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10 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

10 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

Considering that communicable diseases like colds and flu are highly contagious and have no cure other than to run their course, your best bet is to prevent becoming ill in the first place.

But, even if you do get sick this season, the severity and longevity of illness is highly dependent on the strength of your immune system and your body’s ability to fight off the invading virus. 

Low Immunity Sets the Stage for Sickness

Any illness, whether bacterial, fungal or viral, shows up in individuals who are “susceptible.” Making healthy lifestyle choices during cold and flu season (and all year round) will help build defenses in your body so you are not susceptible to illness.

But there are several very easy, all-natural steps you can take to strengthen your immune system and arm yourself against colds and flu today.

1. Eat Probiotic Foods

Did you know that 80% of your immune system is located in your gut? There are trillions of beneficial bacteria in your intestines that help you fight disease and absorb nutrients. Keeping this population healthy and strong is arguably your strongest defense against colds, flus and many other diseases. Replenish your gut flora daily by incorporating wholesome fermented foods and drinks into your diet like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchee.

Fermenting your own vegetables is far more effective and affordable than buying probiotic supplements or other mass-marked products that only claim to boost your immunity. Not only will keeping your gut flora healthy help protect you from disease, but it can also give you better digestion.

And from real ginger beer to homemade pickles, there are so many delicious ways to enjoy probiotic foods at least once a day. (My favorite book about making probiotic foods here)

2. Eat Enough Good Food

Make sure you get three meals a day that include plenty of fresh vegetables, and enjoy healthy snacks if you need them, so your blood sugar stays relatively even throughout the day. It takes calories to form antibodies and dispatch them to the front lines when germs invade. When your calorie intake dwindles because you don’t eat enough or you skip meals, your body prioritizes other functions while your immune system is left to operate at a deficit.

But you don’t want to eat just anything! The nutrition that you get from whole fruits and vegetables is outstanding for preventing illness. Many vitamins, including vitamin C, are antioxidants and will protect cells—including those of your immune system—from damage by toxins in the environment.

Dark-colored produce (berries, kale, broccoli) tends to be higher in flavonoids, polyphenols and other antioxidants. Just make sure you eat a little saturated fat from butter or coconut oil with those veggies, so you can absorb all their nutrients.

3. Get Enough Sleep

Whatever amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning, whether that’s 6 hours or 10—make sure you get it! Insufficient sleep depresses the immune system, opening the door to colds, upper-respiratory infections, and other nagging ills. Also consider your caffeine intake, and don’t let it keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.

If you have a constricted airway that prevents you from sleeping deeply, Breathe-Right strips on your nose can be very helpful. If you have insomnia (which I often do), then a little warm cow’s milk (which provides tryptophan, a relaxing amino acid) or some magnesium drink can quickly and gently ensure you get a good night of rest. (My favorite book about curing insomnia here)

4. Consume More Glutamine

Your immune cells rely on an amino acid called glutamine to do their jobs. “Glutamine comes from protein foods, and if you’re not eating enough of those, your body will borrow from skeletal muscle, especially if you’re working out,” says Jose Antonio, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In one study, marathon runners who took glutamine instead of a placebo had less chance of experiencing an upper-respiratory infection after racing.

Broths and stocks made from grassfed beef or chicken are an outstanding source of natural glutamine, and adding a cup a day to your diet can really boost your immune health—just like Grandma always said. But if you are an athlete, you may need to supplement with more. After exercising, try taking either an extra cup or two of broth, or 5 to 15 grams of L-Glutamine in pill or powder form to help with recovery. Your white blood cells (and your muscles) will thank you.

5. Get Plenty of Vitamin D

The majority of adults and children in the U.S. are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, putting them at greater risk for all infections. A number of recent medical trials have demonstrated that individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin D had the highest rates of serious illness and infections.

You can get Vitamin D naturally by daily exposing your arms and face for 20 minutes in the sun, but most people need more than this. Good dietary sources include good old fashioned cod liver oil (my favorite, least processed brand here), grassfed beef liver, egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens, and fatty fish like salmon.

You can also buy liquid Vitamin D supplements which are very effective and easy to take.

6. Eat Mushrooms

You can try shitake, maitake or other Asian mushrooms, but even the inexpensive and humble button mushroom is loaded with polysaccharides called beta glucans. Numerous medical studies have shown that beta glucans can positively modulate and strengthen the immune system and prevent infections. You’ll want to eat those mushrooms raw to get the most out of them.

In addition to finding it in all types of delicious, fresh mushrooms, you can also buy Beta Glucans as a supplement to take during cold and flu season.

7. Use Thieves’ Oil Generously

Thieves’ oil is a blend of the essential oils of clove, cinnamon, lemon, rosemary and eucalyptus. The blend is based on a recipe developed by a group of spice merchants in 15th-century Marseilles, France, who turned to thieving when trade was shut down due to a plague. They protected their health as they robbed the dead, sick, and dying by applying a combination of herbs, spices, and essential oils to their clothing and skin—a recipe which has since been unearthed in the British archives and used in the present day.

Thieves’ blend has been clinically tested and proven to be more than 99% effective against airborne bacteria (study conducted at Weber State University, 1997). It has been used to treat everything from candida and bacterial infections to toxic mold to colds and flu. I often take a drop and rub it into my washed hands after I use a public restroom. You can also mix several drops into a spray bottle of water, and use the spray to help disinfect the air and various surfaces around your home.

Because essential oils are made of light molecules, they are easily absorbed by the respiratory system and can be highly effective in treating sinus and respiratory disorders. I slather a few drops of Thieves on my throat and chest to treat a cold, or on the bottoms of my feet to keep well, and boost my immunity all winter long. Sometimes I’ll take a drop in a cup of hot water or tea to clear my sinuses and soothe my throat.

Please note: The Thieves’ oil recipe should only be made with therapeutic-grade, organic essential oils (where to find organic essential oils). Please be aware that the source of the oils is important, and labeling can be misleading. Some brands of essential oil can be very toxic! DO NOT use essential oils internally or on your body unless you’re sure of their quality and safety.

8. Drink Plenty of Water

Even overnight, during what amounts to an 8-hour fast, your immune reserves are being drained. Hydration becomes even more important when you’re sick. Fluids not only transport nutrients to the illness site, but also take toxins away for disposal. Green, rooibos, or herbal tea is another immune-friendly vehicle for consuming water. 

You don’t want to drink too much water though! There is too much of a good thing here. It’s important not to dilute and wash out the important minerals and electrolytes your body needs to remain healthy.

To gauge if you are getting the right amount of water, your urine should always be straw colored or darker. If it is clear, you are drinking too much water and slowing your metabolism down!

9. Steam Some Oysters

Oysters are the richest source of zinc, which is essential for immune cell function, and many studies have shown that even a mild deficiency depresses immunity. If you’re not a fan of bivalves, grab a grass-fed burger: Beef and buffalo are other good sources of zinc.

You can also get zinc from pumpkin seeds, which is the highest plant source of the mineral, but you’ll need to eat 3 whole cups of them to get the same amount of zinc that is in just 2 oysters!

Most people are low in zinc, so you might consider supplementing with zinc gluconate. Just know that zinc is not well absorbed in pill form, so it’s best to get it from food whenever possible.

10. Quit the Sugar

If you do only one thing to boost your immune system, eliminating sugar will do the most good. Refined sugar is a poison which, among other things, dramatically decreases immune function. Many scientists and nutritionists consider added sugar in any form to be a drug because of its negative impact on the human body. I have known health practitioners to prioritize eliminating sugar from the diet over recommending that people quitting smoking!

Healthier sweeteners such as honey or stevia can be used in moderation, but avoid artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Equal; they are even more toxic than cane sugar!

Most importantly, if you are feeling like you’re “fighting off a bug” or “coming down with something,” avoid sugar and sweet foods at all costs for a little while. In my experience, sugar is enough of an immune depressant that eating sweets of any kind when you are a little under the weather will likely tip the scales against you, and bring on that cold or flu full strength.

Read Standard Disclosures and Disclaimers here.


  1. I used to get sick every winter with a cold, aches, sniffles, etc. I have been eating a lot better this last year and getting more natural fats into my diet. I have cut out most of the processed foods and almost but not all of the sugar (I know, but it is HARD). I drink a lot of water. I have to say that I am healthy. I am also using the Thieves Oil in my diffuser daily. Perhaps a combination of all of these things have kept me healthier this winter. I don’t know but I am enjoying it.

  2. Since i started to eat much more healthier and get more sleep, i experienced dramatically improvements of my immune system. I will definitely include more mushrooms in my daily meal plans and try out how they work. After all, i am about to gain muscles and vegetables do a really great job for my immune system too. I try to keep the pesticide as low as possible. Thanks for sharing this informativ post!

  3. I can’t say how much grateful i am to have found this great Article! I am suffering from a “below the average” immune system for years and i always wanted to strenghten it. Not enough sleep is propaply one of the key factors i should become more aware of, and take the time to go earlier to bed. Also, i am going to eat more mushrooms since i really like them. Definitly, i am going to apply your tips into my daily life and, hopefully, strenghten my immune system successfully. Thanks for sharing, really valuable for me.


    Eating mushrooms raw is something that ought to be carefully considered before assuming it is wise or safe.

    Most health benefits are realized from cooking them, not from eating them raw. As this article points out there are various ways of ‘cooking’, chemically (salt, vinegar, etc), and drying them in sunshine sequesters vitamin D in their flesh as well!

  5. Cabbage, parsley and spinach also contain glutamine. It’s not necessary to consume animal products to take in optimal nourishment.

    • Indeed, raw cabbage is a good source of glutamine (raw parsley and spinach, not so much compared to animal foods). And if you are an athlete or ill, and need extra glutamine, you can get it in powder form, which is the easiest way to get a lot quickly. However, many people have allergies, illnesses and genetic issues that make getting proper nutrition from plant sources alone impossible. I myself learned this the hard way.

  6. I personally believe that adequate sleep and plenty of water are two most important things to strengthen your immune system. Just shared it with my friends. :)

  7. Dawn,
    These are great tips. Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday’s Adorned From Above Blog Hop. This weeks party is live. I hope to see you there.
    Debi @ Adorned From Above
    Joye and Myrna @ The Busy Bee’s
    Linda @ With A Blast

  8. Thanks for this great list. I learned some new ones today! Thank you for sharing at Healthy 2day Wednesdays.

  9. Thanks for this post, very timely. I especially appreciate your suggestions 1 and 4; haven’t known that before. I taught it will just be sleep, rest, fluids and vitamins C. Now I understand why a hot chicken soup works. Is it advisable to take regularly glutamine pill even when not ill or with colds?

  10. I hadn’t realised that the humble mushroom was such a good’un for the immune system. I take your point about the need for good sleep. Something I need to get more of! Rebecca x

  11. 2 to 3 times a year, I purchase elderberry juice concentrate. It’s a pint bottle which makes a half gallon; over the course of a week, I drink it all to boost my immune system. It’s been a few days over 2 years since I’ve been sick.
    My memory, however, isn’t as good as my immune system…that pint could make a gallon…I just don’t remember.

  12. Great tips! I knew oysters were high in zinc, and I knew zinc was good for the immune system…but I never connected that oysters were good for the immune system! Duh! Also, for anyone looking for a good zinc supplement, we’ve used this one from Radiant Life and it’s very easily absorbed. And the taste test tells you if you are deficient!

  13. One of my favorite subjects! My little girl is sick right now (which rarely happens, but when it does, it is heartbreaking) so I am particularly grateful for this post! I have never tried thieves oil but you have inspired me!

    • It’s always so heartbreaking when our little ones are sick! I hope she feels better soon.

  14. These are great suggestions Dawn! Thanks for posting on Wildcrafting Wednesday! :)

    • Always a pleasure, Kathy. And thanks for your other comment on Vitamin D!

  15. Good information – thanks. Visiting from The Wilderness Wife.

  16. Very interesting information – thanks! I was especially interested to learn about Thieves’ blend. Sounds like it would smell pretty good.

  17. I need to boost my Immune system a little more. Cod Liver oil here I come.

  18. Dawn,
    sitting here, sniffling with a cold, I am thankful that I found you at Cornerstone Confessions. This is an interesting and useful article, including the information on Thieves oil, which I’m off to research.
    Thank you.
    Blessings of the season, peace, and good to you in Jesus’ name.

    • You’re welcome, Chelle! I really hope you feel better soon!

  19. These are all great suggestions! Thieves oil was a new one for me – but I’m definitely going to look into – just the combination of aromas sounds heavenly!

  20. Immune system is our first and the most important line of defense against pathogens lurking all around us. Without strong immune system we are susceptible to several health hazards. I must say the tips you mentioned are very helpful for increasing immune system naturally.

  21. Thank you, this is a great post. We have all been sick for weeks around here and I am desperate to do something about it. We have been taking Vitamin D, but I wonder if we are getting enough. We are only doing double the recommended amount, but I’ve heard that even kids need 1,000 or more?

    • Hi Jamie, :)

      All vitamins work in tandem with other vitamins so taking a single supplement may cause more problems than it’s fixing. For a good basic vitamin routine, check out my website under Health & Wellness. Use that as a foundation and add to that when you’re trying to heal something. (Of course, the ideal solution would be to get all these wonderful vitamins from healthy food properly prepared.) :)

      That said, Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means you need sufficient “good” fat in your diet to absorb it.

      And, you also need sufficient vitamins A and K for the body to utilize it.

      • Interesting. I will have to check it out.

  22. Thanks for this great list. I just pinned it for future reference. Bless you.

  23. These are great ways to build your immune system! I’ve never heard of some of them before so this was really helpful especially because I am always sick! I would love if you would share this at my blog hop

  24. Stopping by from Better Mom – great post. I need to do more of these things…we’ve all been pretty sick lately. Glad I found your post. Blessings from Croatia: A Little R & R:

  25. I’ve never heard of thieves oil… thanks for the informative post. :)

  26. Great post! One thing to note, tuna is totally redlisted by Greenpeace, and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium basically says you have to catch it yourself for it to be ok, and another source says only albacore is ok (which is typically highest in mercury.) I just quit eating it altogether :(

  27. I would add Elderberry syprup/extract/tea to the list for flu season. It has been proven very effective against swine flu prevention also. Not to mention that Elderberries grow easily anywhere and taste delicious.

    • Great addition, Heather. Thanks for commenting!

      -Dawn @ Small Footprint Family

  28. Do you make your own Thieves Oil?

    • Hi Heather,

      Yes, I do makes Thieves’ oil. I use 1 part of each: oil of clove, eucalyptus, lemon, cinnamon and rosemary, I usually combine one small bottles of each oil into one larger brown glass tincture bottle with an eyedropper. It is easy and pretty cheap to make; a bottle can last for a year.

      • I was looking Mountain Rose Herbs for the essential oils to make the theives oil. Should I use the cinnamon bark or cinnamon leaf oil?

  29. I went to Whole Foods today to look for a supplement to take to boost my immune system when I get on an airplane. There were so many items that I felt overwhelmed and I didn’t buy anything. Now that I read your post, I have my answers. Thank you!

  30. Great post!


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