Top 7 Natural Immune System Boosters

At this time of year, many of us have already gotten a flu shot, or are planning on getting one. We've also re-stocked our medicine cabinets with cold remedies and loaded up on multipacks of fizzing vitamin C powders. Yep, it's winter, and we want to be ready to tackle the inevitable viruses and infections that are swirling around like snowflakes.

But, what if we didn't need to go to the pharmacy and cram our bodies full of medicines and artificial remedies? What if nature could actually help us out with foods and beverages that boost immunity, shorten the duration and intensity of colds and other illnesses, and help us reduce the cost of those expensive doctor's visits? Well, we're in luck. There are a wide range of naturally occurring compounds that can do all of this and more (PS: those antibiotics you're often prescribed can limit your body's immune response). Keep reading to check out's top picks for natural immune system boosters. —Phil White

What is it about dark-skinned berries that make them such nutritional powerhouses? In the case of the purple elderberry, it's the high content of anthocyanins and flavonoids that help prevent colds by boosting immune system response. The best way to take elderberry is to drink a tablespoon of liquid extract twice a day. If you can't handle the bitter flavor (and we'll admit, it's not the best taste), mix it into tea or water and add honey to sweeten. Want the benefits of elderberry on the go? Then put a pack of elderberry zinc lozenges in your car and take up to six a day. These will give you not only the benefits of elderberry, but also the power of zinc, which is the only mineral proven to reduce the duration of a cold.

Not to get gross on you, but when you get sick in the winter there's usually mucus involved. Lemon juice can break this up, helping your throat and lungs clear out all that junk that's making your cough sound like and old car struggling to start in the winter chill. No, we're not talking about those horrible, artificial-tasting cold remedy powders, but the actual fruit! Lemon juice is also an alkaline, which can lower your body's pH level and make it harder for viruses to take hold. Squeeze lemon juice into water or add to hot green or black tea several times a day.

There's a reason cultures worldwide — from Italy to India, to Japan, and just about everywhere in between — use a lot of garlic in cooking, and it's not just that it makes food taste better. The high levels of allicin (the active component) in the strong-smelling vegetable can block the enzymes that cause viruses and bacterial infections. Garlic is also proven to reduce cancer risk and may have cardiovascular benefits, too. So brave the bad breath and either crush it up raw or, if you can't handle the intense flavor, roast whole bulbs, pull out the cloves and add to stir fry dishes, pasta sauces, or home-made hummus.

Red Grapes + Blueberries + Sunshine
OK, we just cheated and put three things together. But here's the deal: combine sunlight (or, if you're in a sun-starved city, a daily Vitamin D supplement of 2,000 – 5,000 IU) with either blueberries or red grapes and you'll boost your immune system response. In the blueberries, it's the pterostilbene and our old friend resveratrol – the same thing that helps grapes lower the chance of heart disease – that combine with the vitamin D and give you a boost. And yes, you can get your resveratrol quota from drinking red wine. To really up the power of your favorite drink, try simmering a pot full of merlot (or whatever your preferred red wine is) with mulling spices, which adds the beneficial phytochemicals found in cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

Wait, onions and garlic in the same article? Are we trying to give you bad breath? Nope. Onions are one of the richest natural sources of quercetin, a potent antioxidant that limits the formation of the virus causing that annoying cold. Bonus: quecertin may also reduce the risk of stomach cancer. Add extra chopped onions to salads, sandwiches, soups and chili. Some studies claim that red onions are the most beneficial, but our research discovered the yellow and white varieties are just as potent.

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