Stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep all compromise the body’s immune system. Weakened defense against illness is the primary reason most people get sick. Besides proper sleep, fresh fruits and vegetables, and moderate alcohol consumption, here are five natural ways to boost your immune system this season!
What is it? Also known as Purple cone flower, Echinacea is a plant used by traditional Native American people as a natural antibiotic for treatment of cold and flu.
How does it help? Echinacea is known for its immune stimulating properties. It is an antiviral and antibacterial which can be used in larger doses at the onset of a cold or at a lower dose to help prevent colds or flu. According to a study conducted by the University of Connecticut, Echinacea can cut the chances of catching the common cold by 58 percent and reduces the duration of the common cold by 1.4 days.
How do you use it? Herbalists often recommend a total daily dose of 3 grams or 3-4 mL of Echinacea per day at the first sign of cold symptoms. It is usually taken in divided doses, with a dose every 2-3 hours. After one to two days, the dose is usually reduced. Incorporating it as tea or supplement into your everyday diet could be beneficial for prevention.
2. Lactobacillus acidophilus
What is it? Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. Acidophilus is a lactic acid producing bacteria, a specific type of probiotic, thought to have beneficial effects on digestion and overall health.
How does it help? This “friendly bacteria” is responsible for proper digestion of the food we eat. Excessive alcohol consumption, antibiotics, and food additives can kill them off, leading to irregularity, allergies, and a weakened immune system. Probiotics can hault the growth of disease-causing bacteria, such as salmonella and shigella-caused dysentery, various types of diarrhea, and virus-caused flu. According to a year-long study at the University of California, subjects who ate a 3/4 cup of yogurt daily had 25% fewer colds than non-yogurt eaters.
How do you use it? L. Acidophilus supplements can contain as many as one billion individual friendly bacteria per gram. The most common source for acidophilus is yogurt however, L. acidophilus is not present in all brands so check the labels.
3. Green and White Teas
What is it? Tea is a beverage made by steeping the dried leaves, buds, and twigs of a specific plant in hot water.
How does it help? Teas have been touted for their numerous health benefits including the ability to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and prevent certain cancers. Their antioxidant contents also contribute to overall health by preventing damage to body cells and repairing damage that has been done. A natural anti-viral and antibacterial remedy, green and white tea act as natural immune boosters by stopping the growth of bacteria that causes infection.
How do you use it? Tea can be found in most supermarkets or as a supplement. For the creative and experimental cooks, teas can often be incorporated into cooking. Be sure not to over consume the caffeinated teas as this may affect sleep patterns which can in turn lower your immune system.
4. Stress Relievers
What is it? Stress relievers include both behavioral tactics such as yoga, meditation, journaling, and laughter and herbal supplements including Siberian Ginseng root, kava kava, valerian, chamomile, lavender, poppy, hops, passion flower, and skullcap.
How does it help? When our bodies are under stress, we produce higher levels of cortisol, make unhealthier food choices, and compromise sleep patterns, all negatively impacting the immune system. Little research has been conducted in these areas however popular belief and a bit of common sense tell us to find relaxation aids and techniques that work best for us during stress.
How do you use it? Behavioral techniques can be used as often as you want with no side effects! Remember, if you decide to take an herbal supplement to check with your doctor for any contraindications or if you are thinking about combining an herbal supplement with your conventional medical treatment.
What is it? Nicknamed ‘Russian penicillin,’ garlic is a member of the lily family, related to onions and chives, and frequently used in cooking.
How does it help? Garlic has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-yeast properties. Garlic kills viruses responsible for colds and the flu, according to studies at Brigham Young University. Other studies suggest garlic boosts the immune functioning by stimulating infection-fighting T-cells.
How do you use it? You can take a garlic supplement or eat the garlic cloves. Eat garlic when you feel a sore throat coming on or as a decongestant. Try mashing one up in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice for a salad dressing or chop with tomatoes, basil, and olive oil and spread it on whole wheat bread. If you opt for a supplement, try taking enteric-coated garlic pills which dissolve deeper in the digestive track and lessen the garlic taste. Use caution when taking garlic as a natural remedy because, like aspirin, garlic acts a blood thinner. Consult your doctor if you are already taking aspirin or prescription blood thinners.
NOTE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary or herbal supplements in the same way it regulates medication. A dietary or herbal supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works. Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary or herbal supplement or if you are thinking about combining it with your conventional medical treatment.