Of course, prevention does a lot more to protect from the common cold and flu viruses than treatment does, so it"s always best to keep up with immune supportive practices throughout the year. However, if you feel the start of a cold or flu coming on, it"s still not too late to ramp up the nourishment to make sure your system clears it quickly. With these tools, you"ll be back to wellness in no time!
1. Elderberry & Other Immune Boosting Herbs
Elderberry has been used traditionally as a medicinal plant in many parts of the world. The flowers and leaves have historically been used for pain relief, swelling, and inflammation, while the bark has been used both as a laxative and to induce vomiting when needing to excrete toxins. Today, elderberry syrups, tinctures, capsules, and lozenges are commonly made from the berries and can be found widely available on health-food and supplement store shelves. There is evidence to support that taking elderberry at the onset of cold or flu symptoms may reduce the severity and length of the illness by up to 50% or more (1). Due to its high antioxidant content, elderberries improve immune function by increasing the number of T cells (a type of white blood cell), thereby giving the immune system a helpful boost (2). So, if you feel the start of a sore throat coming on, stock up on elderberry! We utilize elderberry at Joule by making a naturally sweetened jam out of the berries, pairing it with house-made sun butter for a nutrient-dense take on a classic PB&J toast.
Astragalus is another traditional herb that has been used for many years as a natural cold and flu fighter. It contains well-known plant compounds that may improve immune function because of the high antioxidant content found within them. Research has shown that taking astragalus may have a similar effect on white blood cell production as elderberries it helps to increase white blood cell production which are the cells primarily responsible for preventing illness, thereby keeping our systems in a healthy state.
Echinacea, garlic, and mushroom extracts like reishi, chaga, and lion's mane are also commonly used to boost the immune system, due to their high antioxidant status and ability to promote homeostasis throughout the body.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is most commonly known for its positive effects on calcium and bone health. However, it also plays a crucial role in overall immune health and function, with deficiency leading to a weakened immune system, increased susceptibility to infection, and a potential risk for the development of autoimmune conditions (3). In a research study of nearly 19,000 subjects, individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report upper respiratory tract infections than those who maintained sufficient vitamin D levels, and in other cross-sectional studies those with lower vitamin D levels have also shown higher instances of flu and other infections (3). Vitamin D is unique in that it is the only nutrient our bodies require that we can produce (which we do from cholesterol) when exposed to sunlight. While sun exposure is the number one method for obtaining it, there thankfully are some reasonable food sources of vitamin D, because sun exposure can be tricky in the PNW.