9 Superfoods That Can Boost Your Immune System

Discover the immune-boosting benefits of consuming these natural products, as suggested by many Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

A woman feeding a man snacks while doing exercises at home

Your immune system defends you against infection from outside invaders, like bacteria and viruses, and helps clear out mutated cells that could lead to cancer. Although it is very powerful, unhealthy lifestyle choices can weaken it. Eating high-fat foods, added sugar and syrups, highly-processed foods, smoking, a lack of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as irregular sleep habits, chronic stress, and obesity, all decrease your immune strength.

To help you protect your immune system and get your health back on track, you may choose to consume superfoods that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), could boost your immune system strength. These are all readily available as health supplements, however, they are also medicinal herbs which physicians may prescribe for their functions.

“Some examples include ginseng, white fungus, bird’s nest, lingzhi, cordyceps, sea cucumber,” says Real Health Medical Senior TCM physician Brandon Yew. “In TCM, we believe that all kinds of food have unique properties, so you should consume everything in moderation and in appropriate combination, depending on your health condition and constitution. The goal is to complement and counterbalance one another for maximal efficacy and safety. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with a TCM physician first.”  

9 TCM Superfoods That are Effective Immune System-Boosters

To support your body and immune system, it’s important to choose the right foods. Here are 9 superfoods that can boost your immune system.

1. Cordyceps

a close-up shot of cordyceps on a wooden spoon near a cup of tea
Cordyceps may be small, but it’s a TCM herb that helps regulate the immune system and healthy gut bacteria.

Research finds that cordyceps demonstrates anti-tumor effects, thus suggesting that 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.

They 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 they can potentially regulate the levels of intestinal bacteria by improving gastrointestinal-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), systemic immunity, or both.

2. Dendrobium

According to a study of 172 patients with chronic pharyngitis, the consumption of a dendrobium (shihu, 石斛 )-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 Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or tuberculosis infection.

3. Sea Cucumbers

A pile of dried sea cucumbers laid out on a flat, white surface
Sea cucumbers possess phytonutrients that can increase your resistance to various diseases.

Marine animals, 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-tumor effects. It can also help to speed up the wound-healing process.

It is available in a convenient essence form, making it easier to consume without the long cooking or prep time usually required.

4. Huang-qi  

Huang-qi (Astragalus root) is used in TCM to support the treatment of the common cold or the flu, diarrhea, edema, abnormal uterine bleeding, and type 2 diabetes. It contains anti-viral properties and has exhibited an ability to modulate the immune system. It also works as a cardiotonic agent, enhancing blood flow, and has demonstrated liver-protecting and anti-aging activities. These characteristics suggest that seniors may use it to lower the risk of heart and liver disorders.

5. Goji berries

A bowl of red goji berries on a wooden surface
Goji berries have recently gained popularity, and they are now considered superfruits.

People have used goji berries to promote the health of the eyes, kidneys, and liver. In recent times, goji berries have been recognized as a superfood because of their antioxidant and nutritional properties.

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

6. Ginseng  

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

7. Lingzhi  

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

8. White fungus  

Also known as snow fungus, TCM physicians often prescribe this mushroom. According to physician Yew, besides helping with your immunity, it can relieve skin dryness, improve your complexion, help with anti-aging, and nourish your lungs.

9. Bird’s nest  

A raw bird's nest on a wooden tray with dried goji berry
Bird’s nest is rich in antioxidants that enhance skin complexion and strengthen the immune response.

A delicacy that is well-known for its nutritional and medicinal value, many consume bird’s nests to improve skin quality, alleviate asthma, and enhance the immune system.

The primary nutritional components of an edible 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 to keep your immune system healthy so it can fight off attacks from infectious microbes and help prevent cancer. Try to incorporate superfoods into your diet whenever possible.

References

  1. NCBI. 2020. How does the immune system work? [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. How to boost your immune system. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  3. Harvard T.H. Chan. Nutrition and Immunity. [Accessed 28 October 2021] 
  4. ScienceDirect. 2020. Astragalus Root. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  6. Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition. 2011. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  7. Eu Yan Sang Singapore. Maximising The Effects of Lingzhi.  [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  8. US National Library of Medicine. Chapter 5: Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  9. Bruker. Characterization of Dendrobium Polysaccharide. [Accessed 28 October 2021]
  10. US National Library of Medicine. 2021. High-Value Components and Bioactives from Sea Cucumbers for Functional Foods—A Review. [Accessed 28 October 2021] 

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