As we head into the colder months of the year, it is time to prepare your body for wind, cold weather, and illnesses going around. Luckily, there are lots of natural ways you can boost your immunity to colds and flus, without getting a flu shot! Try taking some of these natural immune-boosting remedies and avoid colds this winter! Our favorite natural remedies for daily use are numbers 1, 2, 3, and 9. What are yours?
1. Medicinal Mushrooms
This category can’t be narrowed down to just one mushroom- there are a multitude of medicinal mushrooms that act as immunomodulators and deep immune tonics that can help keep you well all winter. Robert Rogers, herbalist and author of The Fungal Pharmacy, says there are more than 270 species of fungi with known medicinal properties. Here are three of the best medicinal mushrooms you can to boost immunity:
- This amazing mushroom has been revered for centuries for its health benefits. It is an immunomodulator, meaning it helps the immune system to react appropriately to threats. This also makes it safe to use for people with autoimmune conditions, who should not have their immune systems stimulated (or else it can cause autoimmune flare-ups)
- Reishi is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory
- You can take reishi capsules or a liquid extract every day through winter for optimal immune function
- These large, unique-looking mushrooms grow only in old growth forests in North America and Europe
- Agarikon is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial
- Agarikon mycelium capsules can be taken daily, especially for anti-viral uses (viruses include influenza, herpes simplex, and HPV)
Shiitakes; Photo by Keith Weller
- Best known as a delicious edible mushroom, shiitake is getting more attention for its nutritional content and effects on the immune system
- Shiitakes could help lower cholesterol, strengthen the immune system, and some studies have even shown them to have anti-tumor effects in lab animals
- “A study published by the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology in 2009 reported that polysaccharide extracts of Shiitake were shown to stimulate the function and activation of macrophages. Macrophages are white blood cells involved in the body’s initial response to infection (destroying pathogens and sending out chemical signals to the immune system to mount an attack on invading organisms)“
Astragalus is a revered herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine- it is an adaptogen and immune tonic. Taken daily, especially when you’re feeling well, it can help protect the body from colds, infections, viruses, liver damage, and more. Although it is not yet confirmed, astragalus might help modulate the immune system in patients with the autoimmune disease lupus. The root is the part of the plant used medicinally, and people typically take it as a tincture or in capsules.
European elder (Sambucus nigra) is most often used for medicine. Elderberries are the fruits of the elder shrub/tree and are used mainly for colds and flus. Elderberry is traditionally prepared as a syrup, but now also comes as capsules, gummies, and more. It’s a powerful anti-viral and naturally contains vitamins that boost cytokine production and help fight illness. Studies are now confirming what herbalists have known for many years: elderberry is one of the best things you can have in your cabinet all winter.
Taken at the onset of a cold, echinacea is one of the best immune-stimulating remedies around. Echinacea is antimicrobial, supports the immune system, and speeds recovery from sickness. The most common mistake when using echinacea, and the one that prevents it from working effectively for people, is not taking enough. Dose liberally at the onset of illness- try 30 drops (or 1 ml) or 1 capsule of echinacea root tincture every hour for a few days.
5. Olive Leaf
Olive leaf is a powerful anti-microbial herb that will help kill off a variety of infections. It contains polyphenols and other compounds that prevent viral shedding and replication, stimulate immune response, and interfere with the amino acid replication that is necessary for viruses to grow and spread. For immune system maintenance, aim for about 25 mg oleuropein (one of the active constituents in olive leaf) per day. During acute immune system challenges, aim for 180 mg per day, divided into 3 doses.
Garlic, your favorite cooking herb, is also a superhero when it comes to winter wellness. It is powerfully antimicrobial, and can kill bacteria, viruses, and pathogenic yeasts or fungi. Fresh garlic has the most benefits for immunity. Aged garlic also has benefits, but it is more for the cardiovascular system, while fresh garlic has active compounds that will help when you come down with a cold. Crush fresh garlic and let it sit for about 10 minutes before eating it. Many find it easier to get down when mixed with a spoonful of honey. If you can’t stomach the fresh garlic, throw it in chicken soup at the very last second so it stays as raw as possible, or take it as a supplement.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has overlapping actions that can help with illness. Licorice is anti-viral, so it may help fight off viral infections, and anti-inflammatory, so it can help soothe inflamed tissue. It could even fight bacterial infections like H. pylori. It’s particularly good for moisturizing and soothing dry throats and upset stomachs, so it could be used in combination with other herbs when someone is presenting either of those symptoms. One thing to look out for: licorice can raise blood pressure in some individuals, so if one has a history of high blood pressure, they should avoid licorice or monitor their blood pressure while using it.
Colostrum is the pre-milk fluid that comes from a mother’s breasts shortly after giving birth. It plays an incredibly important role in establishing an infant’s immunity for life. People are now studying and taking colostrum from cows for a number of reasons, including boosting immunity. In an animal model, bovine (cow) colostrum reduced the severity of a flu infection and increased immune response to the virus. Some claim that colostrum has benefits far beyond boosting immunity, including regulating blood sugar, regenerating damaged tissue, improving mood, and more.
The human microbiome, which is made up of all the bacteria living in our guts and the rest of our bodies, is responsible for tons of things in our bodies, from mood to immune system. While this is a very new field of research, it’s clear that the balance of bacteria in your gut have a huge effect on immunity. Some probiotics could increase natural killer cells, some shorten the duration of colds, and some can help modulate the immune system. Simply taking a probiotic supplement all winter can increase the diversity of the bacterial community in your gut and help crowd out opportunistic bad bacteria that will overgrow if you don’t have enough friendly flora.
Zinc deficiency increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases. Since zinc does tend to be low in many people’s diets, supplementing with zinc can be a good way to boost your immune system. Zinc can also shorten the duration of colds, so it is a good idea to take it during the course of illness.