by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer
Here’s a common winter mantra: “I can’t get sick; I can’t get sick; I can’t get sick.” With so much to do—work, family, social engagements—we simply don’t have time to be laid up. Every sniffle or ache is a harbinger for disaster.
Fortunately, there are far more effective ways to avoid colds, flu, and other respiratory infections than just wishing them away. I always recommend regular exercise and mindfulness-based stress reduction. But perhaps the best thing we can do to ward off illness is to embrace an immune-boosting diet.
The best part is, with this diet, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to get results. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Love the fruit
Richly colored fruits and vegetables tend to be rich in antioxidants as well as flavor. Berries are the champions in this regard and tend to have some of the highest amounts of antioxidants of any fruit. They also contain many different phytochemicals that help to supercharge your immune system. Try to get a variety of organic berries in your diet for a broader immune boost. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are great locally grown choices; more exotic varieties like açai and goji are terrific, too.
Boost the gut
The immune system has a strong presence in our guts, which makes maintaining gastrointestinal (GI) health incredibly important to immune health. Whether you choose sauerkraut, kimchi, or organic yogurt, you can’t go wrong in adding more fermented foods into your diet. Cultured, fermented foods are rich in probiotics—beneficial microbes that support digestion, immunity, brain health, and more.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but many of our most delicious savory foods also support immune health. A good example is garlic, which has long been known for its ability to fight bacteria and otherwise support immunity, contains an immune-stimulating compound called allicin. Other good savory immunity foods include:
- Turmeric. Often used in Indian cooking, turmeric is another savory seasoning that provides strong immune support. One of the spice’s active ingredients, curcumin, has been shown to reduce inflammation and activate a wide variety of immune cells.
- Onions. High in quercetin and other antioxidant compounds, onions are excellent foods for supporting immunity and helping to control seasonal allergies.
- Mushrooms. Savry fungi may be the ideal foods to enhance immunity. Mushrooms in general, whether medicinal or dietary, are known for their ability to modulate immunity. In other words, they don’t just ramp it up, but rather right-size it to respond appropriately to the threat. I particularly recommend shitake and maitake for cooking.
Supplement for an immune boost
If you are looking for a little extra immune support—and who isn’t this time of year—there are several supplements that can help.
- Modified citrus pectin. Great for supporting immunity, MCP can also help the body detoxify. I recommend my brand of MCP, which has nearly two decades of scientific substantiation showing its unique benefits for cellular health, cardiovascular health, immune health, detoxification, and more.
- Cinnamon. This common spice soothes digestive discomfort, improves digestive capacity, boosts immunity, and helps balance blood sugar. Simply flavor your coffee or morning breakfast with it. Just make sure to choose “true” cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, aka Ceylon cinnamon) instead of the typical supermarket Cinnamomum cassia when taking cinnamon supplements, as it’s been deemed safer in higher doses. However, those with liver disease are advised not to take cinnamon supplements.
- Fish oils. Besides being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, these reduce inflammation and help heal the lining of your gastrointestinal tract, improve nutrient absorption, balance hormones, improve neurological function, and boost immunity.
- Medicinal mushrooms. The kings of immune modulation, mushrooms that are considered medicinal include coriolus, reishi, agaricus, cordyceps, and umbellatus. All can be purchased individually, and some are part of formulas. I particularly recommend my six-mushroom formula to help provide acute and long-term immune support; this formula also includes additional beta-glucans (natural immune-promoting phytochemicals) to further strengthen the compound and help promote vitality and resilience.
- Gingerroot. Improves digestion, reduces inflammation, purifies GI tract, increases antioxidant levels and boosts immunity.
Once you develop a robust immune routine, the beneficial effects will soon be apparent, protecting you from health issues large and small. Of course, immune health is not just an issue during fall and winter—it’s beneficial all year long and can result in increased energy, vitality, and overall well-being, no matter the season.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more health and wellness information, visit dreliaz.org.