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Avoid Winter Illness By Enhancing Your Immune System

Posted by: maura | November 15, 2013
Avoid Winter Illness By Enhancing Your Immune System

Beyond Chicken Soup
By guest author Elaine Fox

We are getting closer to the beginning of Winter and with that comes cold and flu season. It’s time to beef up your immune system before winter starts!

How do you get ready for winter's health challenges? Do you make a big pot of chicken soup? Get a flu shot? Take Echinacea? Those are good things not to overlook, but there are things in your pantry that you can incorporate onto your daily recipes to help avoid winter illnesses by enhancing your immune system.

Your Immune System

Your immune system is a network of organs, proteins, and special cells that guard against germs and disease. A healthy immune system must be able to detect viral or parasitic invaders and distinguish them from your own body's healthy tissues. The human body is an ideal environment for many microbes to take up residence. Inflammation is one of the first responses of the immune system to infection. Swelling, redness, and pain are among the symptoms. Sneezing, coughing, and fatigue are others, depending on the cause. Increased blood flow is the body's way of sending help to the affected area that has been invaded by toxins germs and microbes.


I hope all of you have gotten a flu shot. Most Medicare and health insurance plans will cover your flu shot. You can get one from your doctor or pharmacy. You may also ask your doctor about a pneumonia shot. Unlike the flu shot, which you need to renew every year, a pneumonia shot may help protect you for the long term.

Shots work by making your immune system recognize a foreign body in your blood stream and creating an antibody that attacks against it whenever it sees it. This is known as "acquired immunity" and is what makes vaccinations work for us. So when you come in contact with cold or flu germs, you have a strong chance of fending off getting sick. The flu shot each year will protect you from the flu virus that is expected to be prevalent that current year only. Last year, there may have been a different strain of the flu virus, so you need to get a flu shot every year.

Sometimes we can get a shot and still get the flu for this reason. It just means that you caught a different bug. You may want to start taking more vitamin C, eating more oranges or other citrus fruits, or taking Echinacea, zinc and iron to strengthen your resistance. You may also try using a neti pot to cleanse your nasal passages with a simple saline solution daily. This helps flush away the virus that can make you sick before it gets into the bloodstream.

But what about using food to build your resistance?

Eat greens, fruits, legumes and fish. They all contain Omega 3 fatty acids and phytochemicals that are good for your immune system and your cardiovascular system as well. Eat lots of fresh organically grown fruits and vegetables whenever your budget will allow. Refer to the list of the "Dirty Dozen" published each year by to learn which crops are most susceptible to toxins like pesticides. Avoid eating the foods on the list, because they are covered insecticide.  Insecticide kills bugs. Think of what it does to you! If you do purchase fruit and vegetables that are not organic, be sure to wash them well or peel them before eating.

If you should get a sinus infection, a cold, flu or bronchitis, avoid dairy products. Dairy foods can increase mucous production, create congestion and make you cough.

Other things probably in your pantry right now will boost your immune system and help you resist getting colds. Herbs and spices can help you fight off the common cold and other viruses this winter. These include garlic, ginger and turmeric.


Let's start with garlic. It is a super food. Garlic is an antiviral and antibiotic, so it protects you against colds and flu. It contains a natural antibiotic called "allicin". If you can tolerate garlic raw, eat it raw in salads. Take 2 cloves daily during the winter. Cooked, it is a decongestant, so it helps with coughing and may help prevent to bronchitis and laryngitis. Eat garlic both raw and cooked, but share it with friends because it is true that bad breath is an unwelcomed side effect. So if you eat garlic, you need to have company.

Experts say that garlic pills are ineffective because they are not strong enough. Garlic also helps with allergies. Some people say that garlic can irritate your skin and mucous membranes, so be mindful not to touch your eyes if you have it on your fingers. Wash your hands after you have handled garlic. Garlic powder is OK, but you need to use more of it. Personally, I think nothing beats fresh garlic.


Ginger is another marvelous spice for helping us stay healthy. This spice has been a mainstay in Chinese and Indian cooking for many years. Ginger not only adds delicious flavor to food dishes, it is an anti-inflammatory. Remember when you gave your kids ginger ale when they came down with a stomach virus? Ginger is a great remedy for upset stomach and nausea, and it is also known to have gas relieving effects. Ginger contains a substance known as "shogoals" which is an anti-inflammatory. When your arthritis flares up in the cooler months, adding ginger to your food may help reduce some of your discomfort. Ginger is pretty amazing. It has been shown to be as effective as Dramamine for motion sickness. Be careful though. Like garlic, it can irritate mucous membranes and oral tissues. Studies are being conducted to see if ginger may help with dizziness.


Turmeric is another spice from eastern countries such as China and India. It is used not only in their cuisines but in Chinese Medicine and Ayruvedic Medicine. Turmeric contains "circumin," which is what gives curries their distinctive color and flavor. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, disinfectant and analgesic. It is a natural detoxifier and stomachant. As in anti-inflammatory agent, it relieves pain of arthritis which flares up in cold weather. It can be used as a disinfectant to quicken wound healing and to treat burns. It improves digestion. As a detoxifier, it is known to be helpful for liver disease and sometimes cancer prevention. For cold weather health, turmeric has been shown to improve lung infections such as bronchitis. There are a few side effects to cooking with turmeric. People taking anticoagulants may need to check with their doctor before using turmeric, as it can act as a blood thinner. Too much turmeric can upset the stomach, so as with all good things, moderation is the best.

Other Practices

There are two very important things you must do to enhance your immune system to stay healthy this winter. The first is to get proper rest. Many of us suffer from poor sleep or insomnia. That is a topic for another time. The other most important practice you can do is to wash your hands often. Don't touch your face, just like grandma said. "Keep your hands out of your eyes, mouth, and nose."

Winter Health Rules to Stay Healthy this Winter:
Eat well.
Rest well.
Keep your hands clean.
Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to your recipes.

The best advice I can give you, as I do with all my healthy living advice, is to check
with your medical team to be sure your list of medications will not interact with the
garlic, ginger or turmeric.

Elaine Fox
Personal Trainer & Health Coach
YogaMoves Savannah