Winter has arrived, and we’re naturally worried about viruses. This is certainly justified, but the immune system does a lot more than take on colds and the flu. It’s designed to eliminate whatever is not supposed to be there: viruses, bacteria, fungus, cancer cells and the like. So it’s a good idea to keep your immunity operating at peak efficiency — this includes keeping botanicals on hand that fight bacterial infections with powerful yet safe antibiotic actions.
A few specifics on diet
Fruits and vegetables are critical to any effort to boost the immunity. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other necessary compounds to help keep pathogens in check. In particular, choose colorful fruits and veggies, as the same compounds that create these pigments also provide excellent health benefits.
On the vegetable side, I particularly recommend cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and kale. They are rich in antioxidants, yes, but they also modulate genes associated with immunity and can help control bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, sulforaphane, a broccoli derivative, has been shown to fight cancer.
While it’s important to eliminate bad bacteria, it’s equally critical to bolster the good varieties. A slew of new studies are showing that beneficial microbes support digestion, metabolism and mental health, as well as strong immunity.
Maintaining healthy flora in the gut is immensely important, as that’s a major entryway for dangerous pathogens. There are a number of probiotic foods, such as yogurt, kimchee, sauerkraut and kefir, that can bolster these beneficial bacteria, providing total-body health benefits.
Vitamins and minerals
Zinc is an important component to many immune cells, making it a critical immune-boosting nutrient. People who are zinc deficient are also at risk for immune issues, and research has shown that supplementing with zinc can reduce the incidence of infection.
Vitamins are important for a number of reasons. In lab settings, vitamins A, B, C and D have been found to boost a number of immune cells. While these results haven’t quite translated to people, many vitamins also provide protective antioxidant benefits.
One study that I find quite interesting showed that people who ingest fruit and vegetable juices increase their T-cell count and protect their immune cell DNA from damage.
As we all know, the major concerns during winter are cold and flu, which are viral infections that do not respond to antibiotics.
However, there is still the issue of co-infections. Sometimes during a cold or flu — or any time your immune system is stressed — an opportunistic bacterium gains a foothold. So it’s a good idea to stock up on natural antibacterial ingredients just in case. These natural agents can support overall immune health in addition to fighting bad bacteria — very different from antibiotic drugs which weaken your system by destroying healthy bacteria as well. Since it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection, it’s important to consult your health practitioner if symptoms persist.
Here is a brief list of herbs and foods with natural antibiotic and immune boosting properties:
- Exercise and mindfulness
When we get busy, one of the first casualties is our exercise program. We simply run out of time. This is probably the worst thing we can do. With busy schedules comes stress and exercise is one of the best ways to mitigate it. Stress has a profound impact on the body, causing it to overproduce cortisol and other inflammatory hormones, and weaken immunity
Another way to control stress is meditation. Even just taking a few minutes to breathe deeply and let the mind rest can be extremely useful
Ultimately, our immune system responds to the basic fundamentals of our lifestyle: nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress levels. There are no magic bullets, but as we incorporate good habits into our daily lives, we provide a basis for strong immunity and excellent health all year round.