Keeping your immune system strong and healthy requires balance. A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a nutrient-rich diet, the right supplements, and getting enough sleep is your first line of defense against bacteria and viruses in the environment.
More people are looking to natural products and functional foods to improve overall health than ever before, and there’s no shortage of products on the market to help you do just that.
Thanks to the buzz from recent research highlighting the many benefits of probiotics, several new foods, drinks and other forms of these powerful supplements are flooding the market.
In addition to aiding digestion, the good bacteria in probiotics are also touted for their ability to support immune system health. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that elite athletes who took a daily probiotic supplement had few upper respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal issues that those who were given a placebo. The research also found that when the group taking probiotics did get sick, they started to feel better before the placebo group.
Regularly consuming yogurt and kefir are good options, just look for the Live and Active Cultures seal to ensure you are choosing products with the most beneficial bacteria.
Two of the most well-studied probiotic species are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which you’ll find in most supplements on the market. Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of formulations, so choose whichever you think you’ll be more likely to take on a regular basis.
2. Shiitake Mushrooms
Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, the shiitake mushroom is one of the most well-known mushrooms studied for medicinal purposes. With both a high vitamin and mineral content, numerous studies have demonstrated the ability of the shiitake to enhance the immune system.
A study from the University of Florida published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that participants who ate one 4-ounce serving of shiitake mushrooms every day for four weeks had better-functioning gamma delta T-cells and a reduced number of inflammatory proteins – both findings that indicate improved immunity.
Related: How To Combat Cold and Flu
These nutrient-rich edible mushrooms are also a great source of iron and protein for vegetarians. Shiitake mushrooms are very versatile and can be added (stems and all!) once cleaned to your favorite soups, sauces and stir-fry recipes.
3. Vitamin D
Over the past decade, studies have found numerous ways that vitamin D benefits the body’s immune system. A prospective cohort study of 198 healthy adults found that subjects with lower levels of vitamin D were twice as likely to develop the influenza virus when compared to subjects who had high vitamin D levels.
Other research even shows that supplementation with this essential nutrient can reduce the risk for autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are good food sources of vitamin D, though most people require a supplement to get enough of the vitamin necessary for maximum benefits.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for adults is 600 International Units (IU), though some experts recommend higher doses to protect against the flu and other types of infections.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there are approximately 1 billion incidences of the common cold in the US every year.
Echinacea is one of the most popular herbal remedies used to prevent and treat the common cold, and it is estimated that over 800 echinacea-containing products in varying formulations are on the market including capsules, extracts, tinctures and teas.
A review article published in the Lancet looked at fourteen studies investigating echinacea’s benefit on cold systems. The analysis found that the herb did prove beneficial in decreasing both the incidence and duration of the common cold.
The three most common species recognizing for their healing abilities are Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea. Choose whichever formulation of these three species works best with your lifestyle.
By Karen Morse