By Heather Lillico, Holistic Nutritionist & HAVN Life Wellness Expert
Kids heading back to school is an exciting time! But along with that return comes an increase of germs tracked through your household. It’s time to think about boosting your immune system with natural supplements and foods.
Read on for evidence-based choices to stay healthy now and well into the future.
Reishi is an immunity superstar. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 2000 years as a tonic, it’s been extensively studied. This mushroom is high in beta-glucans, which protect against infection from bacteria and viruses (1).
Reishi also prevents sickness through its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are a classification of plants and mushrooms that boost the body’s resilience to stress, and high stress is a risk factor for getting sick. It also shows promise for its use with cancer. One study testing 58 different mushrooms found that Reishi ranked #1 in terms of its cancer killing abilities (2). Keep in mind most of the research on Reishi’s effectiveness comes from studying extracts, which ensures a therapeutic dose that’s high enough to affect the immune system. When choosing a Reishi formula consider an extract, and one that’s been tested for quality.
Another herb from TCM, often used for allergies or the common cold. Astragalus can increase the body’s white blood cells, one of our main defences against invaders that can lead to illness (3). This herb can also increase antibody production and increases antioxidants in the body such as superoxide dismutase (4) . Astragalus is also considered an adaptogen, and can help the body manage stress.
This mushroom grows on birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere. It ranks very highly on its ability to prevent oxidation or damage to cells. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale measures a food’s antioxidant capacity; the higher the number, the more antioxidant capacity a food has. Chaga has a ranking of 146, 700! For reference, wild blueberries rank 9621 on this scale (5) . Oxidation in the body can lead to inflammation which pulls the immune system’s resources. Chronic inflammation in the body can also lead to a host of diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
A natural antifungal and antibacterial, garlic can ward off incoming pathogens. The distinct taste of garlic comes from its sulphur containing compound, allicin. Allicin gets activated when garlic is smashed or chewed, and this releases many of its immune promoting properties. This superfood has been studied for its anti-cancer properties, one study found those who routinely ate garlic had a 35% lower colon cancer risk (6).
Honey is an ancient remedy that has been used for centuries as an ointment for wounds. It has powerful antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and promotes an environment for speedy healing. It can boost immune compounds such as T-cells and B-cells (7) . Opt for a raw version of honey to maximize the antioxidant and immune supporting properties.
Many components of the immune system are modulated by the microbiome. Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, sourdough, kefir, or yogurt supports the bacteria in your gut. Aim for 1-2 fermented foods per day to promote healthy flora.
Bonus: Add in prebiotic foods to feed the bacteria in your gut as well. Foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts are great choices.