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Tips for Cranking Up Your Immune Engine

Did you happen to see the recent research showing how an apple a day really does wonders for wellness? Mom was right! Now that apple season is once again upon us, I could think of no better way to begin a chat about simple ways to support health.

I have a feeling that experts could probably study any number of whole foods like apples and see solid connections to wellness. Lucky for us, immune benefits from numerous plants, herbs, vitamins, minerals and medicinal mushrooms have already been documented. In the spirit of simplicity, I’ll mention my favorites.

Let me start with some general suggestions that will undoubtedly increase the efficacy of any immune recommendation.

  • Be active each day
  • Eat a variety of whole plant-based foods
  • Get plenty of good fats
  • Hydrate with pure water
  • Get plenty of good rest

Mix in a hearty amount of stress management too because the research linking stress with decreased immune function is indisputable.

Among other things, it’s the antioxidants in apples called polyphenols that get credit for healthy benefits. So let’s start there, with antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage. Some top antioxidants include vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene, zinc and selenium. Vitamin C is not only an old trusted friend for immune support, but it also happens to be at the top of my list. Why is it so handy this time of year? Simple enough: both vitamin C and zinc are essential for white blood cell production, the bedrock of the immune system. By the way, research shows that eating too much sugar may lower the absorption of vitamin C in the body, so skip dessert unless you’re celebrating.

While we’re talking about diet-immune connections, definitely add some extra garlic to your next meal (or go odor-free with specific supplements!) Much of the immune system is housed in the intestines, so consider increasing your intake of beneficial bacteria called probiotics as well (found in foods such as yogurt and kefir, as well as supplements.)

Remember that many of the nutrients required by the immune system are in a daily multivitamin, such as vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin B6. Multivitamins cover your bases against general deficiency in anything vital. I’ll say the same for daily recommendations for dietary essential fats. Still, when extra support is needed, higher amounts of these nutrients may be helpful.

The power of plants never ceases to amaze me, so let’s get to herbal and mushroom support. Used preventively, astragalus may enhance the immune system through activity of white blood cells such as T-cells and B cells. Next, the extract of the elderberry fruit provides antioxidant support from quercetin and other flavonoids. Also, well-designed studies that have used the appropriate species of the echinacea plant have shown that this herb is indeed effective. Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, maitake, shiitake and cordyceps are powerful and effective, but often overlooked. Likewise, homeopathic remedies are safe and effective for all ages.

Coming back to the stress-immune relationship, consider adaptogenic herbs (such as ashwaganda, holy basil, rhodiola root, or eleutherococcus root) for protection from negative effects of stress.

A cautionary note: During the dreaded but hopefully occasional sick day, it might be tempting to try everything listed above. Just remember that each is effective in its own right. Please choose whatever options resonate with you and your family. Adding an apple a day couldn’t hurt either.

What is your go-to immune boosting choice?

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Deborah Kelly says …

I was wondering if you could try to get the 4 packs of Silk fruity & creamy yogurt (this is soy yogurt). We like the strawberry flavor. They are little cups of soy yogurt (5.3 ounces per cup) but the 4 pack would be more economical. Thank you.

John Deringer says …

"Likewise, homeopathic remedies are safe and effective for all ages." They're safe because they're no more effective than a placebo. You can't possibly overdose on homeopathic sleeping pills, for example, because they do nothing. Please do not advise people to purchase scams.

karen says …

These are all fantastic suggestions. Thank you! I also have a veggie-rich green drink with lemon in the morning to boost my immune system.

Brooke Goodwin says …

Great article! All of the suggestions are well researched and supported by reputable physicians. My MD and acupunturist have made the same recommendations resulting in my improved immune function.

Stephanie Coleman says …

Soaking in Epsom salts or baking soda or both (maybe adding a drop or two of essential oil diffused in the salts) is a great way to destress. It also draws toxins from the body and the magnesium can help with body aches. Also drinking 1-2 teaspoons of Braggs Apple Cider vinegar or fresh lemon or both in 8 oz of pure water cleanses and supports the immune system

Fullei Fresh says …

This is a good reminder as flu season will be starting up soon. We advocate incorporating sprouts into your meals and wheat grass juice. Sprouts are essentially baby veggies so they are loaded with vitamins. As a vegetable grows, it loses vitamins over time. Since sprouts are babies, the nutrients are so much more concentrated than in full grown vegetables. Our family of sprouts can be found at Whole Foods Markets in Florida. Look for the Fullei Fresh brand.

Terie says …

Love soaking in epson salt and I literally HAVE to make it a priority or it wont happen but that is one way I relax in the evening and sleep better than babies :-) Great article. Thanks for the tips/reminders.

Cheryl says …

I have not been sleeping well for over a year now and am constantly exhausted. I have tried many different remedies including teas, warm baths, going to bed at the same time every night, only lying in bed to sleep, not watching any mind provoking shows before bed, etc. Is there a more natural approach to addressing my constant waking up during the night rather than taking a sleeping pill? I welcome all advise on the topic! Thank you*

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CHERYL - Check with your local store as they would be happy to show you some options since our products differ between stores!

Donna Koch says …

I've heard good things about adaptogenic herbs. Does the Sauganash store carry Schizandra chinensis, the Chinese magnolia vine?

Koala Bear says …

I find that using zinc lozenges as soon as I begin feeling run down is helpful to ward off the full blown symptoms from colds or flu. Homemade chicken soup with lots of garlic & veggies makes you feel better, plus helps loosen mucus buildup & and hydrates too. I also like to use local honey in a pot of herb tea with a squeeze of fresh orange or lemon. Bacteria can't grow in honey so you know it fights infections, and it's great to sip while soaking in the bathtub at the end of a long day. After toweling off, I follow-up with a coating of coconut oil to lock in the moisture of my skin especially during the dry winter. Plus it is an easily digested fat for cooking so it may be less taxing on your system. One more thing - here is a recipe borrowed from the traditional Jewish celebration for Passover. Called charoses, the mixture is made from chopped apples & bits of walnuts, sprinkled with cinnamon then drizzled with honey ( and possibly a few drops of red wine.) Tastes great and healthy too.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DONNA - I would suggest calling the store directly to see exactly what they have in stock since our products differ. You can reach them at 773.205.1100.

mandy says …

I was wondering if you kindly could help people like me who want to know if you have a specific produce like Reishi mashroom know if you have this item in your store or in the specific store. thanks. wish you luck.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MANDY - Our exact products will differ between stores. It's best to check with your local store to see when they will have this in stock.