A strong immune system allows your body to combat disease and reduce sickness. The immune system is a defense mechanism that fights back against microorganisms that cause disease and intervenes to produce an immune response if germs do enter the body.
The immune system is a system requiring a multiprong approach to enhance a person’s ability to stave off illness and disease.
While research in the field is still ongoing, it’s evident that certain foods can help support and boost immune system function.
7 Foods Science Proves Support Immune Health
Almonds are a great food that contain high levels of Vitamin E and can be carried with you on-the-go. Vitamin E is often overlooked in immune response due to its Vitamin C counterpart’s strong immune system properties.
Recent studies on almonds found that chemicals in the skin of the almond nut boost the immune system’s response, allowing for a strong response to viruses (1).
The study exposed groups to the herpes simplex virus to measure the body’s response to viral infections. Participants that consumed the unblanched almond skins had a higher immune system response than those that did not.
Ideal consumption is three ounces of unblanched almonds per day.
2. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are some of the best foods a person can consume to enhance their immune system. Common fruits that fall into this category are:
Vitamin C is the secret to the citrus fruits’ ability to enhance immune system response. The vitamin can also be taken in supplement form and is a go-to option for people seeking natural remedies for the cold and flu.
Studies show that this key vitamin is able to promote gene regulating effects. Deficiency in Vitamin C leads to a higher risk of infection and can impair immunity (2).
This key vitamin is responsible for the body’s ability to repair tissue and promote tissue growth, too. Citrus fruits are also known for their high levels of antioxidants that are known for helping fight back against free radicals.
Allicin and other compounds containing sulfur are responsible for the immune-boosting properties of garlic. Known as a great additive to salads and other foods, garlic has been praised throughout history for its ability to fight off infection.
There’s also some evidence that garlic can help slow artery hardening.
Raw garlic is most effective and has the best ability to fight off colds and flus. Studies on garlic show that the compounds in garlic act as immunoregulators (3).
Ginger is a proven immune booster that has been shown to help reduce inflammation and combat sore throats. Consumed in whole raw form or in teas, ginger is a potent immune booster.
Acting as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, ginger can boost immune response and also improve digestive health (4).
Additional studies indicate that fresh ginger has an antiviral effect on respiratory infections and further boosts the immune system. Common ginger shots also include honey and lemon juice to improve immune health.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, ginger is an ideal choice for anyone with:
- Sore threats
- Esophageal swelling
- Respiratory issues
Ginger root provides non-toxic benefits to users.
5. Green tea
New research is being conducted on green tea every year due to its potent health benefits that have been the focus of medicine for hundreds of years. In a study conducted by Oregon State University, researchers found that a compound in green tea increased the number of “regulatory T cells.”
EGCG is believed to give green tea its:
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Immune boosting properties
The number and frequency of T cells were increased in both the lymph nodes and spleen. Increases in T cell provides greater immune response control (5).
Additional studies show that green tea strengthens the immune response by protecting against oxidants and free radicals. Evidence suggests that green tea is able to protect against heart disease and cancer.
Multiple types of tea can be beneficial to your health, including white tea.
6. Red bell peppers
Bell peppers, particularly red ones, are filled with high levels of Vitamin C, offering many of the same benefits that citrus fruits offer. A half cup of red bell peppers contains 150% of your daily Vitamin C requirements.
Peppers also contain beneficial antibodies that boost immune system response.
Multiple compounds found in red bell peppers have been shown to improve immune response, including:
- Vitamin C
All four compounds have potent antioxidant effects and boost immune system health, according to numerous studies (6). Lycopenes was also found to increase antioxidant potency. These compounds work together to protect cells, improve immune response and fend off illness.
Spinach, along with other leafy greens, is another item on our list that has high levels of Vitamin C. The high levels of Vitamin C help fight off viruses, but it’s the antioxidants in spinach that are shown to improve immune response.
Beta carotene is available in high levels, and it’s optimal to eat spinach raw.
Cooking spinach will degrade its nutrients, causing the immune boosting properties to fall lower as a result.
A study from Sweden found that darky leafy greens contain high levels of lutein when prepared properly (7). This compound is able to lower inflammation of cells and can be stored in the body as reserve to further reduce inflammation.
Dole Nutrition Institute claims that leafy greens shield cells from environmental damage and also encourage the production of white blood cells. White blood cells are the cells that attack bacteria when it enters the body.
The enzymes in spinach also:
- Rejuvenate cells
- Repair DNA damage
- Shield cells from damage
Multiple factors play a role in the body’s immune system. Leading a healthy lifestyle, refraining from tobacco, alcohol and drug use and exercise may also play a role in your ability to stave off sickness and disease. Add in a healthy diet, filled with compounds known to enhance immunity, and you’ll enjoy a robust immune response.
Studies continue to be conducted on numerous foods to determine if certain foods can improve immune system response.
- Ash, M. (2011). Do Almonds Have Immune Modulating Properties? | Clinical Education. Clinical Education. https://www.clinicaleducation.org/news/do-almonds-have-immune-modulating-properties/
- Vitamin C and Immune Function. (2017, November 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
- Arreola, R., Quintero-Fabián, S., López-Roa, R. I., Flores-Gutiérrez, E. O., Reyes-Grajeda, J. P., Carrera-Quintanar, L., & Ortuño-Sahagún, D. (2015). Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of immunology research, 2015, 401630. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/401630
- Mashhadi, N. S., Ghiasvand, R., Askari, G., Hariri, M., Darvishi, L., & Mofid, M. R. (2013). Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence. International journal of preventive medicine, 4(Suppl 1), S36–S42.
- Oregon State University. (2011, June 3). Mechanism discovered for health benefit of green tea, new approach to autoimmune disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 4, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110602143214.htm
- Chávez-Mendoza, C., Sanchez, E., Muñoz-Marquez, E., Sida-Arreola, J. P., & Flores-Cordova, M. A. (2015). Bioactive Compounds and Antioxidant Activity in Different Grafted Varieties of Bell Pepper. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 4(2), 427–446. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox4020427
- Getting the most out of spinach: Maximizing the antioxidant lutein. (2018). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181221123810.htm