Cold and flu season is creeping up fast and (since you’re reading this post) I’ll bet you have a stash of your favorite immune-boosting remedies ready for the first sign of the sniffles…
…but, do you know which of these supplements have really been proven to work?
For example, you may think you know that echinacea can help you get over the flu or that high doses of vitamin C will help you beat a cold (more on this to come), but can they really?
Thanks to the yo-yo nature of modern science, many of us unknowingly waste our money on “immune supportive” supplements that may not do what we think they do.
Have I piqued your curiosity?
Then read on for clarity on which immune boosters really work, which ones you can skip…and what to take instead.
Stop wasting your money on: high doses of synthetic vitamin C
I know, there’s just something about dissolving a fizzy packet of vitamin C powder into a big glass of orange juice that makes us feel better about feeling sick.
Unfortunately, while getting enough vitamin C in your diet from real foods will help your immune system function optimally, numerous studies like this one confirm supplementing with high doses of the synthetic stuff (often extracted from corn and coal tar) will not save you from colds or flu…and will probably do a number on your digestive system.
Do this instead: optimize your vitamin D and zinc levels
Optimal levels of vitamin D have been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to support your immune system in preventing and overcoming colds, flu, and other unwanted infections.
Optimal vitamin D levels have also been shown to reduce your chances of contracting the flu, especially in children, and less incidents of colds/upper respiratory infections in adults.
While vitamin C is important for overall health, it will not help you shorten an illness.
Your best sources of vitamin D comes from…the sun! 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen please. You can also get vitamin D from supplementation or cod liver oil.
Zinc is almost as well-known as vitamin C for helping shorten a cold…except it actually does work. And zinc lozenges will help soothe a sore throat.
Real food sources of zinc include: liver, oysters, and beef or you can take a supplement—just be sure to take it with food.
Stop wasting your money on: canned chicken soup
It has been proven, through Grandma’s wisdom and modern science, that chicken soup can help you overcome a cold or flu.
However, the science is in real-food recipe—not in over-processed, sodium-loaded, MSG-laden canned soups.
Though a can of soup may be soothing and convenient, it’s not going to help you get well.
Do this instead: Make a pot of bone broth
So, the science says homemade chicken soup can help you overcome a cold or flu.
A lot of it has to do with the broth or stock.
Broth made from real bones, contains a wealth of easy-to-absorb nutrients including glucosamine and argine to help fight inflammation and gelatin to help soothe the stomach.
This study, published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found the amino acid carnosine, found in chicken broth, can help mobilize the immune system to fight the early stages of flu.
Plus, the natural antimicrobial properties of onions and garlic help nourish and strengthen your defenses, while other vegetables provide much-needed trace minerals and electrolytes.
You can check out our Pinterest board for an easy slow cooker chicken bone broth recipe.
Stop wasting your money on: antibiotics for upper respiratory infections
It may seem like a no-brainer, you get bronchitis, you visit the doctor, take a round of antibiotics, and are done with it.
Hold your horses!
Though antibiotics are “the standard treatment” for bronchitis and other upper respiratory infections, they have been proven largely ineffective AND will ultimately weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to future seasonal illness.
Do this instead: Make your own eucalyptus essential oil steam bath
This is what my mother did for me when I got bronchitis as a child, and she was wise to do so!
Boil a pot of water and add 5 drops of pure eucalyptus essential oil.
Put a towel over your head and breathe deeply for 10-15 minutes. Repeat as-needed until symptoms subside.
Eucalyptus essential oil is a powerful antibacterial and expectorant and will help clear up most cases of upper respiratory infections (without nuking your immune system).
Once again, home remedies are usually wise remedies.
Stop wasting your money on: Tamiflu® and echinacea to shorten the flu
Tamiflu has become a popular “solution” for reducing the length of the flu.
The problem is, it doesn’t really work most of the time.
Read the label and it will tell you: Tamiflu only works if taken within 48 hours of contracting the flu (not feeling the symptoms, but actually contracting it) and if it works will only shorten the flu by 21 hours…that’s less than a day.
Moreover, it comes with a laundry list of flu-like (yes, flu-like) side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea and serious, life-threatening side effects too.
Plus, it’s expensive…over $100 a pop.
Now, onto echinacea (stay with me here, it is a valuable remedy…but not for what you probably think).
Yes, we all take comfort in having echinacea teas and tinctures around during cold and flu season and this is a good idea.
BUT, what most of us don’t realize is…echinacea is not very effective once you’ve already fallen ill. It’s a much better preventative.
This study proves it’s beneficial preventative effects on passengers taking long flights, and we use often when we travel or see sick patients.
Do this instead: Keep olive leaf extract and elderberry on-hand, and see your local acupuncturist
Olive leaf extract contains oleuropein, and has been proven one of nature’s most effective herbs at supporting immunity and helping fight flu and infections once already contracted, and elderberry is a proven remedy for shortening colds.
Potency and quality matter in terms of effectiveness, so be sure to pick some up from your local natural health practitioner.
Also, a trip to your local acupuncturist for a treatment and some specific Chinese herbs can help you get better a lot faster.
Stop wasting your money on: Energy boosters to help you “get through” illness
Can I tell you a secret?
Sleep is your most effective defense against illness. More than natural remedies, medications, or…anything.
Research has proven it, and deep down…you know it’s true.
If you’re feeling run down or coming down with something, forget trying to down a whole bottle of immune-boosting-energy-enhancing herbs and…
Do this instead: Surrender and get enough sleep!
How much sleep do you really need?
For prevention, healthy adults need 7.5-9 hours per night. If you’re under a lot of stress or not eating as healthfully as you should be, then aim for 9 hours.
If you’re already feeling ill, sleep as much as your body demands.
Don’t try and push yourself to go to work or get other projects done around the house.
If you are having trouble sleeping (as many of us do during the stress of the holidays) you can try herbal remedies like Valerian or passionflower. Or temporary use of Melatonin can work well for resetting your sleep cycle during travel.
Bottom line: if you’re feeling sick stay home and sleep it off. You’ll feel better MUCH faster (plus no one wants your germs at work anyway).
Stop Wasting your Money on: Cheap probiotics
Now don’t get me wrong, a healthy, diverse gut microbiome (where the majority of your immune system resides) is your best preventative measures against cold and flu, and probiotics can help a lot.
However, quality really matters when it comes to probiotic supplementation. Take too much and you could upset that crucial microbiome balance.
If you wish to take a probiotic supplement, we generally recommend low-dose supplements with 4-20 billion CFUs, containing prebiotic fiber (this keeps the probiotics alive), and with no sugars, colors, or artificial ingredients. If you can find a multi-strain probiotic, all the better.
Or you can do this…
Do this instead: Make your own
Once again, real food makes the best medicine.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi are super easy to make and contain live, active probiotics and prebiotics to help balance your gut and boost immunity naturally.
We recommend using fermented foods like a condiment, enjoying a little with at least one meal a day.
For everything you need to know about stocking your fridge with ferments this winter, check out this how-to tutorial on our Pinterest page.
The final word on immune boosting remedies…
Figuring out what really works and what doesn’t, when the science is so confusing, is tricky for even the smartest person.
To make it simple, follow this advice, stay away from sugar and too many carbs, eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and keep a lid on stress and you will surely enjoy less sick days (and more money in your pocket) this season.