Compiled by Ramesh Bjonnes
Here is a selection of foods and herbs that boost your immune system and help you avoid illness during any season.
This well-known vitamin increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Reach for oranges, lemons, grapefruits, limes, strawberries, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, and sweet peppers.
Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, those that seek out and destroy germs and cancer cells. A diet rich in seeds and grains will give you plenty of Vitamin E. You can also take Vitamin E supplements.
Beta carotene often found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, and tomatoes increases the number of infection-fighting cells, and helper T-cells.
Bioflavonoids aid the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. A diet that contains a wide variety of peppers, berries, cherries and buckwheat will give you the bioflavonoids you need.
This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. You can get zinc in your diet from nuts and seeds or cocoa powder, or from supplements.
This mineral increases natural killer cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. The best vegan food sources of selenium are whole grains, vegetables, brown rice, sunflower seeds, garlic, and Brazil nuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The omega 3 fatty acids, found in flax oil, act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. Use flax oil as your base for vinaigrettes, drizzle it on top of vegetables, stir it into oatmeal, or whir it in your smoothies. For a fresh taste, grind flax seeds daily in a small coffee grinder and use in salads, stews, smoothies, etc.
Astragalus is widely lauded as one of the top choices for overall immune system health. According to The Herbal Drugstore, by Linda B. White, MD, and Steven Foster (Rodale, 2003), “Many studies confirm immune-boosting, antiviral, antibacterial, and tonic properties. Shows promise in restoring [irregular] T-cell function.” the most striking feature of this herb, however, is its ability to boost one part of the immune system while suppressing others, making it uniquely suited for those with autoimmune diseases, where certain parts of the immune system begin to attack their own body.
Several studies have found alkaloids in cat’s claw that stimulate the method by which white blood cells defend the body. In addition, it has significant anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties.
According to National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine, by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson (National Geographic Society, 2006), “Laboratory and animal studies suggest echinacea contains active substances that stimulate the immune system to counter bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, reduce inflammation, strengthen blood vessels, destroy free radicals, increase active white blood cells in circulation, stimulate production of interferon (a natural antiviral substance), and prevent sun damage to the skin.”
This herb has been shown to very strongly stimulate the immune system, most especially through boosting antibody production. This is especially true for upper respiratory infections, and according to Prescription for Herbal Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch (Avery, 2002), “has shown some activity in preliminary trials against [several] viruses.”
Asian Ginseng – There is some evidence that Asian ginseng may boost the activity of certain white blood cell types, which might help to stimulate immune system effectiveness. Siberian Ginseng (aka Eleuthero) – According to Pres. for Herbal Healing, eleuthero is “an immune stimulant that is especially useful for preventing infection during times of intense physical activity and prolonged periods of stress.” In addition, it seems to especially target the stimulation of T-helper and natural killer cells, which might make it a good candidate for some autoimmune disease sufferers.
Curcumin in the Indian spice turmeric has a number of known beneficial effects. It is an anti-inflammatory compound which also helps to protect against stomach ulcers. Curcumin is also a strong antioxidant which helps to protect cell DNA from damage. In addition, it has immune boosting effects.
Significantly, curcumin has strong inhibitive effects on cancer cells, preventing or slowing the onset as well as growth of tumors. In fact, laboratory studies conducted on animals have shown curcumin to be poisonous to tumor cells.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramesh is the Director of the Prama Wellness Center where lifestyle is considered our best medicine. Ramesh is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurveda at California College of Ayurveda and is a certified yoga detox theraphist from the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of four books, including Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra:The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India).