Supercharge Your Immune System

Dr. Frank Lipman suggests 18 powerful foods and supplements to incorporate into your healthy diet.
Have some sweet, healthy beets instead of sugary foods. Photo: @chefdanielagerson

Health crises of any kind—be they local, national or, like the current coronavirus, global in scale—are a wake-up call for all of us. As one of my patients recently said, “There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you think about upping your immunity.” Dark humor aside, she makes a good point: Boosting immunity needs to become a top priority.

In addition to closely following the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect against infection, it’s also important to incorporate as many immunity-boosting behaviors as possible, the sooner the better. Your mission: to fortify your body against opportunistic invaders, making it harder for them to get a toehold into your system.

Start with a multipronged approach that includes health-supporting foods and immunity-boosting supplements, as well as reinforcing the behaviors and habits that can help keep you well. Here is a roundup of 18 of my favorite easy, do-right-now tips to help kick your immunity into gear:

Think of food as an edible medicine cabinet

Food—it keeps us going, nourishes our bodies, and when we do it right, acts as health-supportive medicine. That’s when we’re also feeding the billions of beneficial bacteria that live in our gut—where roughly 70 percent of our immune system lives. Start your immunity-boosting program by giving the junky empty calories a wide berth—not good for you, or the bacteria in you.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon support immune health. Photo: @dialaskitchen

1| Ditch sugar and processed foods now.

Sugar is, in a word, garbage, and when viruses are making the rounds, the sweet stuff can make getting sick far easier by starving your beneficial gut bacteria and overfeeding the bad. Processed foods have a similar impact, weakening immunity with gut-health-weakening chemicals, allergens and virtually no bug-fighting nutrients, so ban processed junk from your table, too.

2| Go heavy on garlic and onions.

Take advantage of alliums, known for their powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. They feed your gut the fiber and prebiotics it thrives on, and they work just as well raw or cooked, so start chopping garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks and shallots, and enjoy daily.

3| Gobble up greens.

Think greens—and work them into every meal to front-load your system with the phytonutrients and fiber that make your good belly bacteria thrive, in turn, keeping your immune system defenses strong. In addition to salads at dinner, add a pile of spinach under your morning eggs. Add a fistful of kale to soup at lunch, and salads and stews at dinnertime. Got smoothies? Toss some greens in there, too. Before you know it, you’ll be a greens machine.

4| Add prebiotics to your plate.

Fiber from plants feed the good bacteria in your gut, strengthening your microbiome, which is good for your immune system! Apart from garlic and onions, seek out radishes, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and tomatoes. In addition, the chewy parts of the vegetable—like the stalks of broccoli or the bottoms of asparagus—are the most nutritious for the gut bacteria. So don’t chop off the stalks—eat them!

5| Eat fermented foods.

Simply put, a healthy gut makes the rest of you less vulnerable to bacterial and viral invaders. To boost that health, put a scoop or two of fermented foods on your plate a few times a week to feed your gut the probiotics it needs to function optimally. You can ferment virtually any veggie you like, or buy items like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or kefir to get your dose. Not a fermented food fan (yet)? Try adding organic apple cider vinegar to salads.

6| Have a hot cup of immunity.

For the next few weeks, ditch the cocktails and, for that matter, any form of alcohol. Instead, brew up hot tea drinks made with immune-boosting herbs like andrographis, elderberry and astragalus. Add bone broth to your repertoire as well. Broths made from healthy, grass-fed animals deliver amino acids like arginine, glutamine and glycine, all of which are excellent immunity reinforcements.

7| Make mealtime a lot spicier.

Ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and cayenne pepper—pour them on! Not only will they add more flavor to everything you eat, but they also pack a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-viral punch.

8| Clue into coconut.

Another tasty, immunity-boosting add-in for smoothies or your morning Bulletproof coffee: coconut oil. Just a teaspoon a day will add extra flavor and healthy fats,
while supporting immunity with its powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.

Boost Immunity With Supportive Supplements

In addition to eating healthy and well, I often recommend supplements as extra support for the immune system and overall well-being. At this time of the year, when everyone’s immune system can use a little extra TLC, try a few of these from my favorite immunity-boosting all-stars:

9| Anti-viral herbs: Add anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs like andrographis, astragalus, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, elderberry extract and lomatium extract to your list.

10| Medicinal mushrooms: Look for a mixed formula that contains cordyceps, chaga and maitake. In addition to their many healing properties, mushrooms contain beta glucans, which have immune-modulating effects.

11| NAC (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine): A precursor to the powerful immunity-booster glutathione, NAC also supports respiratory health by acting as both an antioxidant and an expectorant, helping to thin out and loosen mucus in the air passageways. The recommended dosage is usually 2 to 4 grams a day.

12| Glutathione: It’s the master antioxidant, but most oral glutathione is foul-smelling and poorly absorbed, so look for s-acetyl-glutathione or liposomal glutathione.

13| Vitamin D3: Ideally, your D levels should be in the 50 to 70mg/ml range, so have your doctor check yours. Then you both can determine how much is needed to close the gap.

14| Vitamin C: To protect against infection, take 2 to 3 grams of vitamin C every day.

15| Probiotics: Support your gut with a probiotic, preferably one with at least 20 to 50 billion viable organisms, and several types of good bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two of the most highly regarded strains.

16| Zinc: Add 25 mg of zinc per day on a short-term basis for an additional immune boost, and, if you feel a cold coming on, to help shorten its duration.

17| Fish oil: 1 to 2 grams of high-quality fish oils daily will help keep immunity defenses strong. Just make sure yours contain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, and no fillers.

18| Spirulina: Animal studies suggest spirulina may boost the immune system and have anti-viral properties. Dosage: about 15 grams per day.