The immune system encompasses all our defense mechanisms which intervene as soon as something is recognized as “foreign” and perceived as a danger by the body. Its main role is therefore to protect us, in particular against pathogenic germs such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. In the event of weakening, the risk is then of being more sensitive to infections and taking longer to recover. Hence the importance of taking care of it in anticipation of winter illnesses or in the event of repeated infections. Several factors such as age, stress, smoking and certain illnesses are known to have an impact on immunity. But diet, sleep or physical activity can also influence the functioning of the immune system. In addition to a healthy lifestyle and certain micronutritional needs to be covered, there are also different solutions based on plants and natural products. So many avenues to explore to better protect yourself and strengthen your terrain.

This article was updated on 04/04/2024

TOP 5 natural solutions

1. The essential essential oil for the whole family: ravintsara, to boost immunity and protect yourself throughout the winter.
2. Plants with recognized immunostimulating properties: Echinacea, taking into account their precautions for use.
3. To take a cure in the fall: Rosehip bud macerate, specific to the ENT sphere and children.
4. Powders and dried fruits to stock up on vitamin C: Acerola, Camu-CamuGoji berries.
5. For prevention or at the first signs of an infection: propolis, to be reserved for adults.

To take care of your immunity, it is also recommended to meet your vitamin D and iron needs, adapt your diet, limit the impact of stress, avoid lack of sleep, a sedentary lifestyle as well as excessive sport, exposure to pollutants and toxic products which weaken the immune system (tobacco, alcohol, preservatives, food additives, etc.)

Seek medical advice in case of autoimmune disease, disorders or treatments involving the immune system.

Cover your vitamin D, iron and zinc needs

Before even addressing food and natural products, it is important to focus primarily on vitamin D and iron, which play a central role in the functioning of the immune system and which often prove to be deficient in general population. As for zinc, the risk of deficiency seems less generalized but it is also very involved in immunity.

Focus on Vitamin D

Vitamin D is well known for its role in building bones, but it is also and above all very important for immunity. According to the results of a 2006-2007 study, Vitamin D insufficiency affects nearly 80% of adults in France, up to 90% in winter! Fortunately, cases of severe deficit remain quite rare. We will be particularly careful to cover the needs of the elderly, infants, pregnant women, postmenopausal women, people with olive or dark skin who synthesize vitamin D less well with the sun. Other factors such as certain diets which eliminate sources of vitamin D (oily fish, eggs and dairy products), pathologies leading to intestinal malabsorption, or low exposure to the sun can also aggravate the risks of deficiency.

Given that it is essentially synthesized by the action of the sun on the skin and that only a small % of our needs are covered by food, supplementation is recommended, especially in winter. But for avoid the risk of overdose, it is better to seek the advice of a health professional. Fortunately, the days of our grandmothers' cod liver oil are long gone... Today, it is much easier to take a Vitamin D course without making a face.

Have iron health

The iron also intervenes in the functioning of the immune system and its deficiency in the general population is also very common, particularly in pre-menopausal women, children prone to repeated infections, people who follow a vegan diet... and the needs cannot therefore not always be covered by food alone. Supplementation will be made on the basis of biological dosages and medical advice, particularly for estimate the level of deficiency and avoid the risk of overdoseSpirulina can also be interesting as a maintenance treatment.

Zinc in the right dosage

Zinc is also very useful for the normal functioning of the immune system, butconsuming in excess or over long periods can, on the contrary, lead to a drop in immunity.. It is therefore better to cover your needs through food (oysters and shellfish, wheat germ, liver, meats and Pumpkin seeds) and only consider supplementation in people at risk of deficiency such as people suffering from chronic intestinal diseases, kidney diseases, malnutrition, alcohol dependence, or the very elderly, without forgetting vegetarians.

Taking care of your immunity through diet

Current knowledge about links between the intestinal microbiota and immunity force us to take the role of food into account more and more seriously. Be careful of fast foods, industrial dishes and pastries, fried foods, overly refined or processed products... which unbalance the microbiota (dysbiosis) and can disrupt the entire intestinal ecosystem. Conversely, taking care of your diet can help improve our natural defenses, with certain particularly interesting recommendations to follow:

  • Get enough protein : we often forget that amino acids, which constitute proteins, are essential for the synthesis of antibodies. Hence the importance of properly covering needs, particularly among seniors, with varied sources of vegetable proteins (legumes, almonds and nuts, unrefined cereals) and not just animal ones.
  • Balance your intake of essential fatty acidsthe balance between omega 3 and omega 6 in our diet is fundamental for the regulation of our defense mechanisms (inflammation and immunity). Our modern diet being strongly unbalanced in favor of omega 6, we will take care to limit the consumption of vegetable oils too rich in omega 6 (e.g. sunflower and peanut oil) and to provide all the omega 3 (ALA, EPA and DHA). ) through plant food sources (e.g.: rapeseed oils, nuts, flax, hemp, etc.) AND animal sources (e.g.: small oily fish).
  • Increase your intake of antioxidants and fiber to pamper your intestine and its microbiota. This will involve giving pride of place to fresh, colorful, seasonal and varied fruits and vegetables, (semi) whole grains, without forgetting spices and aromatic plants. It is also advisable to limit overly refined industrial foods and in particular to increase their soluble and insoluble fiber intake.
  • Opt for natural sources of probiotics : before considering a course of food supplements, it is advisable to favor fermented products which are beneficial for the intestinal flora (e.g. yogurts, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables, etc.).

Protect yourself with essential oils

What are the benefits of essential oils?

Thanks to their synergistic, immunostimulating and anti-infectious properties, essential oils are the allies of choice to protect against infections and their possible complications. Several studies carried out in vitro and in vivo have effectively demonstrated effects on the cells of innate immunity and adaptive immunity, as well as on the molecules of the immune response.

Essential oils are often diffused as a preventative measure to purify the air. To benefit from their actual immunomodulating properties, they can also be used orally or cutaneously. As for olfaction, its interest would be twofold. This path would make it possible to act both on stress management but also directly on immunity.

Which essential oils to choose?

Firstly, it is ravintsara essential oil which is unanimous. It contains both eucalyptol and monoterpenols which act synergistically to give it its immunostimulating and antiviral properties. It was notably used in hospitals to prevent nosocomial diseases. Flexible to use, whatever the way of use, it has become the essential essential oil to accompany the whole family from fall and throughout winter.

For prevention, for air purification, it is also possible to use lemon essential oil or other citrus essences. Atmospheric antiseptic, it also acts through its perfume on emotional well-being and stress management with measurable effects on immune function.

How to use them?
  • Dermal in adults : 1 to 2 drops of Ravintsara on the wrists, once a day, during risky periods. Take a one-week break after three weeks of use.
  • Dermal, from 3 years old, for pregnant women over 3 months : dilute Ravintsara essential oil to 10% in a vegetable oil (1 dose of essential oil for 9 doses of vegetable oil). Apply 3-4 drops of the mixture to the back and soles of the feet. Take a one-week break after three weeks of use.
  • In the bath, from 3 years old : dilute 5 to 10 drops of Ravintsara in a tablespoon of bath base, pour everything into the bath water. Stay for ten minutes. No rinsing.
  • In broadcast, Ravintsara and Lemon can be used alone or in mixtures, respecting the number of drops of essential oils indicated on the diffuser instructions and the diffusion times which vary depending on the users: in adults (15 minutes per hour), in children from 6 years old (5 minutes per hour) or from 3 months (5 minutes per hour in the absence of the child).
  • Orally, from 6 years old, at the first signs of an infection: 1 to 2 drops of Ravintsara on a neutral support (preferably a teaspoon of honey) to let melt in the mouth. Up to 3 times a day, for 5 days.

Strengthen your terrain with gemmotherapy

In which cases should bud macerates be preferred?

The causes of a weakening of immunity being multiple, gemmotherapy will make it possible to reinforce each terrain in a personalized way. Several bud macerates are in fact known to act on the immune system at different levels: limiting the effects of stress, regulating the intestinal flora, targeting the respiratory sphere, etc.

Whether for prevention or to boost immunity after an infectious episode, bud macerates will be interesting to use as a treatment of at least 3 weeks. They are quite flexible to use, but given the presence of alcohol in their composition, bud macerates are not recommended for children under 3 years old and pregnant women.

Which macerates to choose?

Here are the three main immunity buds to choose based on their specificities:

  • Blackcurrant bud macerate : for its stimulating effect, especially in cases of fatigue or chronic stress.
  • Rosehip bud macerate : more specific to the ENT sphere and children.
  • Walnut bud macerate : more particularly in cases of dysbiosis when the intestinal flora is disturbed, which is often the case after antibiotic treatment.

In addition, we can use other effective buds to support the immune system such as Beech bud macerate (for fragile or very weakened people) or Poplar bud macerate (for its protective effect during epidemic periods).

How to use them?
  • As a long or preventive treatment of several months, especially in the fall, in anticipation of winter illnesses or in the event of repeated infections. With a rate of 3 weeks of intake per month and 1 week of break.
  • As a one-off treatment of 3 weeks to recover after an infectious episode, during the convalescence period.
  • In interview, rather in adults, to support an immune system weakened by treatment or chronic pathology. Several options to choose from: 10 days per month or 3 weeks per quarter or 3 days per week.

In all cases, the usual doses are as follows:

  • Adults and adolescents : 5 to 15 drops per day in a glass of water (or pure), 15 minutes before a meal, for 3 weeks. Start with 5 drops and increase gradually (for example: 5 drops the first week, 10 the second and 15 the last).
  • Children over 3 years old : 1 drop per day for 10 kilos, starting with one drop and gradually increasing the dose (for example: a 9 year old child weighing 40 kilos can ingest up to 4 drops).

Favor hydrosols for fragile people

In what cases are hydrosols relevant?

Much less concentrated than essential oils, hydrosols are more flexible to use. They nevertheless contain active molecules perceptible by their aromatic odor. In the bath or orally, they will take care of young children, pregnant women, older people to support their immunity.

They will also be suitable for the whole family to help with stress. Quick and easy to use, hydrosols will finally please those who are in a hurry and don't have time to prepare herbal tea.

Which hydrosols to choose?
  • Thyme hydrosol with linalool would be the most immune. Particularly suitable for children, it would ensure good protection of the respiratory tract in environments at risk of contamination such as nurseries or during periods of winter epidemics. Also invigorating, it would be suitable during convalescence to support weakened organisms.
  • Eucalyptus Globulus hydrosol would be even more specialist in the respiratory tract, to be favored in diffusion or at the first signs of an infection.
  • Other calming and antispasmodic hydrosols such as Orange blossom hydrosol or roman Chamomile hydrosol will be gentle alternatives to essential oils, in cases of stress and sleep disorders.
How to use them?

Hydrosols can be used, alone or in a mixture, occasionally or in courses of around twenty days for a more profound action:

  • From 3 months. Dermal, add 1 to 2 tablespoons in bath water.
  • From 6 months. Orally, add 1 teaspoon of hydrosol to the water in the bottle, to drink twice a day for 15 days.
  • For adults. Orally, add 1 tablespoon of hydrosol in 1 L of water to drink throughout the day for a maximum of 3 weeks.

Opt for plants in herbal teas, powders, extracts…

For people looking for alternatives to essential oils or gemmotherapy, there are other plant-based solutions to support one's immune system.

Echinacea

Reference plants to stimulate immunity, Echinaceae angustifolia and Echinaceae purpurea, have been the subject of numerous studies which show similar effects at several levels such as the activation of macrophages (innate immunity) and the increase in B lymphocytes responsible for the production of antibodies (acquired immunity). The WHO even recognizes their traditional use “in the treatment of colds and upper respiratory tract infections, due to their immunostimulating action”.

However, the quality of the products available, the parts used, the type of extract, the dosages and the duration of use, etc. are very heterogeneous. It is therefore preferable to seek advice from a health professional to benefit from their benefits and use them safely. Given this immunostimulating power, several precautions for use must also be respected in case of immune disorders (see below). Their use is also not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in children under 12 years old. Finally, they can cause allergic reactions in people allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family.

Adaptogenic plants

Ginseng, Eleutherococcus and Rhodiola are among the best-known adaptogenic plants. They have in common the ability to limit fatigue, improve resistance to exercise, increase the ability to concentrate and resist infections... To guarantee their quality and their content of active ingredients, it is preferable to use in the form of titled extracts. And, given their precautions for use, it is recommended to seek the advice of a health professional.

Ashwagandha, a “new arrival” in the West, is said to be one of the most powerful adaptogenic plants. Also called “indian ginseng”, it comes to us from Ayurvedic medicine where its name means “horse smell” to evoke the power of the animal. It has already been the subject of numerous studies but there is still a lack of data concerning effects on the immune system. Taking an Ashwaganda powder treatment will be especially useful in cases of fatigue or chronic stress. More flexible to use than other adaptogenic plants, its use nevertheless remains reserved for adults. It is also not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women. And medical advice is recommended in the event of thyroid disorders.

Plants rich in vitamin C

Considering the beneficial effects of vitamin C on the functioning of the immune system and the assimilation of iron, it is important to ensure that your needs are met to better fight infections. A diet rich in fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables should be sufficient. But, in the event of infection, anemia or fatigue, it is interesting to take a cure by favoring natural sources which, in addition to vitamin C, will also provide other nutrients with antioxidant properties complementary: in the form of powders (Acerola or Camu Camu) or dried fruit (goji berries).

Thyme in herbal tea

Thyme herbal tea is traditionally used for the treatment of respiratory and digestive disorders. His anti-infectious properties are widely documented by numerous studies, carried out mainly on its essential oil. As for its action on immunity, a 2012 publication highlighted the effects of an aqueous extract on dendritic cells, cells which play both the role of sentinel and conductor of the immune response. Without being immunostimulating like Echinacea, Thyme would be more immunomodulating and more flexible in use. It is also a tonic and antioxidant plant which will also help during convalescence.

In infusion : for one cup, pour simmering water (ideally at a temperature of 80-90°C) over a tablespoon of dry plants. Cover and let it infuse for 10 to 15 minutes then filter the preparation. Drink 2-3 cups per day. Take a one-week break after 3 weeks of use.

Discover other natural alternatives

To support the immune system, there are other natural solutions than plants. They can be used as an autumn treatment to prevent winter illnesses or during convalescence when the immune system has been weakened. Here are several alternatives to choose from.

Propolis

Produced and used by bees to protect their hive, propolis has been used since Antiquity to treat wounds, but also to embalm the dead. It is still used today in the composition of products against sore throats, gum infections and even herpes, particularly for its anti-infectious properties. Even if it is not possible to indicate on food supplements that Propolis helps “support the functioning of the immune system”, tests carried out in vivo and in vitro clearly show that it acts on the two types of immune response : innate and acquired. Propolis would indeed have an action on different cells of the immune system and on the production of antibodies.

The hydroalcoholic extract of propolis can be used in the form of treatment for prevention or at the first signs of an infection :

  • Reserved for adults and adolescents : 15 drops diluted in a glass of water, in a teaspoon of honey or lukewarm herbal tea, morning and evening, for 3 weeks. Take away from meals, and repeat after a week's break if necessary. Shake well before use.
  • Not recommended for children under 6 years old, pregnant women, and in cases of allergy to bee products.
Clay

The role of clay in supporting immunity could be explained by its global action on the intestinal ecosystem : improvement of mucus and protection of the digestive wall, elimination of viruses and pathogenic bacteria while helping the development of digestive flora, neutralization of bacterial toxins, adsorption of heavy metals toxic to the body... The presence of Copper in its composition would also help boost immunity. Be careful, however, because clay interferes with the iron that it will fix in the digestive tract, with a risk of iron deficiency if consumed for too long.

To make a clay cure, the ideal is to consume one teaspoon per day (either in the morning when you wake up or in the evening when you go to bed, always away from taking medication). Start with clay water for the first few days and continue with clay water for up to three weeks. Then take a break of one or several weeks.

  • Clay water is prepared with a teaspoon of ultra-ventilated clay in a glass of water. Leave to rest for 3 to 4 hours. The clay will settle to the bottom of the glass. Only drink the slightly cloudy liquid that floats and which corresponds to clay water.
  • Clay water is prepared in the same way, but the clay deposit is mixed with the supernatant before drinking the whole thing.
  • Internally, clay is contraindicated in people prone to constipation, in people with digestive hernia, high blood pressure, in the event of a history of intestinal obstruction or even nausea. Seek medical advice if taking medication. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use clay and young children generally have appropriate dosages.
Trace elements

Oligotherapy uses minerals in very small quantities (trace elements) to rebalance an organism by taking into account the terrain, or “diathesis”, of each person. These are medications used in treatment such as “terrain modifiers” to provide personalized support in the event of a drop in immunity:

  • Manganese-Copper : characteristics of the “hypostenic” diathesis in a fatigable person with difficulty concentrating, prone to chronic infectious conditions or allergies affecting the nose, throat and ears.
  • Copper-Gold-Silver : specific to the “anergic” diathesis in cases of lack of general vitality, in convalescence from infectious diseases and states of fatigue.
Probiotics

Probiotics are non-pathogenic bacteria that come in support of the bacteria of the intestinal microbiota to help limit the proliferation of unwanted germs and strengthen the barrier effect in the intestinal ecosystem. Today there are a large number of probiotic-based products, with a wide choice of strains. It is therefore recommended to seek the advice of a specialist to make a selection based on the desired effect. Treatments with food supplements may in certain cases prove necessary, particularly after antibiotic treatment.

The Mushrooms

Shiitake, maitake and reishi are mushrooms used in traditional Asian medicine. Today it is possible to find them alone or in a mixture in the form of food supplements. Their ability to stimulate immune defenses is attributed to the polysaccharides and beta-glucans they contain and which act on the intestinal flora.

Avoid what weakens immunity

Age and certain illnesses or treatments are known to weaken our natural defenses. There are also several factors linked to lifestyle which are directly linked to a drop in immunity and which it is possible to act on. Taking them into account is essential to allow plants and other natural products to be more effective.

Chronic stress
  • The mechanisms involved are quite complex, but scientific studies have shown that psychological stress is indeed directly responsible for a weakening of defense systems. Its impact is such that stress management is a major factor to take into account.
  • Among all methods to limit the effects of stress, everyone will be able to choose the ones that suit them best. The main thing is to practice them as regularly as possible, especially since their impact is measurable, without necessarily spending a lot of time on them.
  • Stress is also responsible for excessive magnesium losses. However, magnesium is also involved in immunity and its deficiency makes it even more sensitive to stress. Enough to fuel the vicious circle of reduced immunity caused by stress... A diet richer in sources of magnesium will be necessary as well as supplementation to cover needs (up to 300 mg of magnesium per day).
Lack of sleep
  • It is commonly accepted that sleep and immunity are closely linked. Insufficient or poor quality sleep would make the body more vulnerable to infections, but an infection would also have an impact on sleep structure (increase in total sleep duration and the proportion of slow-wave sleep).
  • Although there is still a lack of studies to explain these links, all the approaches to sleep better will be useful to implement in the event of a drop in immunity or to prevent it. During an infection, we will also respect the need for sleep which contributes to the body's defense mechanisms.
Sedentary lifestyle or excessive exercise
  • Some specialists like Professor François Carré, cardiologist and researcher at Inserm, go so far as to declare: “the only way to improve immunity is physical exercise”, regardless of age. By other mechanisms, too much sport can conversely make us more vulnerable to infections.
  • In its recommendations, ANSES indeed recalls thatphysical activity does not need to be intensive to be effective. It is above all regularity that counts.
Exposure to pollutants and toxic products
  • Through our food, the hygiene products we use, the air we breathe... we are regularly subjected to various toxic and polluting products (e.g. pesticides, preservatives, etc.) which can weaken and disrupt our immune system. It is not always possible to protect yourself, but certain consumer choices, such as purchasing organic products, will help reduce the level of exposure.
  • Smoking (active and passive) or excess alcohol are best known for their toxicity to the lungs or liver, but they also weaken immunity. Support may be considered to help reduce their consumption.

Precautions to take in case of immune disorders

In the case of certain chronic illnesses, the use of medicinal plants is delicate, or even not recommended. These include autoimmune diseases and all pathologies linked to the immune system.

This is the reason why, given their ability to stimulate the body's defenses, Echinacea will be contraindicated in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiency or immunosuppression (HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, chemotherapy, etc.) or blood lineage disorders white blood cells (leukemia, lymphoma, etc.).

Concerning the other plants and other natural solutions presented on this page, current publications speak more of an immunomodulating effect which would present fewer risks than an immunostimulating effect. However, it will be necessary always seek the advice of a healthcare professional in the event of chronic treatment to avoid any risk of interaction.

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