As science continues to evolve and technology continues to improve human lives, there is one thing that has persistently stumped the medical community – influenza. “The flu” is a seasonal disorder caused by rapidly mutating influenza viruses. Because the viruses that cause the flu are constantly changing, the vaccines created to fight them also have to be constantly changed. This is why influenza vaccines are updated every year.
Boosting our immunity naturally is widely regarded as a beneficial strategy against flu and other illnesses. The immune system is the body’s line of defense against diseases and studies have suggested that it can be improved by augmenting our diet with the right “flu fighting foods”.
There are different kinds of ginseng that have potent disease fighting properties, the most common being American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Asian / Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng). * Ginseng’s health benefits come from its ability to help the body adapt to stress, including stress caused by being sick. According to the University of Maryland, studies have shown that ginseng intake can help boost the body’s immune system, as well as reduce the risk of cancer and improve mental health. Kang and Min published a study in 2012 that discussed the ability of ginseng to regulate immune cells effectively, helping fight infections and inflammatory diseases.
Researchers have looked in into the ability of cinnamon extracts to modulate the immune response of the body to inflammation and observed that cinnamon extract was able to correct the imbalance of immune cells in the body, improving the body’s immune response.
Cayenne pepper is a very popular spice added to dishes for that extra zing but did you know that it can help fight the flu as well? Cayenne pepper has been found to have antioxidant, antinociceptive, and anti-inflammatory effects – meaning it can help fight pain as well as improve the immune system to fight off the flu. Loizzo, et. al. in 2008 concluded that mature, green-stage pepper had the most potent health benefits compared to other ripening stages of the pepper plant.
Turmeric is a widely studied spice that has shown promising immune system regulating abilities. While there are few recent studies that focus on its effects of humans, testing on animals show how turmeric is able to regulate the immune system and reduce oxidative stress. Accoridng to Abu-Rizg, et. al. in 2008, turmeric has cyto-protective and immunomodulating effects — abilities that can help fight against the flu and other diseases.
The various types of berries — from blueberries to wild berries – are popularly known for their antioxidant content, specifically their anthocyanins, which boost the body’s immune system. Antioxidants help rid the body of toxic substances that can make us sick, as well as strengthen the body’s defenses against disease. Dinstel, et. al. in 2013 found that Alaska wild berries had very high antioxidant levels, and that they were best eaten fresh since cooking affected their antioxidant content.
Research published in 2014 and 2007 found that cloves had potent antioxidant abilities, able to scavenge free radicals which could potentially boost immunity to ward off the flu.
The best way to get the full health benefits of strawberries is still by eating or drinking them fresh. A study published in 2013 by Zunino, et. al. concluded that adding strawberries to the diet increased the production and improved the response of immune cells, particularly in obese people who are at greater risk for developing an infection.
Aside from being a great (and healthier!) alternative to table sugar, raw honey is also gaining popularity are a great dietary source of antioxidants. While other uses focus on the ability of honey on hyperglycemia, honey is also rich on polyphenols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, enabling the body to fight against diseases, viral or otherwise. Honey can added to tea and other drinks as a natural sweetener.
Plenty of research has been done on garlic and human immunity, primarily because of very strong antioxidant capabilities of garlic. An important study that directly linked garlic with human immunity was published in 2016 by Percival, finding that aged garlic extract was able to modify human immunity by reducing cold and flu severity and their symptoms. The researcher concluded that supplementing a healthy diet with aged garlic could improve immune system function and reduce inflammation associated with the flu.
Green vegetables have gained the bad reputation of tasting bad, with the sight of them sending most children running for their rooms. However, spinach is a great way to boost your immune system, stimulating the production of immune cells in the body. Ishida, et. al. in 2016 concluded that spinach extract was able to stimulate macrophage activity in the body, stimulating the body’s immune system against disease. Try to add a side of spinach to your meals for an extra boost of immunity.
A study on both garlic and onion published in 2013 by Mirabeau found that they have significant immune boosting capabilities, improving the body’s production of CD4 and white blood cells in response to infections. Similar results were seen in Prasanna and Venkatesh’s study in 2015, wherein onion lectin was able to modulate the body’s immune response in vitro.
The health effects of ginger on human immunity were seen in a 2012 study by Chakraborty and Sengupta, wherein both turmeric and ginger were able to boost the nonspecific response of the immune system in mice, improving the ability to macrophages to fight infection. The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger were also seen in a study in 2015 by Justo, et. al., showing that ginger was able to fight against infections and even cancer.