9 Superfoods That Can Boost Your Immune System

Find out the immune-boosting benefits of consuming superfoods that are suggested by many Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

Young Asian parents play with their son in an outdoor setting

The immune system has one of the most important roles in the human body; to protect the body against harmful, disease-causing microorganisms. This is particularly important during times when you are exposed to highly contagious pathogens in your environment. 

Here are a few steps that you can take to ensure the healthy functioning of your immune system. 

Effective Ways to Boost Your Immune System 

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to strengthen your immune system. The practice of healthy habits is essential, especially for the elderly, as age can cause a reduction in immune function and put them at greater risk of infections or diseases.

1. Exercising regularly 

Regular exercise has many benefits for your health, such as better control over disease-causing pathogens. This protection against harmful diseases attributes to several factors. These include improvements in physical and cardiovascular conditioning, a decrease in oxidative stress, better glycaemic control, and the prevention of excessive weight gain.

2. Taking health supplements 

A health supplement may offer some support in strengthening your immune system. This is because a single nutrient deficiency can alter the body’s immune response. This relates to certain vitamins and minerals working in tandem to protect cells, support the growth and activity of immune cells, and produce antibodies.

Normally, you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. Unless there is a specific deficiency, a supplement is usually unnecessary if you eat and exercise well. However, it can provide extra nutrients when your diet is lacking. Certain health conditions – such as cancer, diabetes, or chronic diarrhoea – also trigger a deficiency. The appropriate use of health supplements can help you avoid side effects associated with overuse. 

3. Getting a good night’s sleep 

A woman stretches while sitting on a bed and looking at the sunrise
Restful nocturnal sleep can help to improve immune system function against infections.

A good night’s sleep and a positive sleep-wake cycle are vital for regulating immunological processes in the body. One of the most prominent benefits of restful nocturnal sleep is an increase of T cells, which can help fight off infections.

You should go to bed at the same time every night and aim for at least 7-9 hours of sleep daily. This is because our body’s sleep-wake cycle – also known as the circadian rhythm – is dependent on a consistent sleep schedule to maintain balance and promote deeper, more restful sleep.

4. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet 

A strong immune system is highly dependent on a sufficient intake of essential nutrients. This is because the gut is a hub of immune activity, including the production of anti-microbial proteins. For that reason, you need to consume foods that support the growth of microbes that can help to stimulate immune cell activity.

These include fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, as well as prebiotic and probiotic foods. Probiotic foods are abundant with live bacteria that are beneficial for your health, whereas prebiotic foods can support the health of these bacteria by feeding them.

Alternatively, you may also choose to consume a few different superfoods that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), could help in boosting your immune system.

“Some examples include ginseng, white fungus, bird’s nestlingzhi, cordyceps, (and) sea cucumber,” says Real Health Medical TCM physician Brandon Yew. “In TCM, we believe that all kinds of food have unique properties. Hence, everything should be consumed in moderation and in appropriate combination. This depends on the individual’s health condition and body constitution, to complement and counterbalance one another for maximal efficacy and safety. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with a TCM physician first.”  

6 Superfoods That are Effective Immune System-Boosters 

To support your body and immune system, it’s fundamental to focus on the right foods. Here are 6 superfoods best to boost your immune system. 

1. Cordyceps 

Cordyceps has been found to demonstrate a certain amount of anti-tumour effects. Thus, it can potentially complement cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery. There is also increasing evidence that this medicinal herb can help regulate innate and adaptive immunity – two types of our immune system responsible for the initiation and progression of chronic inflammatory diseases. 

Cordyceps can also help to significantly reduce the levels of harmful bacteria and increase the levels of healthy bacteria in the gut. Therefore, there are indications that Cordyceps can potentially regulate the levels of intestinal bacteria by improving gastrointestinal-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), systemic immunity, or both. 

2. Dendrobium (石斛)  

According to a study of 172 patients with chronic pharyngitis, the consumption of a dendrobium-containing remedy was successful in treating 62 cases. It was able to improve symptoms in another 87 cases. Separately, it has also shown the ability to relieve the symptoms of a Helicobacter pylori (H. Pylori) or tuberculosis infection.

3. Sea cucumbers 

A pile of dried sea cucumbers laid out on a flat, for immune system
Sea cucumbers possess several medicinal characteristics that can enhance your resistance against various diseases.

Marine animal sea cucumbers have a nutritional profile that boasts a wide array of essential vitamins and minerals. These include vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3, and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. This superfood also demonstrates multiple pharmacological properties, including anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-tumour effects. It can also help to speed up the wound healing process. 

4. Huang-qi 

Huang-qi (Astragalus root) is a TCM that can support the treatment of common colds or the flu, diarrhoea, swelling, abnormal uterine bleeding, and type 2 diabetes. It contains anti-viral properties and has also exhibited an ability to modulate the immune system. 

It also works as a cardiotonic agent and has demonstrated hepatoprotective and anti-ageing activities. These characteristics suggest that you may use it to lower the risk of the elderly developing health problems that affect the heart and liver. 

5. Goji berries 

Goji berries have been traditionally used to promote the healthy functioning of the eyes, kidney, and liver. In recent times, goji berries have been recognised as a superfood due to their antioxidant and nutritional properties. 

Some of the main benefits of consuming a concoction derived from goji berries include a decreased blood lipid concentration, fertility promotion and an immune system boost. You can incorporate a powdered drink mix that contains goji berries in your diet plan. The natural property of the ingredients can help nourish your blood and calm the mind.

6. Ginseng 

This includes American ginseng, Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, and Noto ginseng. According to physician Yew, ginseng can help to improve immunity, vitality, and blood circulation. It also has anti-ageing properties.

7. Lingzhi 

Lingzhi mushroom has been in use in TCM for centuries. It is prescribed as it can help to improve your immunity and vitality, as well as strengthen lung functions and calm nerves to improve sleep. Physician Yew adds that, according to some studies, it potentially has anti-ageing and anti-tumour properties. 

8. White fungus 

Also known as snow fungus, this is another mushroom that is often prescribed in TCM. According to physician Yew, besides helping with your immunity, it can also relieve skin dryness, improve complexion, help with anti-ageing, and nourish your lungs. 

9. Bird’s nest 

A delicacy that is well-known for its nutritional and medicinal value, bird’s nest is generally consumed to improve skin complexion, alleviate asthma, and enhance the immune system.

The primary nutritional components of bird’s nest include calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, sodium, and zinc. It also contains bioactive compounds like antioxidants, glucosamine, lactoferrin, sialic acid, amino acids, and fatty acids. 

A healthy lifestyle that includes the consumption of superfoods is one of the best ways for your body to rid of germs and keep you healthy. Try to incorporate them into your diet whenever possible.

References

  1. NCBI. 2020. How does the immune system work? [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. How to boost your immune system. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  3. Harvard T.H. Chan. Nutrition and Immunity. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  4. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature[Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2012. Sleep and immune function[Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  6. US National Library of Medicine. 2012. Traditional Chinese medicine treatments for upper respiratory tract infections/common colds in Taiwan. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  7. Wiley Online Library. 2020. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and immunity booster green foods: A mini review. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  8. ScienceDirect. 2020. Astragalus Root. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  9. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action[Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  10. Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition. 2011. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  11. Eu Yan Sang Singapore. Maximising The Effects of Lingzhi. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  12. US National Library of Medicine. Chapter 5: Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  13. Bruker. Characterization of Dendrobium Polysaccharide. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 
  14. US National Library of Medicine. 2021. High-Value Components and Bioactives from Sea Cucumbers for Functional Foods—A Review. [Accessed 28 July 2021] 

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