Natural cold and flu fighters
Whether or not you decided to get a flu shot this year, you can still take alternative measures to boost your immune system naturally. In addition to keeping up your healthy lifestyle, adding a few superfoods and supplements to your diet can help you stay cold- and flu-free.
Astragulus is a Chinese herb that has been used for hundreds of years as a natural immune system booster. The liquid and tablet forms of the herb increase energy and combat fatigue to give you an immunity lift when you feel the signs of a cold or flu coming on. "The antibacterial properties [of astragulus] help the immune system and stimulate white blood cells, which help fight off germs," explains Toronto nutritionist Julie Mancuso, founder of JM Nutrition.
Vitamin D is something that many people do not get enough of these days. Made by the body naturally when exposed to the sun, lack of outdoor activities during the winter months often leads to a vitamin D deficiency. "[Vitamin D] is important for immune function and when we are not exposed to the sun, our chance of illness is greater; plus, winter is cold and flu season which makes the chances of getting sick even greater," explains the nutrition expert. Foods that contain vitamin D include egg yolks and fatty fish, or you can take a daily supplement (a dose of 1000 IU should be sufficient).
Most people know that vitamin C is a helpful way to keep the flu and cold at bay. And getting your daily recommended amount of vitamin C is an easy endeavor. One glass of orange juice can do the trick; to get the maximum benefits, just make sure it is 100 percent pure OJ, not from concentrate and has no additional sugars. "[Vitamin C] is a powerful antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables," says Mancuso. "It can also be taken in a supplement form. It increases production of white blood cells – which fight off viruses, keeping you flu-free."
These delicious little nutritional gems are incredibly rich in antioxidants. "Antioxidants destroy free radicals (the bad guys), which can lead to cancer, heart disease and a weakened immune system," explains Mancuso. Berries in all varieties also reduce inflammation and increase immune function. Eat a handful of blueberries every day or toss some frozen berries into your smoothie. However, not all foods containing blueberries are good for you. "Don't be fooled by the 'healthy' blueberry muffin," warns Mancuso. "Muffins are full of sugar which depresses the immune system."
Wonder why an apple a day keeps the doctor away? It's an old adage that is true. According to Macuso, apples are packed with vitamin C and contain flavonoids, which are antioxidants. The nutritionist adds, "Red apples are known to contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which has been proven to strengthen the immune system." An added bonus for apple lovers is the fruit is low in calories, so enjoy more than one a day if you'd like!
What about exercise?
"Moderate exercise can help combat colds and viruses because immune cells circulate through the body at a faster rate and they are able to fight off bacteria and viruses," explains Mancuso. Sweating it out can also help to release toxins and increase energy. However, be careful to not overdo it – overtraining actually decreases immunity.
Good hygiene, a healthy lifestyle, and, if you are so inclined, a flu shot can help keep you healthy this winter as can including key nutrients in your diet.