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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?