There are so many things you can do to boost your immune system, as a way of keeping your body as healthy as possible. The go-to advice here usually includes sleeping well, eating well, and keeping your stress levels in check. But there are also a few "gross" things you can do to be healthier, too. And they all involve boosting your immunity.
"The immune system is composed of cells and organs that help prevent and fight infection," registered dietician Ysabel Montemayor, tells Bustle. "It is important to strengthen it to lower the chances of getting sick." And in some ways, this includes exposure to dirt, germs, and other nasty things.
"Many believe that more bacterial exposure may strengthen the immune system because the body learns how to protect itself from those bacteria," Montemayor says. "Due to this belief, some may develop 'gross' habits, such as washing your hands less often."
While that's true, to a degree, it's important to proceed with caution. "Although increased bacteria exposure may play a role in strengthening immunity, it could also be very dangerous," Montemayor says. "Poor hygiene can spread and expose you to dangerous bacteria, increasing the risk of infections."
There are plenty of ways to boost your immune system that don't involve contacting germ-covered surfaces, if that doesn't sit well with you. Again, getting plenty of rest, eating healthy and colorful foods, and managing your stress levels can help keep you healthy, too — as well as a few of the more "interesting" tips below.
1. Eat More Garlic
While many people think garlic is delicious, the idea of eating it crushed up just for the sake of improving your immune system may sound a bit strange. And yet garlic is known for its immune boosting powers, and can even help you fight off infection.
"Garlic has both anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties," Dr. Tania Elliott, board-certified Allergist/Immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Bustle. "It works to up-regulate certain chemicals in the immune system responsible for fighting viruses and bacteria and also targets inflammatory cells."
So if you like garlic, have at it.
2. Use A Tongue Scraper
If you've ever used a scraper to remove the gunk from your tongue, then you know it can be a little bit icky. And yet, this is one habit you might want to adopt — especially during cold season.
"The tongue is part of the first line of defense in your immune system," Dr. Rubina Thahi, DC, tells Bustle. "Scraping your tongue prevents toxins from being reabsorbed into your body and boosts overall immune function."
3. Eat Your Boogers
OK, while you might not want to pick your nose on purpose with the goal of eating whatever's inside, if you find yourself mindlessly engaging in certain nose-related activities, the results may actually be beneficial.
"In theory, your mucous traps germs before they reach your body," Khalid Saeed, DO, tells Bustle. "Therefore, eating your 'boogers' will train your body to fight these germs."
In other words, you don't need to worry too much about interacting with your own germs, since doing so can boost your immune system. (Even if you don't literally eat them.)
4. Shower Less Often
If you're someone who's always wanted to shower less often, you're in luck.
Not only does skipping a shower every once and a while save time and energy, "but more importantly you are helping the disease-fighting bacteria that live on your skin stay and help you remain healthy," Dr. Tahir says.
For those who'd like to rinse more often, there's some evidence that cold showers can also boost the immune system. According to research, when the body tries to warm up after being cold, the metabolic rate speeds up, and produces more disease-fighting white blood cells. Just don't avoid showering completely, because then unwanted bacteria can stick around.
5. Skip The Shampoo
In the same vein, washing your hair less often can be beneficial, too. "Make the good bacteria on your body work for you," Dr. Tahir says. "And that means not washing it off. Shampoos can contain a lot of harsh chemicals, which wash away excess oils but take the good bacteria with them."
During the winter, when colds are going around, Dr. Tahir says she washes her hair only two times per week, and even avoids using dry shampoo in between days. If you think that'd work for you, it may be worth a try.
6. Take Fish Oil Pills
Swallowing a capsule full of fish juice may not sound appetizing. And yet it's often recommended as a way of making the immune system stronger.
There are also vegetarian options available that'll give you the same omega benefits.
7. Eat Raw Onion
"Cooking the onion makes it lose its benefits, but raw onion can boost cells of your immune system," Dr. Elliott says. So try adding more of it to your day, and you might notice that you're suddenly less likely to catch that annoying cold that's going around.
8. Have A Spoonful Of Oregano
Another interesting ingredient to add to your day is oregano, which can be quite beneficial. "People tend to stick to the capsule version because of the taste," Dr. Tahir says. "But diluting it and putting a few drops under your tongue works very well. It is a natural antibiotic that helps to fight bacteria."
9. Sprinkle On The Cayenne Pepper
According to Dr. Elliott, cayenne pepper "can thin out mucous making it less habitable for inflammation-causing viruses and bacteria." So if this is something you can see yourself adding into your diet, your immune system may thank you.
10. Gargle Salt Water
If you feel a cold coming on, it really can help to gargle warm, salty water.
"Salt usually gets a bad rap, but gargling with warm salt water when you are sick, especially sea salt, can have an anti-inflammatory effect," Dr. Elliott says. "It works by helping to wash away viruses, bacteria, allergens, and mucus in your throat. The rougher the salt, the better."
11. Kiss Your Dog
If you're a pet lover, you probably already hug and kiss your dog. But did you know doing so can boost your immune system?
"Research shows that canine microbiomes (bacteria) can help to 'strengthen' human microbiomes," psychonutritionist Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., tells Bustle. "And it’s our microbiome that orchestrates much of what our immune system pays attention to (attacks) — or ignores."
Of course, you'll need to take great care of your health, in the form of getting all that rest and good food mentioned above. But snuggling up to your pets won't hurt.
"Kissing your dog can improve microbiome diversity in complementary ways, (same with your cat, patting a cow, riding a horse, etc.)," Dr. Talbott says.
12. Use Less Hand Sanitizer
Unless you’re in a place where pathogenic microbes may be more prevalent, like a hospital or doctor’s office, it can actually help to ease up on the hand sanitizer use, author and autoimmune wellness advocate Palmer Kippola, tells Bustle.
Hand sanitizers are great in a pinch, and if you get the kind that's at least 60 percent alcohol you'll definitely be killing germs. But Kippola says it's not necessary to squirt sanitizer onto your hands all day long.
Instead, stick to good old-fashioned hand washing before eating, and after coming into contact with dirty surfaces. Because it's true you can have too much of a good thing.
13. Try Oil Pulling
Have you ever tried oil pulling? It can feel pretty gross to swish oil around in your mouth. And yet the positives may outweigh the negatives.
"You put one tablespoon of coconut or sesame oil into your mouth and swish it around for 20 minutes," Elise Marie Collins, author of Super Ager, tells Bustle. "This ancient practice from Ayurveda may kill harmful bacteria and reduce plaque."
It's even been backed up by studies, including one that revealed less harmful bacteria in the mouth after adults swished with both oil and mouthwash, Collins says. And less bad bacteria in your mouth means less in your body.
While all of these immune-boosting hacks may seem a bit gross, they may help make your body stronger by adding in key nutrients, removing harmful germs, and making you resistant to the bacteria we all encounter every day.