Feeding your Immune System

Welp, it’s finally winter in Ohio! After an unusually warm December, the temperatures have officially dropped. If you’re like most people, the seasonal drop in temperature often leads to a bad cold, runny nose, sore throat, cough and even exhaustion. For me it never fails, one week into temperatures below 40 degrees and I typically come down with a slight cold. Not enough to send me to the doctor but certainly enough to dampen my mood and cancel any exciting plans that day. It only takes a few times of leaving the house in not enough layers before I am repeating my mother’s old winter warnings in my head as I pick out what to wear in the morning, “Bundle up! Make sure your ears are covered! I don’t want you getting sick!” Much of my mother’s cold weather advice has stuck with me over the years and I find myself stocking up on hot tea, vitamin C and lemon around the same time I unpack my winter box of hats and scarves.

Just last year, scientists from Yale University conducted studies involving mice and a modified strain of rhinovirus (the kind of virus that causes most colds), that revealed colder weather may make it more difficult for your body to fight off infection. According to the study, cold weather actually lowers our immune defenses against infection (Click here for the details of that study). Studies still need to be conducted to determine how true this is for humans, but it goes against previous research that insisted cold weather didn’t cause colds and that our behavior (i.e staying inside, surrounded by people) during the winter months was the culprit.

Traditional Chinese medicine has always maintained that the cold weather is often to blame for feeling under the weather. TCM explains that colds and flus are brought on by external pathogenic influences working their way through the body to enter it’s deepest layers and begin the infection process. According to this theory, my mothers’ advice would prevent illness, as being exposed to cold air allows for these influences to enter the body more easily. Perhaps it is from this information that hot spicy soups as a cure first originated.

While the cause of the increase in winter colds may be up for debate, what we use to combat illness is information everyone should know. REST and staying hydrated should be the first two remedies on anyone’s list, these two things enable the body to fight infection more effectively. Although your symptoms can be relieved by over the counter pills and syrups, these things often don’t actually help strengthen your immune system to handle the work. Its important to point out that their purpose is to mask your symptoms so you can get through your day, or through a nights rest, and let the cold and infection eventually move on. The good news is there are plenty of natural resources you can use during and prior to getting a cold that will not only help your body  get over a cold quicker, but also help your immune system to fight off the infection in the first place. 


1. Oregano Oil

Oregano oil, or oregano essential oil is as you guessed derived directly from the Oregano plant. A member of the mint family, it’s medicinal purposes seem to have began with the Ancient Greeks and Romans. There are 40 some species of the plant, but the Wild oregano is the one most commonly used for medicine. The plant has antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties which explains its long history of fighting infections. While it is somewhat known for helping to prevent and treat infections like UTIs, yeast infections and gastro virus it is more famous for assisting the respiratory and immune system, making it an excellent cure for the common cold and sinus infections. It can be ingested, and adding it to food, soup, or tea can result in a delicious flavor twist as well as a natural boost to your immune system. To help fight off your cold or sinus infection, try putting a few drops in a pot of steaming water and very carefully inhaling the steam.


2. Garlic

Garlic has become my most favorite natural medicine! Mostly because, well, I LOVE the taste of garlic on anything and everything. Also because consuming this herb has been shown to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, support bone health and even help prevent Alzheimers! This delicious kitchen staple has loads of antibacterial and antivirus properties and has become known as the herb of choice for colds,  sore throats, and even the flu. Allicin is the component in Garlic that provides the amazing health benefits above. Consuming garlic regularly helps stimulate the production of white blood cells in your body which boosts the function of the immune system. Eaten regularly it is proven to help prevent and reduce the severity of common illnesses like colds and the flu. Garlic can be enjoyed daily in almost any food, whether it is raw or cooked. Try making a garlicky veggie broth to warm you up and fuel your immune system next time you’re sick like the recipe here.


3. Lemon

Lemons are the only food I can honestly say I enjoy every day. The zest of the citrus fruit has found its way into my cooking and baking but I also start each morning with a glass of lemon water. Lemons are packed with Vitamins A, B6, C, E, Iron and magnesium to name a few which is probably why I feel much more awake and refreshed after my daily morning glass. Drinking lemon water first thing in the morning aids digestion throughout the rest of the day while also strengthening your immune system and cleansing the stomach. It can be used to soothe and heal throat infections, sore throats, respiratory issues and stomach-aches. Enjoy it with a hot cup of tea, squeeze lemon juice directly down your throat, or try a spoonful of honey with lemon right on top. For a delicious lemony recipe, try a delicious lemon lentil stew.


4. Ginger

Technically a root, this delicious spice inhibits the formation of inflammatory compounds making it a naturally anti-inflammatory food. It may decrease the severity of colds and alleviate the symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses. Have a stomach ache? Ginger is the answer. Cramps? Yep, Ginger again. Ginger can be bought as powdered or ground, but I recommend keeping it fresh and buying the ginger root raw in your produce aisle. You can grate the ginger to use in recipes and your tea!


5. Turmeric

Turmeric root is most well known as the orange spice in curry that gives it it’s very distinct color and taste. It has been used for thousands of year in Indian and Chinese medicine as well as cooking. Cooking and medicine go hand in hand in many cultures around the world which is probably why the benefits of Turmeric have been passed down from generation to generation. Curcumin is the compound found in Turmeric that makes it a very potent anti-inflammatory food. Several studies have been done on the effects that Curcumin has on treating and preventing cancer. Anti-inflammatory foods like Turmeric help tackle the inflammation that can prevent your immune system from functioning normally. You can use Turmeric here, to liven up some rice, or in our delicious Turmeric Ginger Tea to help battle a cold.


6. Honey

Honey, the natural sweetener that never expires! (True story). Honey is one of the best choices as a sweetener because of its antioxidant and antibacterial properties but it still must be consumed in moderation as with any other sweetener. Honey has been known to reduce muscle fatigue (often felt with the Flu), help improve the digestion system, soothe a sore throat and boost your immune system! It is effectively used to treat a sore throat as it kills the bacteria that causes infections in the throat. Make your own throat cleansing tonic by mixing honey and fresh lemon juice in hot water.


7. Mushrooms

I’m not going to lie, I actually used to HATE mushrooms. My mother was constantly telling me how good they were for you so after years of banning them from my diet I finally made an attempt to like them, and I succeeded! Admittedly I am still picky about how they are cooked and what I eat with them, but their health benefits were too amazing to continue passing up. In one study, adults who consumed more shitake mushrooms showed improvements in T- cell functions and reductions in inflammatory proteins. There are many different types of mushrooms and all of them reduce inflammation, enhance immunity and help prevent colds and flus. They are another Traditional Chinese Method favorite and have the reputation of being a disease fighter. Try our delicious Stuffed Acorn Squash with Shitake mushrooms to begin working them into your diet!



8. Cayenne

If warming your body from the inside out is the solution to a bad cold then Cayenne should always be in your cabinet. The hot and flavorful spice is rich in Vitamins A and C and is used to help clear up sinuses and relieve congestion. The active ingredient Capsaicin actually thins the mucus in your nasal passages, ridding you of sinus discomfort and that annoying stuffy nose. Capsaicin is a compound found in many spicy peppers that actually has been used in pain relief and muscle/joint healing because it decreases a natural substance in your body that passes pain signals on to the brain. Cayenne can be used in any recipe to spice things up (I LOVE it on avocado and toast) and you can sprinkle some in your tea along with lemon juice for immediate sinus relief.

9. Echinaea

The Echinacea herb is a North American plant that was used by Native Americans long before European settlers reached the continent. It now has made its way around the world and is well known for reducing the symptoms of a cold, flu, allergies and other illnesses. Echinacea can be easily purchased over the counter at the drugstore, on Amazon or any other vitamin and supplement shop, usually in capsule form. Taking this herb daily can help prevent you from getting sick, strengthen your immune system and help alleviate daily allergy symptoms.


Along with using any of these natural ingredients in your diet, there a few things to keep in mind when you are sick to ensure you have a speedy and safe recovery.

REST is key, and seeing as you normally don’t feel like doing anything, take this time to SLEEP as much as possible.

STAY HYDRATED!! You already should be drinking at LEAST 8 glasses of water a day, but when you’re sick you need to take in a little extra. Fighting off infection uses a lot of energy and your body can become quickly dehydrated. It is best to steer clear of any sugary sodas or juices.

DON’T touch the sweets, or dairy. Eating dairy while you’re sick usually results in more mucus and nausea. Sometimes its hard to avoid because it can be a comfort food for many people, and of course we want comfort when we’re sick! Unfortunately you can’t hope for a speedy recover if you don’t avoid the dairy. Consuming sugar already weakens our immune system when we are well, so it should be avoided at all costs when you’re feeling under the weather.



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