How do we define the immune system? If we go by books, "the overall function of the immune system (in any living body) is to prevent or limit infection". Based on the intensity of danger, the immune system categorizes normal, healthy, and unhealthy cells for its work. The Danger-associated Molecular Pattern (DAMPs) and Pathogen-associated Molecular Pattern (PAMPs) are the two cues the immune system identifies for its further course of actions. Based on those patterns and signals, the immune system starts responding to address the concerns; nevertheless, failure to act upon such a need would end up in infection that is mightier than the body's defence resulting into diseases.
Without the immune system, it is difficult for any living being to fight against harmful substances that enter the body from outside and create havoc within. Since immunity fights not just pathogens (such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses) but also cancer cells, suppressed or weakened immune system can lead to a lot of health ailments that are difficult to treat or reverse. Apart from countering unwanted pathogens, immunity also neutralizes harmful environmental substances that hamper the body's normal functioning.
The cells responsible for strong immunity come from bone marrow, but several other body parts are also an essential part of the immune system. For instance, the skin is at the forefront of the first-line defence mechanism of any living organism. Skin cells produce or secrete antimicrobial proteins, and in specific dermal layers, cells responsible for immunity are found. Furthermore, bone marrows contain stem cells that are responsible for stronger and natural immunity as they are the precursor to neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and eosinophils etc. The bloodstream, along with the lymphatic system, Peyer's patches, tonsils and adenoids, and appendix are other places where more potent immune cells are found to tackle deeper and intense infections of the body.
Lastly, spleen and mucosal tissues are special immune hubs that take care of infections present in the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and bloodstreams. A lot of factors contribute in weakening the immunity; however, a perfect answer to how to boost the immune system or increase immunity is that one should change the lifestyle, induce natural diet, perform regular exercise and above all, consume herbal immune boosters. You should strengthen innate (general defence) and adaptive (specific defence) immune system to activate them quickly when there is an attack from foreign bodies or pathogens. Stronger the immune system, better the health.
The ancient text of Charaka Samhita states:
“Balam hyalam doshaharam nigrahaya doshanam” (Charak Chikitsasthan 3/16)
Literally – 'Bal (body's natural strength)' is the most essential factor that is capable of destroying the vitiated doshas, i.e. disease-causing elements. The ancient texts also describe that Vyadhi-kshamatva (immunity) is responsible for Vyadhi bala virodhitwa (antagonist to deadly diseases). Such bal is nothing but bio strength providing natural resistance against not just ailments but also ageing.
It is observed that people are getting complacent about believing a weakened immune system as they advance in their age. One can surely increase immunity, but it is proved elusive for many reasons. The immune system is a 'system', and it is not a solo entity because it works collectively. The balance and harmony between mind, body, and soul is necessary to improve immunity; nevertheless, scientists are still clueless about the interconnectedness of immune response, and thus the nuance of how to boost the immune system.
Though there has been seldom a sure-fire way to strengthen the body's defence mechanism, it is proven that the effects of lifestyles, dietary habits, and mental or eternal health cannot be ignored. General modifications to live happily and healthily is a good start, which can be achieved through an array of changes brought into how to follow regimens, how to perform specific exercises, how to plan a healthy diet, and so on.
The very first line of recommendation is choosing a marvellous lifestyle which is healthy yet easy to follow. To make your immune system strong and healthy, one should follow general health guidelines at the very first step. It is beyond doubt that to build the immune system, you need to, just like every other system of the body, protect it from harmful substances and environmental assaults.
You can improve immunity by following necessary regimens that are quite known –
As we advance in age, the immune response becomes sluggish, which, in turn, results in inviting more infections or health ailments. Defining the fact further, diseases such as influenza, COVID19 (coronavirus), pneumonia are life-threatening conditions for those aging 65 or more. Though the reason is unsure, it is likely due to a decrease in the number of T cells as the thymus gland starts atrophying as a person gets older. T cells' primary function is to fight the core infection present in the bloodstream. Furthermore, it could also be due to bone marrow that becomes less productive over time. The stem cells that are responsible for producing immunity cells are markedly reduced in their numbers as well as efficiency.
Reduced or weakened immunity in the elderly can be clearly seen as a response to vaccination. For instance, studies of vaccines for influenza shows that sexagenarians (people in their 60s) show reduced effects of vaccines, and they are prone to get an infection.
Any boost in immune system would definitely increase or improve immunity even in the elderly. There is a link between strong immunity and healthy diet and lifestyle.
Nutritious food, regular exercise, strict diet, and herbal immune boosters can make the body's defence mechanism powerful enough to fight infections.
Essential vitamins, immune-boosting herbs, trace minerals, and modified lifestyle can be planned for better, stronger, and increased immune system. Out there in the market are many patent herbal immunity boosters available for regular and safe consumption. One can opt for the same and improve their lives.
A lot of immune boosters on store shelves promise strong and strengthened immunity, which, in turn, allure the shoppers. Nevertheless, chemical-laden products modify immune cells and artificially make them stronger, resulting in weakened body systems. For instance, blood doping is considered illegal among athletes; the agents pump blood across the channels and organs, ultimately resulting in enhanced performance which is transient. In the long run, they are at significant risks of strokes and other reactions; therefore, one should improve immunity naturally, without any side or unwanted effects.
As said earlier, it is the 'system' and not one cell that works to improve immunity. The immune system works collectively, and there are a lot of cells or glands involved. Different cells or bodies work differently and respond to pathogens in their own fashion. Boosting the immune system quickly and naturally requires a lot of guidelines to follow; however, there is no denying that specific potent herbal immune boosters do their jobs to strengthen immunity quite well.
A new branch of medical science deals with psychoneuroimmunology, a 'psychological' approach to immunity. While contemporary science is still in its infancy about this science, old medical texts in India such as Charaka, Sushruta, and Ashtang Hriday have already pondered over the topic and have their own stances.
According to Ayurveda, India's own ancient medical science, Vyadhi-kshamatva is defined as a natural resistance to any external (pathogenic infection) and/or internal (cancerous growth) harmful substances. A person's Vyadhi-kshamatva depends on nutritional, environmental and individual's psychic and physical settings. The ancient science clearly defines three types of such natural immune system in the human body.
1. Sahaja Bala: Sahaja bala refers to the immunity that comes from the genes. Such resistance remains from birth, and it is passed from fathers and ancestors. This type of immune system doesn't depend on any external causes or factors – Chakrapani on Charaka Samhita 11/36
2. Kalaja Bala: Kala in Sanskrit means 'time' or 'period'. This type of immunity depends on the time; it's seasonal and also banks on the age of a person.
3. Yuktikrit Bala: Yuktikrita means 'situational'. Here, the body develops a natural immune system against health ailments as they occur. The body's automath system learns from the invaders and builds its own defence mechanism that only gets stronger as they are introduced to infections over and over again. One can improve or increase immunity through various ways such as proper diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle, and above all, controlling stress and depression.
According to Ayurvedic texts, one's mental condition also contributes to the immune system. A mentally sick person would also feel physically weak and incapable; furthermore, the modern medical science too agrees that weak willpower would lead to depression and depression to more serious health ailments. It is for this reason, Ayurvedic dinacharya (routine) mentions manana & chintana (meditation) as routine tasks to perform. Mentally strong people seldom contract any disease as they develop improved immunity naturally.
Rasayana tantra is one of the eight clinical branches mentioned in Ayurveda. Literally, the word refers to the natural immune system combined with appropriate nutrition and geriatrics. Broadly, rasayana is pure nourishment that is responsible to stronger, better, and powerful immunity. According to Ayurvedic scholars, rasayana could be diet, herbs, or even lifestyles through which immune response is obtained quickly yet naturally.
Generally, herbs or regimens that increase or improve the immune system are called rasayana. In traditional terms, such components strengthen ojus and bala (vitality and biostrength) to fight not just infections or internal disputes among cells, but also aging and degenerations within. Immune boosters such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals promote the integrity of the body cells and tissues to induce longevity; nevertheless, Ayurvedic texts also define that such rasayana therapies also contribute to bring better cognition, intelligence, alertness, complexion, and top of all youthfulness.
The recent surge in evaluating herbs with immunity boost characters is to test the active components present in natural immunomodulators and to know about their functionalities in a particular environment and age. Among varieties of active ingredients, certain plant chemicals and hormones show anticomplementary activities such as antiphlogistic and anti-allergy.
In the same way, certain herbs that boost the immune system are found to have powerful immunostimulatory activities as they contain potent compounds giving a marked increase in IgG antibodies in the serum. On the other hand, studies also show that some Ayurvedic rasayana herbs induce significant boost in phagocytic activities during nonspecific and specific immune responses of the body.
Ayurvedic herbs also show an acceleration of lymphocytic transformation action of macrophage and therefore fasten the multiplication of leucocyte counts, an important stage in fighting the foreign bodies.
Rasayana drugs like Amala have shown a potential boost in immunoglobulin level in infants which has been considered markedly mightier response than multivitamins (Tuteja V., 1993).
Similarly, rasayana herbs also improve both the humoral and cellular immunity components (Chatterjee S. & Das S.N., 1996). Research shows that consumption of Ayurvedic immune boosters can remarkably improve the microbicidal action of the neutrophils and circulatory globulins along with elevated lymphocytes and improved T cells.
How to improve the immune system? Well, while immunity, the body's own defence system, does a marvellous job in defending the body against the intruders or foreign stuff, it requires continuous fuel in order to run smoothly and powerfully. While other factors help boost immunity to improve it, diet plays a significant role.
Like every army requires a healthy diet to battle against enemies, the immune system too has different cells, lymph nodes, tissues, and other body structures collectively working to fight infections – they all need nutritious foods and drinks. Scientists have firmly opined that people who suffer from poverty are the victims of malnourishment and therefore prone to more diseases, especially infectious.
It has been observed that some nutrients such as folic acid, vitamins, selenium, zinc, and iron boost immunity because their deficiency causes weakened immune response in controlled studies in laboratories.
So, what is the solution? How do you improve or strengthen the immune system through a healthy diet or supplements like immune boosters? The answer lies in following a strict diet and a particular selection of foods and drinks to boost immunity.
Grandma's natural remedies suggest having citrus fruits whenever someone catches a common cold. Switching straight on vitamin C helps overcome common infections due to their immune building character. Vitamin C is supposed to improve the number of white blood cells (WBC), the significant components to fight infections in the body. Almost all citrus fruits contain vitamin C. Including such fruits in the regular diet helps you meet the daily dosage of the nutrient to boost immunity.
Common fruits that help you improve immune system include –
Unfortunately, the human body cannot produce vitamin C on its own; therefore, you need the external supplement of the same. The recommended daily amount for adults 70-90 mg a day; furthermore, there are supplements available at the said range.
Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, but they aren't the only source! Surprisingly, red bell peppers contain thrice as much vitamin C as a Florida orange. Furthermore, these peppers are rich in beta carotene, the proven components to fight free radicals, and thus improve the immune system.
The best part of vitamin C does not just boost immunity, but also improve skin texture and tone because beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A by body's natural processes.
Broccoli could be a powerhouse for stronger immunity as the vegetable is loaded with an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Broccoli contains great amounts of vitamin C, E, and A and has enough fibre and other antioxidant components to make it a complete immune booster. However, research says that the vegetable should be cooked minimally or ever better eaten raw. Steaming is also an excellent method to keep nutrients intact in the food.
Commonly found in Indian kitchens, garlic is not just healthy but tasty to many spice lovers. Scientists have some evidence that indicate garlic's properties of immune boost and lowering the blood pressure; furthermore, the herb is also found to be better in slowing down hardening of blood vessels, especially arteries.
Garlic contains a sulphur compound called allicin, which is known to improve the immune system in humans. Ancient medical sciences like Ayurveda also describes Lahsuna (garlic) as a potent herb for the body's self-defence mechanism, i.e. strength and immunity.
Ginger is a potent herb or spice that helps in various respiratory problems, especially tonsils, hoarseness of voice, sore throat, or any signs of inflammation (swelling) in the body. It contains unique components that work as natural anti-inflammatory agents and mild pain killers. Ginger is also said to improve digestion and regulate bowel movements. Due to its cholesterol-lowering properties, the herb is also used in several ayurvedic formulae for immunity boost and heart health.
The primary reason why spinach is healthy food to include in the diet is because of the ample amount of vitamin C it contains. Furthermore, apart from the vitamin, it is also rich in beta carotene and several antioxidants that help boost the immune system naturally. Like broccoli, spinach keeps its nutrients when cooked minimally; nevertheless, vitamin A's bio availability is markedly increased when this green leafy vegetable is cooked a bit lighter. Light cooking also allows other nourishing agents to be available for easy absorption through intestines.
There are many types of yogurts available on the market; however, you need to choose a plain one, without sugar and added flavors. In fact, yogurt like Greek would come with 'live and active cultures' which is the best form of the yogurt to consume as immune booster. It is a known fact that this food is loaded with vitamin D, and you have many such brands that fortify this food with vitamins and other nutrients. Latest experiments and clinical trials reveal that specific yogurt rich in vitamin D can also help recover from COVID19 Read More
Contrary to popular belief, chocolates are not always harmful, especially when they are consumed in controlled quantity! While it is a known fact that dark chocolates help you fight a common cold, they also contain considerable amounts of theobromine, a potent antioxidant that cut off coughing. A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology reveals that the component helps relieve coughing, especially in people suffering from bronchitis.
Vitamin E is another nutrient that helps fight infections, and almond is one such dry fruit that contains an abundant quantity of vitamins plus healthy fats. While adults require just 15 mg of vitamin E every day, a half-cup serving of almonds would provide all of it. According to Ayurvedic science, almonds are also full of natural oil that helps to keep bone joints healthier and intact, especially in old age.
Certain oils help restore the lost immunity in humans. A study from the British Journal of Nutrition reveals that extra virgin olive oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids that serve as the best anti-inflammatory agent; moreover, the acids also boost the immune system to make it stronger.
Immunity Boosters as recommended by AYUSH Department (Government of India)
These seeds are loaded with a high number of nutrients, including vitamins B6 and E, phosphorus, and magnesium. Vitamin E, as said earlier, is crucial to boost the immune system, and one can find it in other foods such as avocados and dark green leafy vegetables. Nevertheless, sunflower seed can improve immunity or make the body's defence mechanism stronger and better as it contains excellent amounts of selenium. A lot of studies are conducted in understanding the role of selenium in combating viral infections including swine flu (H1N1) - Read More
Haridra in Ayurvedic terms, turmeric is a potent herb (spice) known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, it has been a critical ingredient in formulas used for healing arthritis of all kinds. The herb is another potent food to improve immunity and make it stronger and better in fighting against bacteria and viruses. Curcumin, an ingredient which is responsible for turmeric's distinctive color, is likely to heal muscle damage due to heavy exercises; also, research shows some mild actions of turmeric in fighting viral infections.
Loaded with flavonoids, both green and black tea possess excellent antioxidant properties. Moreover, green tea also has an abundant amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another unmatched antioxidant that can improve immunity in humans. Studies show that EGCG enhances immune response in individuals with mild to moderate infections; nevertheless, the tea should not undergo the process of fermentation to preserve the levels of EGCG. Researchers also support that green tea contains L-theanine, a potent amino acid responsible for the body's natural boost in immunity through T cells.
These two fruits are also rich in vitamin C; in fact, in medium-sized papaya, there's double the required daily dose of vitamin C. Moreover, papaya is also rich in a digestive enzyme known as papain, a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Plus, the fruit contains a considerable amount of potassium, folate, and magnesium -all help to keep your youthfulness intact. On the other hand, kiwis, along with folate, potassium, and vitamin C contain vitamin K. Overall, both the fruits help strengthen the immune system.
Eggs are loaded with vitamin D, and especially the yolks are packed with immune-boosting agents or nutrients. Vitamin D, too, is crucial to strengthen the immune system as stated in the journal JAMA . According to reports published in the journal, daily servings of vitamin D during winters boost immunity in individuals and they were less likely to catch a common cold as compared to their counterparts who did not receive it. That said, especially for respiratory tract immunity, eggs are proven to the best immune boosters.
Stress is due to rajas guna (one of the three universal qualities; satva (purity) and tamas (inertia) being the rest two). According to Ayurvedic physicians, rajas guna increases with mind indulging more into some craving, desire, or greed – indeed they reflect negative psychological approach to a healthy brain. Nevertheless, a person with excessive rajas guna will have a high imbalance of other sharirika doshas (body humours) namely vata, pitta, and kapha. Vitiated doshas hamper the overall health of a human body, which, in turn, is vulnerable to catch even minor infections because of reduced immunity.
In the early 1980s, two professors from the Ohio State University College of Medicine revealed that stress and infections are interlinked. They studied medical students from 1982 to 1992 and found that the immune system of students got suppressed during the exam period. Their T cells were weak to respond to common infections during the stress period of exams. Later, in 2004, professors from the University of Kentucky and British Columbia had approximately 300 students for studying the connection between stress and the immune system – they reveal similar results.
Sympathetic fibres get into bone marrow and thymus and spleen and lymph nodes from the brain (Felten & Felten 1994). The exclusive fibres release several types of substances that control the immune response by binding to receptors on WBCs (Rabin 1999; Morley & Herbert, 1992).
Since the effects of stress and anxiety on body and mind are cumulative, even trivial events that happen daily in one's life can have a substantial impact on mental and physical health. It is vital to keep a check on stressors or anything that shakes your mental stability. Following simple guidelines will help you keep your brain intact, which, in turn, will boost immunity.
1. Get rid of skirmishes: relax! The brain should not get involved in skirmishes or petty issues. Relaxation exercise such as meditation and practising vedic breathing techniques will help you maintain the mental health and therefore increase immunity.
2. Positive thinking: while exercises may help you remain physically fit, positive thinking is the exercise for your mind. Anxiety and negative thoughts can affect your mental health severely; be optimistic, and you'll find multi-dimensional solutions to a single problem. Living under stress releases a lot of harmful hormones and enzymes in the body; on the other hand, being happy controls those unwanted releases and makes you merrier with a robust immune system.
3. Get social: according to many psychologists, being aloof and living a troglodyte lifestyle is harmful. The overall health can be promoted by meeting newer people and mingling up with friends or light-minded people. Strong social support is one of the ways to get rid of weakened immunity.
4. Behavior modification: breaking bad habits and adopting a healthy lifestyle along with diet will help you improve the immune system to the core. Control over the speech and practising calmness will make you stronger to take a tough decision without being affected mentally.
Ancient Indian medical science Ayurveda, in its textbooks, has stated that certain plants and foods contain properties that boost immunity naturally and quickly. The body, according to Ayurvedic physicians, can withstand any mild to moderate to severe infections if it has a strong immune system.
Nevertheless, to keep body shielded from bacteria and viruses, you should consume healthy diet and ayurvedic herbs with medicinal properties. To improve immunity with natural herbs and supplements, you need to check the following list –
Neem has been, since time immemorial, one of the most potent antibacterials, antifungal, and antiviral herbs that is a potent immune booster. Apart from its rejuvenation properties, it can also purify the blood and keep a check on the entire digestive system.
Holy basil is a herb favored by hundreds of thousands of folk medicine practitioners around the world. Its aromatic leaves contain excellent germicidal properties as they have phytochemicals and natural antioxidants. Experts recommend chewing basil leaves after cleaning them or make a decoction to improve immunity.
The herb, famous for its anti-stress properties in Ayurveda, is another way to build immunity stronger and better. It is adaptogenic and hence helps to tackle the stress. Stress has a clear link with decreased resistance, making the body susceptible to contract infections by harmful microorganisms.
The cumin seeds' powerful aromatic oil contains antioxidants that help flush free radicals from the blood, making it pure and capable of fighting infections. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend consuming cumin seeds and include them in a daily diet to increase immunity.
Other than single herbs, there are herbal supplements in the form of capsules or tablets available on the market that help boost the immune system and make it stronger. The formulas may contain ayurvedic herbs and modern medicines (such as fortified vitamins and minerals). Herbal capsules, tablets, capsules, or even decoctions (raw immune boost herbal powders) can serve as a natural medicine for quick and natural immune response to infections.
Exercise helps boost immunity in individuals, and thus they are least likely to get infected by bacteria and viruses. Here are the possible theories that show increased immune system due to physical workouts.
COVID19 and such pandemic occur regularly, and the human race has always come up with more reliable ways to tackle it. Apart from coronavirus vaccines that are likely to come to the market in some time, the best way to address, as suggested by local and international governments and bodies such as World Health Organization, is boosting immunity. Not only the body's natural and quick response of the immune system would help you tackle the present infections, but also prepare your body to withstand any such deadly viruses and bacteria in future.