Your immune system is your body’s defense against harm by external factors, such as pathogens and toxins, as well as internal factors, such as damaged and cancerous cells. It’s what isolates and attacks anything that can be harmful to you, and it’s also what prompts the clearance of the resulting debris once the attack is complete. Keeping your immune system in good shape is one of the best investments in health, and natural immune boosters can support your immune system in its fight against illnesses.
Your immune system has two scopes of action: innate and specific immunity. Innate, or natural immunity, has a broad rather than specific range of action. It engulfs and kills pathogens and cancer cells by releasing white blood cells, cytokines and natural killer cells throughout the body. Specific, or adaptive, immunity is, like its name suggests, more specific. It doesn’t flood the body with white blood cells, but rather uses antibodies, cytokines, and natural killer cells in more targeted attacks on specific invaders.
Your immune system also has two areas of operation: cellular and humoral immunity. Cellular, or cell-mediated, immunity operates inside the cells, where it tags and clears out pathogens that have gone through the cellular membrane. It does this through T cells. Humoral immunity operates in the extracellular fluids, such as the lymphatic fluid and the blood. It uses T cells, B cells, antibodies, and antimicrobial peptides.
As complex as your immune system is on its own, like everything else in your body, it can only work as part of a whole system that must be in sync in order to be productive. Within your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, your immune system is part of the inflammatory circuit and the detoxification circuit, two of the six circuits of organs and systems that work together to fight stress.
The other four circuits of the NEM are the hormone, the bioenergetic, the cardionomic, and the neuroaffect. Each one affects and is affected by the rest of the system.
For example, without a functioning detoxification circuit, your immune system would not be able to get rid of all the debris that piles up after it has completed an attack. This debris begins to accumulate in the system and creates even more inflammation. When the system is clogged up with toxins and metabolites, and inflammation becomes chronic, more pressure is put on the hormone circuit to secrete anti-stress hormones to deal with this inflammation.
The adrenal glands are part of the hormone circuit since they are responsible for secreting the body’s main anti-stress hormone, cortisol, along with over 50 other hormones your body needs to function. So, if they begin to dysregulate, the rest of your system suffers.
Cortisol has many functions, including regulating blood sugar and blood pressure levels, maintaining the heart and blood vessels, suppressing the immune system, and neutralizing inflammation. When the adrenal glands are not working correctly, all of these functions are affected.
Chronic stress, whether physical or psychological, makes your adrenal glands work overtime. For example, if you have recurring infections or an unmanaged chronic condition, your body is constantly under that pressure, and so your adrenals have to be secreting more and more cortisol to deal with its effects.
The consistent increase in cortisol levels in the system brings on the beginning stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). After a while, however, your adrenals are so weak that their cortisol output drops significantly, leaving your body vulnerable without its main stress fighter. This marks the more advanced stages of AFS.
Symptoms of AFS include insomnia, fatigue, low energy, an inability to handle stress, weight gain, anxiety, mild depression, hair loss, heart palpitations, loss of libido, PMS, infertility, brain fog, dry skin, hypoglycemia, and lowered immunity, among other things.
Due to the lowered immunity, you’ll find that with advanced AFS especially you become susceptible to frequent colds and flu. You may take longer to recover from an illness or injury, and you may also develop a heightened sensitivity to certain foods and medications because your detoxification circuit is working more slowly.
The NEM’s detoxification circuit is made up of the immune system, extracellular matrix, and liver, as well as the kidneys and lymphatic system. Out of these, the liver is perhaps the most important clearinghouse, although all the different components are needed to ensure the timely and thorough clearance of metabolites, toxins, and other by-products. If any of these components are not in good shape, toxins will begin to accumulate in the body.
This is where you need to be very careful with natural immune boosters. Although they can be very useful since your immune system needs all the support it can get at this point, they can also add to the toxic load if they are not quickly and easily cleared from the system once their job is done.
Symptoms of slowed detoxification include an increase in sensitivities to certain foods, drugs, and chemicals, as well as paradoxical reactions.
Paradoxical reactions occur when you take a medication or supplement and get the opposite reaction of what this medication or supplement is meant to accomplish. For example, if you are taking natural immune boosters, a paradoxical reaction would be that your immune system weakens further and you get ill more quickly and frequently. Or, another example would be taking a supplement that boosts energy because you have adrenal fatigue, and instead of making you feel more energetic, you get increased fatigue. Paradoxical reactions are more common the weaker your system is and the more advanced your AFS becomes.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to any kind of supplementation, whether it’s vitamins, minerals, herbs, glandulars, or hormones - natural doesn’t automatically mean safe. This also goes for natural immune boosters. First of all, the safety of a product will depend on its quality, dosage, and what it’s supposed to be used for. Secondly, the safety of its effects will depend on your body and your current state of health.
This includes how strong your adrenals are and, equally importantly, how well your detoxification circuit is running. And these two cannot be separated if you have AFS. So, before getting into which natural immune boosters are best, you need to take all of the above factors into consideration.
Take your time and do your research. And even better, get the guidance of a health professional who is experienced in your specific condition, whether it be AFS or otherwise.
These are nine of the best natural immune boosters and how you can use them to your advantage:
At the top of the list is, of course, the queen of all natural immune boosters: vitamin C. It’s a powerful antioxidant that can actually be recycled by glutathione, meaning it can donate electrons to free radicals in order to stabilize them, and then be recycled in order to donate electrons again. Vitamin C is crucial for the health of capillaries, skin, teeth, and bones, and generally for the creation of collagen.
It is one of the most commonly recommended adrenal fatigue supplements as well. In fact, a subclinical deficiency in vitamin C is one of the most prevalent deficiencies in adrenal fatigue. One of the body’s highest concentrations of vitamin C is in the adrenal glands, and that’s because it is one of the raw materials used in the production of adrenal hormones, like cortisol.
Generally, healthy women require around 75 mg of vitamin C a day, and healthy men require around 90 mg. But if you have AFS or lowered immunity, higher therapeutic doses may be useful. This is also the case because, without enough vitamin C, your body is less able to handle stress, including the stress caused by infections, and so you need as much support for your immune system and your adrenals as you can get.
We sometimes recommend between 3000 to 5000 mg a day in such cases, but only if your system is able to handle it. Otherwise, you may be susceptible to paradoxical reactions and adrenal crashes. If you take too much vitamin C while having suboptimal detoxification, some of your AFS symptoms such as fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety, diarrhea, and joint pain may worsen. But, please note that this is not due to the vitamin C itself; it is due to compromised detoxification, and these symptoms will get better once liver function and detoxification are back to normal. Until then, you may want to consult your doctor and either discontinue vitamin C or take much lower doses.
Also, the form of vitamin C you take has an impact. For example, commercially available oral liposomal supplements and fat-soluble vitamin C with bioflavonoid are pretty safe. With mineral ascorbates, we usually recommend a blend of calcium, sodium, and magnesium ascorbates. And we don’t usually recommend effervescent and chewable vitamin C.
And, finally, we like to give glutathione along with vitamin C as an antioxidant combo. Together, they can help reverse the oxidative damage that is created by stress, AFS, inflammation, and suboptimal detoxification.
Ginger has been in use for thousands of years as an ingredient in aromatic cooking as well as a medicinal herb. It is a cornerstone of ayurvedic medicine, and its many benefits have now been scientifically proven with numerous studies. Its content of phytochemicals, its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and its digestive support make it a uniquely versatile herbal remedy for many different health issues.
Because of its ability to ease nausea, it is one of the natural remedies used against morning sickness in pregnant women. It is also an adaptogen that can help increase metabolism, regulate cortisol levels, stabilize blood pressure, burn fat and boost energy. It has also been used to relieve pain and reduce fevers, making it a great option for those suffering from the flu.
And because of its ability to improve gastrointestinal health, and since one of the components of the inflammation circuit of the NEM is the gut, strengthening the gut is another way to improve immunity. But, if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to be careful with how much ginger you use, especially since it can be a little too stimulating for those that suffer from indigestion.
Another ayurvedic celebrity, turmeric is one of the best natural immune boosters there is. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer agent. Other properties include improving brain function (which is good for those with AFS-induced brain fog), lowering heart disease risk, helping in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, reducing arthritis symptoms, and even improving mental health and mood.
It’s also very easy to find and use. Just sprinkle a spoonful of it in your food, or add a small piece of fresh turmeric in your smoothies or juices, and they will become natural immune boosters as well. Just make sure that if you are consuming smoothies and juices, they are made with low-glycemic index fruits, since sugar spikes and crashes can be very stressful on the system and can lead to a worsening of AFS.
Garlic is probably the most widely used immune booster out there. It was even used for that purpose by ancient Roman soldiers trekking across the globe on military missions. Its sulfur content is probably its most important feature, and it’s what gives it the power to fight off a variety of bacteria and viruses.
That’s why we sometimes recommend garlic tea as another great way to get in your natural immune boosters, especially since it also contains lemon and honey. It actually has a much more pleasant taste and aroma than you may expect, it is warming in the winter months, and it is sometimes easier on the stomach than eating raw garlic.
But, if your detoxification circuit is congested, you may have to be careful with using garlic for a bacterial infection. That’s because when bacteria die off, they sometimes release toxins into the system, which may not be cleared out quickly enough if your liver is not in top shape.
Basil oil extract contains apigenin, which is an excellent cancer-fighting bioflavonoid. But to get the benefits of basil for improved immunity, you don’t have to use the oil extract medicinally. You can just use more of the fresh herb in your cooking, and it will elevate the flavor of almost any dish.
A member of the daisy family, echinacea is used for its immune boosting properties by many herbalists, homeopaths, and naturopaths. It can help reduce cold and flu symptoms and fight off infections. It can also be useful for AFS since it has antitoxic effects, which can help reduce the toxicity levels in the body that accumulate due to slowed detoxification.
Echinacea can also be used for sunburns, as a laxative, and to reduce pain. You can find it in health food stores, and it can come in different forms, such as echinacea extract, juice, and tea. If you want to use the tea to boost immunity, drinking it about five times a day may help. Just make sure you get a good quality product made from organic ingredients.
Although cat’s claw is traditionally used to help with digestion, wounds, and arthritis, it has recently become one of the most popular natural immune boosters in the US. It contains oxindole alkaloids that have a stimulatory effect on the immune system. The most immunologically active alkaloid in cat’s claw is called Isomer A. cat’s claw is also a good antioxidant and has other compounds that can help fight off bacteria and viruses. It comes in liquid, capsule, topical, and tea form.
Also known as orangeroot and yellow puccoon, goldenseal is sometimes used to fight infections in those with AFS. Herbalists use it as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-catarrhal agent, as well as a laxative, muscle stimulant, and bitter tonic. It comes in liquid, powder, tincture, and pill form. But make sure you only get it through a trusted source and use it under supervision as it can have toxic effects.
Last but not least of the natural immune boosters is olive leaf, an efficient antioxidant and energy-boosting extract. It has been shown to support cardiovascular health, regulate blood pressure, and fight off viral infections. It can also reduce symptoms from colds, flu, urinary tract infections, and cold sores. Plus, it can help those with AFS to recover more quickly from illnesses and to improve mood.
There are many different herbs and supplements that can be used as natural immune boosters, but we’ve picked out the top nine safest and most effective, especially if you have adrenal fatigue. They will help you fight off illnesses or recover from them more quickly and easily.