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Boost Your Immune System…Naturally

By Breea Johnson, MS RD

As fall begins to transition to winter and the weather cools off, it’s inevitable that many people will become sick – with colds and flus. The estimates are that 5-20% of Americans will get the flu, and 80% will be prescribed unnecessary antibiotics. Smart eating, exercise, hand-washing, and getting plenty of rest are strategies to prevent sicknesses. Dietary nutrients play a critical role in maintaining an “optimal” immune response, and both insufficient and excessive intakes can have negative consequences on the immune status and susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. Check out these supplements to help boost your immune system this cold and flu season.

  • Vitamin D has been found in many studies to prevent the flu in children, adults and pregnant women as it stimulates anti-microbial peptides and beneficially modulates the immune system.  Vitamin D blood levels naturally dip in the winter months due to the inability to synthesize it from the sun if living above a certain latitude (such as Chicago). Recommended dose is 2000 IU per day.
  • Selenium is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, including neutrophils, macrophages, NK cells, and T lymphocytes. Deficiency of selenium has been found in people with low immune function, likely correlated to the fact that selenium is mostly found in the liver, spleen and lymph nodes which help regulate the immune system.
  • Zinc is a key trace element in many homeostatic mechanisms of the body including immune responses. Low zinc bioavailability results in limited immuno-resistance to infection and supplementation of zinc can help restore immune response and reduce the incidence of infections.
  • Probiotics – Since about 70% of immune system is in the digestive system it becomes one of the first lines of defense against active pathogens. Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have the ability to enhance gut (digestive system) defense systems. In a recent study in Pediatrics, probiotics were found to reduce incidence and severity of the flu and cold among children.

You might have heard the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – however, if you do become sick, try some of these strategies to help speed healing and lessen the uncomfortable aspects of being sick:

  • Fluids – especially if vomiting or having diarrhea to replace lost electrolytes. Try warm water, herbal teas, coconut water, or grated ginger and honey in hot water.
  • Rest and a good night’s sleep
  • Healing foods such as homemade chicken broth (with vegetables, garlic, lemongrass and ginger)
  • Temperature checks (if under 101 degrees, an elevated temperature can be beneficial as it’s the natural process to fend off bacteria or virus)
  • If Nasal congestion, try the Neti Pot with saline solution that is naturally anti-microbial.
  • If Chest congestion, try steam showers.