Boosting Your Immune System: 6 Things You Need to Be Eating
Do you want glowing skin, boundless energy, and a nearly super-human resistance to germs and viruses?
It’s time to step up your nutritional game. With flu season bearing down on us, we’re hearing a lot in the media about how we should be rolling up our sleeves for a toxic flu shot. Instead, perhaps we should be focused on immunity-boosting foods that will help our bodies to fight off the bugs that come knocking. Last week, we discussed what NOT to eat, but it’s a lot more fun to think about the delicious bounty we should be consuming.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
There are so many wonderful nutritious whole foods out there that it would be impossible to make a comprehensive list of everything that enhances your immune system. It probably goes without saying that I strongly recommend organic, local versions of these items whenever possible. If you can’t get the food locally, the next best choice is usually frozen, since that was done at peak ripeness. Food that was picked two weeks ago while unripe, then shipped and artificially ripened, just doesn’t have the same benefits. As well, not all of these foods are healthy for everyone. Obviously, if you’re lactose intolerant, you shouldn’t be downing a glass of raw milk. If you’re a vegetarian, look for other sources of certain nutrients. Adapt these suggestions to fit your lifestyle.
Garlic contains the chemical compound “allicin”, which can also be found in veggies like onions and leeks to a smaller degree. It also contains beneficial levels of sulfur, arginine, oligosaccharides, flavonoids, and selenium. One study showed that daily consumption of garlic increased subject’s resistance to the common cold by 2/3s and a shorter duration of symptoms for those who did catch a cold.
One hundred forty-six volunteers were randomized to receive a placebo or an allicin-containing garlic supplement, one capsule daily, over a 12-week period between November and February. They used a five-point scale to assess their health and recorded any common cold infections and symptoms in a daily diary. The active-treatment group had significantly fewer colds than the placebo group (24 vs 65, P < .001). The placebo group, in contrast, recorded significantly more days challenged virally (366 vs 111, P < .05) and a significantly longer duration of symptoms (5.01 vs 1.52 days, P < .001). Consequently, volunteers in the active group were less likely to get a cold and recovered faster if infected. Volunteers taking placebo were much more likely to get more than one cold over the treatment period. An allicin-containing supplement can prevent attack by the common cold virus. (source)
Simply including garlic in your cooking is a delicious way to reap the benefits. As well, include things like onions, shallots, and leeks in your diet.
Both black and green teas increase your resistance to illness. Both types of tea contain L-theanine, an amino acid that can not only improve your physical health, but also your mental health. L-theanine enhances the function of gammadelta T lymphocytes. These t-cells are your body’s first line of defense against the microbes that can make you sick. A Harvard study showed that the production of antibacterial proteins was up to five times higher in the tea drinkers than in non tea drinkers, via blood tests.
These primed gammadeltaT cells have an enhanced capacity to proliferate and to secrete cytokines upon ex vivo exposure to a wide variety of microbes and tumor cells. The largest dietary source of alkylamines is L-theanine, an amino acid unique to tea beverages that is catabolized to ethylamine. Supplementation of subjects with capsules containing L-theanine and catechins has recently been shown to decrease the incidence of cold and flu symptoms, while enhancing gammadelta T cell function. (source)
For optimum benefits, consume at least 3 cups of black or green tea per day.
When I say, beef, not just any old hunk of cow will do. It’s better to go with smaller servings and to spend the extra money for grass-fed, hormone free beef to reap the maximum immune-boosting benefits.
The reason beef is so great for your immune system is because of the mineral zinc. Even a small deficiency in that mineral has been linked to increased incidences of infection.
Zinc deficiency impairs overall immune function and resistance to infection. Mild to moderate zinc deficiency can be best detected through a positive response to supplementation trials. Zinc supplementation has been shown to have a positive effect on the incidence of diarrhea (18% reduction, 95% CI: 7-28%) and pneumonia (41% reduction, 95% CI: 17-59%), and might lead to a decrease in the incidence of malaria. Zinc has also proven to decrease the duration of diarrhea by 15% (95% CI: 5-24%). Maternal zinc supplementation may lead to a decrease in infant infections. Two studies have shown zinc supplementation to decrease child mortality by more than 50%. Zinc clearly has an important role in infant and childhood infectious diseases. (source)
Although not as bountiful as beef, other sources of zinc are seeds (especially pumpkin), shellfish, poultry, pork, and dairy products. If you do happen to get sick, grab some organic zinc lozenges and chomp them throughout the day to help fend off your illness.
Raw Dairy Products and Probiotics
This one is hotly debated, but many people believe that raw dairy products build more than just strong bones. Dr. Weston Price was a dentist who traveled to world to research the link between nutrition, dental health, and overall physical health back in the1930s. Price hypothesized that as indigenous groups shifted away from their traditional diets towards Western diets, that they became less healthy. The processing that Western food undergoes to be “safe”, according to Price, stripped away vitamins and necessary nutrients. In particular, Price was a proponent of raw, unpasteurized dairy products and healthy, naturally occurring fats. (You can read more about Price’s research in his book: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration)
A scholarly paper presented to the British Columbia Center for Disease Control debunks the myths that raw milk is dangerous. When milk is pasteurized the levels off these nutrients decrease to nearly non-existent amounts: B2, B12, C, E, and folic acid. Not only that, pasteurization destroys the components of milk that are beneficial to your immune system.
Raw milk contains many components that kill pathogens and strengthen the immune system. These include lacto-peroxidase, lacto-ferrin, anti-microbial components of blood (leukocytes, B-macrophages, neutrophils, T-lymphocytes, immunoglobulins and antibodies), special carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides), special fats (medium chain fatty acids, phospholipids and spingolipids), complement enzymes, lysozyme, hormones, growth factors, mucins, fibronectin, glycomacropeptide, beneficial bacteria, bifidus factor and B12-binding protein. These components are largely inactivated by the heat of pasteurization and ultrapasteurization. (source)
Whichever type of dairy you choose for your family, the immune-boosting benefits can increase even further when the milk is cultured. This increases the probiotic goodness, vitamins, enzymes, and active cultures and makes your body inhospitable to the bacteria you do not want coming to stay. Don’t limit yourself to yogurt. Cultured milk products can be things like sour cream and creme fraiche, buttermilk, cultured butter, clabbered milk, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, feta cheese, fresh cheese, queso fresco cheese, cheddar cheese…the list goes on and on. You can find out how easy it is to make your own cultured dairy products from THIS E-BOOK.
A study undertaken in Sweden followed 181 factory workers over the course of an 80-day time span. It showed significant results to support including probiotics in the diet to enhance the immune system. Those who drank a daily supplement of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri took 33% fewer sick days than those who did not.
If you’re purchasing commercial dairy products, look for “live and active cultures” on the label.
Everyone’s favorite fungi offers major immune-boosting power. Dr. Douglas Schar, the director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, DC, has spent a great deal of his career studying the effects of mushrooms on the immune system.
In Europe, several mushrooms have been used as panaceas with particular application in the treatment of poisoning, venomous bites, infectious disease, and loss of immune function. They were used to treat conditions that required on an active immune system, whether that was an infectious disease or a bite in which venom was injected into the body. They were called tonics and were used when a person faced what was formerly described as debility or loss of vitality. Today, we know “debility” often results from a failed or failing immune system.
The allopathic medical community often ridicules the lists of traditional uses of medicinal plants. Admittedly, claims that a mushroom was used to treat snake bite, tuberculosis, hepatitis, poisoning, influenza, debility, and rheumatoid arthritis seem a bit incredible. However, there is a common thread to all of these conditions. They are all caused by either a failing immune system or are improved by an active immune system. Many panaceas have in the laboratory proven to be immune system stimulants. This is the case with several European medicinal mushrooms.
For the ethnobotanist, it is interesting to note the use of medicinal mushrooms in Europe parallels the Native American use of Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea purpurea was used to treat rattlesnake bite, insect bite, wounds, burns, and coughs and colds. A list that, again, suggests its proven action on the immune system.
It would appear medicinal mushrooms have been used since the earliest day as medicine in Europe. In 1991, hikers discovered the remains of a man that died 3500 years ago in the Italian Alps. The discovery was well covered by the media though certain key facts were omitted. The frozen man had a medicine bag attached to his person which contained a pair of medicinal mushrooms. (source)
In particular, the Maitake mushroom has been valued medicinally for its antiviral properties, however the edible (and delicious) Enoki and Shiitake mushrooms are also beneficial. They all contain polysaccharides, glycoproteins, ergosterols, triterpenoids. These compounds increase the production and activeness of white blood cells, which work more aggressively to protect you from illness.
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
Increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables will help load up your system with vitamins (like C) and antioxidants. Antioxidants improve the immune system by destroying detrimental free radicals.
Oxygen-derived free radicals are important in both natural and acquired immunity. Neutrophil and macrophage phagocytosis stimulates various cellular processes including the “respiratory burst” whereby increased cellular oxygen uptake results in the production of the potent oxidant bactericidal agents, hypochlorous acid and hydroxyl radical. In addition, nitric oxide, a gaseous radical produced by macrophages, reacts with superoxide to form peroxynitrite, also a potent bactericidal agent. Conversely, oxidative stress may be detrimental in acquired immunity by activation of nuclear factor kappa B, which governs gene expression involving various cytokines, chemokines, and cell adhesion molecules, among others. However, antioxidant supplementation essentially reverses several age-associated immune deficiencies, resulting in increased levels of interleukin-2, elevated numbers of total lymphocytes and T-cell subsets, enhanced mitogen responsiveness, increased killer cell activity, augmented antibody response to antigen stimulation, decreased lipid peroxidation, and decreased prostaglandin synthesis. (source)
By opting for organic fruits and vegetables, you’re getting all of the benefit while not forcing your immune system to fend off the toxic additions of herbicides, pesticides, and GMOs.
Easy ways to get mega-nutrition:
- Make soup. When you make a pot of soup, you can meld delicious bone-broth with loads of garlic, onion, and mushrooms, as well as nutrient dense vegetables. Start dinner each night with a piping hot serving of soup. It’s like a satisfying bowl of vitamins. Soup also makes a simple, healthy weekday lunch.
- Drink tea. Even coffee lovers can fit in a few cups of tea. For an added bonus, try some delicious black tea chai with raw milk.
- Eat consciously. Make a point of consuming a minimum of 2-3 servings per day of food with immunity benefits.
- Prep foods in advance. Make things easy on yourself. Keep a fruit salad and green salad in the fridge, ready to scoop out. Stock up on kefir and yogurt (or make it yourself). Have supplies close at hand that make a cup of tea as simple as bringing water to a boil. Make a big pot of soup in the crockpot to provide healthy meals throughout the week. Make good choices so simple that you won’t even be tempted to opt for foods that are not beneficial.
- Invest in some high quality supplements. For those days when your food intake is not the best, consider some nutritional supplements. It’s important to remember that food is the most accessible source of nutrients. Supplements run a distant second, but they can still help. Things like Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Selenium, probiotics, zinc, odor free garlic tablets, and a quality multivitamin can help keep your immune system fueled. Even though they are more expensive, invest in the best quality of supplements that you can find. Some supplements contain GMOs, sugar, and artificial sweeteners – all things on the list of consumables that you should be avoiding. Then these are combined with low-quality nutritional ingredients. This could actually have the complete opposite of the desired effect. If you aren’t getting high quality supplements, don’t waste your money on the cheap versions.
Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2005, 4:25 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-25
Josling, P.; Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey; Advances in Therapy; 2001 Jul-Aug;18(4):189-93.
Nobre AC1, Rao A, Owen GN.; L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8.
Miyagawa K, Hayashi Y, Kurihara S andMaeda A, Co-administration of L-cystine and L-theanine enhances efficacy of influenza vaccination in elderly persons: Nutritional status-dependent immunogenicity. Geriatr Gerontol Int 8:243–250
Bukowski JF, Percival SS.; L-theanine intervention enhances human gammadeltaT lymphocyte function.; Nutr Rev. 2008 Feb;66(2):96-102. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.00013.x.
Fischer Walker C, Black RE.; Zinc and the risk for infectious disease.; Annu Rev Nutr. 2004;24:255-75.
DR.Douglas Schar, BA, DipPhyt, MCPP; Grifola frondosa: A Possible Addition to the Materia Medica
Knight JA.; Review: Free radicals, antioxidants, and the immune system.; Ann Clin Lab Sci. 2000 Apr;30(2):145-58
About the Author
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menagerie. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.