The human immune system is a complex defense system involving multiple organs and specialized cells and tissues.
Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about ways to boost immunity through the foods and drinks we eat. “While diet is not the only lifestyle factor that impacts our immune system, it plays a very powerful role,” says Siera Holley, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “The foods and beverages we consume on a regular basis can either aid in strengthening the immune system or contribute to a weakened one.”
In discussions of using food and drink to boost immunity, smoothies are often recommended. But if you’re looking for a delicious, immune-system boosting drink that’s not a smoothie, check out the following options.
Experts note that malnutrition is a significant cause of poor immune function. Regularly consuming drinks that contain vital nutrients may play a role in preventing illness and helping people recover from it.
Nutrients the body needs for the immune system to develop and function appropriately include:
- Protein: Protein and the essential amino acids play a vital role in supporting the immune system’s ability to withstand and recover from an attack by infectious agents.
- Fish oil: Research suggests fish oil may help reduce inflammation.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps support the immune functions, such as the mucous cells lining essential organs and the body’s ability to make antibodies in response to specific infections.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D stimulates the immune system and helps the formation of immune cells. A lack of vitamin D has links to a greater risk of autoimmune diseases.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C supports the body’s ability to produce infection-fighting white blood cells.
- Probiotics: Sometimes called “the good bacteria,” these beneficial microorganisms promote a healthy digestive system.
- Catechins: Derived from plants and found in green tea, may help the immune system function.
A balanced diet containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals is essential for immune function. Additional nutrients that support the immune system include:
- vitamin E
- vitamins B-6 and B-12
Drinks to try
Beverages play a vital role in maintaining health. Simply staying hydrated is a great way to boost the immune system.
The body needs water to function effectively, and this is particularly true for the many and diverse components of the immune system.
For example, the mouth and throat are on the front lines of the body’s defenses, but they cannot do their job as well as usual when a person is dehydrated.
Drinks to boost the immune system do not always have to be complex, expensive, or made in a blender.
They should, however, be non-caffeinated and low in sugar. Water is a great place to start. From there, people can choose more complex beverages to suit their needs and tastes.
Green tea, which is rich in catechins, and tomato juice, a good source of vitamin C, are good examples of drinks that contribute to a person’s overall health.
Smoothies are a great way to pack plenty of nutrients into one beverage. For example, people can add the following ingredients to smoothies:
- protein, which is in nuts, seeds, soy, and dairy products
- vitamin C, which is in oranges, strawberries, and tomato juice
- vitamin A, which is in spinach, carrots, and apricots
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recommend this smoothie. In a blender, combine the following ingredients for one minute, or until as smooth as desired:
- 1 peeled orange
- 1 cup grapes
- 1 peeled banana
- 1 cored pear
- 1 cup soy, almond, or rice milk
- 2 cups fresh kale or spinach
- ice cubes (optional)
Although health experts are not very likely to recommend using drinks to boost the immune system, there are proven steps individuals can take to support their immune function.
- Handwashing: Frequent handwashing will support the immune system by removing potential contagions.
- Not touching the face: Keeping the hands away from the face keeps germs away from the mouth, nose, and eyes, where they can enter the body.
- De-stressing: Cortisol, a hormone the body produces when it is under stress, may interfere with the immune system.
- Eating a healthful, well-balanced diet: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods that are high in fat and sugar may help keep the immune system strong.
- Getting plenty of sleep: It is essential to give the body time to rest and recuperate. ResearchersTrusted Source think that lack of sleep may have detrimental effects on immune function because it interferes with the circadian rhythm.
The immune system also changes over time. Infants and young children have an immature immune system, plus significant nutritional needs to support their growth.
By adolescence and adulthood, their immune systems will be fully developed, but lifestyles might not be conducive to overall health.
Older adults have acquired substantial immunity, but their immune system may not be as strong.