Stock up on the right foods and supplements
Brenna Jacks, ND
Don't face the winter cold and flu season unprotected! Boost your immune system with the right foods and supplements.
We’ve watched the squirrels burying nuts and preparing for winter for months. Now it’s our turn! With the arrival of October, our thoughts are turning to cold and flu season and how to build up our immune system for the onslaught of winter germs.
What we put in our bodies in the form of foods and supplements can have a big impact on overall health. You can make choices now to help your immune system fight off the viruses and bacteria that will be encountered in the next few months.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can be taken on an ongoing basis to stimulate components of the immune system. To help prevent colds, some health care practitioners suggest taking at least 1 g of vitamin C per day. As for food sources, colourful fruits and vegetables contain the most vitamin C content. Stock your kitchen with berries, sweet potatoes, peppers, oranges, and papayas.
Vitamin D has a key role in immune system cells, and a deficiency may worsen existing autoimmune conditions. Supplementing with vitamin D has beneficial effects on more than just bone health. Studies have shown that vitamin D can strengthen our immunity to infections due to vitamin D receptors on cells of the immune system.
You can absorb vitamin D from 15 minutes of skin exposure to the sun. During the dark days of winter, bolster your levels by supplementing daily with 1,000 IU of vitamin D. Some foods that contain vitamin D include fish and, to a lesser extent, egg yolks.
The B vitamins are all useful for protecting the immune system, and a B-complex supplement is a good addition to your immune-boosting routine. B6, in particular, plays a role in many biochemical reactions involving cells of the immune system. Food sources of B6 include chickpeas, lean chicken, bananas, and tuna.
Studies on the benefits of echinacea generally agree that it is best taken at the onset of a cold to reduce the length and severity of symptoms. Echinacea extracts also appear to have a beneficial effect on a subset of white blood cells that help our bodies fight illness and infection. Note that echinacea should not be taken if you have an allergy to ragweed or any plant in the daisy family, or if you are taking heart or antifungal medications.
Ginseng root is a widely studied immune system booster. Affecting nearly every part of the immune system, it can help the body fight off infections. There are different forms of ginseng, and most studies show a benefit with Panax ginseng. Interactions may occur with certain medications, so always discuss your medications and herbs with your health care practitioner.
Zinc is an essential trace element that affects nearly all body processes, including the nervous system and the immune system. It is also a required cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Dietary sources of zinc include oysters, poultry, whole grains, beans, and nuts. If you’ve already come down with a cold, zinc lozenges may help combat symptoms.
Selenium is an essential micronutrient for optimal immune function. Ongoing studies are focusing on selenium’s beneficial impact on white blood cells and immunity. Foods that contain selenium include Brazil nuts, walnuts, fish, poultry, and grains.
Food choices during cold and flu season make a big difference to your overall immune health. Fresh garlic can have an effect against bacteria and viruses. Preliminary research suggests that garlic supplements might also be a potent tool for preventing colds.
You may want to add garlic to your chicken soup too. A study has shown that upper respiratory tract infections may be alleviated with a bowl of homemade soup.
Yogurt helps the immune system due to the probiotic content and the common nutrients found in dairy products. One review of studies recommends that elderly people may see the most immune modulation benefits from eating yogurt. Whey protein, calcium, and other trace elements found in yogurt also contribute to this effect on the immune system.
Feeling too cold to eat yogurt? Studies suggest that probiotic supplements also improve immune function and may help us ward off colds.
Green tea acts as an antioxidant and can strengthen the immune system. One of the powerful components in green tea may also act as a mechanism in the suppression of autoimmune diseases.
A 20-minute workout three times per week increases your white blood cells. This in turn helps to ward off infections.
A minimum of seven hours per night is protective to your immune system and leaves you less vulnerable to becoming run down and prone to infections.
A constant state of stress causes imbalances in cortisol. Cortisol plays a role in white blood cell production and overall immune function.
A 58 percent reduction in bacteria on the hands can be achieved after 30 seconds of washing your hands with soap and water.