It’s that time of year again: the sniffles are starting, the coughs continuing, and the nausea never-ending. Cold and flu season is upon us. Whether you are susceptible to getting sick or are able to avoid the illnesses most years, cold and flu prevention is important. Not only is a cold or flu a nuisance, interrupting your daily life and routines and making you feel awful, but it’s also a sign of an immune system in need. A weak immune system can also be linked with high levels of stress, poor sleep, and poor digestion, so addressing all of these things can help bolster your immune system in a very powerful way. However, there are foods, herbs, tonics and teas that you can use to help strengthen your immune system to try to prevent getting sick, and also things you can include in your diet to help you if you’re already sick. From fruits and vegetables to extracts and tinctures, read on for 21 of our most powerful immune-boosting foods, tonics, teas, and more!
Our first category is vegetables. Where else would we start? Vegetables harness so much amazing power to impact and better our health. We have 4 of our favourites for immune-boosting benefits, but before we dive in, let’s talk about the importance of organic. Certified organic produce is the best choice you can make for your health. It helps ensure you are getting the minerals and nutrients you need from organic soil, whereas conventional produce is grown on mineral-depleted and nutrient-starved soils. Certified organic produce also is grown and farmed without the use of chemicals or pesticides. In fact, by choosing the Dirty Dozen (the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables) organic, you can reduce your pesticide intake by up to 80%. Vegetables have so much to offer, especially when it comes to immune benefits, but make sure you’re making the most of your veggies by choosing organic!
Cabbage: Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable that comes in many colours and is low in calories, but mighty high in nutrients, including vitamin C—of which is has about 37mg per 100g of cabbage. And vitamin C is a powerhouse when it comes to immunity! While raw it is very healthy for you, cabbage is even better for your immune system and digestive tract when it’s fermented in the form of sauerkraut or kimchi. Fermented foods heal your gut lining and digestion, and your gut houses 70% of your immune system cells, meaning fermented foods boost your immunity, too.
Garlic: You may have heard of using garlic to ward off vampires, but how about to ward off colds and flu? Garlic contains compounds that have been shown to improve white blood cells’ ability to fight off certain viruses, such as those that cause colds and flu. It’s great to eat, but it also comes in a supplement form, and studies have shown that daily supplementation with garlic reduced colds by 63% when compared with placebo.1 Plus, another study shows that a high dose of garlic extract can the amount of cold or flu sick days by 61%.2 It’s a powerhouse for your immune system!
Peppers: Another vegetable that is high in the immune-boosting vitamin C is bell peppers. Red bell peppers have the most vitamin C of all varieties, and all bell peppers also have lots of phytochemicals and carotenoids, like beta-carotene, which are chock full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits as well. Plus, peppers can help clear out congested mucus membranes in the nose and lungs, helping you eliminate the toxins and disease-causing components of your cold or flu faster!
Spinach: Like its friends cabbage and peppers, spinach is loaded with vitamin C which helps fight cold and flu and bolster the immune system. That’s not all it has, though. It’s also high in antioxidants and beta-carotene, like peppers, which may help our immune system fight infection and viruses easier. An interesting fact about spinach is that its nutrients are best retained when the vegetable is raw, so try enjoying spinach in a delicious salad rather than in your stir fry for the most immune benefits.3
"Ditch the dairy and stop the sugar at the first sign of any winter illness. Dairy thickens fluids in your body allowing the mucus to hang around in the ears, nose, throat, and chest- a perfect place for nasty bugs to grow and multiply . Refined, processed sugar (only as little as a teaspoon) puts the breaks on your immune system and serves as food for the unwanted microbes"
Just like vegetables, fruits are more beneficial for our health and immune system when they are grown organically. Especially fruits like berries, which are frequently on the dirty dozen list, and yet so high in things like antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients. Choose your fruits organically to help avoid the downfalls of pesticides and chemicals, which add to your toxic load and can burden your immune system. And, just like vegetables, certain fruits have amazing immune-boosting benefits that you may not know about. Read on and enjoy these powerful items for maximum immunity!
Coconuts and Coconut Oil: Coconut in all its forms is a superfood powerhouse. It’s loaded with healthy medium chain fatty acids, is beneficial for our metabolism, can be used as a beauty product for healthier hair and skin, and now you can add “immune-boosting” to that list of benefits. Coconut oil has been shown to be antimicrobial, killing fungus and bacteria, and has proved beneficial for helping fight pneumonia. One study showed that children who took coconut oil recovered from pneumonia much faster than those who did not, and also had reduced fevers, clearer breathing, and normal blood oxygenation.4 The next time you add coconut oil to your smoothie or cooked veggies, your immune system will thank you!
Berries: Berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are extremely high on the ORAC scale—meaning they contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals. This is great for your immune system and general health. Blueberries in particular may help you fend off colds and flu, though, as they are high in pterostilbene. Researchers from Oregon State University found that when this compound was combined with vitamin D, the body’s ability to fend off illness increased.5 The same was shown with the resveratrol found in red grapes. Yet another reason to enjoy those blueberries!
Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits, like grapefruit, oranges, and lemons, are low in sugar, which is known to be an immune-suppressant, and packed with vitamin C, which is essential for fending off infections like colds and flu by boosting the production of white blood cells. Your body does not produce vitamin C on its own, so many sure to stock up on vitamin C by enjoying the fruits and vegetables—like citrus fruits—which are rich in this immune-boosting vitamin!
Apples: Along with being high in vitamin C, apples are also a rich source of soluble fiber. A study in 2010 done at the University of Illinois showed that soluble fiber helps to strengthen the immune system by changing the “personalities” of immune cells. Instead of being pro-inflammatory, the cells turn to anti-inflammatory, healing cells that help the body recover from infection and illness faster.6 I guess the saying is right—an apple a day may really keep the doctor away!
"When feeling the onset of a cold I head to my medicine cabinet to take some Immune Boosting nutrients. These include: zinc: this mineral is a great immune booster. I usually have either zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate and take 30mg. vitamin C: Liposomal vitamin C is the best absorbed but if I do not have that on hand I take between 1000mg to 4000mg of buffered vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in divided doses or up to bowel tolerance. vitamins A & D: these two fat soluble vitamins are found in Cod Liver Oil and are work best when taken together for immune support. I take 1-2 tsp. a day during the flu and 1 tsp. a day for immune support."
Herbs are a passion of Janet Jacks’. She understands how much power they have to harness our health, and improve it when things are going awry. She often turns to herbs in the form of spices and teas to help her deal with different health issues, and encourages others to do the same. Herbs are especially vital when it comes to our immune system—and they’re so readily available to us! Using them in our cooking in dried or fresh forms, or finding them in oils and tinctures, you can’t go wrong when you decide to include more herbs in your everyday life. Read on for our top 4 immune-boosting herbs and start using them in your kitchen.
Oregano: Herbs are powerful when it comes to our health, and oregano is a great one for immune benefits. It’s high in vitamins A, C, E, and K, all of which are good for your immune system, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal effects. In fact, studies have shown that essential oils from oregano may help to fight off Listeria and the superbug MRSA. Imagine what it might do for your everyday immune health!7
Turmeric: You’ve probably heard of turmeric as a superfood herb, with its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But did you know the active ingredient that helps with these things in turmeric is actually curcumin? This is an anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory compound that is excellent to help fend of everyday colds and flus as well as more serious conditions like cancer. Plus, since inflammation is at the root of so many diseases, being anti-inflammatory is an extra bonus.
Ginger: Ginger is historically one of the most common substances used to help with colds and flu. It’s a powerful agent in helping ward off and dispel nausea due to its ability to help break up and dispel intestinal gas or other disruptions.8 It’s a great remedy to have when you have the flu, as in lemon and ginger tea or in a chew like the Ginger People chews. Plus, because it’s good for nausea, it’s also been shown to be effective for motion sickness, seasickness, and sickness associated with pregnancy.
Licorice root: Licorice is good for so many ailments, and one amazing power it has is to boost the adrenals and support the stress response. Your adrenal system is intricately linked with your immune system. When you’re too stressed and your adrenals are worn down, your immune system is more vulnerable to attack. Helping support your adrenals and stress response is a great way to support your immune system! Plus, licorice has been shown to enhance immunity more directly by boosting immune system chemicals that help ward off viruses.
"When I feel an onset of a cold or sickness, I know to start increasing my gut healing foods, as we're learning more and more 85 % of your immune system is in the health of your GUT! I look for warming foods, Coconut oil and Bone broth are my go to secret healing foods, and making vegetable melody chilis and stews, for their high concentration of vitamins and antioxidants."
Just like herbs, tinctures and extracts are a powerful way to improve health—but they are even more potent. Tinctures and extracts offer a unique way for your body to absorb compounds that may not be as readily available from water extraction, and increase the potency and benefits of these compounds compared to when they are not in tincture or extract form. Plus, tinctures and extracts can be found in single distillations, such as astragalus on its own, or in combinations, like in Deep Immune, to help harness the power of multiple different compounds into one amazing product. Ask us about tinctures and extracts to help find the right one for you!
Astragalus: Astragalus is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body balance out what needs balancing: lowering what is high and increasing what is low. Adaptogens protect the body against various stresses, including physical, mental, and emotional—and yes, the immune system is protected there as well. It’s known to prevent colds and upper respiratory infections, as well as have antiviral properties that help stimulate the immune system. You can find astragalus in all kinds of extracts and tinctures, but Deep Immune by St. Francis is a great combination that contains astraglus and helps to tonify a weak immune system. It’s perfect for this time of year! Hear all about Deep Immune and its benefits on this radio podcast:
Oregano oil: Oregano oil is often called the heavy hitter for colds and flu. Derived from the leaves and flowers of oregano, which you would use in your cooking, oregano oil comes in tincture and extract form to help boost your immune system. One study done at the Georgetown University Medical Center showed that oregano oil is able to overcome harmful organism infections, making it great to ward off things like salmonella and E. coli.9 It’s one of the most effective remedies around to boost the body’s natural immunity, and can be used in a variety of ways, including inhalation.
Mushroom extracts: Mushrooms contain some of the most powerful natural medicines on the planet, and one of their benefits is their ability to boost the immune system. Immune 7 by Purica brings together the power of 6 different medicinal mushrooms to offer full-spectrum immune support. In addition to these powerful mushrooms, Immune 7 also contains Nutricol, which is Purica’s own blend of super-strength antioxidants. Together, these ingredients provide a powerhouse supplement to boost and improve your immunity!
Echinacea extract: Echinacea is a powerful extract that can help with lung support and bronchial infections. It’s typically known to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu, as well as reduce symptoms like sore throat, cough, and fever. Anti-Viral by Natural Factors is a potent tincture that includes Echinacea to help fight colds in a powerful way.
What’s better when you have a cold or the flu than curling up on the couch with a giant mug of tea? You probably like this for more than just the comfort reason. Teas are a great way to help improve your immune system and battle common symptoms when you’ve already become run down with a cold. They have different properties that help things like a sore throat, upset stomach, and congestion, and can help you feel like your symptoms are fading away. Plus, many teas help you relax and get to sleep, which is a key component to feeling better. Stock your cupboards and enjoy these in sickness and in health!
Ginger tea: You can make your own ginger tea by grating fresh ginger and steeping it in hot water with some lemon. This produces a delicious tea that is soothing for the throat and also is great for helping with any nausea or digestive complaints. You can also purchase a variety of ginger teas that have the same anti-microbial and anti-viral effects as the real deal.
Holy basil (Tulsi tea): This is a multi-purpose tea that can help with so many things. One of the best uses of holy basil tea when you are sick is to help with respiratory disorders, though it’s also beneficial for fever, asthma, lung disorders, heart disease, and stress. In fact, holy basil is another amazing herb to help relieve stress and support your adrenal glands, which indirectly helps support your immune system. Brew a cup and sip it slowly: you’ll see why it’s calming and soothing on many different levels!
Mint: Mint is possibly one of the most popular teas, and for good reason! Not only does it taste great and help your breath feel fresh, but its strong aroma and flavor can help soothe sore throats or provide some much-needed relief from respiratory ailments. Plus, it helps you feel more rejuvenated and refreshed, so if you’re struggling with the tail end of a cold, a warm mug of mint tea might give you the boost you need to conquer it once and for all.
Chamomile: Chamomile tea is often used as a night-time tea when people need to wind down or need some help falling asleep. It’s great for its relaxing and mood-soothing benefits, as is the essential oil of chamomile in a diffuser. However, chamomile tea is also great to help calm an upset stomach, which is why many people use it when they have colds or flu. It’s a natural tea that, like ginger, can help calm or sooth nausea or indigestion.
Lavender: Probably one of the most notable effects of lavender is on stress. It helps to relieve stress and increase relaxation, which is so vital when you’re feeling under the weather. It’s also great for helping to promote restful sleep, which might seem evasive when you have a cold or the flu. Many people like soaking in Epsom salts and some lavender oil in the bath when they’re sick, and lavender tea is another great way to enjoy its benefits. Plus, it’s been shown to help soothe stomach bloating!
Try using these different foods, herbs, and tips to strengthen your immune system this season and avoid catching that pesky cold or nasty flu. And remember that the key to laying a healthy foundation for your immune system is a healthy diet, lowered stress levels, and lots of sleep. Our Lifewatchers program can help you! If you have a cold fighting tip or favorite food not found in this list we would love to hear about it. So drop us a line below in the comment section!
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