Woman drinking herbal tea in a sweater.

Wintertime Immunity: Natural Cold and Flu Fighters

The holidays have arrived, and if you are like me you have already packed away the leftovers from your turkey dinner, hung Christmas decorations with care, and have administered a requisite dose of holiday cheer to all those you know. However, while you were spreading holiday cheer, you may have passed on a bit more to your friends and family than they bargained for.

That's right...I'm talking about bacteria and viruses.

Unfortunately, bacteria and viruses are nearly impossible to avoid. We are in luck, though, as mother nature has bestowed upon us many natural elements that not only heighten our immunity, but also help to defeat cold and flu viruses once an illness has set in. These items are available in supplement form, and help fight against the cold and flu by curbing inflammation and battling bacteria and viruses with their immunostimulant effects. These supplements, favored in the natural health community for their efficacy in fighting illness, are probiotics, elderberry, and goldenseal.

When it comes to prevention, probiotics make a great first defense. It often surprises people that when trying to avoid cold and flu symptoms the first line of defense often can be more bacteria, but it's true. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that work in multiple ways. One way that they are effective in helping to prevent flu is by lining your mucous membranes, making it difficult for outside germs to penetrate. They also breakdown bacteria and viruses that enter our digestive tract.

When purchasing probiotics it is best to look for a product that lists a variety of strains, since a more diverse microbiome is considered by health professionals to be a healthier one. While most of the probiotic strains available in a standard probiotic supplement have been shown in studies to be helpful for maintaining general health, when boosting immunity for cold and flu the strains Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001 and Lactobacillus reuteri Sd2112 have been shown to be especially effective. Look for those strains listed on the side of the bottle you are purchasing.

Another favorite preventative supplement available on the market useful for alleviating cold and flu symptoms is elderberry. Most often made into a syrup, elderberry is a dark purple berry that grows on a bush in dense clusters. Found in temperate climates, these powerful berries have been documented for medicinal use going back centuries. Numerous pieces of evidence have shown that they were used by Hippocrates, and the ancient Egyptians as well. This antiviral herb is most effective when you take it immediately when you start to feel ill, at the onset of symptoms.

Used properly, elderberry has been shown in studies to shorten the duration of colds and lessen their severity. In fact, according to a study completed by the Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, patients in Israel who took elderberry had symptoms that were relieved (on average) four days earlier than the placebo group. Scientists believe it works in two ways: one way is by curbing inflammation, and the other is due to the effect of its anthocyanidins, an antioxidant shown to have immunostimulant effects.

If you are unfortunate enough to already have gotten sick, you don't need to lament—there are herbs available that can effectively fight infection, too. If you suspect you have an infection a good herb to try is goldenseal, a favorite in the naturopathic medicine chest. Prized by Native American cultures, this potent herb has an aptitude for clearing up stubborn infections.

The secrets behind its health restoring power are most likely a group of alkaloids, namely berberine, canadine, and hydrastine. These alkaloids are both astringent and antiseptic, which assist in cleansing the mucous membranes, and alleviating inflammation. Most people know when inflammation is left unfettered it will continue to make a person sick, so an herb that curbs this process is important for healing.

The holidays provide us with a time to reset and focus on family, so you don't want illness to befall you. Happily, with the nutritional supplements available such as probiotics, elderberry, and goldenseal, your time being sick can be reduced, and you can more easily fight off ongoing infection if one sets in. Better yet, these are all easy-to-find herbs and supplements that can be found at your local health food store.

The information in this article is for general educational purposes only, and should not be construed or interpreted as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any medical condition or treatment, and before undertaking a new heathcare regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article or any linked materials.

Faith is Earthlight's staff writer and one of our many star employees.