It's that time of year when darker winter days beckon us to stay indoors and we are less likely to get outside, often stuck in closed spaces where germs spread like raging forest fires.
This is when we are hit the hardest by colds and the flu. Times like these can deeply affect our sense of well-being. Yet there are ways in which everyone can take the reins of their own health by boosting the immune system during the long winter months.
The immune system is wonderfully responsible for fighting off illness and disease; therefore, it is vital for one’s wellness to optimize immune system functioning, especially during the winter season.
1. Take Care of the Important Things
Several actions can be taken to boost our immune systems. Lifestyle changes can assist the body in getting the support it needs to more adequately ward off infection.
These include exercise, adequate rest, decreasing stress, spending time in nature, and eating a healthy diet. There are also many herbs and plants that support the immune system and fight infection in the body. Three of these that will be discussed in this blog are elderberry, garlic, and shiitake, reishi, and maitake mushrooms. Incorporating these foods into the diet when our immune systems are compromised can often keep illness at bay.
Elderberries are especially good for the immune system. Two varieties of the Elder plant (Sambucus Nigra and Sambucus Canadensis) have been used as both food and medicine for centuries. Hippocrates referred to the Elder plant as the “medicine chest for the common people” because of its widespread use and availability for all people.
Elderberries contain flavonoids which are plant pigments containing antioxidant activity. They are also rich in vitamin C and iron. All of these enhance immune system functioning. Research has shown that taking Elderberry at the onset of cold or flu symptoms can cut the duration of the illness down by approximately half.
As an immune booster, Elderberry can be taken preventatively when cold symptoms first arise or when one is exposed to others who are sick. Elderberries are only edible when cooked and should never be consumed raw. They can also be taken in supplement form from reputable herbal suppliers.
Another herb that is commonly found in most homes is garlic. In addition to its remarkable flavor, garlic has a wide array of medicinal properties that have been documented and used throughout history. High in many essential vitamins and minerals, garlic also contains a compound called allicin, which is responsible for fighting bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens, as well as enhancing the immune system’s defenses.
Garlic is great for the respiratory system and can be taken to suppress coughing during illness. The incredible thing about garlic is that it is so versatile; it can easily be a daily addition to almost any meal in winter months, thereby building up the health of the body on a regular basis.
4. Edible Mushrooms
Finally, there are a variety of edible mushrooms that have a healthful impact on the body. Three mushrooms, shiitake, maitake, and reishi, have impressive effects on the immune system and catapult it into action.
These particular mushrooms contain carbohydrates called polysaccharides, which stimulate white blood cell production and overall positively affect immunity. High in iron, protein, and vitamin C, these mushrooms are a great nutritive addition to soups, teas, and stir-fry in winter months. Shiitake mushrooms can be found in most grocery stores. Reishi and Maitake can be found in Asian markets.
In summary, our lifestyle and the foods we eat have a significant impact on our health.
Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food,” knowing that what we put into our bodies nourishes us. Adding elderberry, garlic, and mushrooms to the diet are a few, of many, ways that we can strengthen our immune systems.
These suggestions are not meant to be used instead of medical treatments, nor are they an endorsement of any specific product. These suggestions should be regarded as complementary additions to one’s own individual self-care. Incorporating them into the diet does not necessarily mean that one will not get sick, but they may boost the immune system in a time of need. As always, the Integrative Care Team would advise that patients consult their medical doctors prior to taking any herbs and foods medicinally.
- Bennett, R. R. (2014). The gift of healing herbs: Plant medicines and home remedies for the vibrant life. Berkeley, CA: North Atlanta Books.
- Foster, S. & Duke, J. (2015). Peterson field guide to medicinal plants and herbs of Eastern and Central North America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Gibson, M., (2017). Amazing elderberry. Mother Earth Living. (November/December). 58.
- Gladstar, R. (2010). Science and art of herbalism: Correspondence Course. Waitsfield, VT: Sage Mountain
- Hoffmann, D. (1998). The herbal handbook: A user’s guide to medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Kellner, J. (2017). Guide to winter immunity. Mother Earth Living, November/December, 52-57.
- Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.
- Ulbricht, C., Basch, E., Cheung, L., Goldberg, H., Hammerness, P., Isaac, R., Khalsa, K., Romm, A., Rychlik, I., Varghese, M., Weissner, W., Windsor, R. & Wortley, J. (2014). An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the natural standard research collaboration. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 11(1). doi:10.3109/19390211.2013.859852
- Wood, M. (1997). The book of herbal wisdom: Using plants as medicines. Berkeley, CA: North Atlanta Books.
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Our 30-minute consult appointment could help get answers.
Request an appointment to connect with Gillette providers.
Search our directory of care team providers, find our locations, and more.
Gillette kids fuel our mission. You provide the spark. Donate today.