If there’s one thing the past year and a half has taught us, it’s that immune resilience is everything. Pre-pandemic, perhaps you focused on your immune health only when you were feeling under the weather or braving allergy season. Now? Daily immune support is top of mind for many—so that your immune system stays sharp and ready for anything that comes its way.
“If your immune system doesn’t have the daily tools it needs, it won’t be ready for offenders, whatever form they may be,” says mbg director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. It raises the question: How can you make sure your immune system is primed and ready?
The answer, you see, isn’t so cut and dried—everyone’s body has different needs, after all. However, according to Ferira, everyone can benefit from a few well-rounded practices. Below, she offers her top tips to help bolster your natural defenses:*
It’s safe to say we all upgraded our hand-washing routines in the past year and a half. According to Ferira, let’s keep the habit: “We’re not going to forget that,” she notes. Wash your hands vigorously for at least 15 to 20 seconds, especially before eating or touching your face—a perhaps obvious tip to keep the germs away but a helpful reminder nonetheless.
It’s something we’ve discussed time and again: The more colors on your plate, the more antioxidants you’ll likely consume. (Better yet, opt for the deeply hued fruits and veggies, as research shows these may have more concentrated antioxidants.)
Antioxidant-rich foods are key for an immune-supporting diet: “Imagine [your immune cells] are fighting for you,” says Ferira. “In that fighting, they are creating a lot of free radical damage. Well, we need antioxidants to come up and clean it up, so the front line can continue to do their hard work.”
She recommends getting your fill of colorful whole fruits and veggies. “A plant-heavy, colorful diet is going to be antioxidant-laden,” she adds.
According to Ferira, it’s time to give omega-3s the credit they deserve. “They are absolutely a nutrient, and it’s a major gap,” she says. “Over 95% of Americans do not get two servings of oily fish that are high in EPA and DHA—these wonderful omega-3s that are anti-inflammatory naturally in the body.”
Specifically, studies have shown that these omega-3s help support normal inflammatory responses, which is a key immune mechanism—you want a balanced immune response that attacks invaders, but you don’t want it on overdrive.
When you think of ways to support immunity, adequate protein might not top the list. But according to Ferira, high-quality protein is a must. “Without protein, you don’t have your macro base to support the immune system,” she notes. See, protein offers amino acids and peptides, which are building blocks for white blood cells. That’s why to heal and rebuild new cells and tissue and for immunity, research shows you need a sufficient amount of protein.
Of course, you can get protein from both animal- and plant-based sources; if you do elect for animal-based protein, Ferira recommends consuming grass-fed, pasture-raised options if you can.
5. Rely on old-school nutrients to fill gaps.
By “old school,” Ferira means the basic immune-supporting nutrients that are well documented and ever-popular—nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D3, and zinc. She explains how immune-essential micronutrients are critically important to help bolster your natural defenses on the daily.* (You know, so that your immune system remains ready for anything.)*
But vitamin C, vitamin D3, and zinc aren’t the only immune-critical nutrients: “Selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, E, and B6 are also involved in the immune response,” Ferira says. All of which are “old-school” players you can easily find in a quality multivitamin.*
6. Incorporate novel immune bioactives.
Here’s where the science gets exciting: According to Ferira, there are a couple of nutrients making waves in the immune-nutrition space: specifically, quercetin phytosome and yeast-derived beta-glucans.
Daily immunity shield to strengthen your body’s natural defenses*
We’ll start with quercetin: “This potent antioxidant has antiviral and anti-inflammatory actions in the body,” says Ferira.* In fact, research from systematic reviews and meta-analyses demonstrates that supplementation with flavonoids including quercetin has been shown to strengthen immune function and improve respiratory health and wellness.* This potent polyphenol can help “to bolster your antioxidant defenses on a daily basis,” Ferira adds.*
As for beta-glucan, the research is on the rise. “So much so, that a compelling 2020 state-of-the-art review was written up,” says Ferira. “In that review, they talk about how beta-glucans can support the immune system in a really multifunctional way.”* Specifically, they found that beta-glucans have antioxidant properties and are potent immunomodulators: They help train and strengthen the innate defense functions of key immune cells, so those cells are geared up and ready for future challenges, whenever they may come.*
Keeping your immune system strong doesn’t have to be a giant undertaking. Oftentimes, simple lifestyle interventions can have the biggest impact. According to Ferira, an immune-nutrition approach can help strengthen your body’s natural defenses on the daily.*
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.