The best and most natural way to fight infections and to avoid getting sick during cold and flu season is to let your immune system do the work. Your body’s natural defenses are equipped to recognize, attack, and eliminate a number of foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
Although your immune system is elegantly designed to fight off sickness, it is not perfect. You can keep it in top fighting form and boost its effectiveness by eating certain foods. When you add those foods to your smoothies, you can make a potent recipe for staying healthy.
What Your Immune System Does
Your body is the perfect place for many microbes to live. In fact, your body is home to trillions of bacterial cells. Most of them are not harmful and many are even necessary. However, there are bacteria that can make you sick. There are also parasites, fungi, and viruses that love to take up residence inside the human body and the result for you is not usually good.
When your body is infected by something that should not be there, your immune system has a few different ways of preventing sickness. The first is to keep the microbes out in the first place. Your immune system provides a barrier. When that fails, the cells of your immune system detect and destroy invading microbes before they can reproduce and spread. If the microbes manage to reproduce, the immune system keeps working away trying to kill and eliminate the invading cells.
This description is extremely oversimplified. Your immune system is complex, and as yet still not completely understood. For instance, no one yet knows exactly why the immune system turns against the body in some people. When this happens, we say that the person has an autoimmune disorder. Somehow the cells of the immune system see your healthy body cells as foreign invaders and attack them. Such diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Chrohn’s disease.
Smoothies for Healthy Immune Systems
When you build a smoothie out of a variety of healthful ingredients, you are on the right track to having an immune system that functions well. Many of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are found in your smoothie ingredients are needed by your immune system. When you get a complete balance of nutrients every day, your whole body functions better.
Some of the nutrients that are particularly important for immunity include vitamins A, B2, B6, C, D, and E, and the minerals selenium and zinc. Make sure you vary your smoothies every day to get all kinds of good foods and a wide variety of nutrients in your daily diet.
Immunity Boosting Smoothie Ingredients
In addition to maintaining a balanced daily diet, you can include some immune system boosters in your smoothies. While nothing is guaranteed, you can include these ingredients in your smoothies and expect to see positive results. Many of these have research to back up their benefits, but in some cases, experts would like to see more rigorous study for absolute proof that they help your immune system function better.
Probiotics: Probiotic is the term used for bacteria that are good for you. These are the little critters that live in your gastrointestinal tract and help you digest food. It is a symbiotic relationship. Research is just beginning to show that these helpful bacteria also work to improve your immune system. More specifically, taking a probiotic supplement has been shown to boost the immune system of participants in research and to reduce symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases and allergies. You can find probiotic supplements in any health food store and you can also eat yogurt or kefir with live and active cultures to get probiotics. See my kefir, yogurt, and fermented beverage smoothie category for recipes.
Kombucha: Kombucha is a tea that has been fermented from different species of yeast and bacteria. It originated in Asia where it has been used for a variety of health purposes including boosting immunity. The ancient Chinese went as far as labeling it “Immortal Health Elixir”. It’s also great for digestion, detoxification of the liver, increasing metabolism and energy, and is anti-cancerous. Store bought kombucha is good, but somewhat pricey and not as healthy as homemade. Making it yourself isn’t that difficult. Here’s a good how to make kombucha video. GT’s kombucha is a good brand. Click here for my kombucha smoothie recipes.
Blueberries: Antioxidants are important compounds when it comes to keeping your immune system in good working order. They help you stay healthy by combating the toxic free radicals in your body. Antioxidants include vitamins C and E, polyphenols, selenium, and zinc among other compounds. The little blueberry is one of the most common foods that is highest in antioxidants. Don’t ignore the other berries, though. Raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, and blackberries also have antioxidants. See my plethora of blueberry smoothie recipes.
Acai Berries: Acai berries have even more antioxidants than blueberries, but they are not as easy to find. They come from a palm tree that grows in the Amazon and have more antioxidants than any other food. You can find acai juices, but these are often high in sugar and other ingredients. For your smoothie, look for frozen acai pulp which usually contains no additives. Check out my acai berry smoothies.
Goji Berries: Goji berries have been long revered in Asia for their healthful properties. Modern science is just finding out why and one reason is the presence of compounds called polysaccharides that seem to boost the immune system. They also seem to help your immune system better distinguish between your own cells and invaders. This makes the berries a great addition to a smoothie if you have an autoimmune disorder. Click here for my goji berry superfood smoothies.
Green Tea: Another ingredient for your smoothie that is packed with antioxidants is green tea. Replace water or juice in any smoothie recipe with green tea for an extra immunity boost. The compounds in green tea that act as antioxidants are called polyphenols. One of these polyphenols is called epigallocatechin gallate, EGCG, and it has been shown in numerous studies to boost immunity and to have anti-cancer properties. It can slow the growth of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Click here for green tea smoothies.
Pumpkin: A surprisingly tasty addition to a smoothie is pumpkin, which is rich in vitamin A. This vitamin plays many roles in your body, including communication between cells. This communication is how your immune system recognizes healthy, normal cells and distinguishes them from invaders. Vitamin A also helps to keep your respiratory tract in good shape. Canned pumpkin is an easy way to get this immune booster in a smoothie, but be sure you get plain pumpkin with no added sugar. Click here for my pumpkin smoothies.
Astragalus: Astragalus is an herb that is used in traditional Chinese medicine and is believed to be a potent immune booster. There has been a wealth of medical research that backs up these claims. One of the most exciting effects of the herb is on tumors. Not only does it help reduce tumors, it also reverses the immunosuppressant side effect of chemotherapy. This herb can be used by anyone to improve the functioning of the immune system and there are no known adverse side effects. You can find a powdered form of astragalus as a supplement. One teaspoon in a smoothie is a good amount.
Other Ways to Help your Immune System
Eating a balanced, healthy diet is a very important way to keep your immune system in good shape, and adding immune boosters to your smoothies helps even more. You can also do some other things as part of a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system strong and to keep illness at bay.
- Get plenty of exercise. Raising your heart rate by doing aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes, three times each week has been shown in research to increase your immune system’s function. It does not have to be terribly rigorous either. Try a brisk walk five days a week.
- Laugh and relax more often. The act of laughing actually decreases the amount of stress hormones your body produces. At the same time, it increases the amount of certain white blood cells, a crucial part of your immune system for fighting infections. Relaxing has a similar effect because it helps to decrease stress hormones. Spend more time laughing with friends and watching funny movies. For relaxation, try practicing meditation.
- Get more sleep. Most Americans do not get nearly enough sleep each night. Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep. When you are deprived of adequate sleep, you are more likely to get sick. This may be related to stress hormones, but researchers do not fully understand the connection.
Your immune system is a vital part of your body and your health. Keeping it functioning well helps keep you from getting sick with the common cold and can even help reduce your risk of getting cancer. Your immune system is complicated, but researchers have been able to determine many foods and nutrients that affect it. With a healthy, well-rounded diet, some special immune-boosting foods, exercise, and good sleep, you will be doing your best to stay in good shape.
Are there any other ingredients you feel I should have included? Do you have a specific immune boosting smoothie recipe or go to immune boosting ingredient? Please share in the comments below.
To your good health!
Sources for this blog post include: