Medically review by Kim Langdon
I think we can all agree that getting sick is majorly inconvenient. Most of the time, it's no big deal, but the sooner it's gone, the better.
Colds and cases of flu seem inevitable, but there's actually a lot we can do to keep the immune system super strong and stop viruses and infections dead in their tracks.
Even if we can't manage to avoid getting sick forever, we can reduce the amount of time we get sick for and how often.
These natural immune boosters have antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
They'll help you ward off colds and flu by strengthening your body's resilience to illness, and can even help with recovering after a dose of antibiotics to help balance out the good bacteria in the gut.
Here is our list of top 10 natural immune boosters.
Oregano is known for its antimicrobial properties which means it's great for fighting off things like skin or nail fungus, killing infections and easing respiratory symptoms.
If you're feeling congested, you can diffuse some oregano oil or steam a few drops in a pot of water and breathe it in for instant relief from sinus infections and colds.
It's antiseptic properties - from antioxidant thymol - boosts the immune system and strengthens the body's defense against toxins.
The other main antioxidant found in this powerful herb - carvacrol - fights against bacterial infections.
These also make it a great low-tox house cleaner.
Echinacea is known to prevent colds, and it lives up to the hype. It's a simple enough supplement to take, and it tastes wonderful as a tea, so brew a little when there's a bug going around.
It's actually proven to cut chances by nearly 60% - that's huge! Treating a cold with echinacea can also reduce sick time by approximately 1.5 days.
Speaking of, did you know the average adult spends around two whole years experiencing cold symptoms throughout a lifetime?
Imagine scaling that back big time.
Many mushrooms have incredible health benefits including reishi mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms, which are especially powerful for the immune system.
Shiitake are especially powerful in gut immunity which is where all disease begins in the first place.
Shiitake can easily be found dried or fresh, and it can be used in everything from stir-fry to homemade dried mushroom seasoning, so make sure to pack in plenty of mushroom magic over the flu season.
Eleuthero - or Siberian ginseng - is an adaptogenic supplement that has some proven positive effects on fighting illness.
Its effects are powerful, and it's used to treat everything from the common cold to herpes in the reduction of symptoms.
Eleuthero helps the body defend against both bacteria and harmful toxins and keeps protective cells strong, so it's both preventative and therapeutic.
It's good to use adaptogens for an extended period - around a month - followed by 3-4 weeks off for them to remain effective.
Sage has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds which make it useful for treating a sore throat and swollen glands.
This versatile herb is also a good source of vitamin C which we all know is the key to curing the common cold - oranges, anyone?
Our skin is very susceptible to the same illnesses our mouths and noses are vulnerable to, so it's important to protect our body's largest cell if we want to protect our immune system.
Here's another antiviral and anti-inflammatory herb that's lesser-known than some of our contenders today. Ear infections and sore throats?
This stuff has got you covered.
It can help to reduce inflammatory pain. Even more convincing is that calendula can actually fight bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics - pretty effective, right?
Finally, it activates the lymphocytes which aid the body in warding off foreign 'invaders,' keeping it well and safe from infection.
The ancient Greeks (who happen to live rather long lives) know all about licorice root; they've been using it to treat mild coughing, bronchitis and even asthma for many years.
This is because it is an expectorant, so it can actually break up all that congestion in the throat and chest. Lastly, one of it's greatest benefits is that it intensifies the effects of other herbs.
It could increase the immune-boosting potency if you're using any of the remedies mentioned on our list today.
This traditional folk medicine is used for both wound healing and boosting the immune system.
The high antioxidant content helps the body become more resilient to pathogens found in our environment.
It has also been shown to increase white blood cell count, which helps the body to stay in good shape to ward off infection.
Finally, this study shows that it's promising that cat's claw has the potential to protect against pneumonia, using a water-soluble extract.
All berries are high in antioxidants which are a good indicator of a natural immune booster, but elderberry might be the holy grail - not even beloved goji berries can touch this.
It's been being used for centuries.
Hippocrates - the father of medicine - was quite fond of the stuff, actually. According to this study, elderberry can reduce the duration of a cold, so even if you can't fight it, you can beat it.
This also holds true for treating the flu.
Moreover, the antioxidants (flavanoids) found in these berries reduce oxidative stress on the body which contributes to improved immune function.
Miso is a fantastic source of nutrients from soy since it's fermented. If you've had it, you also know it adds huge flavor to any savory dish with a salty kick.
There are many different types of miso which makes it easy to use and incorporate into your diet regularly for immune-boosting benefits.
Soy protein is easier on the body when it comes from a fermented food, and it can provide the immune system with peptides.
Miso includes probiotics that help keep the immune system strong. The good bacteria also makes them a great food to use after a dose of antibiotics after an illness.
Do you have any fail-proof cold remedies, cures for the flu, or supplements you swear by? Share your immune-boosting ideas with us below.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Wardle J, Frawley J, Adams J, Sibbritt D, Steel A, Lauche R. Associations between complementary medicine utilization and influenza/pneumococcal vaccination: results of a national cross-sectional survey of 9151 Australian women.
Sloan AE, Hutt CA. Repositioning Nutraceutical Products for Growth Markets. Nutraceuticals World; (2015) 2015–09.
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.