6 Easy Ways to Support (Boost) Your Immune System Naturally

Published on February 28, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Is it possible to use lifestyle practices, herbs, and nutrition to boost your immune system?

The answer is complicated because the immune system is complicated.

Unlike single organs or cells, the immune system consists of various organs and cells and interacts with nearly every system in the body.

There are even two types of immune responses:REF#697

  1. Innate immune response: Your first line of defense, which is present at birth.
  2. Adaptive immune response: Your second line of defense developed over your lifetime.

As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to track the effectiveness of natural and synthetic substances and lifestyle factors within the context of how they affect the whole immune system—not just isolated parts.

So, can you boost your immune system?

Not exactly, and there is no evidence taking supplements causes a “boosting” effect.

However, a growing body of evidence suggests that lifestyle choices, nutrition, and specific herbs can support various aspects of normal immune function.

6 Effective Ways to Support Your Immune System Using Lifestyle and Herbs

Most scientific research points to lifestyle as the best way to potentially enhance immunity and reduce susceptibility to certain ailments.

However, there is also evidence that herbs and specific nutrients can help support immunity.

We’ll explore both aspects in this section.

#1: Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle You Can Stick With

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the following lifestyle factors have a significant impact on your immune system:REF#698

  • Smoking
  • Excessive drinking
  • Weight
  • Activity level
  • Sleep
  • Diet

Let’s unpack how this information can help you support your immune system.

Quitting smoking and going easy on alcohol should be a top priority. 

If you’re going to drink alcohol, most experts recommend moderate (one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) to light (one to three drinks per week) drinking for most people.REF#699

However, some people (such as those on medication, those with a pre-existing condition, or anyone with a history of addiction) usually fare better with no alcohol. Check with your doctor for individual recommendations.

Weight issues can be highly individual and aren’t always the result of too many calories or too little exercise. 

Thyroid issues, for example, can result in weight fluctuations on both sides of the scale.

However, many successfully reach a more desirable weight by upping their activity level, getting enough sleep, and focusing on a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy carbs/fiber, and lean proteins.

Even if weight loss isn’t your goal, experts recommend the following for good health:

  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.REF#700
  • Get at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night.REF#701
  • Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.REF#702

Certain supplements, such as adaptogens and digestive and liver-supportive herbs, have also been shown to be potentially helpful for supporting weight loss efforts.*

#2: Get Creative About Stress Management

Nearly everyone has experienced the toll stress can take on the immune system.

Unfortunately, stress is a part of life. 

However, some stress is beneficial for our health, as demonstrated by centenarians who experienced extreme hardships during young and middle adulthood yet remained healthy into old age.REF#703

The key is in how we perceive, manage, and adapt to life’s various stressors.

Certain herbs called adaptogens can also help by improving your resilience during times of stress.*

These herbs support normal stress hormone levels, such as cortisol, which helps regulate your stress response.REF#704

They have also been shown effective for supporting sleep,REF#705 REF#706 hormonal balance,REF#707 REF#708 REF#709thyroid health.REF#710 

Some popular adaptogens include Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Rhodiola, Mushrooms, and Maca Root.

Gaia Herbs Everyday Adaptogen and Adaptogen Performance Mushrooms & Herbs are popular supplements for supporting a healthy stress response.

Some practical ways to reduce stress through lifestyle include:REF#711 REF#712 REF#713 REF#714

  • Asking for help where and when you need it
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Laughing
  • Journaling
  • Exercising
  • Decluttering
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Getting counseling or therapy
  • Spending more time in nature 
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Drinking tea
  • Eat dark chocolate (for real!)

      #3: Try the Ancient Practice of Hot and Cold Therapy

      Hot and cold therapies have been practiced globally for centuries to promote good health, relaxation, and strong immunity.

      As the names suggest, these therapies include immersion in or applying heat or cold to promote health.

      Hot and cold therapies involve the application or immersion of heat and cold in succession.

      We see an intriguing example of cold therapy used In modern day Nordic countries, where it is common practice for parents or daycares to place tightly bundled babies outdoors in freezing temperatures for their naps.

      Although Western parents would find this practice shocking, Nordic people believe it helps their babies develop resiliency and strength while enhancing sleep (these benefits have been documented by researchersREF#715).

      Some other examples of hot, cold, and hot-cold therapies include:

      • Hydrotherapy, in the form of soaking in hot or cool springs, swimming in the ocean, spending time in bathhouses, or plunging into cold bodies of water.
      • Sweat lodges, as used by Native Americans and other indigenous cultures.
      • Saunas or steam rooms are commonplace in Nordic nations.
      • The application of cooling or warming poultices or preparations to injuries.
      • Cryotherapy, which is the practice of immersing oneself in icy water or freezing temperatures.

      What does the science have to say about these practices regarding immune function?

      Various forms of hydrotherapy have been validated for their therapeutic benefits on immunity and inflammatory response.REF#716

      There is also evidence that sauna therapy can support some aspects of immune function, including inflammatory response.REF#717 REF#718

      And cryotherapy, when done safely, has demonstrated efficacy in promoting healthy immune function.REF#716 REF#719

      Partaking in hot, cold, or hot and cold alternating therapy can be as simple as: 

      • Breaking a sweat exercising
      • Doing hot yoga
      • Getting out for a brisk walk in the cold weather
      • Indulging in an Epsom salt or other DIY detox bath
      • Treating yourself to a sweat session at your local sauna house, spa, or mineral hot springs
      • Using your shower to alternate between hot and cold temperatures

      Whichever method you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy so you’ll return to it often. Your immune system will thank you!

      #4: Incorporate Immune Supportive Foods

      We mentioned earlier the importance of eating a healthy, whole foods diet for immune health. 

      However, certain foods have demonstrated extraordinary benefits for the immune system.

      Some of the best immune-supportive foods include:

      • Berries: these contain a variety of antioxidants, such as quercetin, fiber, and other nutrients that support normal immune function.REF#720
      • Prebiotic foods: such as onions, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, and chicory resists digestion and ferment in the gut, where they fuel healthy gut microbes which support the gut immune system.REF#721
      • Probiotic-rich foods: including cultured vegetables, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha, provide friendly bacteria for the gut microbiome, which encourages diversity and normal immune function.REF#722
      • Onions and garlic contain various plant chemicals, such as sulfur compounds and prebiotics, which support multiple aspects of immune function.REF#723 REF#724
      • Green vegetables: especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, bok choy, and collard greens, contain a wealth of antioxidants and phytochemicals shown to support the function of immune cells in the gut and skin.REF#725
      • Oats: are a good source of fiber and contain beta-glucans, a type of fiber that supports healthy gut bacteriaREF#726 and inflammatory response.REF#727
      • Mushrooms: specifically wild mushrooms like Shiitake,REF#728  Maitake,REF#729
      • and Lion’s Mane REF#730contain various immune-supportive plant compounds such as polysaccharides and beta-glucans.

      This is not an exhaustive list of all immune-supportive foods, but it offers a starting point on how to incorporate more immune-friendly foods into your diet.

      #5: Tend Your Gut Microbiome

      We’ve mentioned the role of gut health in immunity throughout this article. However, this topic is so essential it bears a more significant explanation. You’ve probably heard 70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut. Therefore, we must focus on optimizing digestive health if we’re to have any effect on our immunity.

      How does gut health impact immunity?

      It’s a complex topic, but your gastrointestinal tract is responsible for two main functions:REF#731

      1. Digestion and uptake of nutrients 
      2. Maintaining immune homeostasis

      Maintaining immune homeostasis requires an intricate interplay between intestinal microbiota (gut microbes), the intestinal lining, and the local mucosal immune system (a secondary component of the adaptive immune system). 

      All of which play a significant role in various types of immune signaling, response, and function.REF#732

      There is still much to learn about all these intricate processes and how they affect different players in the immune system in tandem.

      The big takeaway is since your gut houses 70-80% of your immune cells, it is wise to take care of your gut.

      There are several ways to support your gut health, including:REF#733

      • Avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use, which disrupts beneficial gut bacteria
      • Avoiding NSAID drugs as much as possible: NSAIDs can disrupt the gut microbiome and cause intestinal damage over time.
      • Get a handle on stress: Persistent stress, if left unmanaged, can negatively impact intestinal health.
      • Eating a diverse whole-foods diet rich in probiotic and prebiotic foods: These foods encourages the proliferation of friendly gut bacteria.
      • Taking a probiotic and prebiotic supplement: This can be beneficial for those who do not care for or do not have access to probiotic- or prebiotic-rich foods or those who need extra support.
      • Exercising: Has been shown to promote gut health.
      • Spending time outdoors and with pets: This enhances microbiome diversity.

      Gaia Herbs offers several supplements designed to support gut health, including:

      Black Walnut, Sweet Wormwood, Oregano, and Peppermint support gut balance and digestive health.

      Larch, Acacia, Fenugreek, Cinnamon, and Marshmallow provide relief from occasional gas, bloating, and cramping.

      #6: Search Out Your Herbal Immune Allies

      Although herbs and supplements cannot boost immunity, they can offer broad-spectrum immune support.

      But with so many herbal supplements touting “immune support” claims, how can you know which ones will work for you?

      Some of this will require some trial and error. However, learning the science behind certain well-known and lesser-known herbs can help zero in on your best herbal allies.

      Here is a sampling of five herbs that have demonstrated potential immune support benefits:

      1. Echinacea

      Echinacea, also known as Coneflower, is legendary for a reason: science has shown multiple species of Echinacea can provide potentially broad-reaching support for the innate and adaptive immune system.REF#734

      So if you’re unsure which herb or species of Echinacea to take for immune support, you’re likely to receive a potential benefit from any variety of quality Echinacea.

      Gaia Herbs has several formulas containing organic Echinacea, including:

        2: Cordyceps

        Cordyceps is a type of fungi native to the Himalayan foothills of Tibet and Bhutan.

        Cordyceps has a rich history of use in traditional Asian wellness practices. 

        Their various compounds, such as polysaccharides and antioxidants, have also demonstrated several possible benefits for immunity in modern research. Including supporting normal immune regulation, cytokine production, macrophage function, the adaptive immune system, and respiratory function.REF#735REF#736

        Gaia Herbs offers authentic, sustainably-source cordyceps in:

          3: Reishi Mushroom

          Reishi, known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “the herb of spirituality,” is another wild mushroom with a long history of use in traditional herbalism and folklore.

          Science has found the polysaccharides in Reishi to be potentially beneficial in supporting immune regulation, macrophage production, inflammatory response, and respiratory health when combined with Cordyceps.REF#737

          It’s also demonstrated immune support and other health benefits when taken on its own.REF#738

          Gaia Herbs offers Reishi Mushroom in:

          Learn more about how to source high-quality mushrooms in 4 Tips for Choosing High-Quality Mushroom Supplements to Support Your Health.

          4: Astragalus

          Astragalus is largely unknown in the West.

          However, it is one of the most-used herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is considered foundational for supporting the healthy flow of “Qi,” or energy, throughout the body, supporting immunity, and much more.*

          Science has discovered specific plant compounds in Astragalus, such as polysaccharides (APS), saponins, flavonoids, and alkaloids, produce most of its health benefits.

          One study found Astragalus supported the development of immune organs, mucosal immune function, and innate immunity and promoted the maturation and differentiation of acquired immunity cells and the expression of antibodies in acquired immunity.REF#739

          No wonder it’s been such a beloved staple in the East for centuries!

          You can find Astragalus in these Gaia Herbs products: Astragalus Root, and Astragalus Supreme.

          5: Ashwagandha

          Ashwagandha, also known as “Indian Ginseng,” is best known for its possible effects on stress, hormonal function, and energy levels.

          However, this Ayurvedic adaptogenic powerhouse has also demonstrated immune-supportive properties.

          Not only does it help mediate stress response (which, as discussed, is connected to immunity), but it’s been shown to support immunity by promoting normal immunoglobulin production and possibly helping regulate antibody production.REF#740

          Perhaps this is why Ashwagandha is foundational to so many Ayurvedic immune health formulas.

          Gaia Herbs has several best-selling supplements featuring Ashwagandha, including:

          Want More Information On Natural Immune Support?

          There are countless other ways to support your immune system and build resilience naturally, using herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle practices.

          To learn more, check out the following articles:

          Don’t see what you’re looking for? We have over 100 articles on this topic! 

          Just search “immune” on our website to discover endless sources of information on all things immune health.


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