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Immunity on the menu:

Food-based fixes for colds and flu

Q: Everybody around me is getting sick! Is there any way to stay healthy?


Keeping your immune system strong can be an uphill battle when faced with physical, psychological, and environmental stress. We all know there’s no cure for the common cold, but there are effective natural ways to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of winter illnesses. Some of these remedies may even be hiding in your fridge.


Mushrooms:  Specific components of mushrooms, called fungal polysaccharides, help prime and strengthen the immune system, making it more vigilant against the kind of bugs that cause colds and flu. Not any old ‘shroom will do. Certain varieties are higher in the components that help mobilize the billions of innate immune cells that are part of the body’s natural defences. Maitake, shiitake, reishi, cordyceps, and chaga are among those with immune supportive and (bonus) stress management properties.


Horseradish: Relegated to a mere condiment for roast beef here in North America, pungent Amoracia rusticana is used medicinally in many parts of the world as a natural treatment for sinusitis and bronchitis. Anyone who has inadvertently taken a big bite of this stuff can attest to its sinus-clearing properties! But you don’t have to suffer the brain burn and watery eyes to reap the benefits. Look for enteric-coated horseradish tablets – often combined with other bacteria and virus-busting herbs like garlic and echinacea – to save you the burn and the breath!


Oil of oregano: Centuries before modern science could point the finger at microbes, herbalists and traditional doctors used oregano to effectively treat infections of all kinds.

We now know that the oil of Origanum vulgare is a potent antioxidant with antimicrobial activity. So many swear by its ability to stop colds at the first tickle that it’s worth keeping it in your natural medicine cabinet.


Vitamin D and omega-3s:  It’s no coincidence that the incidence of seasonal illness peaks when levels of the sunshine vitamin are at their lowest. Keeping up healthy vitamin D levels in dark winter months is good preventive maintenance for overall immunity. Similarly, omega-3 essential fatty acids are squarely in the Winter Nutrition Basics category. Omega-3s from deep, cold water fish such as anchovies and sardines – most famous for their natural anti-inflammatory properties – also lend a hand to virus- fighting white blood cells. As an added perk, omega-3s will help soothe dry, itchy winter skin.


Finally, remember, the hand is quicker than the sneeze when it comes to spreading germs. Frequent hand washing with soap and water (skip the sanitizer) is an effective way to minimize your exposure to seasonal viruses.


Popular media guest and author Dr. Kate Rhéaume is a licensed naturopathic physician. Dr. Kate’s best-selling book Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life (HarperCollins) has garnered global attention and acclaim for its enlightening view of an overlooked nutrient with profound health benefits.