If you are one of those unlucky people who seem to catch every cold going around the office, or everything your kids bring home from school, here are some effective natural ways you can give you immune health a boost to fight off any infections.
A strong immune system is dependent on you having a healthy nutritious diet containing important immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A, C and D, minerals zinc and selenium and antioxidants. There are also certain herbs and foods that have immune-stimulating properties, which help enhance immune function and protect the body against disease.
Garlic contains ‘allicin’ that has powerful, immune-enhancing actions. Garlic is also a good source of vitamins A, C, and the minerals selenium, sulphur and zinc, all of which play pivotal roles in immune function. Eating garlic regularly will help protect you against infections, colds and flu, as it has anti-bacterial and anti-viral action. Make sure you cut or crush your garlic first to release the allicin. Cooking can destroy some of garlics beneficial compounds so eating it raw in dips and dressings, or lightly cooked in dishes is the best way to have it.
Echinacea is best known for its ability to act on our immune system to prevent or treat colds and flu. Echinacea contains phenolic compounds, which have the ability to stimulate the immune system, increasing the activity and number of immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages. Echinacea stimulates the overall activity of immune cells making them more efficient in attacking bacteria and viruses. Echinacea can be drank as a tea, found in Bodhi Organic ImmuniTEA, or taken as a liquid extract or in tablet form.
Seaweed is touted as a super food because it is not only extremely nutritious but also contains extraordinary health-promoting compounds that are not found in any other plant. Seaweed helps boost immune system function, reducing the risk of cold and flu.
There are many different types of seaweed including kelp, nori, and akrame, which you can purchase from health food stores and supermarkets. Try adding small strips of seaweed to soups, salads and stir-fries, or make nori rolls or sushi.
Shiitake mushrooms have been extensively studied for their many healing and immune boosting properties. A compound found in this mushroom, called lentinan, has been found to be a most powerful immune strengthener and ‘restorative’. Lentinan enhances the immune system’s ability to combat infections and disease.
These white blood cells destroy cells infected by viruses.
Ginger root is a lovely warming spice that has been used by Chinese herbalists for over 2,500 years to treat colds. Ginger has the ability to stimulate the immune system. Ginger can activate T-cells, which are a critical part of our immune defenses. These white blood cells destroy cells infected by viruses. The impressive anti-inflammatory properties of ginger are well known and have been extensively studied. Ginger can be drunk as a tea, found in Bodhi Organic ZesTEA, or added to veggie juices, stir-fries, salads, smoothies, or sauces.
Miso is a highly nutritious food and contains numerous health-promoting benefits. Unpasteurised organic miso contains active lactobacillus, a bacteria beneficial for improving digestion and strengthening the immune system. Beneficial bacteria like that found in miso help promote the proliferation of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the bowel which plays a big role in our immune health, digestion, and production of certain vitamins such as B12 and K (needed for healthy blood clotting). Miso is also a good source of zinc, needed for strong immune function.
The beneficial bacteria present in unpasteurized miso are killed by prolonged cooking at high temperatures, so add miso to preparations just before removing them from the heat. Keep miso paste in the fridge and use 1 tsp to add flavour and nutrients to soups, stir-fry’s, casseroles, sauces, salad dressings, and mashed potato.
Yoghurt: There is strong scientific evidence demonstrating yoghurt’s action to enhance and promote healthy immune function. Researchers attribute yoghurt’s health-promoting effects to its live bacteria content, namely acidophilus and bifidus. These beneficial bacteria help promote the health and growth of ‘friendly’ bowel bacteria, which play a major role in our immune function, proper digestion and production of certain vitamins.
Make sure you are getting the most out of yoghurt; look for the ‘live and active cultures or bacteria’ seal on the yoghurt you buy. The best way to include immune-boosting yoghurt in your diet is served on breakfast cereal, mixed into porridge or Bircher muesli, as a topping on pancakes and muffins, and in dips and smoothies.
Vitamin C is essential for health and has the reputation as a ‘master’ immune-boosting nutrient that strengthens immune function to fight off colds and infections. Vitamin C has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-allergenic activity.
The best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, parsley, broccoli, red capsicum and cabbage. Supplementation is recommended at around 3g maintenance dose a day, or 4-5g a day if you have a cold.
Zinc is an extremely important mineral that is vital for good health and plays a major role in immunity. Zinc is needed for the production of white blood cells, which protect against colds and infections.
Zinc rich food sources include lean meat, chicken, fish, milk and other dairy foods (cheese), brewers yeast, eggs (yolks), legumes (lima beans, lentils, peas), wholegrains (bread), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and pecan nuts. Zinc is lost during the refinement or processing of grains so wholegrain products should always be chosen over the refined equivalents, in order to maximize zinc intake. Supplementation is recommended at around 50mg of zinc daily (adult dosage).
Vitamin D – “the sunshine vitamin” – is heralded as being important for boosting our immunity. Without sufficient vitamin D we are more vulnerable to illness and chronic disease. Sunlight is the easiest and healthiest way to get sufficient vitamin D.
During winter you should try and get 2-3 hours of sunlight a week, on the face, arms and hands.
During winter you should try and get 2-3 hours of sunlight a week, on the face, arms and hands. It can be difficult in winter to get adequate vitamin D from sunlight so it is recommended that you increase your intake of vitamin D rich foods such as eggs (yolk), fish liver oil (cod liver oil) and oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines). Milk such as cow’s, soy and rice are also fortified with vitamin D. Supplementation is recommended for people who have low vitamin D status, take around 1000 iu of vitamin D3 daily.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is an Ayurvedic herb, which is also known as “Indian Echinacea”. Andrographis is used to help support immune system function, having antimicrobial properties, helping to reduce the severity of cold and flu, fever, and upper respiratory infections. Andrographis can increase the body’s resistance to infection by stimulating the production of antibodies and macrophages.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) is commonly used by herbalists to treat respiratory problems such as colds and flu and sinus infections, helping to clear congestion (anti-catarrhal), and reduce high fevers and inflammation. Elderflower has an anti-bacterial action and helps support immune function. Elderflower contains phytochemicals and anxtioxidant that help protect the body from oxidative damage and support the immune system. Elderflower contains immune strengthening and anti-inflammatory nutrients vitamin C and A, and the flavonoid quercetin. Elder has also had a long history of being used for alleviating allergy symptoms.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a Traditional Chinese Medicine that has been used for thousands of years to help support and strengthen the immune system. Astragalus is beneficial for preventing cold and flu and upper respiratory infections.
By Lisa Guy, Naturopath and Founder of Bodhi Organic Tea
Lisa is a well-respected Sydney naturopath, author, mum and passionate foodie. Lisa has been practicing for 16 years out of her Rose Bay clinic called ‘Art of Healing’ (www.artofhealing.com.au). Lisa is also the founder of Bodhi Organic Tea (www.bodhiorganictea.com), an organic herbal tea company that makes beautiful unique tea blends, all naturopathically blended to help promote better health and wellbeing.