Dec 14th, 2020, 01:01 PM

Natural Remedies to Strengthen Your Immune System

By Presleigh Lauren Murray
Image Credit: Presleigh Lauren Murray
Reach for one of these before heading to your medicine cabinet!

Nature provides us with everything we need to live happy, healthy lives. The food we eat is proven to play a key role in our development and well-being. Alongside daily physical activity and not smoking, having a balanced and varied diet is critical for good health. The following list, though not exhaustive, is sure to provide you with ideas for natural remedies the next time you come down with a cold, flu, or stomach ache, as well as suggest key foods to incorporate into your diet for overall increased immunity. 

Useful Vocabulary: 

Free radicals: Electrons like to work in pairs, but sometimes they split apart in your body from oxidative stress. The resulting unstable atoms, called free radicals, can form a dangerous chain reaction. This occurs as the first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule and destabilizes it. A domino effect can occur and damage the entire cell, altering what enters and exits it. The modification of genetic material at the cellular level can lead to decreased immunity, a sped-up aging process and chronic disease. Free radicals, however, occur specifically from a substance that has entered your body — the food you eat, the medicine you take, the water you drink and the air you breathe. Research shows that the main culprits include "fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants." 

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are also known as "free radical scavengers." They most often work by donating an electron to a free radical, allowing that free radical to restabilize and halt the dangerous domino effect from taking place. In other words, as defined by Stanford University, an antioxidant is "a molecule capable of reacting with free radicals and neutralizing them." Antioxidants, then, are scientifically proven to be extremely important in fighting the proliferation of chronic disease. Berries, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate are all regarded to have high antioxidant levels. 


Though not the only ones, the following four vitamins are particularly important for good health and a strong immune system. 

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is produced by your skin after being exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D helps fight against potentially chronic diseases by bolstering your immune system. It is also linked to strong bones, and the latest research suggests it potentially lowers your chances of certain cancers. Vitamin D, however, is particularly difficult to get during the winter months. It is recommended to take Vitamin D supplements with your breakfast or lunch, particularly with foods such as avocados, nuts, eggs, or milk for optimal consumption. 

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It is an antioxidant that protects against damage from free radicals. Vitamin C is found in plenty of fruits and vegetables including oranges, peppers, strawberries and broccoli. 

Vitamin E: Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant, scavenging free radicals that can harm cells. It has both the ability to protect cells from free radical damage and to stop other free radicals from forming. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and plant-based oils. It is also found in some fruits and vegetables such as spinach, red bell peppers, asparagus, mangos and avocados. 

Zinc: Zinc is required for many different body processes. It helps contribute to a healthy immune system, wound healing, growth and development to name a few. "Zinc supplements significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response in older adults," according to the National Institutes of Health. Whole grains, fortified cereals, red meat, baked beans, cashews and almonds are great sources of zinc.

It is important to note that Vitamin D and Vitamin E are fat-soluble, meaning they are easily stored in your body. If taken too often or in too high dosage, these vitamins can lead to toxicity. Water-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin C, allows for excess to be excreted through urine — though you should still not take more than the recommended amount. 

Natural Remedies:

Oh no! You eat healthily, you are sure to get all of your necessary vitamins, you exercise, you get fresh air daily, you consistently get the correct amount of sleep, and yet you still come down with a yucky cold. Don't fret. Try the below natural remedies, and you will feel better in no time! 

Green tea + honey: Green tea naturally has many antioxidants and medicinal properties. Honey (particularly Manuka honey) is also a great source of antioxidants as well as being antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Adding honey to green tea is a natural way to boost your immune system and support its fight against harmful free radicals. Drinking green tea and honey is great in both helping your body defend against getting an infection and in aiding it in a speedy recovery. Disclaimer: adding honey to piping hot tea can destroy its medicinal properties. It's best to drink half the glass while it is hot and stir honey in once it has cooled down. Green tea with honey is best for fighting a cold or the flu. 

Ginger: Ginger is a natural root crop known to fight germs and halt the growth of bacteria. It also keeps your mouth and gums healthy, calms nausea, reduces indigestion and diminishes swelling as it is an anti-inflammatory agent. In small studies, it has shown to lower blood sugar, ease period pain, lower cholesterol and even curb cancer growth. Ginger is best as a regular addition to your diet for optimal health. 

Ginger. Image Credit: Unsplash/Jocelyn

Chicken soup: Does chicken soup really have medicinal properties or is this an old wives' tale? Studies show that chicken soup can actually aid in preventing a cold from ever occurring, as the broth improves the function of cilia (tiny hairs found in our noses, ears and lungs) that stop contagions from entering the body. More than just helping to prevent a cold, chicken soup can even reduce symptoms as it contains many anti-inflammatory properties — perfect for soothing your airways. Like green tea with honey, chicken soup is best for fighting a cold or the flu. 

Warm salt water: Gargling warm salt water is a great way to both relieve infections and prevent them from getting worse. The warm salt water works by pulling fluid out of the throat tissues, essentially washing the virus out. Gargling warm salt water is best for soothing a sore throat or relieving a toothache. 

Turmeric: Typically known as the spice in Indian curries, turmeric has become increasingly popular over the past few years for containing a compound called curcumin, known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and a strong antioxidant. "Curcumin delivers a one-two punch against free radicals. It blocks them directly, then stimulates your body's own antioxidant defenses," says Kris Gunnars, a nutrition researcher with a bachelor's degree in medicine. Further, curcumin is linked to improved brain function, a possible prevention for Alzheimer's diseases, and was found to be even more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Though turmeric can be added directly to your foods, it is recommended to take a supplement in order to get a substantial amount of its main active ingredient, curcumin. Like ginger, turmeric is best as a regular addition to your diet for optimal health. 

Tumeric. Image Credit: Unsplash/Foodism360

Mushrooms: Mushrooms, or medicinal mushrooms as some people call them, are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and have many health benefits that are linked to a strengthened immune system. There are several different types of mushrooms, with each one having its own specific health-booster. Mushrooms are best for anything from fighting anxiety to enhancing memory to boosting heart health. 

Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus oil has a range of health benefits including silencing a cough, clearing your chest, disinfecting wounds, soothing cold sores and easing joint pain. Oftentimes, the oil is applied directly to the skin, with all of its healing properties ensuing shortly after.  

Milk thistle: Milk thistle is widely acclaimed for its ability to promote a healthy liver. Its active ingredient, silymarin, acts as an antioxidant helping to break the chain of free radical production. Other studies suggest milk thistle promotes healthy skin, reduces cholesterol, supports weight loss and improves cognition. It has even been proven to boost the immune system, likely leading to an increase in immunity from infectious diseases. Overall, research suggests that milk thistle is most effective in promoting a healthy liver.

Milk thistle. Image Credit: Shutterstock/Soyka

Garlic: The use of garlic as medicine dates back to as far as 5,000 years ago. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible as being used to give Jewish slaves strength and productivity. "Hippocrates, the revered physician, prescribed garlic for a variety of conditions," wrote Richard S. Rivlin in The Journal of Nutrition. Garlic, particularly when eaten in its natural form, is regarded as having a large array of health benefits for humans. Studies have shown that the risk of lung cancer and brain cancer are reduced with regular consumption of raw garlic. Another study shows that a compound found in garlic is 100 times more effective than two other antibiotics at fighting a common intestinal illness. Garlic is best for protecting against overall cell damage — making it a staple in your diet will contribute to optimal health. 

Bananas: A banana might be worth grabbing before heading to your medicine cabinet. Though more studies must be conducted, bananas are said to relieve PMS pain, aid in fighting depression, ease constipation and maintain a stable heartbeat. Even further, having a banana every day is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Bananas are best as a regular addition to your diet for optimal health. 

Onions: Onions are antibacterial and contain powerful compounds that may reduce your risk of some chronic diseases. Onions are also known as powerful absorbents. Though not scientifically proven to be effective, many people swear by cutting onions in half and placing them in living spaces to clear bacteria. In Chinese medicine, onions are placed in socks when people sleep so as to detox an illness from the body. Others suggest onions can be used as a powerful cough suppressant, an ear infection cure and a nausea fighter. 

Elderberry: Elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world, dating all the way back to the time of the Egyptians. Today, elderberry can be found in the form of syrups, capsules, lozenges and gummies with studies showing people who took elderberry while fighting a cold or flu improved an average of four days earlier than their counterparts who did not take any elderberry supplements. Elderberry is also high in antioxidants and may play a preventative role in the formation of chronic diseases in humans. Elderberry is best for fighting a cold or a flu. 

Image Credit: Creative Commons/GlacierNPS

Probiotics: Probiotics are a type of good bacteria. They work to keep bad bacteria in check and prevent them from entering your bloodstream. Yogurt, cottage cheese, tempeh and miso soup are a few foods that increase the probiotics in your body. Probiotic supplements are also available. Probiotics are an important part of good health but are thought to be specifically useful to supplement after taking a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics do not differentiate between the good bacteria and the bad bacteria in your body, thus killing them both when fighting an infection. Reintroducing the good bacteria with probiotics is considered helpful in aiding your body's bacteria levels to get back on track. Probiotics are most beneficial to your health when regularly integrated into your diet. 

Blueberries: Blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits and vegetables. They have the ability to neutralize free radicals in the human body that damage DNA. Further, studies show that blueberries have the ability to halt cognitive aging. Blueberries are best as a regular addition to your diet for optimal health. 

Sage: The most common types of sage are known to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. "Dried sage is burned as a way to heal, protect, increase wisdom and boost defense against disease," Arlin Cuncic from Verywell Mind says. Sage has been used throughout history to treat a wide range of illnesses and diseases. What's more, it is proven to have antioxidant and free radical scavenging effects. The most common way to use sage is burning it in your home and breathing in all its naturally good-for-you properties. Sage is best during a weekly cleansing of your home.

Image Credit: Presleigh Lauren Murray

The above is not at all a complete list of natural remedies. In fact, the vast resources that nature offers us have yet to be discovered. "Nature is our greatest medicine cabinet: to date it has provided humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines from quinine to aspirin, and from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. There is no question that additionally important medications — perhaps even miracle cures — lie untapped in the world’s ecosystems. In fact, researchers estimate that less than one percent of the world’s known species have been fully examined for their medicinal value," Jeremy Hence of Mongabay explains

Human beings are the adaptive experience of the biome itself, and the human body works in perfect harmony with nature herself. Immune systems are incredibly complex and intricate systems that function to ensure our species survives. It has worked this way for hundreds of thousands of years, and it will continue to until our extinction. Modern medicine, when taken too often, can actually decrease your body's natural immune response. I do not hold a doctorate in immunology, but I would encourage you to consider natural remedies and save modern medicine for times when you truly need it. That is where the natural world and the modern world collide, and it is quite terrific if you ask me.