As a young person, I was frequently sick. I remember that familiar feeling of the sore throat that inevitably led to the same symptoms three to four times every single year. Each time the seasons changed, my health would take a dive and I would be out of commission for about a week, sometimes with a cough that lingered for a month or more. Sometimes I would just get what we would call a “head cold.” That meant I would get the upper respiratory problems of a runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, ear aches, and a cough. Sometimes I would get a fever, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. This we would call a flu. Often there would be a combination of the two or one would lead to the other. The point is, I was miserable and sick and tired of being sick and tired so often. So around the age of 19, I decided to start reading up on how to strengthen my immune system. Fortunately, this was also around the same time that I decided to give up eating all animal products, also due to a great deal of reading about health.
The problem in seeking health information is that everyone has a theory, some based on real science and some not. Some of the science is even not so good. I had to wade through a lot of conflicting information and read a lot of heavy science. There are tons of books, and now websites full of well-meaning advice on how to boost the immune system. Some of the tips I picked up worked, and many did not. But after a short time of putting forth real effort, I managed to keep myself flu-free—for a season, a year, and now, whoo hoo, it’s been 26 years since I have had anything resembling a flu. I have had occasional head colds over the years, but they are very rare now—maybe one every 5 years or so. And, they only occur when I neglect doing the things I have listed below. This list is a compilation of the things that I have learned work well for boosting the immune system, after many years of study and personal experimentation. I have shared these tips with friends and have successfully kept many others free from sickness for extremely long periods of time also. Now you can benefit from them too.
- Eat an all plant-based diet. Many flu viruses come from poultry, egg (bird flu), pig (swine flu) and other animal farms. The viruses are zoonotic and even if you intend to cook it well, the products from these farms will contaminate your kitchen before you get a chance to fire up the range.
(Hall JS, Dusek RJ, Spackman E. Rapidly Expanding Range of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2015;21(7):1251-1252. doi:10.3201/eid2107.150403. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4480408/
Wilhelm, Barbara, et al. "A scoping review of the evidence for public health risks of three emerging potentially zoonotic viruses: hepatitis E virus, norovirus, and rotavirus." Preventive veterinary medicine 119.1-2 (2015): 61-79. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25681862)
- Eat all organic. Pesticides work by breaking down the immune systems of pests. GMOs are widely believed to harm the consumer in many ways. This is backed up by numerous large scientific studies, and that is why many countries have banned them.
Crinnion, Walter J. "Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer." Alternative Medicine Review 15.1 (2010): 4-13. (http://go.galegroup.com/ps/anonymous?id=GALE%7CA225739685&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=fulltext&issn=10895159&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=1&isAnonymousEntry=true
Dhouib, Ines, et al. "From immunotoxicity to carcinogenicity: the effects of carbamate pesticides on the immune system." Environmental Science and Pollution Research 23.10 (2016): 9448-9458. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-016-6418-6
Dona, Artemis, and Ioannis S. Arvanitoyannis. "Health risks of genetically modified foods." Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 49.2 (2009): 164-175. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408390701855993
Paparini, Andrea, and Vincenzo Romano-Spica. "Public health issues related with the consumption of food obtained from genetically modified organisms." Biotechnology annual review 10 (2004): 85-122. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/15504704)
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. If you work out hard or are dealing with stress, you may need 9 hours. Your body does most of its healing while you are asleep. Give it time to do its job.
(Opp, Mark R., and James M. Krueger. "Sleep and immunity: A growing field with clinical impact." Brain, behavior, and immunity 47 (2015): 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4685944/)
- Stay warm and moist. It is especially important to keep your torso, head and throat warm. The rhino virus needs your throat temperature to drop below 90 degrees F/ 32 C to replicate. For this reason, I will wear a scarf all day and even to sleep at night when it is chilly and my throat temperature is at risk of dropping below 90 F. Moisturize the insides of your nostrils and ears. When it is cold out, it is also dry. Viruses enter the body through the nose and can enter the bloodstream easily if there are little cracks in your nasal passages. You will also prevent ear aches from the dry air if you moisturize the ear canal. Olive oil or coconut oil are good, natural options that are also anti-viral, anti-fungal and full of antioxidants.
(Ikäheimo, Tiina M., et al. "A decrease in temperature and humidity precedes human rhinovirus infections in a cold climate." Viruses 8.9 (2016): 244. http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/8/9/244/htm
Royston, Léna, and Caroline Tapparel. "Rhinoviruses and respiratory enteroviruses: not as simple as ABC." Viruses 8.1 (2016): 16.) http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/8/1/16
- Things to eat more of: onions and garlic, citrus fruits, apples, leafy greens, cherries, blueberries, pineapple, and seaweed. This is not a complete list, but these are items I found to be especially helpful when germs are flying. However, make sure to eat a wide variety of many colors from the produce department, and, avoid processed foods as much as possible.
(Butt, Masood Sadiq, et al. "Garlic: nature's protection against physiological threats." Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 49.6 (2009): 538-551. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408390802145344
Kyung, Kyu Hang. "Antimicrobial properties of allium species." Current opinion in biotechnology 23.2 (2012): 142-147. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958166911006720
Griffiths, Gareth, et al. "Onions—a global benefit to health." Phytotherapy research 16.7 (2002): 603-615. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.1222/full
Zou, Zhuo, et al. "Antioxidant activity of Citrus fruits." Food chemistry 196 (2016): 885-896. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814615014156
Economos, C., and W. D. Clay. "Nutritional and health benefits of citrus fruits." Energy (kcal) 62.78 (1999): 37. http://www.fao.org/docrep/x2650T/x2650t03.htm
Boyer, Jeanelle, and Rui Hai Liu. "Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits." Nutrition journal 3.1 (2004): 5. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-3-5/
Randhawa, Muhammad Atif, et al. "Green leafy vegetables: a health promoting source." Handbook of fertility. 2015. 205-220. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128008720000184
Manganaris, George A., et al. "Berry antioxidants: small fruits providing large benefits." Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 94.5 (2014): 825-833. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.6432/full
Pandjaitan, Maruli, Tutun Nugraha, and Kezia Hendardy Pamudja. "Bromelain enzyme in fresh pineapple juice as a healing pathway for HIV/AIDS." Advanced Science, Engineering and Medicine 6.1 (2014): 119-123. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/asp/asem/2014/00000006/00000001/art00020
Aquaron, Robert, et al. "Bioavailability of seaweed iodine in human beings." Cellular and molecular biology (Noisy-le-Grand, France) 48.5 (2002): 563-569. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/12146713
Mohamed, Suhaila, Siti Nadia Hashim, and Hafeedza Abdul Rahman. "Seaweeds: a sustainable functional food for complementary and alternative therapy." Trends in Food Science & Technology 23.2 (2012): 83-96. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924224411001737
Miller, D. W. "Extrathyroidal benefits of iodine." Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 11.4 (2006): 106. https://jacewellness.com/articles/JPandS%20Extrathyroidal%20Benefits%20of%20Iodine.pdf
- Put a drop of organic pure oregano oil in your water bottle and drink lots of that water. Hydration is key in beating illness since it gives the body an easy way to eliminate toxins through urine. And oregano oil contains powerful anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antimicrobial properties.
(Gilling, D. H., et al. "Antiviral efficacy and mechanisms of action of oregano essential oil and its primary component carvacrol against murine norovirus." Journal of applied microbiology 116.5 (2014): 1149-1163. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jam.12453/full
Pilau, Marciele Ribas, et al. "Antiviral activity of the Lippia graveolens (Mexican oregano) essential oil and its main compound carvacrol against human and animal viruses." Brazilian Journal of Microbiology 42.4 (2011): 1616-1624.
Daferera, Dimitra J., Basil N. Ziogas, and Moschos G. Polissiou. "GC-MS analysis of essential oils from some Greek aromatic plants and their fungitoxicity on Penicillium digitatum." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 48.6 (2000): 2576-2581. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf990835x)
- Avoid caffeine. You need to be able to sleep for adequate hours and depth. Caffeine has also been shown to suppress the immune system in many ways.
(Adam, Kirstine, and Ian Oswald. "Sleep helps healing." British medical journal (Clinical research ed.) 289.6456 (1984): 1400.
Horrigan, Louise A., John P. Kelly, and Thomas J. Connor. "Immunomodulatory effects of caffeine: friend or foe?." Pharmacology & therapeutics 111.3 (2006): 877-892. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163725806000222)
- Avoid alcohol. It depresses the immune system by hurting beneficial gut flora. Healthy gut flora is the key to a strong immune system. Relax with some nice chamomile tea instead of that glass of wine.
MacGregor, Rob Roy. "Alcohol and immune defense." Jama 256.11 (1986): 1474-1479.
Bode, Christiane, and J. Christian Bode. "Effect of alcohol consumption on the gut." Best practice & research Clinical gastroenterology 17.4 (2003): 575-592. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1521691803000349
Bujanda, Luis. "The effects of alcohol consumption upon the gastrointestinal tract." The American journal of gastroenterology 95.12 (2000): 3374. https://www.nature.com/articles/ajg20001580
- Avoid processed sugar. It harms your gut flora while attacking your teeth. However, whole fruit, fruit smoothies, and even a moderate amount of fruit juices provide natural sugars to invigorate the body, combined with loads of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes to hydrate and nourish the body. However, when only the sugar is extracted from a plant and then it is processed with heat and often harsh and unnatural chemicals, it becomes something else all together that harms instead of benefitting the body. The most harmful affect is the spiking of insulin that occurs, giving the body a quick rush of energy. That spike is followed by a fairly quick and hard crash, leaving the body more depleted energetically than before the ingestion of the sugar. That is why nature provides sugars wrapped in a food that contains fiber. The fiber slows the absorption of the sugars, while the plant food also provides needed nutrients for healing and longevity. So while you should avoid processed sugar, as mentioned above in number 5, you should eat plenty of fruit to help boost the immune system.
Kruis W, Forstmaier G, Scheurlen C, Stellaard F. Effect of diets low and high in refined sugars on gut transit, bile acid metabolism, and bacterial fermentation. Gut. 1991;32(4):367-371.
Winer, Daniel A., et al. "The intestinal immune system in obesity and insulin resistance." Cell metabolism 23.3 (2016): 413-426. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413116000371
- Don’t get a flu shot. Recent research shows that they do more harm than good.
(Ramsay, Lauren C., et al. "The impact of repeated vaccination on influenza vaccine effectiveness: a systematic review and meta-analysis." BMC medicine 15.1 (2017): 159.https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/59/10/1375/2895694
Roos, Robert, Studies shed light on effects of serial flu shots, current vaccine's benefits, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, February 10, 2017
Block SL1, Yogev R, Hayden FG, Ambrose CS, Zeng W, Walker RE., Shedding and immunogenicity of live attenuated influenza vaccine virus in subjects 5-49 years of age. Vaccine. 2008 Sep 8;26(38):4940-6. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2008.07.013. Epub 2008 Jul 26.
Benjamin J. Cowling Vicky J. Fang Hiroshi Nishiura, et al., Increased Risk of Noninfluenza Respiratory Virus Infections Associated With Receipt of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 54, Issue 12, 15 June 2012, Pages 1778–1783, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/cis307
BONUS: If you do get sick…
- Lemon juice is a natural cough suppressant. If you find yourself in a coughing spell that won’t stop, suck on a fresh lemon and you will be amazed.
- Olive oil on a cotton ball inserted into the ear canal instantly stops an earache.
- If you get a runny nose or tickle in the throat from post-nasal drip, the best way to get rid of that quickly is to rinse the inside of the nose and throat with saline. This can be done with a neti pot or saline spray.
- Do all of the above 10 to boost the immune system for a speedy recovery.