The much-dreaded cold and flu season is upon us. And if you’re like me, there isn’t any spare time built into the schedule to be sick. So how can I bolster my defenses against the germs lurking in the common areas in my office, the mall where I do my holiday shopping and the rest stops I encounter in my holiday travels?
Try It: Vitamin D
In a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children who took daily vitamin D supplements (1,200 IU) were 40 percent less likely to get a common flu virus than kids who took a placebo. Laboratory studies indicate that the nutrient may help immune cells identify and destroy bacteria and viruses that make us sick, says Adit Ginde, M.D., M.P.H., a public health researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
Try It: Green tea
Polyphenols, potent plant antioxidants, are what’s believed to give green tea its immune-boosting effects. One laboratory study suggested that a particular type of polyphenols called catechins may kill influenza viruses. To maximize benefits and minimize bitterness, use just-below-boiling water and steep green tea no more than a minute or two. A little lemon and honey can also help blunt the bitterness. But don’t add milk, because the proteins will bind to the polyphenols, making them ineffective.
Try It: Probiotics
Some research suggests that when these so-called “good” bacteria—found in yogurt, sauerkraut and other foods—reach the lower intestine, they not only suppress the growth of “bad” bacteria but also might activate the immune system to fight off diseases in other ways. But studies showing a clear boost to the immune system are few. In one study of 33 healthy young women, both “regular” yogurt and so-called “probiotic-fortified” yogurt (which contained added beneficial bacteria cultures) were found to boost T-cells, key players in the body’s defenses against viruses and other pathogens. But it’s a long way from findings like those to “assuming that by loading up on yogurt—or sauerkraut or kimchi—you can boost your immune system enough to fight off something like the H1N1 flu,” says Barry Goldin, Ph.D., professor in the department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Fortifying yourself with a daily dose of fermented foods can’t hurt, says Goldin, “but if you want to beat the flu, get vaccinated.”
Try It: Soluble Fiber
Mice that ate a diet rich in soluble fiber for six weeks recovered from a bacterial infection in half the time it took mice that chowed on meals containing mixed fiber, according to a recent study in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Soluble fiber—abundant in citrus fruits, apples, carrots, beans and oats—helps fight inflammation, says lead author Christina Sherry, Ph.D., R.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Insoluble fiber—found in wheat, whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables—is still important for overall health, but it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on immunity. Strive for 25 to 38 grams of total fiber a day, Sherry says, paying extra attention to getting the soluble kind.