School started back a few weeks ago, which means moms are happy, leaves have started falling from the trees, and germs are spreading. Abby has already come home from school with a runny nose, so my husband and I are doing everything we can to boost our immune systems and stay healthy — from going to bed early to taking turmeric ginger shots.
There is no magic pill you can take to prevent illness, but there are certain measures you can take to greatly reduce your chances of getting sick and/or shorten the duration of illness. Below is a compilation of science-backed ways to boost your immune system. Most of my information is from the research analysis of Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Michael Gregor, who I’ve been following for years and trust completely. Links are included where necessary.
How to Avoid the Cold & Flu
1. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are not conducive to a strong immune system, so be sure to “eat the rainbow” to ensure a wide variety of nutrients and fiber to feed the good bacteria in your gut. According to a recent study, “Those who eat more fruits and vegetables appear to have a lower risk of getting an upper respiratory tract infection, like the common cold, whether they’re vegetarian or not. Even just one added apple a day may help keep the doctor away.” I recommend starting your day with a green smoothie so you get in some good phytonutrients to boost your immunity throughout the day.
2. Eat some cruciferous vegetables every day.
Kale, collards, mustard greens, arugula, watercress, broccoli rabe, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi contain glucosinolates, which are converted to immune-boosting isothyocyanates (ITCs) when chopped or chewed.
Try my Easy “Cheesy” Broccoli Soup, colorful Broccoli Salad, or Roasted Brussels Sprouts for a good dose of cruciferous greens!
3. Eat berries every day.
Berries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants like flavonoids and reveratrol. They offer antiviral protection and can block the replication of flu and other respiratory viruses. Drinking elderberry juice may shorten the duration of flu symptoms. Again, starting your day with a smoothie with berries is a good way to add berries to your diet. Other ways include topping your oatmeal with berries, adding them to a granola parfait, or your could try my Blueberry Breakfast Bars!
4. Add onions, shallot, or scallions to your salad every day.
The allium family has immune-boosting and anti-cancer benefits. Garlic contains phytochemicals with powerful virus killing compounds, which are activated by chopping or chewing raw.
5. Eat cooked mushrooms or take a mixed mushroom supplement every day.
Not only are cooked mushrooms potent cancer fighters, they also boost immune defenses in the mouth and respiratory tract. They do this by enhancing the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, which attack virus-infected cells.
Try my 10-minute Cream of Mushroom Soup or my Mushrooms Fra Diavolo for two delicious ways to get your daily mushrooms!
6. Take supplements that contain vitamin D, zinc, iodine, and B12.
These vitamins and minerals will help reduce the risk of infection and improve recovery from colds and the flu. Vegans need a bit more zinc to maximize immunity because zinc absorption is hindered by phytates in plant foods. I recommend taking these multivitamins daily, especially if you adhere to a plant-based diet.
7. Drink green tea.
In a recent study, subjects who drank six cups of tea per day had up to a 15-fold increase in [infection-fighting] interferon production in as little as one week. You don’t need to drink 6 cups every day, but perhaps a cup or two between meals could be beneficial. Adding a little lemon juice boosts the nutrition of your tea and gives you an extra dose of vitamin C.
8. Take probiotics and consume prebiotics to support them.
We now we have randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies showing that those taking probiotics may have significantly fewer colds, fewer sick days, and fewer symptoms. Prebiotics are foods containing fiber, which is the food to gut bacteria. Leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains are great supporters of healthy gut bacteria. Your gut microbiome is your first line of defense against pathogens that enter the GI tract, so it’s important to keep it happy so you can stay healthy during cold and flu season.
If you already have a healthy gut, I recommend a maintenance probiotic containing 20-30 billion CFU and a variety of strains. If you’re experiencing diarrhea or bloating and have been on antibiotics recently, you’ll need something stronger — like 150+ billion CFU. You can purchase them at your local health food store or pharmacy. Take them on an empty stomach for maximum efficacy.
9. Get 8-9 hours of sleep each night.
We all know we should sleep more, but it’s worth repeating. In one study testing the theory that sleep boosts immunity, those getting enough sleep were 3-5 times more likely to beat the virus that had been dripped into their noses than those who were not. So turn off the TV, close your book, and go to bed!
10. Take a turmeric, ginger, & lemon shot when you feel a cold coming on.
I swear by these shots! Every time I feel run down or my throat starts to get scratchy, I pull out my juicer and make these for my husband and me. I have yet to get sick after these shots! Last January my husband and daughter both had the flu, and I was taking care of them. Terrified of getting it myself, I did about 3 of these shots per day. And guess what — no flu! While there’s no research to support these shots (that I know of), I’ve spoken to many people with similar stories to mine, and there’s really no downside to increasing your daily antioxidants. Give these turmeric ginger shots a try this season! They burn so good . . .
If you do get sick with a typical viral syndrome, it is best to rest, drink water, and focus on fresh fruit and raw vegetables if you’re hungry. Fasting or eating very lightly when ill speeds recovery, reduces mucus production, and activates the immune system’s defenses to rapidly eliminate the viral load. Over the counter medications are generally ineffective and may prolong illness. Fever reducers actually hinder the body’s attack on the infection. Additionally, megadoses of vitamin C don’t prevent colds or reduce symptoms (www.DrFuhrman.com, 2017).
Should You Get a Flu Shot?
A 2014 Cochran review stated, “Influenza vaccine shows no appreciable effect on working days lost, hospitalizations, or complications such as pneumonia. This independent analysis of flu vaccine studies showed that, under typical conditions, 100 people would need to be vaccinated for one person to avoid getting a flu.” (www.DrFuhrman.com, 2017) That’s a very low efficacy rate.
Many jobs require their employees to get the flu vaccine. In that case, go ahead. But if you’re like me and your immune system is already compromised, you may want to focus your efforts more on your diet, sleep, and exercise rather than wasting your time and money on a flu shot.
I really hope cold and flu season isn’t as bad as it was last year, but if it is, now you know what to do to protect yourself and your family. Start building up your defenses now with a mostly plant-based diet full of colorful, antioxidant-rich produce. Get plenty of rest and exercise, take care of your gut, and enjoy some green tea with lemon. 🙂
Stay healthy, friends!
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