I’ve made a decision not to get sick this winter. (I know, I know…we’ll see if I’m still singing that same tune come December.) Extra precautions to protect my immune system are definitely in order this year, because I work part-time in a high school for teen moms—so every week I’m exposed to not only the students’ illnesses, but their children’s, and their children’s daycare playmates’, as well.
Since being stuck on the couch with a pounding head and stuffy nose just isn’t going to fly for me, I’ve been researching natural—and most importantly, easy—ways to boost the immune system. Here are 10 that are easy to use, with no DIY-ing involved.
10 All-Natural Immunity Boosters
1. Vitamin C
Everyone and their grandma knows that vitamin C helps boost your immune system. Instead of drinking orange juice (which is full of sugar), opt instead for the full fruit or a supplement, which will give you a powerful boost of immunity and energy. I’m partial to Alacer’s Emergen-C, which also includes immune-boosting vitamin D and zinc (and boasts a fun fizzy texture).
Buy it: Emergen-C Immune Plus
2. Ginger Shots
I used to work at a juice bar where we sold fresh ginger shots: straight-up ginger juice mixed with a little lemon, apple, and the customer’s choice of cinnamon, honey or cayenne (if they were really hardcore). You can make these yourself—although be warned that they’re messy and you’ll have to buy a lot of ginger. Or buy Kor Shots, which are cold-pressed, organic shots made of ginger and other immune boosters like lemon, coconut water and cayenne. (There’s one with turmeric, too.)
Buy it: Kor Wellness Shots
3. Super Greens
Spinach and kale intake can help your immune system stay in good shape to fight off bugs, while wheatgrass, chlorella and spirulina provide even more benefits. Wheatgrass especially is full of antioxidants, chlorophyll and minerals that keep your cells happy and healthy. If you don’t want to make wheatgrass fresh at home (trust me, you don’t, unless you have all day to do it), you can buy it in powdered form to mix into smoothies or juices. Spirulina is also excellent to mix into smoothies. Be conservative with green powders, though—a little goes a very long way.
A 2013 study found that compounds called polysaccharides, found in mushrooms, may help activate the immune system [source]. Medicinal reishi mushrooms can be purchased in capsule form, or you can up your intake of non-white mushrooms like shiitake and maitake. (Dr. Weil has a guide here.)
Buy it: Solaray Reishi Mushroom Capsules
Most of your immune system is in the gut, so digestive health is key to keeping yourself healthy. Probiotics not only keep gut bacteria in balance, they increase antibodies that will fight off colds.
Buy it: Metagenics UltraFlora Balance
You know it, you love it—especially during cold season. Tea doesn’t just soothe a sore throat and sniffles, though. It’s full of antioxidants that can help your immune system get stronger before you’re even sick. Herbal teas can also help you sleep when you need it most. For a concentrated dose of green tea, try replacing your daily coffee with matcha green tea (pictured above).
Have you ever tried chewing a raw clove of garlic right when you feel a cold coming on? It actually works, thanks to its antibacterial and antibiotic properties. But, it’s not for everyone. If you’re gagging at the thought, try garlic capsules instead.
Buy it: Kyolic Garlic Extract
Elderberries are high in vitamin C, which is important for a strong immune system; it may also have anti-inflammatory benefits and reduce the swelling of the mucous membranes associated with illnesses. They can’t be consumed raw, so syrup is the method preferred by most elderberry aficionados. You can make your own by boiling raw or dried berries, or buy it pre-made.
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps immune cells make antibodies that fight off respiratory illness, and has even been effective in combating tuberculosis and influenza [source].
Buy it: NatureWise Vitamin D3
10. Essential Oils
Aromatherapy might sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo when you’re feeling like crap, but it’s an effective way to fight off (and shorten) illness. Many essential oils have antibiotic and antibacterial properties, and can help you sleep so you get the rest you need. To boost immunity before you’re sick, try diffusing lemon, Thieves, peppermint, lavender, frankincense, sage, or cinnamon leaf. If you’re already sick, try bergamot, Roman chamomile, myrrh, sandalwood, tea tree, thyme and vetiver to help you heal faster. Or, buy a pre-mixed immune-boosting blend!4