How to Boost Your Immune System

5 June 2018

Just like a car, the body we were given needs preventative maintenance in order to avoid the need for reactive repairs. If you pay daily attention to ways that you can stay healthy, you’ll find you get sick less frequently and you feel wonderful more often than not. Knowing how to boost your immune system is like having a checklist from your mechanic!

Foods to help boost your immunity

It’d be great if everything we ingested was healthy for us, and was purely food. While some of us will need to supplement our nutrition with vitamins and other elements, there are some foods you shouldn’t be without, especially if what you’re looking for is how to boost your immune system.

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Ginger and the Immune System


Not necessarily a magical cure-all but ginger does have some pretty awesome immunity-boosting properties. It is said to activate T-cells which are a group of white blood cells that can actually destroy cells infected by a virus. It is a powerful antioxidant and has been used as an anti-inflammatory to treat asthma because it suppresses the Th2-mediated immune response.

It’s also important to consume ginger because in Ayurvedic tradition, it helps to cleanse our lymphatic system which is, essentially, our body’s waste system. By keeping that running smoothly, our immunity can focus on being ‘battle-ready’ for illness.

Chicken soup and bone broth

It’s no myth; chicken soup really is good for the soul and for your immunity. It’s why it’s called ‘Jewish penicillin’! The catch is though, you can’t just go and buy a pre-packaged, nasty, dehydrated soup mix and pour some hot water in.

The goodness lies in the nutritious vegetables, herbs and the chicken itself. The longer the soup cooks for, the more the chicken releases its healing compounds such as collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline. The same goes for other bone broths.

These delicious soups are anti-inflammatory, easy on the tummy and help to thin mucous in the lungs which, according to a 2000 study by Stephen Rennard, supports the white blood cells in fighting a cold.

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Soup and Healthy Immune System

Immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals

Poor diet due to busy lives, food preferences and poor quality ingredients can lead to a need for supplementation.


Often used to treat the common cold, zinc is an essential mineral for every day, not just when you’re sick. In general, the population doesn’t suffer from a zinc deficiency but boosting your levels can help with immunity because it helps to heal wounds and fight infection.

Zinc-rich foods include red meat, poultry, oysters, beans, nuts, whole grains and fortified cereals. A doctor can help you determine if you require a zinc supplement.

Vitamin C

Another essential element in the body, vitamin C is often seen as a ‘cure-all’ for many conditions, including pesky cold and flu. It is thought to boost the immune system by targeting the nucleic acid of a virus and killing off undesirable bacteria.

Now the body doesn’t produce its own vitamin C so it needs to be ingested from a range of foods, particularly citrus fruits and some vegetables, or in the form of a supplement. It’s important to know that this vitamin is immediately excreted from the body and cannot be retained, hence why we’re advised to take it daily.

A vitamin C deficiency is detrimental to a person’s immune function and any weakened immune system caused by this deficiency leaves the body vulnerable to infection. So, keeping your body consistently topped up with sufficient vitamin C will help to reduce the incidence of colds and reduce the severity and duration of colds.

The recommended dose to optimise immunity is 1,000 mg per day. It’s advisable to ask your chemist for a supplement that is designed to be gentle on the stomach as too much vitamin C can cause tummy upsets.

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Supplements & Immunity

Lifestyle factors that help boost immunity

How to boost your immune system isn’t just dependent on what you eat or take. Changing a few things in your daily life can make an enormous difference too.

Get enough (quality) sleep

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Sleeping and Immunity

Sleep deprivation actually mirrors physical stress. A study that examined white blood cell counts after 29 hours of continual wakefulness proved that severe sleep loss has an immediate effect on the body’s stress response.

Our immune system is closely associated with the quality of our sleep because certain disease fighting substances are created or released while we’re sleeping.

Lower immunity has been associated with shift workers, long-haul pilots, sleep-deprived new parents, insomniacs and people with sleep apnoea.

  • Aim for 8 hours sleep every night.
  • Sleep in a totally darkened room. Even the light from an alarm clock or TV standby light is counterproductive to good sleep.
  • Avoid ‘blue’ light in the hours leading to sleep. This includes fluorescent and LED light, TV, computer screens and car lights. You can purchase blue blocker glasses which tinge everything you see in yellow/orange.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar several hours before sleep.
  • Don’t try to go to sleep after a heavy meal.

Avoid and manage stress

Easier said than done, and sometimes it’s not just about those massive stressors like moving house, relationship break-ups and paying bills.

Stress comes in many different shapes and sizes and includes things like being ill, watching traumatic news footage, waiting for university exam results, sitting for exams, standing in line when you’re running late and so on.

Managing stress doesn’t have to be on a case by case basis. By practising stress management techniques daily, the body gets a chance to relax and regroup and then, even stressful situations are easier to deal with.

Every stressor we face takes a chunk out of our immunity armour so we need to stay on top of it regularly.

  • Meditate daily – Take a course if you don’t know how to do it, and keep practising; it gets easier and more enjoyable.
  • Spend time in nature – Even if you don’t have time to go for a walk by the ocean, simply getting up from your desk and going outside in the sunshine for five minutes whenever you can will be helpful.
  • Take time to breathe – Never underestimate the value of mindful breathing. Switch off from your screens and gadgets, close your eyes or look into space and deliberately take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to do this daily for a few minutes at a time.
  • Exercise – It doesn’t matter if you’re overweight, unfit or hate walking. Any kind of exercise is beneficial so if you can put on some music and dance like nobody’s watching for say, three songs, you have just exercised.
  • Adopt a pet – Patting your pet can actually lower your blood pressure and release the hormone oxytocin which is a natural relaxant and which counteracts the stress hormone cortisol.

Find your happy place, eat well and sleep enough

If you’re finding yourself succumbing to frequent colds or other infections, then following some of the above tips can help put you back on the path to wellness.

Maintaining a strong armour of immunity will help you stave off illness and keep you feeling tip top on a daily basis.

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