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Boost the immune system naturally

Boosting the immune system with vitamin’s, minerals and herbs

The immune system plays a vital and complex role in our overall health and well-being. On the whole our immune system does an amazing job at defending our body against bugs, germs and invading microbes. When this intricate system becomes compromised, over-stretched or fails even the simplest of “normally” co-habiting organisms can seriously debilitate us. While more research is being done, even more is needed to establish ways of supporting and boosting the immune system naturally.

Below are some general vitamin’s, minerals and herbs which have been researched or have evidence of their benefit in the area of enhancing the immune system.

What are the key Vitamin and minerals which best support the immune system?

Vitamins and Minerals10 essential recommendations

Current opinion from key speakers at the Institute of Functional Medicine conference recently agreed the following are believed to be the most significant vitamins and minerals- some of the well trusted old favourites have been included here also.

  • Iron
  • Selenium,
  • Vitamin’s A, B2, B6, B9 (or folic acid), C, D, E
  • Zinc.

The optimum level of each of these will depend on your age, gender and where your current “base line” is. Unless you are receiving professional support on specific vitamins and minerals, I’d recommend a high quality multi-vitamin rather than individual specific vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum balance is maintained. Ideally you should be absorbing these things from a healthy balanced diets. The truth is many of our diets lack the optimal amounts and forms of these nutrients. The foods we eat have typically been grown in soils which have been “over-used”, stored for longer, often ripened artificially and prepared under “unusual” conditions. All of these factors compound this sub-optimal digestion or absorption of the minerals and vitamins they contain. Add to this an excess of stressors or imbalances in our normal rhythms, and it’s worth seriously including good quality multi-vitamins into the mix to stack the odds of immunity in our favour.

Which herbs enhance the immune system?

Herbs – 7 of the most common immune enhancers

Which herbs are best at enhancing the immune system? Can herbal supplements help me fight off a cold or flu? Some research has been done in recent years on herbs, which are know and have been used by different cultures for aeons. Having said this, as with most in the natural medicine world, more well constructed human research does need to be done to highlight the benefits and relationship of these substances to our immune response. The best herbs to take to boost your immune system will depends on your specific complaint and a little of your medical history.

  • Echinacea (E. angustifolia / E. purpurea) has been used by native American’s for centuries, and is widely used across America and Europe as an immune enhancer. Evidence, which can be contradictory depending on the species used and trial design, suggests it is effective in treating the symptom severity and days of illness in upper respiratory conditions, colds and flu. There is also evidence that suggests Echinacea reduces the likelihood of developing illness when used appropriately. I typically do not advise taking this for prolonged periods, but rather using it during times of stress or as soon as you feel yourself getting ill.
  • Astragalus (A.membranaceus, A.mongholicus) has had wide use in China for centuries as an immune enhancer and digestive tonic. It also functions as an adaptogen (a substance which helps to increase or decrease the functioning depending on the physiological requirement) for the functioning of the adrenal glands and kidneys.
  • Ginsing (Panax ginsing and Eleutherococcus senticosus) has been used in Asia for centuries to both support people to recover quicker from an acute illness, and it’s reported ability to prevent / reduce infection from bugs. Again these herbs are potent adaptogens making their use key in supporting the bodies immune response.
  • Garlic (Alium sativum) has been used herbally by various cultures for years to fight infections. Laboratory research has shown garlic has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. The human study evidence, however, is a little less complete, so while anecdotal opinion is in favour of using garlic to support the immune system, more trials are needed to establish the true immune system benefits of this bulb.
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a potent adaptogen of the adrenal glands. These are important endocrine glands which work alongside the thymus gland to support the immune systems functioning. Licorice does seem to enhance the functioning of the immune responses. It is important to take licorice under professional healthcare supervision due to the potential for raised blood pressure.
  • Probiotics ( such as Lactobacillus acidophillus or Bifidiumbacteria lactis or brevis) as well as supporting the bodies ability to digest and absorb substances in the digestive tract, some compelling research from Harvard Medical School is showing there exists a relationship between some of these beneficial intestinal microbes and the healthy functioning of the immune system, specifically correcting the functioning and increasing the number of T cells,. These are cells which mediate the immune system.
  • Mushrooms (Shiitake, Reishi, Agaricus Blazei Murril and some others) there is evidence to suggest some of the Mushroom species are potent immune system enhancers. They appear to enhance and boost hormones vital in activating the immune system. Again specific guidance should be sought for a tailored view on the most suited mushrooms to your individual requirements.

There are a number of other key factors which play a part in the efficacy of your immune system like sleep, exercise, water intake, a good diet and reducing stress. Equally removing or minimising the things which obstruct the immune systems functioning such as smoking, toxins or too many refined carbohydrates will help.

It may be possible to stack the “immune system odds” in your favour by boosting it appropriately. Certainly compensating with supplements and natural treatments during times of stress, or greater exposure to illness or organisms likely to cause your immune system to falter would be well worth investing in. It’s worth highlighting that my health philosophy is about treating the person, not the disease. This is especially true for homeopathic or naturopathic treatment which need to be prescribed on an individual basis. Why not make contact with me to review how you may be able to enhance your immune system and it’s functioning.

Disclaimer – This article is intended to offer general advice to the reader, and is for information only. This article should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Sussex Natural Health as taken all reasonable care in writing and compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. In order to keep the format succinct and accessible to members of the general public, articles have not been specifically referenced in the standard scientific format. References are however available on request. The advice offered, or any general suggestions made in the article are not intended to replace specific advice given to you by either one of the Sussex Natural Health team or another professional healthcare practitioner. It is always advised to seek specific advise and guidance, individually in preference to following general advice.

Sources for this article

  1. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Murray, M.T. Pizzorno, J.E Atria Books 3rd Edition, July 2012
  2. The Truth About Your Immune System
  3. Low Immune Function
  1. Top 10 Herbs to boost the Immune System
  1. The New Holistic Herbal, Hoffman, D. Element Books Ltd. 1st Edition 1990
  2. The Clinician’s handbook of Natural Medicine, Pizzorno, J.E. Murray, M.T. Joiner-Bey, H. Churchill Livingston 2nd Edition, 2008.