“When it comes to staving off colds and flu, preparedness is the name of the game,” says Dr. Aimee Shunney, a naturopathic doctor at the Santa Cruz Integrative Clinic in California. “What we do every day to take care of ourselves and strengthen our bodies is our best strategy for limiting frequency, severity and duration of colds and flu.”
Common sense practices such as eating a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, limiting processed foods, avoiding tobacco smoke, and washing your hands regularly are the basics. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, nationally recognized expert on chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and creator of the popular smartphone app Cures A-Z, recommends drinking plenty of filtered water, managing stress by engaging in mind-body exercises regularly and making sure to get enough restful sleep every night.
Here is more expert advice on how to naturally strengthen your immune system and stay healthy this season.
Fish oil, vitamin D and probiotics are very useful when it comes to supporting basic immune function, both at the onset of sickness and prior to, according to Dr. Shunney. Stress can weaken the immune system and some experts suggest magnesium supplements to help reduce stress.
Different supplements can be helpful at different times: Oscillococcinum (a homeopathic remedy) is most effective at the earliest signs of cold or flu; vitamin A can help you get back on your feet more quickly once when symptoms have already taken hold; and zinc is best when taken proactively, as it increases resistance to infectious diseases, according to Dr. Teitelbaum.
Dr. Elena Klimenko, who has an Integrative Medicine, Homeopathy and Acupuncture practice in New York City, recommends purchasing “pharmaceutical-grade vitamins and supplements to avoid contamination of toxic metals, lead, arsenic or other harmful elements, which will end up hurting more than they help.”
To qualify as “pharmaceutical grade” (also known as “medical grade”) the product must meet the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), which mandates that the supplement or vitamin in question contains 99 percent of listed ingredients, verified through lab testing by a third party.
“What we do every day to take care of ourselves and strengthen our bodies is our best strategy for limiting frequency, severity and duration of colds and flu.”
Many supplements have immune boosting components and it is a good idea to consult a trusted health care practitioner before beginning a regimen.
EuroPharma TRIPLE Immune Support A powerful formula featuring echinacea and andrographis (a plant native to India) taken daily to support a healthy immune system. europharmausa.com
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega 2X A potent new blend, the omega-3 essential fats in this fish oil may reduce the prevalence of colds and flu when taken daily. nordicnaturals.com
Boiron Oscillococcinum When taken at the first sign of a flu-like sickness, Oscillococcinum can reduce symptoms like headache, fever, chills and fatigue, as well as duration and severity of illnesses. boironusa.com
Mushrooms are an amazing immune system booster. They contain antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-allergic and anti-tumor properties as well as a wealth of other important nutrients, including potassium and vitamin D. Some species of mushrooms, such as shiitake and maitake, contain the sugar-molecule lentinan which, when isolated from the fungi, has been found to stimulate certain immune cells. In Asian countries, the lentinan extract has been approved for the treatment of stomach and prostate cancers since the 1980s, often in conjunction with other medicines. Advances in mycology reveal promising advancements in healing HIV, herpes and influenza.
Host Defense Mushrooms Stamets 7 A blend of seven species from famed mycologist Paul Stamets, these capsules are made from USDA-certified organic, non-GMO verified mushrooms and promote respiratory, circulatory, cellular and lymphatic functions to support foundational immunity. hostdefense.com
Mushroom Matrix Immune Matrix This certified 100 percent organic mushroom powder can be added to smoothies, shakes, juices or other recipes. Vegan, gluten free and non-GMO, it is made by carefully dehydrating mushrooms at low temperatures to retain all nutritional and enzymatic properties. mushroommatrix.com
Honey contains an anti-inflammatory agent that strengthens cells and can improve immune system function. But according to the National Honey Board, 82 percent of households use processed honey, which usually contains additives and artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and nowhere near the antibacterial properties as pure, raw honey.
Honey made by bees living around manuka bushes (native to New Zealand) contains a far greater amount of compounds responsible for antibacterial activities than conventional honey. Manuka honey also retains its health benefits under high temperature and is therefore superior when it comes to strengthening the immune system. A teaspoon or two of manuka honey will help soothe even the sorest of throats.
Wedderspoon Raw Manuka Honey This raw, non-GMO verified manuka honey is rich in taste and packed with proteins, vitamins, flavonoids and other immune-boosting compounds. wedderspoon.com
Manuka Guard Medical Grade Manuka Honey Certified medical grade honey has to withstand rigorous standards in both harvesting and processing. manukaguard.com
Hot teas are a great way to get the benefits of essential, immune-supporting herbs into the bloodstream. Large amounts of water, herbal teas and broths can help flush toxins from the system, which is important when battling a cold or flu.
With anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers, green tea and echinacea tea can strengthen immune system activity. Tulsi tea (made from the Holy Basil plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine) is another tea chock-full of antioxidants that can protect your body’s cells against free radicals that bring on diseases.
Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Lemon Echinacea Tea Non-GMO verified and USDA-certified organic, this tea is caffeine free, promotes throat health and stimulates the immune system. traditionalmedicinals.com
Organic India Tulsi Green Tea Tulsi and green tea harness antioxidants for a delicious and refreshing tonic that naturally supports the immune system. organicindiausa.com
Organic essential oils work to support immune system function by fighting off external pathogens, decongesting airways, draining excess fluid that has built up in the tissue, and cleansing the air of airborne bacteria.
“When you inhale essential oils you are actually ingesting micro-particles that go into your sinus, down your trachea into your lungs, through the air sacs in your lungs into your bloodstream where they travel to your endocrine system, your lymphatic system and your organs, and finally passing through your liver and exit through your kidneys,” explains Hope Gillerman, creator of the high end essential oil line, H. Gillerman Organics. “Within the body, they work to help rid the body of the bacteria or viruses that our immune system is set up to combat.”
Gillerman recommends eucalyptus for cold and flu relief, tea tree oil for its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial effects, bay laurel to cleanse lymph nodes and lavender oil for alleviating pain, inflammation and stress.
H. Gillerman Organics Pure Breathing Collection The Chest Remedy, made from spruce, and Sinus Remedy, made from energizing eucalyptus, are 100 percent USDA-certified organic essential oils to help you breathe easier. hgillermanorganics.com
Aura Cacia First Response Essential Solutions Harmonizing lemon and orange essential oils complement the protective and preventative properties of eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils. auracacia.com
DIY Immunity-Building Recipes
Sage Healthy Throat Gargle
Recipe from herbalist Jovial King, of Urban Moonshine
Pint glass of water
Bunch of fresh sage, chopped
1-2 teaspoons salt
Boil water in a small sauce pan. Once the water boils, turn it off and add sage. Cover immediately to preserve the therapeutic essential oils of the sage. Allow the herbal infusion to cool while steeping, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain into a mason jar, discarding the sage. Add salt so that the tea is just a bit salty to taste. Use the soothing homemade throat gargle for one
minute every few hours if you have a sore throat.