Let’s preface the article with a disclaimer. The truth is that you can’t—and shouldn’t—boost your immune system. Before you get mad, understand this: your immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and tissues that work in tandem to protect the body from infection (1). So, there isn’t one single thing you could pump up on demand. The underlying implication of the word “boost” is also concerning. Increasing our body’s number of immune cells isn’t ideal. Overactive immune responses can cause excessive amounts of inflammation that make people terribly ill (2, 3, 4).
All this means your goal shouldn’t be to “boost” your immune system (i.e., looking for quick, overnight fixes)—but, instead, support it through long-term healthy habits so it becomes more competent at doing its job; it’s an important difference. Find out how to do the latter here.
#1: Get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly
Beyond messing with your motor skills, mood, and cognitive function, inadequate sleep also hurts your immune system’s ability to fight off infection (5). In support of this, researchers in a 2015 clinical trial published in Sleep found that of the 164 men and women willing to be exposed to the cold virus, short sleepers—those who regularly slept less than six hours a night—were 4.2 times more likely to catch the cold compared to those who got more than seven hours of sleep (6). Without diving into too much detail, research suggests that certain components of your immune system (e.g., cytokines production) rev up during sleep, strengthening and reinforcing its ability to recognize and react to harmful, foreign invaders (e.g., germs, viruses, and bacteria) (7).
Meaning? Getting adequate, high-quality sleep—between seven and nine hours—nightly is an excellent way to support your immune system. Focus on better sleep habits (8, 9). Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule. Avoid screens, night-eating, and exercise right before bedtime.
#2: Find ways to manage your stress levels
Have you ever noticed that you seem to fall sick at the worst possible times—right before quarterly work performance reviews or prospective client meetings? It’s not bad luck at play. As it turns out, stress (chronic stress, in particular) promotes inflammation and immune cell function imbalances (10, 11, 12). This, in turn, suppresses your natural immune response. And there’s plenty of evidence to back it up (13). In a series of studies over 20 years at Carnegie Mellon University, volunteers were exposed to the cold virus (using nose drops) and then quarantined for observation. Individuals who reported less stress in their lives were less likely to develop cold symptoms (14).
Of course, you can't eliminate all stressors (e.g., work, bills, and family obligations) from your life. However, what you can do is loosen the hold stress has over you. Practicing stress management techniques, like meditation, controlled breathing, talking to a therapist, or incorporating stress-relieving supplements (like Dr. Danielle’s Stress Lift) are all ways to help your immune system stay strong (15, 16, 17).
#3: Make movement a regular part of your day
An active lifestyle is associated with many well-known health benefits—from improved mood to a lowered risk of chronic diseases to enhanced cognitive functions. But there's one benefit that's less-talked-about: a well-functioning immune system. Research consistently shows that people who exercise regularly tend to fall sick less frequently. Take this 2011 study of more than 1,000 adults published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, for instance (18). Those who exercised for at least 20 minutes a day, five or more days per week, reported 43% fewer days with upper respiratory tract infections than those who were sedentary. And even when these physically active individuals did get sick, their symptoms tended to be less severe.
For those curious about how exactly exercise positively impacts your immune system: when you engage in heartrate-elevating physical activity (e.g., a 30-minute brisk walk), your body senses it as a type of psychological stressor (19). It then deploys white blood cells—including neutrophils and lymphocytes—from different body parts to flood your bloodstream. And because they're now circulating at a higher rate than usual, any pathogens are more easily detected and destroyed during the process.
Note that this "kickstart" to your immune system is only temporary (about three hours). But the good news is that it occurs after each bout of exercise. That means, if you make it a point to get moving into your daily life, you’ll continue to experience exercise’s beneficial effects on your immune system. Quick ways to get your daily movement in include climbing stairs (instead of taking the lift), making it a point to get up from your worktable from time to time, and taking a brisk, post-meal walk around the neighborhood.
#4: Eat a healthy, nutritious diet
Eating a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet could help you get all the nutrients you need for a well-functioning immune system, including (but not limited to):
- Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is involved in many parts of the immune system. In addition to encouraging the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytes), vitamin C also helps these white blood cells function more effectively by protecting them from the damaging effects of free radicals (20). To that end, numerous studies have shown vitamin C to shorten pneumonia recovery time (21, 22).
- Vitamin D: Our bodies need adequate vitamin D to produce the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria (23). Consume inadequate vitamin D, and you become more susceptible to infection. Research agrees. This 2017 analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials of 11,000 patients published in The BMJ, for instance, highlighted an overall protective effect of vitamin D supplementation against acute respiratory tract infections (24). For a delicious source of vitamin D, try Dr. Danielle’s B12 +D3 gummies. Your body and taste buds will thank you.
- Zinc: Although scientists aren't entirely sure of how exactly zinc positively impacts the immune system, one thing's clear: it does. Several studies have found that zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of a cold by about a day and reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children (25).
Think you'll face difficulties meeting the daily recommended intake levels for these nutrients? Don't worry; there's help available in the form of Dr. Danielle’s Elderberry Immune Assist. Formulated with a blend of hard-hitting, immune-supporting ingredients—from elderberry to vitamin C to zinc—just two capsules a day keeps your immune system running as smooth as butter (26).
#5: Incorporate fermented foods into your diet
Why fermented foods (e.g., yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut)? Well, that’s because they're rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics that populate your digestive tract (i.e., what you know as "good gut bacteria"). But wait. What does your gut bacteria have to do with your immune system? Answer: plenty. Research suggests that a healthy, balanced gut microbiome can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms (27). According to a 3-month study involving 126 children, for example, those who drank 2.4 ounces (70 ml) of fermented milk daily had about 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases than a control group (28).
Can’t stomach the taste of fermented foods? Then consider probiotic supplements (e.g., Dr. Danielle’s Probiotics). They don’t lose out on the efficacy front—as evidenced by this 28-day study published in Beneficial Microbes. Among 152 people infected with rhinovirus, those who took probiotics supplements had lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than a control group (29). By the way: you could further support your gut health (and, therefore, immune system) with Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist, too. Harnessing the powers of glutamine and arabinogalactan, among others, Gut Assist helps your gut defend against daily assaults from stress, food particles, toxins, drugs, and pathogens—promoting a healthy microbiome. Psst: better still, it now comes into two new, irresistibly delicious flavors: Berry and Orange.
#6: Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Try to lay off the drinks if possible; your immune system will thank you for it. Research consistently shows a link between excessive alcohol consumption and compromised immune function (30). More specifically, studies show that individuals who drink in excess are more susceptible to respiratory illness and pneumonia—and recover from infection and wounds more slowly.
There are two primary reasons for this. First, alcohol alters the number of microbes in the gut microbiome, whose importance to the immune system was earlier discussed. Second, excessive alcohol can damage the lungs and impact the mucosal immune system, which is essential in helping your body recognize pathogens and fight infection. Bottom line? Avoid drinking to excess. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that alcohol should be consumed only in moderation: up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men (31). Oh, and when you drink, don't forget to show your liver some love by supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Liver Assist.
As you can tell, none of the above strategies are designed to give you immediate results. Instead, you're likely only to reap the benefits of a well-functioning immune system (e.g., getting sick less frequently) after a few weeks (or months) of staying consistent with the healthy habits. And that’s the way it should be. As with so many aspects of your health, slow and steady wins the race.