As the cold and flu season comes around again, more and more people start becoming sick. During these colder months, people spend more time indoors together, which increases transmission rates, and colder temperatures and dryer conditions themselves make it ideal for viruses to invade and spread within the human body (1). In addition to this, a recent study showed that a drop in nasal tissue also significantly reduced the human body’s immune response to infections (2). Thankfully, there are three natural mechanisms that you can take advantage of to bolster your immune system: the physical barrier, the autonomic immune system, and the adaptive immune system.
Most infections start at the eyes, ear, nose, and mouth. Your body has natural protective barriers such as tear ducts, ear wax, nasal hair and mucus, and stomach acid. You can wear personal protection equipment (PPE) such as googles, masks, or gloves to add further security against unwanted invaders. You can also keep any substances out of eyes, ears, nose, and mouth through hand washing, not touching your facial features, or other hygienic practices.
You can optimize your autonomic immune system by improving your overall health markers through diet, exercise, sleep, and/or chronic stress reduction.
A well balanced diet will provide you with the adequate nutrition for your body to perform at optimal levels. Studies have shown that malnutrition, diets with mainly highly processed foods, and severe overeating can cause chronic inflammation, disruption in the gut microbiome, and a significant decrease in immune function (3).
You may want to address any vitamin deficiencies with supplements of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E which have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells (4). Other supplements such as echinacea, garlic, and green tea have also shown some promising results in preventing the contraction of flu and cold viruses (5) (6) (7).
You may want to also boost your gut microbiome’s immune function by eating more fibrous prebiotic food, fermented probiotic foods, or supplementing. This study has shown three other natural supplements that have demonstrated promising results in helping the immune system (8).
You may want to focus on losing excess weight and body fat to improve your immune system. Obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, which has been identified as an independent risk factor for the influenza virus, possibly due to the impaired white blood cell function (9).
Exercise is a significant modulator of the immune system by increasing the growth and distribution of white blood cells. Physically active people have been shown to have decreased infection rates, lower intensity of symptoms, and reduced mortality in viral infections (10).
Good quality sleep exerts a strong regulatory influence on immune functions and antibody responses to disease and vaccinations (11).
In the short-term, stress can help enhance immunoprotection through processes such as wound healing, vaccination, anti-infectious agent, and anti-tumor and immuno-pathology, such as pro-inflammatory and autoimmune responses (12). However, long-term chronic stress can have the opposite effect by suppressing all areas of the immune system, such as lowering immune responses, producing less antibodies after vaccinations, and downregulating the production of white blood cells (13).
The adaptive immune system learns to recognize a pathogen by creating antibodies to produce specialized white blood cells to those specific harmful substances. Over time, our body becomes more efficient at recognizing and destroying those foreign substances (14).
You can hack your nervous to boost your immune system through breathwork, heat exposure cold exposure, and even positive thinking.
Oxidative stress from resistive breathing is a major stimulus to the immune response of the body (15). Resistive breathing is simply breathing through increased airway resistance. It can be found in diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also be found with long distance endurance exercises. Several studies have shown that normal healthy individuals could perform resistive breathing in order to increase immune function by increasing killer T and helper T cells (16). Another scientifically proven breathing method for increasing immunity is cyclic hyperventilation and retention, popularized by Wim Hof. When subjects performed the breathing technique, it led to increased levels of epinephrine which caused an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines (17).
The human body’s ability to have a fever is a natural response that stimulates innate and adaptive immune responses (18). You can harness these immune boosting effects through heat exposure. This process can pre-stress the body in order to help produce more white blood cells, natural killer cells, and antibody creating cells (19).
Just as individuals can become heat adaptive, they can also become cold adapted. Studies have shown that exposure to stress-inducing stimuli, such as repeated cold water immersions, can greatly increase plasma concentrations of T lymphocytes, helper T cells, and suppressor T cells, in order to increase your immune response (20).
The most overlooked way to enhance your immune system is to stimulate the dopamine pathway, such as by having fun and thinking positively. These activities can activate the mesolimbic pathway and the anti-inflammatory pathways to increase immune responses (21).
Whichever immune system enhancement route you go down, you can be sure that you’re taking the right step towards improving your immunity and overall health.