It’s that time of the year again. The kids are back in school and it seems like a steady stream of upper respiratory infections are being passed around. Even my 4th grader said this last week, “Mom, is it time to start taking the stuff to prevent the flu?” Smart cookie!
In our house, we regularly incorporate disease fighting superfoods to boost immunity and fight colds, influenza, and other viruses and bacteria. And managing stress is another powerhouse to help keep your immune system healthy and fight those winter bugs. Did you know that the body uses more nutrients when under stress? It may be time for a nutrient check!
Here are 10 tips that I’m implementing right now to stay healthy this season:
- Eat brightly colored fruits and vegetables. These are packed with immune-supporting vitamins including vitamins A, C, and E. Besides the classic oranges, try blueberries, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, carrots, spinach, kale, and broccoli. Try to eat a rainbow – each color means there is a different phytonutrient (phyto = plant) that can help keep you healthy.
- Garlic has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that can help with coughs, colds, and sinusitis. Although fresh raw garlic is reported to have the most health benefits, most of its potency will still be retained if you chop or crush it and allow it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking. Take 1-2 cloves per day for prevention and 1 clove three to four times daily for acute infection. If eating garlic is not your thing, look for garlic capsules providing a dose of 4-8 mg allicin per day. Note that garlic may interfere with medications used to treat HIV and in large amounts may have a blood thinning effect. Onions and leeks also have high allicin content.
- Ginger is known as the universal medicine in Ayurveda. Spicy and warming, ginger has mucous breaking properties and activity against several respiratory bugs. Use fresh dried ginger to make a tea. Ginger may cause mild heartburn in some and care should be used not to consume high doses if you are on blood-thinners. Although safe at lower doses, pregnant women should not take more than 1.5 grams of dried ginger per day.
- Mushrooms are immune supporting, contain vitamin D, and some may also have anti-microbial activity. Look for the more exotic kinds such as shitake, reishi, enoki, and maitake. Add them to your favorite dish such as a soup or stir-fry or consume them in extract form.
- Foods such as legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, and soy), pumpkin seeds, whole grains, nuts, beef, and eggs provide zinc, a mineral that is important in supporting immune function
- Astragalus root is traditionally taken to strengthen the immune system and prevent and treat respiratory infections. It is usually given as a tonic mixed with other herbs, but I prefer to add the dried root to soups or make a tea. Take 10-30 grams of the dried root daily. Extracts in capsule form are also available
- Echinacea may be useful for both prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. Echinacea angustifolia, purpurea and pallida are three species which are typically used and all three are reported to have antiviral and immune stimulatory effects. Extracts use both above ground (aerial) parts and roots. Side effects may include allergic reaction in people will allergies to the daisy family and stomach upset. Echinacea may interact with certain medications including birth control pills so it is wise to consult with your healthcare practitioner before using. The dose varies with each Echinacea product depending on the species and plant part used.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) may also be helpful for both prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. It is available in capsules, syrup, gummies, and lozenges. This one is my youngest child’s favorite – probably because they are gummies!
- Homeopathic remedies are another staple in our house during cold and flu season. We take them preventatively and then also if we feel like we are coming down with something. I’ll be discussing what I do for my family in my next post.
- The adaptogenic herb Rhodiola rosea is not only supportive during stress, helping with fatigue, mental fog and depressed mood, it also has antiviral properties and can help protect against upper respiratory infections.
Another practice that can be helpful is the use of a neti pot to rinse the sinuses. Although I don’t personally do this practice on a daily basis, I do use it when I am dealing with nasal and sinus congestion or if I feel I have been exposed to a lot of airborne particles or irritants.
As always, discuss the use of any dietary supplements with your healthcare practitioner. To order high-quality professional-grade supplements at 10% off of retail, visit my online dispensary through Fullscript. Due to sourcing issues, I generally do not recommend purchasing supplements off of Amazon.