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Maximizing Immunity: What Can You Do to Make the Most Your Immune Health?

Immunity Immunity
Quantum University


Some are suggesting that the interest in immune system health is here to stay, and I agree. The pandemic has ignited an interest in preventing illness, and the best way to achieve this goal is to have a strong immune system.

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What Exactly Does the Immune System Do in Your Body?

The immune system is expansive, complex and ever-changing. It adapts to new pathogens and fights off infection risks so that the body’s functions are not compromised. The immune system does not reside in one specific part of the body, rather, immune cells flow through the body via the bloodstream or makes up the tissue of different organs (like the skin and thymus).1 The immune system is made up of two subsections: the non-specific and the specific. The non-specific immune system is also referred to as the innate immune system. It is the part of the immune system that everyone is born with and cannot easily change. It cannot identify and attack new pathogens on its own. This is where the specific, or adaptive, immune system comes in. The adaptive immune system is constantly learning from past interactions with germs and foreign invaders in the body. The adaptive immune system is the reason why we can successfully make vaccines using pieces of viruses. Immune cells that are part of the adaptive immune system can take up the virus and produce antibodies that will identify and attack it if it tries to invade the body.2

The nature of the immune system makes it crucial to our overall health, so we must do what we can to keep it strong and running smoothly. When our bodies are not in good shape (either from lifestyle choices or environmental factors) our immune system becomes compromised. Sometimes the things we choose to put in our bodies can even result in an immune response like chronic inflammation. The purpose of this article is to outline a few ways that you can optimize your immune function through simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

Dietary Factors

Proper nutrition is key to keep the immune system functioning optimally. Eating a diverse, whole-foods diet allows the body to take up different micronutrients that are important for immune function. For example, the immune system uses vitamin A—which can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables—and zinc to aid in cell division which is crucial in a proper immune response.

There are also several dietary choices that can negatively impact the immune system. The standard American diet, for example, is high in trans and saturated fats along with refined sugars. All of these foods, when consumed in high amounts on a regular basis, can lead to chronic inflammation in the body which impairs the immune system and can make the body more susceptible to disease later in life.

One diet that has been shown to be anti-inflammatory is the Mediterranean diet which is high in vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fish containing inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids.3 The Mediterranean diet is relatively simple to follow and emphasizes a high intake of fibrous foods like fruits and vegetables along with healthy unsaturated fats coming from olive oil, nuts and some fish. A defining factor of this diet is the reduced consumption of refined sugars, red meat and dairy products which can contain high amounts of inflammation-causing saturated fats.4

Lifestyle Factors


The circadian system, the system which controls sleep cycles, also has been found to play an important role in regulating the immune system. The body uses sleep as a time to rest and repair itself, and the higher the quality of sleep it gets, the more effectively it can repair. This is especially important if there is a pathogen in your body. The immune system does most of its work to fight of viruses or infections when you are asleep, this is why it is crucial to get lots of quality sleep when you are sick.5

In order to improve your sleep, it is important to find a routine that works for you and stick to it. Practice good sleep hygiene. This may mean cutting down on caffeine or alcohol, turning off screens a few hours before you plan on sleeping, or practicing meditation or breathing exercises before you go to sleep. Everyone’s body is different, but the common factor to keep in mind is consistency. You won’t see improvements overnight; you may not even see improvements in a few weeks. Your body will slowly adapt to changes you make and over time this will result in higher energy and less sickness!


Exercise is extremely beneficial for the heart and lungs. Daily exercise helps to increase blood circulation which in turn allows white blood cells and antibodies to more through the bloodstream more quickly and efficiently. This improves the immune system by shortening the immune response time to pathogens invading the body. Daily exercise also reduces the production of stress hormones in the body, an abundance of which can lead to illness.6

Smoking and Drinking Alcohol

It is no surprise that smoking and excessive drinking are damaging to the body, but how do they impact the immune system specifically? A study conducted in 2012 showed that people who smoked regularly had a weaker immune response than those who didn’t.7 There is also evidence that alcohol weakens the gastrointestinal tract which is a key part of the body for immune function. Alcohol is also very pro-inflammatory, which compromises the immune system.8


The supplement industry has been booming with the renewed interest in immune health. While there are a variety of supplements that can support the immune system, there are a few that stand out.


Omega-3 fatty acids are important to brain function and maintaining cell membrane barriers. Omega-3s have also been shown to reduce unnecessary responses in the immune system, making them a great tool to fight inflammation in the body due to an overactive immune response. This is beneficial because it means that the immune system will work more efficiently. It will not trigger an inflammatory response to innocuous factors, and it can also help prevent diseases that are the result of autoimmune dysfunction.9 You can find omega-3s in fish like salmon or in nuts like walnuts, but it can also be taken as an oral supplement. Omega-3 supplements are easy to find in grocery stores and pharmacies and can become a simple, everyday way to keep your immune system well-oiled and functioning properly.

Vitamin D

The most common source for vitamin D is from the sun, as few foods naturally contain large amounts of vitamin D. This makes supplementation important for those who are not regularly exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is well known for its role in calcium absorption which helps to keep our bones strong and dense. However, there is evidence that has shown the role vitamin D plays in the immune system as well. Cod liver oil—one of the dietary sources of vitamin D—was used to treat serious illnesses like tuberculosis almost a century ago, and since then there have been more findings that suggest vitamin D works to stimulate the innate and adaptive immune systems.10 You can still buy cod liver oil in capsule form at the supermarket, but you can also buy vegetarian-friendly forms of vitamin D derived from sources like lichen.

Colloidal Silver

Colloidal silver refers to tiny particles of silver suspended in water. It is sold as a homeopathic supplement that boosts the immune system and speeds up the body’s healing process. There is evidence that silver can be used in healing as it is in topical medications for treating burns and wounds and even conjunctivitis in babies. Silver Wings makes a variety of colloidal silver products that are safe, natural and easy-to-take, with no taste, making it ideal for whole family (even pets!) for year-round protection. Also, Silver Wings products have a higher parts per million (ppm) than other brands (50 ppm, 250 ppm and 500 ppm), and with a stronger ppm, fewer doses are needed, making this a better value. They are also independent lab tested and verified. If you are interested in exploring alternative medicine, colloidal silver may be right for you.11


When it comes to health, we can’t control everything. But there are some things that we can control. Making the right choices when it comes to lifestyle can have a significant impact on how well our body is prepared to fight off illness. Now more than ever, consumers are considering this as a priority when it comes to health.


1 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (2013). Overview of the Immune System. Retrieved from: www.niaid.nih.gov/research/immune-system-overview.

2 Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare (2020). How does the immune system work? Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/#:~:text=The%20immune%20system%20has%20a,t%20notice%20that%20it’s%20there.

3 Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients 2019; 11(8): 1933. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/.

4 Casas R, Sacandella E, Estruch R. The Immune Protective Effect of the Mediterranean Diet against Chronic Low-grade Inflammatory Diseases. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets 2016; 14(4): 245-254. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443792/.

5 Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J, Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch 2012; 463 (1): 121-137. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/. 6 U.S. National Library of Medicine. Exercise and Immunity. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm.

7 Roseman C, Truedsson L, Kapetanovic MC. The effect of smoking and alcohol consumption on markers of systematic inflammation, immunoglobin levels and immune response following pneumococcal vaccination in patients with arthritis. Arthritis Res Ther 2012; 14(4): R170. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3580564/.

8 Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res 2015; 37(2): 153-155. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/.

9 Gutierrez S, Svahn SL, Johansson ME. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Int J Mol Sci 2019; 20(20) 5028. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6834330/.

10 Prietl B, Treiber G, Pieber TR, Amrein K. Vitamin D and Immune Function. Nutrients; 2013; 5(7): 2502-2521. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738984/.

11 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2017). Colloidal Silver. Retrieved from: www.nccih.nih.gov/health/colloidal-silver.

Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.