6 Things Harming Your Immune System Plus 10 Herbs For Immune Support

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6 Things Harming Your Immune System Plus 10 Herbs For Immune SupportInfographic © herbshealthhappiness.com. Image sources: see foot of page

The immune system plays a vital role in protecting us from disease. The body’s immune response reacts to foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – it basically safeguards our health! However, there are many other things that can tax the immune system, potentially weakening it and making us more prone to illness. If we eat poor quality food, engage in “health vices” and practice unhealthy habits that damage the immune response of the body it can result in making us more prone to disease – and even death.

We’ve researched many scientific studies to bring you this super list of substances and activities having positive or negative effects on your immune system. References to the scientific papers (27 in all) are all listed at the end.

Here’s the list of 6 Things Harming Your Immune System:

#1: Sugar

Intake of food with high sugar content has been directly linked to the development of diabetes but how does it affect immunity? Studies have now found a direct correlation between hyperglycemia (a.k.a. high blood sugar) and impaired immunity. A study published in 2016 found that states of acute hyperglycemia contributed to a defective immune response, specifically a decreased production of IL-6, a part of the immune system that fights against numerous infections like Streptococcus pneumoniae. Another study found that hyperglycemia also reduced T and B lymphocytes, one of the immune system’s first responders to a pathogen. [1][2]

#2: High-Fat Junk Food Diets

A diet with a high-fat intake (usually because of fast food and junk food) greatly affects the body’s immune response. According to a study published by Iyer, A., et. al. in 2015, diets with increase fat and carbohydrate intake promotes unhealthy weight gain or increased “adiposity”. [3] Adiposity alters the body’s normal metabolic processes which in turn affects the immune system. A similar study found that increase in fatty acid intake led to a poor immune response to infection. [4]

#3: Alcohol

Alcohol consumption and immunity were linked in a 2011 study on adolescents who reported occasional “weekend drinking”. The results of the study revealed that alcohol consumption reduced the mean levels of CD3, CD4, and CD8 T-lymphocytes in the blood, increasing a person’s health risk for disease because of drastically reduced immune response. Similar results were seen in a study on tumor progression and immunity, published in 2015. The study showed that alcohol consumption not only depressed the body’s immune response, it also gave way towards accelerated tumor progression. [5][6]

#4: Smoking

Smoking not only increases your risk for heart disease, it also has drastic effects on the immune system. Several studies have found that smoking depresses the body’s immune response to infections, particularly infections that affect the lungs. A strong link between smoking and lung immunity was found in a 2015 study in individuals affected by HIV. Similar results were seen in studies involving smokers and tuberculous infection (or pulmonary TB). This can be attributed to smoking’s effects on pulmonary tissues and cells, which suppress the immune response to bacteria and viruses. [7][8]

#5: Not Getting Enough Sleep

While the advice of getting eight-hours of sleep is not without merit, sleep is very subjective – keep that in mind. However, a recent publication by Harvard encourages people to get better quality and longer sleep to promote cognition and mental health, with recent studies linking sleep with immunity as well. A study published in 2015 found that sleep-deprivation causes a decrease in immune cells, compromising the body’s immunity. Another study in the same year had similar results, correlating shorter sleep duration with an increased susceptibility with the common cold. [9][10][11]

#6: Stress

The same study that found that sleep deprivation affected immunity, also discovered the same effects when it came to stress. Test subjects that were placed in stressful situations experienced a decrease in immune cells as well, affecting the body’s ability to fight pathogens. The study found that sleep disturbance and stress decreased the immune response in Trichinella spiralis-infected test subjects. [10]

Of course, there are herbs that are considered valuable for giving your immune system a boost. Take a look at the following list of ten herbs that science has indicated may help support your body against dangerous pathogens:

#1: Echinacea

According to Balan, et. al. in 2016, herbal remedies with Echinacea as a major ingredient significant boosted immunity. The study found that Echinacea drops increased circulating antibodies in response to infection. Historically, Echinacea was used to manage lung infections, colds/flu and inflammatory conditions. [12]

#2: Cloves

There are a few published studies on cloves and immunity but significant results point in one direction – clove extracts, typically in an oil form, boosted humoral response of the immune system. The humoral response involves body’s antibodies, usually in response to a bacterial and viral infection. Another study found that cloves also increased the amount of lymphocytes in the spleen; lymphocytes are white blood cells that mediate the body’s immunity. [13][14]

#3: Astragalus

Astragalus has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds, possibly thousands of years, but has been recently been making its way into Western medicine. Extracts from the astragalus plant have been discovered to be able to boost the body’s immune function. A 2015 study found that a polysaccharide extract of the plant improved intestinal immunity. Another found that the same extract improve the body’s cell-mediate immune response (increasing the number of CD4 and CD8 T-cells), the part of our immune system that responds to pathogens like fungi. [15][16]

#4: Cat’s Claw

Cat’s claw is a part of native Peruvian medicine, with numerous health benefits. A study published in 2015 by Yunis-Aquinaga, et. al. found that the plant (also known as Uncaria tomentosa) improves immune activity in test subjects infected with Streptoccocus agalactiae. The plant is also able to lend a hand to the body’s natural response to a foreign substance – the inflammatory process. [17][18]

#5: Oregano

Orgeno is a powerful herb known for its immune boosting properties. It was studied (together with sage) and found to enhance the body’s pathogen recognition abilities and improving immune-competent cell counts. After taking oregano, the body was seen to respond to foreign substances better compared to the control group. [19]

#6: Ginger

Ginger is a famous anti-oxidant, popularly used to soothe upset stomachs. Its strong anti-oxidant capabilities make it an excellent choice in improving your immune system response. A study on oil extracts from ginger revealed that it is able to improve cell-mediated immune response through the production of T-lymphocytes. The study concludes that ginger can be a good alternative when managing chronic inflammation and auto-immune disease. [20]

#7: Bell Peppers

If you think citrus fruits have the monopoly on vitamin C, you’re wrong! According to the USDA, for every 100 grams of bell peppers, there are 80.4 milligrams of vitamin C. That is actually higher than the vitamin content of oranges – which is just 53.2 milligrams for every 100 grams of oranges. Vitamin C is a well-studied immune system booster. [21][22][23]

#8: Garlic

A study on raw garlic published by Charron, et. al. in 2015 showed that garlic intake was able to improve the human body’s immunity to cancer cells. The clinical trial involved raw garlic-containing meals and 17 volunteers. Their blood was collected and analyzed which showed the promising immune-boosting response to garlic intake. [24]

#9: Turmeric

Turmeric or Curcuma longa as it is called scientifically has significant immunostimulant abilities. This property of the herb was seen in a 2012 study on turmeric and ginger. The study revealed that turmeric was able to improve non-specific immune responses in the body in immunocompromised test subjects. This suggests that turmeric can be used to augment the immune response of people affected by immune system disorders. [25]

#10: Panax Ginseng

Ginseng plays a vital role in traditional Eastern medicine, also known for powerful antioxidant abilities. Different studies have focused on the effects of ginseng on the body’s immunity. Extracts of ginseng leaves have been able to improve cellular immunity, as studied by Tran, et. al. in 2014. Another study found that ginseng was not only able to boost immunity, it was also able to diminish lung disease in affected test subjects in another study in 2014. [26][27]


[1] Spindler, M., et. al. (2016). Acute hyperglycemia impairs IL‐6 expression in humans. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4768063/

[2] Rubinstein, M., Genaro, A., & Wald, M. (2013). Differential effect of hyperglycaemia on the immune response in an experimental model of diabetes in BALB/cByJ and C57Bl/6J mice: participation of oxidative stress. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23379439

[3] Iyer, A., et. al. (2015). Nutrient and immune sensing are obligate pathways in metabolism, immunity, and disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26065858

[4] Myles, I., et. al. (2014). Effects of parental omega-3 fatty acid intake on offspring microbiome and immunity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24489864

[5] Naude, C., et. al. (2011). Lymphocyte measures in treatment-naïve 13–15 year old adolescents with Alcohol Use Disorders. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153431/

[6] Zhang, Z., et. al. (2015). Alcohol consumption and antitumor immunity: dynamic changes from activation to accelerated deterioration of the immune system. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25427915

[7] Rossouw, T., Anderson, R. & Feldman C. (2015). Impact of HIV infection and smoking on lung immunity and related disorders. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26250491

[8] O’Leary, S., et. al. (2014). Cigarette smoking impairs human pulmonary immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25390734

[9] Harvard Health Letter (3/1/2014). Sharpen thinking skills with a better night’s sleep. https://health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sharpen-thinking-skills-with-a-better-nights-sleep

[10] Ibarra-Coronardo, E. (2015). Sleep deprivation induces changes in immunity in Trichinella spiralis-infected rats. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26157345

[11] Prather, A., et. al. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26118561

[12] Balan, B., et. al. (2016). The modulatory influence of some Echinacea-based remedies on antibody production and cellular immunity in mice. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4829818/

[13] Carrasco, F., et. al. (2009). Immunomodulatory activity of Zingiber officinale Roscoe, Salvia officinalis L. and Syzygium aromaticum L. essential oils: evidence for humor- and cell-mediated responses. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19589240

[14] Isaeva, V., et. al. (2014). [Effect of prolonged administration of low doses of essential oils on the immune response and sensitivity of mice to the action of ionizing radiation]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25764843

[15] Huang, C., Zhan, J. & Luo, J. (2015). [Effects of astragalus polysaccharide on intestinal immune function of rats with severe scald injury]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25876637

[16] Abuelsaad, A. (2014). Supplementation with Astragalus polysaccharides alters Aeromonas-induced tissue-specific cellular immune response. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24456824

[17] Akesson, C., et. al. (2003). An extract of Uncaria tomentosa inhibiting cell division and NF-kappa B activity without inducing cell death. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14636838

[18] Aguilar, J., et. al. (2002). Anti-inflammatory activity of two different extracts of Uncaria tomentosa (Rubiaceae). https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874102000934

[19] Vattem, D., et. al. (2013). Dietary supplementation with two Lamiaceae herbs-(oregano and sage) modulates innate immunity parameters in Lumbricus terrestris. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579013/

[20] Zhou, H., Deng, Y. & Xie, Q. (2006). The modulatory effects of the volatile oil of ginger on the cellular immune response in vitro and in vivo in mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16338110

[21] USDA. Bell peppers. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?qlookup=11333

[22] USDA. Oranges. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?qlookup=09200

[23] Sorice, A., et. al. (2014). Ascorbic acid: its role in immune system and chronic inflammation diseases. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24766384

[24] Charron, C., et. al. (2015). A Single Meal Containing Raw, Crushed Garlic Influences Expression of Immunity- and Cancer-Related Genes in Whole Blood of Humans. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26423732

[25] Chakraborty, B. & Sengupta, M. (2012). Boosting of nonspecific host response by aromatic spices turmeric and ginger in immunocompromised mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23295981

[26] Tran, T., et. al. (2014). Dammarane triterpenes from the leaves of Panax ginseng enhance cellular immunity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24290061

[27] Lee, J., et. al. (2014). Ginseng diminishes lung disease in mice immunized with formalin-inactivated respiratory syncytial virus after challenge by modulating host immune responses. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25051168

Infographic Image Sources:

Echinacea – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EchinaceaPurpureaMaxima1a.UME.JPG
Cloves – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ClovesDried.jpg
Astragalus – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Astragalus_tragacantha_ssp._vicentinus.JPG
Cat’s Claw – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Acacia_greggii_thorns.jpg
Oregano – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oreganojf.JPG
Ginger – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ingwer_2_fcm.jpg
Bell Peppers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green-Yellow-Red-Pepper-2009.jpg
Garlic – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GarlicBasket.jpg
Turmeric – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Curcuma_longa_roots.jpg
Panax Ginseng – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Panax_quinquefolius.jpg
Male Anatomy – © fotolia.com/id/55441474 (under license)

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