In case you haven’t noticed, we’re smack dab in the middle of flu season. Odds are, you or someone in your immediate family has already had it at least once this year. Whenever we re-open Longevity Health Center after a holiday, we’re flooded with cases of the flu. That’s because during the holidays our immune systems are compromised because we’re traveling, eating more sugar, staying up later and we’re exposed to more friends and family than usual. The result is that sickness take hold, and we have our busiest days of the year!
The holidays are now over, but flu season will last another couple of months, so today I want to talk about some good immune boosting supplements and foods to help arm your system against illness. If we can be more proactive about protecting our immune systems all winter long, we can avoid getting the flu as often as well as all the antibiotics, sick days and general misery that comes with it! So here’s a list of my immune boosting favorites, some of which you probably already know about, but just aren’t being diligent about incorporating into your life, and some that may be new to you.
- Vitamin C – Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant. Humans don’t have the ability to make their own C, so we must get it from our foods (Think fruits and veggies!). Vitamin C stimulates both the production and function of white blood cells, which attack foreign bacteria and viruses, and it protects the integrity of our cells. Click here for more information about all the benefits of C as well as the daily recommended allowance for your age. Vitamin C is affordable, easy to find and it comes in all kinds of forms (chewables, powders, capsules, etc.), so why wait until you or your child is sick to start taking it when you can make it a winter staple?
- Vitamin D – I can’t say enough about the importance of Vitamin D (Read this post for more in-depth info!). Among its many benefits, this fat-soluble nutrient (That’s right, you need to get enough essential fatty acids into your diet in order to absorb it!) activates your immune system to defend against invading microorganisms. We get D through sun exposure, but during this time of year, it’s often necessary to get it through supplementation (Approximately 85% of Americans are deficient!). As a general rule, an adult of average weight should ingest about 4,000 to 5,000 international units of supplemental D3 a day, and children should take a daily dose of 1,000 international units per every 25 pounds of body weight. This varies depending on the season, where you live, your age, skin tone, etc. You may think you’re getting enough D from your multi-vitamin, but that’s really just a small sample compared to what we need each day for a healthy immune system, so go get your D on!
- Immunoglobulin – Our body’s immune system defends against infection and illness by releasing immunoglobulin, which is a fancy word for antibodies. We ingest many germs throughout the day, and they end up in the 400 sq. ft. of GI tract surface area where immunoglobulin works to neutralize them. Unfortunately, many of our bodies don’t release enough immunoglobulin due to stress, poor foods and toxins, so we’re unable to fight against illness. This is when it may become necessary to take these antibodies in the form of a supplement.
- Probiotic – Candida is yeast that occurs naturally in the human body. This fungal organism is present in every intestinal tract and the immune system manages it with beneficial intestinal bacteria. This delicate balance is upset when the beneficial bacteria are destroyed (typically by antibiotics), when our immune system is impaired (typically due to stress or illness), or when we develop environmental or food sensitivities. Candida then begins to proliferate, penetrate the intestinal lining and invade and colonize our blood stream, body tissues and organs. To make matters worse, Candida emits more than 70 difference toxins into the body. A probiotic enhances immune function by helping to colonize the intestinal lining with beneficial bacteria so that candida is not able to run rampant. Many people notice positive improvements in their digestive and immune function when they start taking one on a regular basis. Even if you have the most perfect diet, it’s beneficial to be putting good bacteria into your intestinal lining to help your body fight against illness.
- Astragalus Root – This Chinese herb has been used for centuries to boost immunity and treat a variety of other ailments. It induces the production of interferon, a chemical that is essential to the immune system and has been widely studied for its ability to fight cancer and reduce inflammation. With its free-radical fighting properties, astragalus root helps fight the flu, common colds and upper-respiratory infections.
- Garlic – It might not make you many friends with its effect on your breath, but garlic is known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. In fact, British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks, and the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Another bonus: Other studies suggest that garlic lovers who chow more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer. Almost everything I cook starts with a little minced garlic. Incorporate it into your cooking this flu season!
- Orange Foods – Sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin and cantaloupe have more in common than just their color – they are all high in immune boosting beta carotene. You may not think of your skin as part of your immune system, but this crucial organ serves as your first line of defense against bacteria, viruses, and other unwanted pathogens. To stay strong and healthy, your skin needs Vitamin A, which your body makes from beta carotene. So make orange your new favorite color this flu season!
- Mushrooms – Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive in fighting germs. Shiitake, Maitake and reishi mushrooms pack the biggest immunity punch. Add them to your stir-fry, pasta sauce, omelets, salads, pizza and anywhere else you can think of this winter.
- Zinc-Rich Foods – Zinc deficiency depresses our immunity and increases our risk of infection. That’s because zinc is another one of those minerals that’s integral to the formation of pathogen-fighting white blood cells. Foods like lamb, beef, and pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc (Here’s a like to the Top 10 Foods High in Zinc.).
- Red Bell Peppers – Oranges get all the glory for having vitamin C, but ounce for ounce, red bell peppers have twice as much flu-fighting vitamin C, in addition to being a rich source of beta carotene. Bell peppers are great in salads and stir-fry (Try the cous-cous stuffed peppers I had last week!).
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fats are essential in boosting immunity because they increase the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that attack harmful bacteria. They also help strengthen cell membranes, thereby speeding up healing and strengthening resistance to infection in the body. Fish, flax seeds, eggs and nuts are all high in omega-3’s, so eat up!
Of course you can get garlic, beta carotene, zinc and Omega-3 fats in supplement form as well, but I think we should try to get as much of our nutrition as possible through the foods we eat.
Of course I can’t write a post on immune system boosters without telling you about the foods that deplete it. Avoid poor-quality fats (hydrogenated oils, fried foods) and high-sugar junk foods, which immediately depress your body’s ability to resist sickness. It’s also best to limit caffeine and other diuretics, which deplete your body of the water it needs to flush toxins.
There are several other immune-boosting supplements and foods out there (you can’t lose by adding more veggies into your diet), but I just picked a few of my favorites. And of course there are a host of other supplements you can take when you actually do catch a flu, but I’ll save that for another post. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or need help finding any of the supplements. Other flu-fighting tips are to wash your hands frequently, get a good night’s sleep and don’t go outside with a wet head.
Have a flu-free day!