavy metals and artificial ingredients contribute to the body’s toxic burden and harm cellular functioning and promote inflammation.

4. Unhealthy fats create inflammation, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of chronic diseases.

5. Food allergens and food sensitivities such as gluten or casein can trigger immune reactivity for some individuals, which may include damaging the intestinal barrier (causing leaky gut) and promoting the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

2. Optimize Gut Health

probiotics in yogurt support immune healthBecause your gastrointestinal (GI) tract houses the majority of the body’s immune system, it is essential that you support your gut health. More and more research suggests that the microbiome has a profound impact on health and disease. The microbiome, which is an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms that live mostly in the intestines, helps to keep unhealthy bacteria in check, maintains a physical barrier against pathogens, protects against inflammation, and supports digestion and absorption, as well as the synthesis of important vitamins. Balanced gut flora is critical for a healthy immune system. When out of balance, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria (dysbiosis) can occur. This imbalance can have ill effects on immune health.

Your diet plays the most significant role in the health and diversity of your gut microbiome. Eating a high-fiber, plant-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is the best way to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial bacteria.

Best Foods to Support Your Microbiome

1. Probiotic foods – contain live beneficial bacteria. Kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi and miso are all great choices.

2. Prebiotic foods – provide food for beneficial bacteria. Examples include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas and seaweed.

3. Fiber-rich foods – ferment in the large intestine and provide by-products that support the health of beneficial bacteria. Raspberries, beans, pears, dark leafy greens, peas, Brussels sprouts, flaxseeds, psyllium, radishes, asparagus, cabbage and celery are excellent sources.

4. Polyphenol-rich foods – have antimicrobial properties against harmful bacteria. Coffee, tea, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, fruits and vegetables provide powerful polyphenols.

Many things can impact the health of your microbiome. Below are some of the biggest factors that can harm the composition and diversity of your microflora.

5 Major Threats to the Gut Microbiome

1. Poor diet – sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined flours and cereal grains, and low-fiber diets have been shown to alter microbial communities and feed harmful bacteria.

2. Antibiotics – can cause harm oxidative damage to DNA and damage mitochondria, and wipe out beneficial bacteria.

3. Medications – such as proton pump inhibitors and metformin can lead to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and the depletion of beneficial bacteria.

4. Stress – alters the gut microbiome and increases the level of intestinal inflammation.

5. Toxins – such as pesticides and heavy metals alter the microbiome, cause dysbiosis, and impair immune function.

3. Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits

exercise to support immune healthLooking after your physical, emotional, and mental health can go a long way to help bolster your immune response. Even small positive changes to your daily habits can make a big difference. Here are some of the most important lifestyle habits that have been shown to help strengthen immunity.

6 Lifestyle Habits that Strengthen Immune Health

1. Maintaining a healthy weight – excess body weight is associated with chronic inflammation and immune suppression.

2. Managing stress – both acute and chronic stress can suppress immune function, increase illness susceptibility and severity, and increase inflammation, as well as the propensity to autoimmune conditions. Mind-body practices and stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, tai chi and deep breathing exercises can benefit immune regulation and promote greater resilience when faced with stressors.

3. Engaging in physical activity – moderate, regular exercise supports immune health by raising white blood cells needed to fight infections, increasing the circulation of blood and nutrients, decreasing stress hormones, promoting oxygenation, and supporting the elimination of waste from cells.

4. Getting good quality sleep – restful and restorative sleep (7-9 hours nightly) has a major influence on immune function and inflammatory signals. Quality sleep is like hitting the body’s reset button and has both preventative and restorative benefits.

5. Connecting socially – having a healthy and supportive social network is an important aspect of immune health. Social isolation has been shown to increase inflammatory processes and increase stress.

6.  Avoiding toxins (smoking, alcohol, heavy metals, pesticides, etc.) – these substances form harmful free radicals and suppress normal immune activity.

4. Order Functional Lab Testing

lab testing for immune healthComprehensive lab panels allow you to dig deeper into your health and can provide you with important insights. For example, you can learn about your inflammatory state, metabolic health, nutrient levels, toxin levels, stress response, as well as health risks.

3 Key Functional Lab Panels

1. Men’s / Women’s Wellness Panel – these comprehensive lab panels help identify hormone imbalances, key nutrient deficiencies, as well as metabolic and inflammatory markers.

2. Toxins Panel – this non-invasive hair analysis screens for potentially toxic metals impacting immune health.

3. Adrenal Stress Profile – this saliva test measures the hormones cortisol and DHEA, which are produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Imbalances in these hormones can negatively impact many aspects of your health, including immune function sleep, and energy levels.

5. Supplement with Targeted Nutrients

some supplements can help support immune healthSome of the most important nutrients that directly influence the immune system include vitamins A, C, D, E and the B vitamins, as well as zinc and selenium. These nutrients help to support the body’s physical barrier against pathogens, promote cellular health, support the immune response, provide antioxidant protection, and have anti-inflammatory effects. While a healthy diet can supply these nutrients, many people still have deficiencies in these key vitamins and minerals. Because nutrient deficiencies are one of the most common causes of depressed immunity, taking high-quality nutritional supplements daily is strongly recommended.

A comprehensive multivitamin, vitamin D, fish oil and probiotics (all found in our Foundational Support Bundle) are extremely important to create a solid base for building your supplement regimen. And, taking the three supplements that are featured in our Immune Health Bundle provides you with comprehensive and powerful immune support.

Immune Health Bundle

1. Pathway Immune System Support2 capsules three times daily with food
This comprehensive formula features important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs and mushrooms to help strengthen and optimize immune system health.

2. Pathway PureWay C 1000 mg1 tablet twice daily with food
PureWay C is an advanced form of vitamin C that provides powerful antioxidant and inflammation support and is a key nutrient necessary for optimal immune activity. This formula also features citrus bioflavonoids for added benefit.

3. Elderberry Syrup – 2 tsp daily
Elderberries provide a rich source of antioxidant compounds that have been studied for their antiviral and immune-enhancing benefits. This great tasting syrup can be taken daily for ongoing support, and increased when more acute immune strengthening is needed.

6. Take Steps to Prevent Infections

washing hands helps you stay healthyAdhering to a variety of hygiene practices helps to minimize potential exposures and help prevent the spread of infections. These habits are particularly recommended during COVID-19, but can also apply to cold and flu season, to help keep you and others healthy.

6 Important Prevention Strategies

1. Avoid close contact – keeping a safe distance (at least 6 ft apart) from others who are not from your household, limiting face-to-face contact, and choosing safe social activities can help to reduce the spread of germs.

2. Wear a mask – when in public settings or when around people outside of your household, wear a properly fitting cloth face covering over your nose and mouth.

3. Wash hands frequently this is most well established way to prevent infections. Scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

4. Use hand sanitizer when you are not able to wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

5. Avoid touching your face – because your eyes, nose, and mouth provide a route of entry for viruses into the body, it is very important to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

6. Keep surfaces clean – clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, phones, computer keyboards and remote controls, as well as bathroom and kitchen surfaces. This is especially important when someone is ill in your household. 

Comprehensive Support for Immune System Health

Village Green ApothecaryA healthy immune system is essential for fighting off viral and bacterial infections. Luckily, there are many things that you can do to help your immune system function at optimal levels. Eating a nutritious diet, supporting GI health, engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, taking nutritional supplements, and taking precautionary measures all work together to promote and maintain a healthy immune system. Even taking small steps to make healthy changes in your life can be very beneficial.

If you’d like further information, Village Green Apothecary’s team of nutrition experts is here to answer your health questions and provide you with personalized guidance. Feel free to call us, send us an email, come in and visit, or schedule an appointment to receive one-on-one support.

Our thanks for these photos: autumn walk, food, jogging, yogurt, lab, supplements, hand-washing.

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  • Paula Gallagher
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    Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
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