Natural Immune System Support: Lifestyle Habits & Herbal Supplements
Taking care of your immune system is more important than ever. This collection of organs, cells, and proteins work together to protect your body from foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins—and the state of your immune system can make the difference between avoiding getting sick altogether (or at least recovering quickly) versus struggling for weeks or even months.
So, what are the key elements that contribute to a healthy immune system? Various herbs can have powerful immune-supporting, anti-microbial properties (and we’ll talk about those below), but first, it’s important to understand that your daily habits play the most significant role in long-term immune health. This is great news too, since it means that you have a fair amount of control over how your body recovers.
Key elements of an immune-supportive lifestyle include:
- Consuming a diverse nutrient-dense diet. Consuming a variety of foods—especially nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, and high-quality fish and meat—provides your body with an array of compounds that support immune function on a cellular level. Fiber, for example, acts as a powerful fuel for your gut microbiome, which is home to about 70% of your body’s immune system; vitamin D plays a crucial role in the production and activation of immune; vitamin C help protect immune cells from oxidative damage; and the list goes on.
- Getting plenty of physical activity. Not only does regular exercise decrease risk for just about every chronic disease known to man, but it can also support healthy immune functioning by increasing blood flow and carrying immune cells throughout the body. These rapidly circulating cells may then be able to detect (and fight off) illnesses earlier than they otherwise would.
- Prioritizing quality sleep. Poor sleep reduces the activation of immune cells, including T-cells, and it has been shown to weaken your body’s immune response to vaccines, making them less effective. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Managing stress and loneliness. When you’re chronically stressed, your body pumps out excessive amounts of norepinephrine and cortisol, hormones that can interfere with the body’s immune response. Excessive stress has also been associated with an increased risk of the common cold. Loneliness and social isolation are surprisingly potent stressors, too, and can have a similar effect. Prioritizing quality time with friends, engaging in a hobby you love, spending time with animals, volunteering, and getting out into nature are all valuable ways to de-stress, combat loneliness, and enhance immune health.
- Spending time in nature. Spending time in nature, such as going on a hike in a wooded area, is not only great for stress reduction and mood, but research shows that breathing in the healthy plant compounds that are naturally present in forest air can actually enhance the activity of your body’s natural killer (NK) cells, which can help kill virally infected cells. Plus, being exposed to sunshine helps your body produce its own immune-supporting vitamin D.
But what about herbs, you might be wondering? If you’re doing your best to live an overall healthy lifestyle but want to maximize your protection, herbal supplements may be a fantastic way to bolster your body’s defenses and provide you with an additional layer of protection.
Types of Herbs & How They Support Your Immune System
- Immune Tonics & Immune Modulators
Herbs that fall into the categories of “immune tonics” and “immune modulators” are generally slower acting and have a subtler but more prolonged effect than “immunostimulants,” which we’ll cover later. They’ve been used for centuries as a type of long-term prevention therapy in people with poor immunity (or low immune resilience) who tend to get frequent infections. Some of these herbs, particularly antioxidant-rich varieties, also have cancer preventive properties such as the ability to reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress.
These two classes of herbs are very similar to each other and one of the only differences is that immune modulators may have a slightly more regulating or balancing effect on the immune system. Many immune modulators are also considered “adaptogens,” and they help harmonize the endocrine and nervous systems, in part by acting on part of the body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis—this makes them especially beneficial for conditions characterized by an overactive immune system such as allergies and autoimmunity, as well as for helping you adapt to emotional and physical stressors. These herbs may also help balance cell-mediated immunity (T-cells) and antibody-mediated immunity (B-cells).
Herbal immune tonics and immune modulators are generally appropriate for long-term use and can be taken daily, which may be particularly beneficial in fall and winter months to help protect against viral infections.
Immune tonic botanicals include:
- Medicinal mushrooms: turkey tail, chaga, maitake, shiitake, lion's mane, cordyceps, reishi
- Herbs: elderberry, echinacea (flowering top and root), calendula flower, turmeric root, gynostemma (jiaogulan) leaf, yarrow, goldenseal, Japanese honeysuckle, lemon balm, and spilanthes
Immune modulating herbs include:
- Astragalus, ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha root, and holy basil leaf
- Herbal Immunostimulants (a.k.a. immune boosters)
Herbal immunostimulants are beneficial for short-term treatment and prevention of acute infections. They can help the body resist infection during the very initial stages of an illness, which, in turn, may drastically reduce or even prevent you from experiencing symptoms altogether. These herbs are great to take shortly before you’ll be in close proximity to other people—planes, big parties, concerts, crowded restaurants, etc—where you could potentially be exposed to viruses and other pathogens. They can also be taken periodically throughout the course of an infectious illness to speed recovery.
While each immunostimulatory herb is a little different, they generally work by stimulating the division and activity of white blood cells, increasing phagocytosis (when a certain types of white blood cells engulf bacteria and other foreign particles in the body and destroy them), and moderating cytokines, which are chemical signaling molecules that aid in the communication of various components of the immune system.
Keep in mind, herbal immunostimulants should only be used over the short-term, such as for the duration of a viral infection or as a preventative measure before big events. They have a stimulating effect on the body that can lead to imbalances over time. Another thing to keep in mind is that—in very rare cases—they have the potential to trigger symptom flares in people with autoimmune conditions. If you suffer from one of these conditions, simply be aware of your symptoms while taking these herbs and stop if you notice a flare.
- Herbal immunostimulants include: spilanthes (flowering herb and root), echinacea (flowering bulb, leaf, and root), elderberry, horseradish root, ginger root, honeysuckle flowers, boneset herb
- Herbal Antimicrobials
Antimicrobial herbs encompass herbs that contain bioactive compounds that possess antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, or antiprotozoal properties. Several herbs in this category have somewhat broad-spectrum effects, meaning they have the ability to help fight or neutralize more than one type of pathogen. For example, an herb could be both antifungal and antiviral, or antiviral and antibacterial. One thing that makes antimicrobial herbs so appealing is that they can help naturally counteract a variety of infections but carry significantly less of a risk of antibacterial resistance compared to antibiotics (just remember, depending on the type of infection or illness you’re dealing with, conventional antibiotics may still be necessary—always consult your doctor!). Herbal antimicrobials may help you overcome mild to moderate infections, including cold and flu.
- Antimicrobial herbs include oregano, elderberry, Japanese honeysuckle, calendula, spilanthes, yarrow, garlic, ginger, lemon balm, Andrographis, olive leaf
How To Protect Your Body Against Viruses
Compared to other types of infections, viruses are a little bit different. Unlike bacteria, viruses aren’t exactly “alive” in the way organisms are alive. Rather, they require a host cell in order to survive and replicate—so, in order to do that, viruses invade your body’s cell. This can make them a little bit tricky to control and eliminate, and this is why antiviral herbs (a subclass of antimicrobial herbs) can be so beneficial. Basically, antiviral herbs and herbal supplements help prevent a virus from attaching to your cells’ walls and/or help slow their replication once they’ve taken up residence inside a cell. This, in turn, makes conditions favorable for your immune system to eliminate the remainder of the viral infection more efficiently.
So, let’s talk specifics. There are two practical ways to support your body in the fight against viral infections. The first is to support and stimulate your immune response with herbal tonics/immunomodulators and immunostimulants, and second is to reduce the viral load within your body with a well-formulated antiviral. This is where our proprietary herbal antiviral blend Immune Support (Viral Defense) comes in—it’s designed to prevent viruses from attaching to cell walls and to inhibit viral replication once inside cells, which lowers your viral load.
Immune Support comes as a “Spray n' Go” breathing mist, and it’s designed specifically to decrease viral load and replication at the “entryways” of your body that are most affected by viruses—the sinuses, throat, bronchial tract, and lungs. This makes it well suited for supporting your health in two particular real-life scenarios:
- Before attending events or being in crowded places: Immune Support can be used to reduce potential risk of infection when you’ll be in crowded public places, parties, airports, planes, concerts, public transportation, etc. How to use it: Spray 3-4 times into your mouth, inhale deeply 2-3 times, and swallow. Repeat up to 2-3 times per day, if necessary. You may also spray Immune Support on the inside of your protective face mask.
- During an acute viral infection: Immune Support may also help support your body during the initial stages of viral infection during which you may be experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms. How to use it: Spray 4-5 times into your mouth, inhale deeply 2-3 times, and swallow. Repeat up to 5-7 times per day for the duration of your infection. For the first three days, we recommend slightly increasing the dosage for additional support.
- Our Herbal Immune Support (Viral Defense) formula includes: Artemisia annua (whole herb), echinacea (flowering top and root), mullein (flower and leaves), elderberry, ginger, dandelion root, astragalus root, oregano, sage, lemon balm (aerial part), andrographis (aerial part), olive leaf, licorice, bupleurum, turkey rhubarb root, isatis root
*Consult with your medical professional before using a nebulizer breathing device.