How to boost your immune system
Your head is pounding, throat is sore and you can barely stand up. Colds and flus likely motivate you to boost your immune system by taking Vitamin C pills, immunity gummies or drink mixes to help heal yourself fast. But what if everything you knew about your immune system was wrong? Well maybe not everything, but chances are you’ve been misled.
We’re going to explain how to boost your immune system FOR REAL. And spoiler alert, adding orange coloured juice crystals in water isn’t the answer, no matter how good it might taste.
How does the immune system work?
If you skipped out on your Grade 9 science class that explained the immune system, don’t worry, we got you.
The body’s immune system has two main jobs; keep germs out of the body, and destroy any that get in.1 Something you may not have known is immunity greatly depends on the health of the lymphatic system. There are many “members” of the lymphatic system team in the body, these include; the adenoids, lymph nodes, lymph vessels, blood vessels, bone marrow, spleen, thymus and tonsils.1
Though the lymphatic system is not formally considered to be a part of the body’s immune system, it plays an integral role in keeping the body immune.2 For example, your lymph nodes release a specific kind of white blood cell that fights infection.1
Caring for your lymphatic system could be one unlock to improved immunity. Below we have some tips for how you can improve your lymphatic system.
Debunking Vitamin C (kind of)
It’s common knowledge that Vitamin C supposedly helps speed up the recovery process for colds and flus and yet studies suggest this might not be the case.3
One study found supplementation with Vitamin C made no improvement to reduce the symptoms of a cold, or speed up recovery.3
There could be many reasons why Vitamin C doesn’t actually remedy cold and flu symptoms.
For starters, your body needs adequate stores of vitamin C to actually build up immunity to fight colds and flus. Without these stores, your body is left in some ways, defenceless. So, Vitamin C is a preventative nutrient, not something that can act as a solution, but rather a proactive defence mechanism.
Number 2: It’s important to note that in the studies that debunk Vitamin C’s immunity powers, are often using ascorbic acid, not Vitamin C. These two are used interchangeably in the medical community, but they are not the same.
Vitamin C in supplement form primarily consists of ascorbic acid, which is a component of Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid does not exist naturally on its own in foods, so our body’s only Vitamin C in its whole food form contains many complex compounds like antioxidants, enzymes, fibre and more. But, when the ascorbic acid component of Vitamin C is isolated, it is removed from its complementary compounds. When nutrients are in a synthetically isolated form, it’s harder for your body to effectively absorb and use them. This is because your body is familiar with getting vitamins from whole foods. This is why vitamins from whole foods absorb 200 to 1500 times better than those found in synthetically isolated pills.4,5
Additionally, many studies show the immunity and anti-inflammatory properties from Vitamin C prove to increase immunity when people eat foods rich in this Vitamin.6,7,8 In other words; whole food forms of Vitamin C are necessary for immunity and overall good health.
Getting Vitamin C from whole foods is necessary as the body doesn’t make it or store it.23 Not only is it imperative to get Vitamin C on a daily basis for your immunity, but Vitamin C is also necessary for healthy hair, skin and nails, and helps boost the absorption of calcium.9,10,11
Exercise and immunity – the truth
Exercise or as we prefer to call it, movement – has tremendous benefits for immunity. In fact, studies show regular body movement in the form of exercise can boost one’s immune function.12,13 This is partly because antibodies and white blood cells are able to circulate the body more rapidly, thus exposing them to areas in the body that might be more susceptible to infection or disease.12 Moderate to vigorous movement also slows down the release of stress hormones which can negatively impact the immune system.12
But before you go signing up for an Iron Man race, understand that movement can heal you as much as it can hurt you. One study found marathon runners are up to 6 times more likely to get a cold after running a race.14 Experts believe this is because stress hormones are released at an all-time high when running very long distances that your body isn’t used to. Large quantities of stress hormones can actually suppress white blood cell functions.15 Remember at the beginning we talked about how white blood cells are imperative for fighting off infections? Knowing this, it’s clear to see the relationship between stress and a vulnerable immune system.
When it comes to moving your body, do what feels right. Straining yourself and bringing on additional stress won’t be worth it in the long run. If you are a long distance runner, introducing additional nutritional support and lifestyle habits like meditation will help keep your body’s immune system strong.
Stress and immunity – there’s a big connection
Stress impacts your body in many ways. Experts suggest prolonged daily stress can lead to inflammation in the body making you more susceptible to colds and flus.16 This happens because the immune system is too busy fighting off the inflammation in the body caused by stress, to ward off other invading germs.
Daily stress has become as much part of our lives as binge-watching reality TV and following celebs on Instagram, maybe it’s not the best for you, but everyone’s into it! (Okay maybe not everyone). The point is everytime you drive to work in rush hour, rush to finish a work assignment so you can make it to your workout, argue with a friend or loved one, your body is under stress.
Despite living in a go-go-go society, there are practices you can include in your daily life that will help you better cope with stress in a proactive way, as we know it’s not going anywhere anytime soon! So, rather than trying to avoid stress altogether (impossible unless you move to mars away from all human beings :P) think of how you can personally train your mind and body to proactively meet stress with calmness.
One strategy is to adopt a regular meditation practice.
We right more about the benefits of meditation in our article How meditation works – the science behind the practice.
How to boost your immune system – the right way!
Stimulate your lymphatic system: Knowing that the health of the lymphatic system is crucial for immunity17 extra steps should be taken to ensure this system operates as smoothly as possible! Dry brushing and going to saunas can help engage your lymphatic so it can perform optimally.
Vitamin C from whole organic foods: Having adequate daily stores of Vitamin C is a great way to preventatively combat illness. Seeing as how Vitamin C from whole foods absorbs better than ascorbic acid pills or powders, eating foods that are rich in Vitamin C can help. But with fast farming practices, foods don’t contain the nutrition they used to, and we need more Vitamin C now than ever due to our fast-paced lifestyles. Because we don’t always have the time to eat a bag of oranges every day, a whole food Vitamin C supplement is a great way to boost immunity. Follow these steps to find the best one:
- The whole food supplement should only contain whole foods, no synthetically-derived nutrients or additives. If you see ascorbic acid as an ingredient, it’s time to find a new nutritional booster!
- Vitamin C is very heat sensitive.18,19 Make sure the supplement company is not overly processing the foods in their supplement. Specifically, ask if they are heated above 40 degrees Celsius. If the answer is yes, the Vitamin C will have very little potency, maybe even none at all.
- Organic foods contain more healing compounds than conventionally grown produce.20 Meaning a supplement with all organic ingredients is a must. Getting the integral antioxidant qualities of foods rich in Vitamin C will help give you the immunity you need.
Our PureFood C checks all these points, and more! We source our Vitamin C primarily from Amla Berries, which provide a ton of health benefits when consumed. Read more about amla berries by reading Amla alchemy – the benefits of amla berries.
Coping with stress: Proactively dealing with stress in a calm and healthy way takes practice. Here are some ways you can meet stress with longevity:
- Start a regular meditation practice. To learn more, read about how one mom became a meditation believer, and how it helped restore her health.
- Address how much of the stress in your life is self-made and how much is inevitable. Example: You cannot control the weather, learn to love the rain! Or at least deal with it? You can wake up 10 minutes earlier to avoid morning stress from not having enough time to get ready for work.
- Eat foods to best support your body – if your body’s nutritional needs are met, you’re more likely to avoid a nutritional deficiency which can make dealing with stress even harder. Introduce a high-quality, foundational nutritional booster to fill in any gaps your diet can’t meet. You may want to read: Do I need a multivitamin?
Movement: Move your body daily! Yes walks count! Bonus points for moving in nature, as this has amazing immunity benefits. Being in nature has proven to boost your immunity and relieve stress.21 In fact, one study found a 20% increase more than 10 different categories of diseases, among those who lived among less green spaces than those who had access to urban or natural greenery.22 Learn more about how you can ease your way into the great outdoors more often, by reading The importance of being in nature.
There’s no quick fix – no matter what Joan at spin class told you!
Our bodies are complex and we put them through a lot. This means no magic pill, powder or superfood is going to solve your health problems. The good news is many of us are in control of our day to day actions and can advocate for our own health and wellness through daily practices, positive self-care and eating what makes us feel good.
Did you like this article? Then you’ll probably love What does Vitamin D do? Learn about this magical nutrient’s superpowers, and why Vitamin D deserves more credit!
4 – Vinson JA, Bose P. Bioavailability of Synthetic Ascorbic Acid and a Citrus Extract. Ann New York Academy of Sciences, 1987;498:525-526
5 – Vinson JA. Human Supplementation with Different Forms of Vitamin C. University of Scranton, Scranton (PA)
7 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039795/
9 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
11- Kumar KP, Bhowmik D, Dutta A, Yadav AP, Paswan S, Srivastava S, et al. Recent trends in potential traditional Indian herbs Emblica officinalis and its medicinal importance. J Pharmacogn Phytochem 2012;1:18-28.
12 – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
13 – http://www.mysportscience.com/single-post/2016/09/25/Strategies-to-reduce-illness-risk-in-athletes-Part-1-Behavioural-lifestyle-and-medical-strategies
14 – http://www.seattlemarathon.org/running-and-the-immune-system/
15 – http://www.mysportscience.com/single-post/2016/09/25/Strategies-to-reduce-illness-risk-in-athletes-Part-1-Behavioural-lifestyle-and-medical-strategies
17 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551392/
18 – https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/11_7/ask-experts/Q-Ive-read-that-high-temperatures-destroy_1748-1.html
20 – https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/18/467136329/is-organic-more-nutritious-new-study-adds-to-the-evidence