Cold & Flu Strategies:  Your Best Defense is a Healthy Immune System

December 15, 2011

By Louise Napoli, N.D.


Deciding whether to get the flu vaccine is a personal choice and has become a hot topic, especially this year with the addition of the swine flu vaccine.  Regardless of the choice you have made for yourself or your family, it is my belief that your best defense against illness begins with a healthy immune system.  Consider the following ways you can boost the strength of your immune system and thus reduce the risk of illness this winter:


Do not underestimate the importance of lifestyle factors–such as getting adequate sleep and exercise, and managing stress levels–in warding off illness.  Our bodies repair and regenerate during sleep, and consistently falling short will eventually weaken our ability to fight illness.  Regular exercise keeps the body physically strong, relieves stress and encourages circulation, all of which enhance immunity.  In addition to exercise, making the time to decompress by doing other things you enjoy is critical to optimal health.  When we’re in constant stress mode with no relief in sight, we produce too much of the stress hormone, cortisol.  This excess production will lower the levels of other chemicals and immune cells that help to keep our bodies functioning well.


Although the autumn ushers in the dreaded cold and flu season, it also brings a nutrient-rich bounty, chock full of immune-boosting foods!  There is absolutely no doubt that what we eat either strengthens or weakens us.  Now is the time to pay close attention to nutrition and choose the foods that will actually help to build your immune system and/or act as natural antimicrobials.  Here are some of my top food choices for enhancing immunity during cold and flu season:

  • Orange vegetables such as pumpkin, squashes, sweet potatoes and carrots are all rich sources of beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into Vitamin A.  In addition to being a potent antioxidant, Vitamin A has natural anti-viral properties and helps our immune systems stay strong.

  • Red/Purple vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes (technically a fruit) are rich in immune-protective vitamin C.  For more C-rich foods, choose citrus fruits as well as kiwi, papaya and mango.

  • Wild Salmon and other cold water, fatty fish are an excellent source of essential fatty acids, Vitamin D and protein, all of which give a potent boost to the immune system.

  • Nuts and Seeds are great sources of zinc, including pumpkin and sesame seeds, brazil nuts, almonds and cashews.

  • Garlic has strong antimicrobial properties.  Include garlic in soups, stews and sautees.  To eat garlic in its most potent form, add some freshly chopped garlic to sautéed veggies or into dips such as homemade hummus or guacamole.

  • Green Tea is particulary rich in a compound known as “EGCG,” a type of antioxidant that precludes viruses’ ability to multiply.  If you’re not particularly fond of green tea, all varieties have some benefit, including red, white, pomegranate and good old orange-pekoe.  Note to pregnant women:  Be aware of caffeine content when purchasing teas.  Many herbal teas do not contain caffeine.  Green has about 30 mg per cup, so I recommend sticking to 1 cup daily during pregnancy.