7 Supplements to Boost Your Immune System for the Winter Season
“Winter is coming!” Even though the flu doesn’t have scary and shiny blue eyes, or isn’t as powerful as the R.R. Martin’s villains (although it can turn you into a cold, walking “skeleton” for a week or so), it is better to have your wall as big and strong as possible to gain the ultimate protection.
Let’s ditch the metaphors and get to the real business!
I think everyone of you heard about the immune system. This God given big wall that protects us from bacterial, viral, fungal and other infections is an extremely complicated and complex system, a network of cells and molecules that tries to keep away the bad guys from killing you.
The winter season is not only a time of joy, holidays and snow. Winter also brings cold – and exposure to cold can make you susceptible to certain infections1 that can ruin all the “goodies”. Common cold and the flu are well-known to be more “productive” in this time of year. These are viral infections, so antibiotics won’t do them anything. But for those with weak immune systems, these common viral infections can cause serious complications, including bronchitis, pneumonia and even death (12.000 people die of flu complications in U.S. every year).
But there is one thing to take into consideration when you are trying to “boost” your immune system. You can’t really “boost” it, or make it more active. In fact, overactive immune systems are pathological – autoimmune diseases, where it starts attacking your own healthy cells, recognizing as intruders. The best thing you can do is to make sure that your body doesn’t lack any important nutrients, vitamins or minerals, you sleep well and exercise every day – you can call this ISM: “Immune system maintenance”.
Because you don’t need any further information on how to sleep or how to move, we will focus more on the nutritional part in this article. Of course, there is a lot of debate over which “super-food” is the greatest, which diet works best for weight loss and so on. Each type of food has its own unique nutritional feature.
Certainly, if you are taking any prescription medications, talk to your doctor first before taking any herbal supplements.
We look at 7 supplements to boost the immune system.
These berries2 are the fruit from the Euterpe Oleracea Palm Tree. The berries contain polyphenolic anthocyanin compounds which act as anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous and anti-aging properties. The acai berries also contain astringent pro-anthocyanidin tannins. Proanthocyanidins are a class of polyphenols found in many different plants, and the more complex polyphenols form the group of tannins. Often associated with consumer products made from grape seeds or cranberries, proanthocyanidins inhibit urinary tract infections in women. As a super-food with antioxidant capacities, research reveals acai berries have the highest measure of antioxidants of any food. Açaí boosts immune cell function at low doses, it offers pain reduction as well as improvement in range of motion and is beneficial with painful conditions like osteoarthritis.
Echinacea is a native herb3 which bears purple or pink flowers. A medicinal plant with prickly scales in its conical seed head, it contains several chemicals - flavonoids, volatile oils, polysaccharides, alkamides and glycoproteins. Three species of Echinacea are used medicinally - Echinacea pallida, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea purpurea. Preparations of echinacea, available in capsules, tinctures, extracts, tablets and ointments, contain 1 or 2 of these species or all 3 of them. The roots have high concentrations of volatile oils while the part of the plant, which appears above ground, contains more polysaccharides - substances to assist with the immune system. Much of the scientific research on echinacea has been conducted in Germany, where herbs are regulated by the Government. Today echinacea is commonly used to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu and to help boost the immune system.
Spirulina is a species of Arthrospira bacteria4 and is a blue-green algae which is made up of between 55-70% protein. Spirulina has a few active components, with the main ingredient being phycocyanobilin. This compound copies the body’s bilirubin compound so as to inhibit an enzyme complex known as NADPH oxidase or Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate. By inhibiting this, spirulina offers both anti-oxidative- as well as anti-inflammatory effects. Evidence suggests that Spirulina can protect the heart, reduce liver fat and also improve glucose metabolism.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Some proponents of apple cider vinegar5 suggest it is a cure for everything from diabetes to arthritis to cancer to urinary tract infections and much more. Apple cider vinegar is high in acetic acid. This increases the body's absorption of important minerals. The juice of organic apples has bacteria and yeast added to start the alcoholic fermentation. While ACD is not known to cure cancer, it certainly assists with neutralizing free radicals which have the potential to form cancerous growths. It is the beta-carotene content which acts as an antioxidant.
The berries and flowers of the deciduous tree6 are used medicinally to treat wounds and to also treat respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu.
Elderberries contain amino acids, rutin, vitamins, tannin, organic pigments and carotenoids and are mildly laxative. They also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-cancer properties. There are several species of Elder, but it is the Sambucus Nigra which is known for its medicinal purposes - lowering cholesterol and boosting the immune system.
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive Leaf Extract is a supplement derived from the leaves of the olive tree7 and which contains the main bioactives of hydroxytyrosol/tyrosol and oleuropein/ligstroside.
Scientists have isolated the molecule that gives olive oil its many health benefits. Known as oleuropein, it is the polyphenol that assists with lowering bad cholesterol as well as blood pressure. It is oleuropein that gives high quality extra virgin olive oils that pungent, bitter flavor. It is also responsible for olive oil’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory characteristics.
While olive leaf extracts and their oleuropein constituents are well known for lowering blood pressure, olive leaf extract offers a host of other health benefits such as fighting cancer, atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Cordyceps8 is a mushroom that is also believed to be anti-aging. It is a type of fungus related to other mushrooms and classified as a form of Ascomycetes fungus. Harvested in the Himalayas, it is known as a longevity-promoting herb, fighting free radicals and inflammation. These disease-fighting mushrooms are a true super-food. Their anti-inflammatory benefits come from their ability to positively affect the immune system, keeping the body free from cancerous cells and infection.
The use of herbs is a time-honored way to strengthen the immune system. Nature provides us with all the tools to optimize the health of the immune system and plants are recognized as powerful tools in the fight against disease. Herbs can however, trigger side effects, so always take them under the supervision of a health care provider.
1. Mourtzoukou, EG, Falagas E. 11 September 2007. Exposure to cold and respiratory tract infections. Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Volume 11, Number 9, September 2007, pp. 938-943(6)
2. Greger, M, August 22, 2013, The Science of Acai Berries. Available at http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/08/22/the-science-on-acai-berries/
3. University of Maryland Medical Center. Echinacea. Last reviewed on 2/2/2016. Available at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/echinacea
4. Examine.com. 2011 - 2016, Spirulina. Available at https://examine.com/supplements/spirulina/
5. University of Washington. July 7, 2015. Beyond the Hype: Apple Cider Vinegar as an Alternative Therapy. Available at https://www.washington.edu/wholeu/2015/07/07/beyond-the-hype-apple-cider-vinegar-as-an-alternative-therapy/
6. University of Maryland Medical Center. Last reviewed on 2/2/2016. Elderberry. Available at umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/elderberry
7. Examine.com. 2011 - 2016. Olive Leaf Extract. Available at https://examine.com/supplements/olive-leaf-extract/
8. Examine.com. 2011- 2016. Cordyceps. Available at https://examine.com/supplements/cordyceps/