Lillian Wilson

How to Protect Yourself From Infections: Eight Natural Immune-Boosters

There's no way to completely avoid bacteria and viruses, but healthy habits can boost immunity and protect you from infections.


With every breath we take we inhale hundreds of thousands of bacteria. With every bite we take we ingest millions more. These germs are mostly harmless, but some have detrimental effects and may trigger serious diseases.

Infection is a major global health issue. Infections can enter our bodies unexpectedly; we can all remember using public transport, or being in the office or visiting the mall and suddenly feeling under the weather in the following days. One of the most dramatic impacts of COVID-19 was underlining how venomous and invisible infections can be.

Even though we may take infections as something not serious and easy to recover from, their harmful impact should not be underrated. According to World Health Organisation, 17 million people die each year because of infections.

What is infection?

Infections are caused by bacteria entering the body and multiplying, causing internal organ or tissue damage.

Some pathogens have almost no effect on the body whereas other substances trigger negative responses in the body due to toxins and inflammatory substances. Infections can range from mild and barely noticeable to severe and potentially fatal. Pathogens can be resistant to treatment in some cases.

The immune system serves as an effective barrier against infectious agents. Some pathogens, however, may overwhelm the immune system’s capability to fight back. This is the point at which an infection becomes harmful. Overall, there are over 200 viruses that are known to cause illness in humans and they all have the ability to infect human cells.

There are 4 main types of infections that vary depending on the agent that triggers them:

  • Bacterial infections cause well-known food poisoning, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

  • Viral infections are the precursors to colds, flu, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis.

  • Fungal infections can cause acne and cryptococcus.

  • Parasitic infections may result in head lice infestation, for example.

Main risk factors of being infected

A weakened immune system

People who have a weaker immune system may be more likely to get sick frequently and have more severe symptoms when they do get sick. This can include a higher risk of developing pneumonia and other serious health issues. Bacteria and viruses, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, can have a particularly strong impact on someone with a compromised immune system.


As people get older, their immune system becomes less effective at fighting off infections. A study of almost 69,000 people who succumbed to Covid-19, revealed that patients aged 80 years and over showed 8 times higher risk of developing a severe infection than those in the 45–64 years age group.

In the U.S. over the period of 2020-2022, the numbers of death caused by pneumonia were the most prominent in the older age group; 155,000 males in the 75-84 age range and over 135,000 females in the 85+ age range succumbed to the disease.

There are several mechanisms underlying age-associated decline in immune function. Stem cell exhaustion, immunosenescence, production of less specific antibodies, and a decline in naive T cells which respond to new pathogens make it difficult for the aged immune system to fight off novel pathogens. This can be demonstrated by the fact that vaccines are much less effective in older people. For example, it was shown that vaccination against the flu is twice less effective in people over 65 years of age. It does not mean, however, that older people should not get vaccinated. On the contrary, vaccination is a true immune booster for people of various ages. Along with seasonal flu vaccines adults over the age of 50 are advised to get a Shingles vaccine. Shingles is a disease caused by the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. It might be accompanied by severe symptoms and was recently implicated in an increased risk of developing neurodegeneration along with other viral infections such as influenza. It is a good idea to have a vaccination record book and make sure you are up to date with the vaccines required for your age and place of living. In addition, before traveling to a different country, check out which vaccines you need.
Larisa Sheloukhova, PhD
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

Chronic illness

People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease, may have a higher risk of infections.

The study from the UK found that among adults ages 40 to 89 who were hospitalized for infections, over 6% had diabetes. This number increased to 9% for people ages 50 to 69. Over 12% of deaths resulting from severe infections (sepsis) were linked to diabetes. The most common types of infections were skin infections (cellulitis) and pneumonia, but rarer but more serious infections such as those affecting bones, joints, and the heart (endocarditis) were also noted.

Poor hygiene

Poor hygiene is linked with an increased risk of developing infections because it allows bacteria and viruses to spread more easily. For example, if a person does not wash their hands regularly or properly, they can pick up germs from surfaces they touch and then transfer those germs to their mouth, nose, or eyes, which can lead to an infection. Poor hygiene can also allow germs to multiply more quickly, increasing the risk of getting sick. In addition, poor hygiene can lead to a build-up of dirt and grime in the environment, which can provide a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. By maintaining good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, you can reduce your risk of getting infected.

Contact with surfaces, objects, people

If a person touches a surface or object that has been contaminated with bacteria or viruses, they may be at risk of getting an infection. Being in close proximity to others or being in an unsanitary environment can also increase the risk as well as travelling to areas with high rates of infection. These factors explain the COVID-19 public transport, social event and travel restrictions we faced during the pandemic.

Main symptoms of infections

The main symptoms of an infection can vary depending on the type of infection and the part of the body that is infected. In general, common symptoms of an infection may include:

  • Fever can appear regardless of the bacteria that causes it. Fever occurs due to the body’s reaction to a pathogen that has entered the human body.

  • Chills and sweats: Fever is usually accompanied by chills and sweats. When the body’s temperature rises, a person can start sweating and feel chilly.

  • Redness or inflammation: Infections often cause redness or inflammation in the affected area.

  • Pain: Depending on the location of the infection, you may experience pain, swelling, or tenderness.

  • Coughing, sneezing, sore throat or other respiratory symptoms.

  • Shortness of breath: Infections of the respiratory tract can cause shortness of breath. Fluid filling the lungs can make breathing difficult. This causes shortness of breath.

  • Nasal congestion: Symptoms of nasal congestion or stuffy nose are caused by severe infections. Congestion is caused by the swelling of blood vessels in the nose due to excess fluid buildup.

  • A stiff neck can be caused due to infection that can invade the tissue.

  • Diarrhoea or vomiting: Gastrointestinal infections may cause diarrhoea or vomiting.

  • Skin rash or changes in skin colour: Skin infections may cause a rash or changes in the colour of the skin.

Eight ways to boost your immunity and ward off infections

All the risk factors that increase the odds of catching the flu or having diarrhoea caused by a virus agent are closely intertwined with weakened immunity. A weakened immune system is your ticket to becoming infected, so the only way of protecting yourself from viruses and bacteria is to boost your overall health.

To improve your natural defender you can implement the following healthy habits:

1Feast on fruits and veggies

A range of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals contained in certain fruits and vegetables helps to strengthen the immune system, making it less vulnerable to infections. Having a diet rich in produce, especially immune-boosting ones such as citrus fruit and leafy greens, can reduce the severity of inflammatory diseases by providing essential nutrients for optimal immune functioning.

Kale benefits the production of antibody

Kale is not only one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, it may also help fight off infection. The study showed that kale has the capacity to trigger a quintupling of antibody production in the cells.

Interestingly, even cooking kale does not diminish its beneficial qualities. The research revealed that even boiling the veggies nonstop for thirty minutes did not affect antibody production. In fact, the cooked kale appeared to work even better.

Broccoli can boost your immune system

Lymphocytes serve as its first line of gut defence against bacteria and viruses. Broccoli contains compounds necessary for the maintenance of the body’s intestinal defences – lymphocytes.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli boost our immune system to protect us against pathogens and pollutants in the environment as well. Smoke, exhaust from cars, furnaces, cooked meat, fish, and dairy products are some of the toxic substances we are constantly exposed to. Cruciferous compounds may block these toxins.

Mushrooms multiply antibodies that fight infections

Mushroom can boost the part of immunity that fights infections plus down-regulate the other part that results in chronic inflammation and symptoms of seasonal allergies like runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing.

During one study participants were divided into two groups. One group consumed its regular diet, the other added a cup of white mushrooms to their basic diet. After a week, a 50% boost of immunoglobulin was found in a group of mushroom eaters. Immunoglobulin A is an antibody blood protein that’s part of your immune system. Your body makes IgA to help fight off sickness.

2Exercise regularly

How can ordinary exercise achieve results in boosting your immunity so that it can ward off infections? The answer lies in antibodies called IgA (immunoglobulin, type A) that defend us from infections. Over 95% of all infections start in moist surfaces like the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. And these surfaces are protected by Immunoglobulin A (IgA). The IgA in the saliva is considered the first line of defence against respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and influenza.

Regular physical activity increases immunoglobulin A - main body protector from infections by +50% Source: Academia

It may only take moderate exercise to boost Immunoglobulin A levels and significantly reduce the risk of flu-like symptoms. The study shows that compared to a sedentary control group, those who performed aerobic exercise for thirty minutes three times a week for twelve weeks had a 50% increase in the levels of IgA in their saliva and reported significantly fewer respiratory infection symptoms.

Another study found that sedentary participants have a 50% chance of getting an upper-respiratory illness during the fall season, those who walked 30 minutes per day had their risk of catching an infection dropped by 20%.

3Sleep 8 hours per night

Getting solid sleep has the potential to positively benefit our immune system, enabling us to fight off illnesses and be healthier overall. In order to maintain a balanced immune system, you need adequate sleep of high quality.

The risk of infections has been found to be higher in people who sleep less than six or seven hours per night. Studies have found that insufficient sleep makes it more likely to catch a common cold or the flu. People who sleep less than 5 hours have a 45% risk of succumbing to infection while those with adequate sleep of 7-8 hours had only 19% of such a risk.

4Stay hydrated

Drinking 6 to 8 glasses (1500-2000 ml) daily is a good goal for many people. Water is an elixir of life. It positively impacts immunity.

1. Water enriches cells with oxygen and enables them to work at maximum capacity and protects you from viruses.

2. Drinking water helps your body regulate its temperature, so drinking plenty of water if you have a fever is a good way to beat the heat.

3. Hydration helps the body distribute nutrients to all parts of the body while maintaining proper body function and tissues – which naturally helps you fight infections more effectively.

According to a study, increased water intake is linked with the beneficial effects of urinary tract infection prophylaxis and treatment.

5Loosen up

Stress impacts all aspects of our health. It is crucial to relieve stress to protect yourself from infections. During times of stress, the body’s resistance to infection is suppressed and infection rates are increased. Additionally, stress can affect the humoral and cellular immune response to pathogens, making you more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as the flu and the common cold. (Glaser and Kiecolt-Glaser 2005)

Study participants with stress disorders developed infections at a 47% higher rate than those without.

Physical activities like walking or cycling are good stress-easers. If you are tired of typical ways of getting rid of stress, you may check out Muay Thai training with a bag which is a perfect way to both express your emotions to ease stress and improve your fitness.

6Quit smoking

Smoking has negative effects on almost every organ in the body. This unhealthy habit can weaken immune system which leads to a drop in body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections. The study showed that second-hand smoke exposure increases the odds of lower respiratory infections in infants. A child has a 62% higher risk to succumb to this infection if two parents are smokers.

7Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

Prolonged alcohol abuse can compromise the immune system, leading to negative impacts on overall health. A study shows that people consuming alcohol in higher amounts had an 83% increased risk in catching pneumonia than those who drank no or lower amounts of alcohol. According to the very research, for every 10-20 grams (285-570 millilitres of beer) of higher alcohol intake per day, there was an 8% increase in pneumonia odds.

Thus, alcohol intake (on the days when consumed) for adults should be limited to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less for women, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

8Keep your hands clean

Washing your hands regularly is important for boosting your immune system and preventing infections because it helps to remove germs, bacteria, and other pathogens that can cause illness. When you touch your face, mouth, or eyes without washing your hands first, you risk transferring these harmful microorganisms into your body and getting sick. Hand washing also helps to prevent the spread of infections to others, as it removes the germs that you may have picked up from surfaces or other people. By washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, you can reduce your risk of getting sick and help protect those around you from illness.

Improved hand hygiene practices were linked to a 31% decrease in gastrointestinal illness and a 21% decrease in respiratory illness. Washing hands has been shown to reduce diarrheal illness by 58% in people with weakened immune systems.

How to keep infections away and build a strong immune system

Bacteria need nothing but a little bit of weakened organism to enter it and make you sick. The good thing is that you may protect yourself from infections by boosting your immunity with healthy lifestyle choices presented in this post. A healthy diet, exercise, and good sleeping patterns will positively affect your overall health and make you less vulnerable to infections.

Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues

If you want to learn more about infections, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only does it provide insight into preventing and dealing with infections and other severe conditions but it also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. This very article is inspired by this book. It is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.

How not to die Book Cover

As we have just figured out, washing hands is crucial in terms of warding off viruses. Here is precise instruction on how to wash your hands properly and effectively.

Healthypedia FAQ

One of the most common ways to prevent infection is by washing your hands. This is especially important if you are in a public area. You should also cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and not share personal items like food, drinks, makeup, or a hairbrush with other people.

The most common symptom of an infection is fever. This is the body's natural response to a foreign invader. The other symptoms may vary depending on the location of the infection in the body, these are sore throat, hoarseness, cough; stuffy or runny nose; red eyes; rash.

The infection enters the body in various ways, but the most common way is through the respiratory system. The bacteria can enter the mouth and nose and then travel to the lungs. The infection can also enter through the skin, for example, if someone has an open wound or scratch on their skin.

Exercise is a great way to keep your immune system strong. It helps the body release natural painkillers and mood boosters. Exercise also helps the body work more efficiently by moving blood around the body more quickly, delivering oxygen and nutrients to cells. Exercising drops the risk of catching an infection by 50%.

We should sleep at least 8 hours a day to improve our immune system. Sleeping for 8 hours or more can help to increase the number of white blood cells and it can also help in reducing inflammation.

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