Boosting your immune system is a topic that usually comes up as winter sets in. Adults and children start to get the sniffles. The yearly discussion about flu shots starts up again with all the arguments for and against. Magazines run articles on how to stave off winter illnesses like the common cold.
So, most of us are aware that the immune system protects us from bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. But, when we acquire a disease such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, your immune system playes an even bigger role to protect you from these devastating diseases. In fact, it is your immune system that helps to repair your body from the damage caused by disease.
Unfortuately, many of the drugs that you are given don't really strengthen your immune system. In fact, some of these drugs, such as the drugs for chemotherapy, almost destroy your immune system.
So, before you give in to your doctors coaxing and fear tactics to get chemotherapy, consider a natural alternative treatment that won't destroy your immune system. If the alternative treatment doesn't work, you can always come back and get the chemotherapy. But, if you get the chemotherapy first, it will make it a lot more difficult to recover from the damage caused by the chemotherapy. Ironically, when it comes to cancer, it is your immune system that will play one of the biggest roles in fighting the cancer and healing your body.
The following is a list of some of the top foods that help to strengthen your immune system and, in some cases, fight your cancer. For specific foods that strengthen your immune system and fight your cancer, refer to our blog post titled "Top Foods That Fight Cancer".
Vitamin C is present in berries in very large amounts. Vitamin C prevents injury to cells and is therefore very useful in
boosting your immune system. Blueberries and other dark berries in particular contain large
doses of bioflavonoids that can act as antioxidants which will attack
the free radicals moving around your body.
Blueberries in particular are potent immune boosters as they contain
powerful phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins, which is the pigment that
gives blueberries their color.
Carrots contain beta carotene, which 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 -- especially when the carrots are juiced.
Beta carotene 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 foods that boost your immune system containing 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 supplements 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.
Getting carotenoids in food, especially raw carrot juice, is a lot 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.
Since too much vitamin A can be toxic to the body, 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, because when the body has enough vitamin A, it stops making it.
Chlorella is a single-cell freshwater algae that acts as an efficient
detoxification agent by binding to toxins, such as mercury, and carries
them out of your system. It is the chlorophyll in chlorella that makes
it so powerful. Chlorophyll helps you process more oxygen, cleanses your
blood and promotes the growth and repair of your tissues. Wheatgrass, because of its chlorophyll content, provides a similar benefit.
Citrus fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C and phytonutrients called bioflavenoids, which aid the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental foods-that-boost-your-immune-systempollutants.
Bioflavenoids protect the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. Along the membrane of each cell there are microscopic parking spaces, called receptor sites. Pollutants, toxins, or germs can park here and gradually eat their way into the membrane of the cell, but when bioflavenoids fill up these parking spots there is no room for toxins to park.
Bioflavenoids also reduce the cholesterol’s ability to form plaques in arteries and lessen the formation of microscopic clots inside arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that people who eat the most bioflavenoids have less cardiovascular disease.
A diet that contains a wide variety of foods that boost your immune system like fruits and vegetables, at least six servings per day, will help you get the bioflavenoids needed to help your immune system work in top form.
Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
are all cruciferous vegetables, which means they’re not only rich in antioxidant vitamins that give an immune system boost, but they also
contain sulfur, which helps to penetrate cancer cells.
These vegetables also contain choline, which keeps
your cells functioning properly and also helps support a healthy
gastrointestinal barrier, keeping bacteria safely confined in the gut.
Cauliflower, in particular, is a beneficial food to eat when you’re sick
because it’s also rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that
helps fight off infection. Dip raw cauliflower florets in low-fat
yogurt, drizzle them with vinaigrette, or add them to your favorite
vegetable soup recipe.
Fish, especially cold-water fish, is a great source of omega 3 fats, which many people are
deficient in. Choose fish like tuna, mackerel, sardines and wild salmon
to obtain the higher levels of Omega-3 essential fatty acids.
With antiviral properties and antibacterial features, garlic is one of the most powerful foods that boost your immune system 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 are 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 protects against cancer, as demonstrated by 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 one of the most heart-friendly foods that boost your immune system since it keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels.
Garlic is one of the easiest foods to include in your diet. Add it into
soups, casseroles and sauces. Include it in salad dressings or roast it
with vegetables. There are so many options to use garlic every day.
Red or pink grapefruit is packed with vitamin C, making it
an immune-boosting essential. The red and pink varieties are especially
good choices because, as their rosy color indicates, they’re packed with
bioflavonoids. These naturally-occurring
compounds cause beneficial reactions in the body, including an added
immunity boost. Halve a grapefruit
and dust it with cinnamon, another immunity booster.
Greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and Swiss chard are immune-boosting
foods that contain high levels of vitamin C, which not only packs a
powerful antioxidant punch, it helps fight off infection and regenerate
other antioxidants in the body, including vitamin E. They also contain
folate, another immune booster.
Add to a green smoothie or sautée kale, spinach, or Swiss chard
with garlic and olive oil, or use fresh spinach to make an nutrient-rich
salad — top it with fresh mushrooms to pack an extra immune-boosting
If you want your body to fight infection, certain mushrooms can increase the activity and new production of white blood
No herbal medicine cabinet should be without mushrooms. They increase
the production of cytokines, which are cells that help fight off
infection. They also contain polysaccharides, which are compounds that
support the immune system.
Mushrooms also contain powerful compounds called beta-glucans, which
have been long known for their immune enhancing and cancer-fighting properties. Beta-glucan 3 enhances immunity through a variety of
mechanisms, many of which are similar to those of echinacea and
astragalus root. For example, it binds to macrophages and other
scavenger white blood cells, activating their anti-infection
When you’re thinking about a healthy
diet, mushrooms may not be the first thing to come to mind, but they’re a
major source of the immune system-boosting mineral, zinc. People who
don’t have enough zinc in their diet tend to have fewer white blood
cells to help fight off disease, which can lead to a reduced immune
Start thinking of mushrooms as a great immune-boosting food.
Sauté shiitakes with onion and garlic as a side dish or add to enrich tomato sauce or a salad.
There are many different types of
mushrooms, but stick with the medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Shiitake, and
Maitake, which are notable for their ability to activate/modulate your immune
"Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of
white blood cells, making them more aggressive. This is a good thing
when you have an infection," says Douglas Schar, MCPP,
director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, DC.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids in flax oil and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) 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, such as flax or fish oils, take additional vitamin E, which acts together with essential fatty acids to boost the immune system. One way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to add one to three teaspoons of flax oil to a fruit and yogurt smoothie or eat some cold-water fish such as wild salmon or sardines.
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. (Perhaps this is why grandmothers used to insist on a daily dose of unpalatable cod liver oil.)
Probiotics, or the "live active cultures" found in yogurt, are healthy
bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing
Although they're available in supplement form, a study from the
University of Vienna in Austria found that a daily 7-ounce dose of organic
yogurt was just as effective in boosting immunity as popping pills.
an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a
daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri—a specific probiotic that
appears to stimulate white blood cells—took 33 percent fewer sick days
than those given a placebo.
This mineral increases natural killer cells and
mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. Foods that boost your immune system
containing selenium are tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole
grains, vegetables (depending on the selenium content of the soil
they’re grown in), brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken (white
meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, Brazil nuts, and lamb chops.
Ginger comes to the aid when we're sick in some powerful
ways. Besides soothing a scratchy throat, it has chemicals called
sesquiterpenes that target rhinoviruses -- which are the most common
family of cold viruses -- as well as substances that help suppress
coughing. Ginger is also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild
sedative so you'll feel more comfortable and be able to rest easier.
Add a couple of tablespoons of shredded ginger root to your tea, or make
ginger tea (it comes in tea bags, but you can also simmer fresh sliced
ginger to make a potent brew).
Turmeric, a bright-yellow, bitter spice and a key
ingredient in many curries, has been
used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis
and rheumatoid arthritis. High concentrations of curcumin, which gives
turmeric its distinct color, have been shown to contain strong flu and
cold fighting properties.
It's ironic that black pepper -- the spice best known
for making you sneeze -- can ward off the sniffles. Black peppercorns
are high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and
pain-relieving qualities. Black pepper also helps your body to better absorb turmeric.
Hot and spicy foods that boost your immune system such as
chili peppers, hot mustard, radishes, pepper, onions, and garlic
contain substances called “mucolytics” (similar to over-the-counter
expectorant cough syrups) that liquefy thick mucus that accumulates in
the sinuses and breathing passages.
Sweet potatoes contain large doses of vitamin A. Our
skin needs good amounts of vitamin A to keep it healthy. When the
largest organ in your body is healthy, you have a much better chance of
staving off infection.
You may not think of skin as part of your
immune system, but this crucial organ, covering an impressive 16 square
feet, serves as a first-line of defense against bacteria, viruses, and
other undesirables. To stay strong and healthy, your skin needs vitamin
"Vitamin A plays a major role in the production of connective tissue,
a key component of skin," explains Prevention advisor David Katz, MD,
director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, CT.
"One of the best ways to get vitamin A into your diet is from foods
containing beta-carotene (like sweet potatoes), which your body turns
into vitamin A."
You probably already know that you should
eat a variety of the green and colorful vegetables. But do you know why? The
bright green, yellow and orange vegetables have the highest amounts of
anticancer phytonutrients and carotenoids like beta carotene. These are antioxidants which help your
immune system to keep in shape.
Try a large variety of vegetables in salads every day and include these vegetables in hearty soups.
Vegetable soups. Soups that are made
with an array vegetables such as celery, carrots, squash, and red peppers
contain key nutrients that will strengthen your immune system. Also,
single-vegetable soups such as tomato soup also helps to boost your
immune system. Researchers speculate that the lycopene in tomatoes acts
as an antioxidant, helping white blood cells resist the damaging effects
of free radicals.
Green salads. Similarly, salads that are
made with an array vegetables such as broccoli florets, celery, carrots, squash, onions and red
peppers contain key nutrients that will strengthen your immune system.
Green juices/smoothies. These drinks are packed with concentrated phytonutrients that help to boost your immune system.
Vitamin C tops the list of foods that boost your immune
system 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. Here’s what the
research shows about how this mighty vitamin protects your body.
that boost your immune system containing vitamin C increase 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
Around 200 milligrams a day seems
to be a generally agreed-upon amount and one that can be automatically
obtained by eating at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If you take vitamin C
supplements, it’s best to space them throughout the day rather than take
one large dose, most of which may end up being excreted in the urine.
Studies have found that Vitamin C can reduce cold symptoms by 23
per cent, and all that's needed is just one to eight grams (1,000 to
8,000 milligrams) to do the trick. Besides citrus fruits, other foods
that have high amounts of vitamin C include papaya, sweet potatoes,
butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and red bell
important antioxidant and immune booster doesn’t get as much press as
vitamin C, yet it’s one of the most important foods that boost your
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 supplementation may
also reverse some of the decline in immune response commonly seen in
aging. Vitamin E has been implicated in lowering the risk of
cardiovascular disease. In the Harvard School of Public Health study of
87,000 nurses, Vitamin E supplementation 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
You need 100-400 milligrams per day, depending on
your general lifestyle. People who don’t exercise, who smoke, and who
consume high amounts of alcoholic beverages will need the higher dosage.
Those with a more moderate lifestyle can get by with lower levels of
protein helps to fight cancer because it helps our bodies increase our
glutathione levels and it provides an easy-to-digest protein that helps
the body rebuild and repair its cells due to the damage from the cancer. High-quality
whey protein provides many other health benefits including, immunity, cell
energy, muscle strength, detox and antioxidant support.
Glutathione is a terrific
antioxidant and cellular detoxifier, helping to break down the adverse effects of
environmental toxins, from heavy metals to tobacco smoke and diesel
fumes. It is produced in all cells of the body, specifically to break
down these dangerous toxins and free-radicals.
Lactoferrin is a key ingredient in high-quality
whey protein that is a cancer killer and triggers the production of glutathione.
Lactoferrin activates the innate immune system cells like the
macrophages, neutrophils and T-cells. These are the first line of
defense against harmful pathogens – including cancer cells.
Cancer cells have a highly negative
membrane charge which attracts lactoferrin, while healthy normal cells
have a neutral charge. Lactoferrin is attracted to the cancer cells,
attaches to them and triggers a process that kills the cancer cell; as
well as blocking angiogenesis – the growth of blood vessels that feed
key to lactoferrin’s cancer-fighting properties is its amazing ability
to bind with iron. It forms a bond with iron that’s 100 times stronger
than transferrin – your body’s major iron transport protein. Several
studies suggest that excessive amounts of iron, in your diet, increase
your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Researchers have shown
that many chronic diseases – in particular, cancer – need iron to
reproduce and grow.
High-quality whey protein provides cancer patients with an easy way to
enhance lean muscle mass and boost their energy in order to fight cachexia. Cachexia is a wasting condition with loss of muscle and
fat tissue; and, is one of the reasons why some cancer patients succumb to their disease.
Note: Besides high-quality whey
protein, other foods that help to increase glutathione levels include
green vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and
broccoli along with avocado, asparagus, chlorella, wheatgrass,
grapefruit, strawberries, raw tomatoes, and oranges.
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 supplements have 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.
anti-infection hype around zinc is controversial. While some studies
claim that zinc supplements in the form of lozenges can lower the
incidence and severity of infections, other studies have failed to show
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 and aim for 15 to
25 milligrams a day.
For infants and children, there is some evidence
that dietary zinc supplements may reduce the incidence of acute
respiratory infections, but this is controversial.
Rich food sources of zinc include: oysters, cereals, crab, beef, turkey and beans.