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These Natural Immune Boosters Can Help You Avoid Colds

By Serena Solomon | November 6, 2014 7:50am
 Mushrooms and showers that end with a blast of cold water are natural ways to fight sickness, according to naturopaths.
Mushrooms and showers that end with a blast of cold water are natural ways to fight sickness, according to naturopaths.
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DNAinfo/Steve Meye

NEW YORK CITY — Try some fungus to fight off the flu this season.

From increasing your mushroom intake to boosting your dose of probiotics, to ending your hot shower with a blast of cold water, there are plenty of non-medication-based tactics to help you boost your immune system during the fall and winter, according to naturopaths interviewed by DNAinfo.

"One of the best defenses we have against running into all those viruses is to improve our bodies' ability to handle them," according to Nicole Egenberger, a naturopathic practitioner based in SoHo.

Egenberger added that while many doctors recommend the flu shot, there are many more strains of influenza than the single flu. In addition, "for the common cold there is no vaccine," she said.

While naturopaths healthcare practitioners who focus on alternative remedies such as herbal medicine and hydrotherapy are not all medical doctors, some who are medical doctors believe there can be a place in conventional medicine for certain natural remedies.

For example, drinking chicken soup and getting lots of fluids and rest can be a universal prescription for getting over a cold.

Still, getting a flu shot is the best and most proven way to ward of influenza, medical experts say.

“That is step one, two and three,” said Dr. Matthew Weissman of the Community Healthcare Network.

Here are seven ways to help fight off winter sicknesses naturally:

Eat More Mushrooms

Egenberger said she incorporates more mushrooms into her diet as the weather gets colder.

"Shiitake in particular raises your white blood cell count and the natural killer cells that go after those viruses," she said. Reishi and Maitake mushrooms are also immune system boosters, according to naturopaths. 

Mushrooms can be taken in freeze-dried form throat capsules or by adding about six mushrooms to a winter soup and then having a cup of it each day, Egenberger said.

Take a Cold Shower

Turning down the hot water tap at the end of your shower and letting a few seconds of cold water hit you can energize you and your white blood cells, experts say.

"It increases circulation of white bloods cells and draws them into the parts of the body where they might be needed [to fight a virus]," said Maura Henninger, a naturopath based in Midtown.

Try Some Elderberry

Elderberry — which is chock full of antiviral properties — can help you avoid winter sickness or shorten the duration if you do fall ill, said Nicole Weigl, a naturopath based in Boerum Hill.

Unlike other supplements that stick to supporting the immune system, elderberry "can actually help directly kill the virus," she said.

Elderberry can be taken as a syrup or a capsule and can be found in most health natural foods or herb stores, according to naturopaths.

Eat Less Sugar

With the sweet trifecta of Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holiday season, your sugar intake might be peaking this season. But sugar in all its forms — including agave, honey and processed sugar —  can up your chances of getting sick by making the immune system sluggish, according to Henninger.

"It reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight sickness," she said. White blood cells travel throughout blood stream to fight infections.

Take More Probiotics

"Eighty percent of the immune system is in the gut and it is really the body's first line of defense," said Henninger.

Try adding a probiotic supplement to your diet, eat more naturally probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi to inject good bacteria into your intestines to keep them healthy.


Regular exercise can oxygenate the body, increase circulation of white blood cells and speed up the lymphatic system, said Henninger. The lymphatic system acts as the body's sewer system, supporting the immune system by removing toxins from the body.

"A lot of the time in the winter people are inside more and this impacts their lymphatic system," she said. Henninger said she gets her heart rate up through exercise about five times a week.

When In Doubt, Wash Your Hands

Washing hands or using a sanitizer after being in crowded spaces can also help you avoid the flu and the common cold according to Dr. Andrew Chang, a primary care physician at Gouverneur Health on the Lower East Side, who supports naturopathic techniques if they're safe.