A Whole-body Approach to Build Immunity

Have you ever noticed that when there’s a bug around your office, not everyone “gets” it?

Somebody is out for 10 days, someone else for a half day and some people don’t even get sidelined at all? Think about it. They’ve all been exposed to the same germ. So, why does this happen?

It probably happens for the exact same reason that some houses get knocked down in a hurricane and some remain still standing, Some houses are made of brick, steel and hurricane shutters while others are made of much flimsier materials. Which ones survive the storm and which ones don’t has everything to do with how well they were built. In the same way, if your immune system is well nourished and healthy, it will withstand challenges a lot better. Those of us lucky enough to not get sick stay healthy because our immune system is able to just bat the challenge aside, or at the very least, handle it and recover quickly. Remember, your health isn’t measured by whether or not you get the cold or cough; it’s measured by how well your body handles it if you do get it, and by how quickly your body recovers.

I take a whole-body approach to building immunity, which means immune-boosting foods (such as garlic) and supplements (such as Sambucol) which can strengthen your immune system. At the first sign of a cold, I start adding these supplements and foods:

  • Zinc. Your cells need this mineral to fight bacteria and viruses. And it’s important in the development of white blood cells, which are part of your immune system. Your body has no specific storage sites for zinc, so take it on a daily basis during cold season. If you do get sick, zinc might help shorten the length of your illness. I recommend 15mg a day during “regular” times and 50mg a day at the first sign of a cold.
  • Echinacea. This herb is used to fight the cold and other upper respiratory infections. Take it at the first sign of symptoms. It might keep the cold from developing or make symptoms less severe. You can take anywhere from 300-500mg three times a day.
  • Cherries and other berries. Almost every cold is accompanied by inflammation. Cherries and berries are filled with compounds called anthocyanins, which are highly  anti-inflammatory. All berries are great, but remember to go organic if you choose strawberries as they are consistently on the Environmental Working Group’s list of most contaminated produce. One to two daily servings of cherries or berries is ideal. NOTE: Cherries are an old, traditional remedy for gout, with research confirming that dark cherries (and dark cherry juice) do wonders for the pain and inflammation that comes with it. And berries were number one on WebMD’s list of disease-fighting foods.
  • Black Elderberry. One of the most powerful berries in the world is black elderberry. But unfortunately, you won’t find black elderberries at the grocery store. (They taste horrible.) What you will find is a marvelous extract of black elderberry, sold over-the-counter as Sambucol. I added Sambucol to the all-new, revised and expanded 10th anniversary edition of my best-selling book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Black elderberry is good to take even if you’re not sick, because it helps to turn up the dials on your very complex immune system. I recommend one to two capfuls of Sambucol a day during cold and flu season—three caps a day when you’re coming down with something. From ancient times, juice from its berries has been used in traditional remedies for colds, coughs and upper respiratory infections. though they tend to like the taste of the regular Sambucol liquid as well!
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C is one of the most researched vitamins when it comes to boosting the immune system. It’s a highly effective antioxidant that helps protect against the free radicals generated by the immune cells to kill pathogens. Vitamin C has also been shown to increase the function and production of important immune system components such as leukocytes, phagocytes and neutrophils. Neutrophils — which attack foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses — are particularly stimulated by vitamin C. It actually turbocharges the whole process of healing. Especially during cold and flu season I recommend 1000 mg a day as a supplement, plus plenty of high-C fruits and vegetables, such as yellow bell peppers, guava, kale (or other dark green leafy vegetables) and oranges.
  • Garlic. Garlic has been used since ancient times to ward off colds. I don’t recommend wearing it around your neck, but supplementing your diet with fresh garlic or garlic extract may help keep all those nasty germs away. When you use garlic for cooking, be sure to add it towards the end, and be sure to chop it up thoroughly—the active ingredient (allicin) is created by breaking down the cell walls.
  • Vitamin A. It’s an immune system booster like almost nothing else, even though few people outside the health professions know this. I recommend 50,000 IUs for three days in a row if you start to feel something coming on. Yes, that’s a high dose but it’s only for three days, and it’s quite effective.
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While cold-water fish (like salmon) won’t necessarily fight a specific disease, the omega-3s from salmon (and from fish oil supplements) are one of the most wonderously anti-inflammatory compounds on the planet, and inflammation is one of the major promoters of every degenerative disease we know of, from obesity to heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Two servings of wild salmon a week and/or daily fish oil supplements (3-4 grams a day) will help keep inflammation in check.

This combination of foods and supplements will go a long way toward keeping you healthy by boosting your immune system.

In addition, if you do get sick, make sure to

  • get lots of sleep;
  • try using a Neti pot to soothe your sinuses;
  • gargle with hot water, sea salt, lemon juice and cayenne pepper;
  • spread on a mentholated rub like Vicks;
  • and gobble down some homemade chicken soup. (That’s not just an old superstition. Research by Stephen Rennard, MD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center shows that chicken soup actually does help support your immune system!)

Every one of these is helpful and, done together, and with the right supplements, the effect is synergistic.

*In a study published in The Journal of International Medical Research, Sambucol Black Elderberry Extract was shown to reduce the severity of, and shorten the duration of, flu types A and B by up to four days. And when you’re sick, those extra four days make a huge difference! The symptoms themselves were also made less severe by Sambucol, and with no significant side effects.


Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, also known as “The Nutrition Myth Buster” ™ is a nationally known board-certified nutritionist and expert on diet and weight loss. He has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, Forbes, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair Online, Men’s Health, Prevention, and dozens of other print and online publications.

Dr. Jonny is the best-selling author of 15 books including The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Living Low Carb (now in its fourth edition), and is the co-author, with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, of the controversial best-seller, “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan that Will”.

Follow him @jonnybowden

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