The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, organs and proteins. When healthy, it has the strength and capacity to defend the body against viruses, infections and disease—this includes the flu and common cold that are so familiar at this time of year.
Don’t leave the health of your immune system to chance! Take charge and follow these four immune-strengthening tips this cold and flu season.
1. Follow Fx Pillars 1, 2, and 6
Building your meals with leafy greens (Fx Pillar #1), rainbow fruits and veggies (FX Pillar #2) and functional foods (Fx Pillar #6) is like outfitting your immune system with a coat of armor.
- Pillar #1: Eat your greens, as many as you can every day: Beet greens, dandelion greens, kale and spinach are rich sources of zinc, an essential trace mineral that plays a major role in protecting against viral infections. Add them to soups and casseroles or keep it simple with a daily spinach salad!
- Pillar 2: Eat the rainbow, at least one fruit and two vegetables every day: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that serves as fuel for first-line immune support against viruses and bacteria. By stimulating the production of hydrogen peroxide in your cells, this vitamin neutralizes health threats, like infectious cells. Citrus fruit, peppers and berries are vitamin C powerhouses you’ll want in your kitchen during cold and flu season. Garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks are so much more than flavor enhancers! They are full of quercetin, a natural pigment that helps to restore normal immune function. Quercetin also acts as a shuttle for zinc, helping to transport it into the cells where it can stop viruses from replicating.
- Pillar 6: Remember functional foods: Some functional foods can stimulate our first-line immune defenses, like natural killer cells. These are a special type of white blood cell with the power to destroy cells infected with a virus. To activate this benefit, boost your meals with ginger, rosemary, parsley, dill and thyme. Maitake, shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms turn on natural killer cells too! Add them to stir-fries or enjoy a cup of Four Sigmatic mushroom tea.
2. Consider Immune-Strengthening Supplements*
There are many ways to support your immune system through supplementation. To make it easy for you, Heinen’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Pesek, MD, has categorized them into good, better and best recommendations.
- Good: Vitamin D and Bioavailable Iodine: When it comes to prioritizing supplementation for immune strength, vitamin D is the superstar! It brings balance to your immune system by protecting your cells from chronic inflammation and invaders like viruses (the cause of colds and flu). I like Nutritional Roots Vitamin D3 + K2. To test and learn about your own Vitamin D levels, discover the VitalHealth Optimization Package at the Personalized Nutrition Center at Heinen’s Mayfield Village.
Iodine is also important for immune strength because it fuels your thyroid—a vital hormone gland that plays a major role in the metabolism and growth and development of the body. Nutritional Roots Bioavailable Iodine is a good choice.
- Better: Zinc: The next step up the immune-health ladder is to add supplemental zinc. This way, if a virus happens to invade your body, zinc will act as a guard to inhibit it from replicating. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc is plant-based and very gentle to the system.
- Best: Vitamin C and Quercetin: On top of vitamin D, iodine, and zinc, the Heinen’s brand of vitamin C and Life Extension Optimized Quercetin offer an added layer of immune protection.
- Bonus: Elderberry Syrup: Syrups made from standardized black elderberry extract have traditionally been used as a cold and flu remedy and for overall immune system support. In fact, in 400 BCE, Hippocrates referred to the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) as his “medicine chest.” Pick up a bottle of Cleveland-made Health Junkie Elderberry Syrup in the Wellness Department and take daily for additional support this cold and flu season!
*Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.
3. Make Time for Tea
Stress depresses the immune system. Short-term stress is one form; however, it’s the chronic, everyday stress of financial worries, family problems and job demands that really hits the immune system hard.
The solution is not to eliminate all forms of stress; that would be impossible! But you can choose how to respond to it. My advice is to slow down and make space in your day for a bit of calm. What better way to achieve this than making time for a cup of tea? One of my favorites is Rishi Tea Elderberry Healer.
4. Get Some Sleep
Getting adequate sleep is the most important thing you can do for your immune system. In fact, studies show people who average fewer than six hours of sleep per night are four times more likely than those who get more than seven hours to come down with a cold. Need any more convincing?
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against infection and disease. That is everything! Think of it as your own personal bodyguard, ready to fight when the need arises. By optimizing your food choices, adding in a handful of immune-supporting supplements, getting a handle on stress and making time for restorative sleep, you’ll be doing your part to help strengthen this most important ally.