By: Sonja N. Fung, ND

The immune system is a complex network in our body that works to fight off harmful substances and disease-causing microorganisms called pathogens. Our immune system includes the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and white blood cells.

There are two major parts of the immune system; innate immunity and adaptive immunity. We are born with our innate (natural) immunity. Our innate immune system is our first line of defense in our body and is programmed to recognize what is “self” and “foreign.” Anything in our body that is “foreign” triggers this part of our immune system to attack in general. Our adaptive immune system develops throughout our lifetime. It is the part of our system that creates specific “memory,” or antibodies, of all the different pathogens we encounter; such that the pathogen will be easily recognized the next time our body sees it.

When our immune system encounters a virus or bacteria, both these systems go into action to kill off and get rid of the bugs from our body by raising our body’s temperature (i.e. fever), producing a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and slowing down our body to make us rest and recover. There are many ways you can enhance your immune system and help your body recover faster from a cold or flu. Here are some safe, natural herbs and vitamins that can boost your immune system to fight more effectively.

Moving beyond Echinacea and Vitamin C: Enhancing your immune system when under attack

  • Elderberry syrup- helps alleviate the symptoms of the flu for adults. Taking 1 tbsp of the syrup, four times each day, for 3 days or until symptoms are resolved, works as well as Tamiflu against the flu virus.
  • Vitamin D3- Vitamin D is not only essential for bone health, but also to combat seasonal depression and to strengthen our immune system. Make sure you have optimal levels of Vitamin D3 by asking your doctor to test your 25-OH Vitamin D levels. Optimal levels should be between 50-80 ng/ml. An adult dose of Vitamin D3 is up to 5000 IU/day and a child’s dose is up to 2000 IU/day.
  • Zinc- Zinc is an essential element in over 300 different processes in our body. Zinc blocks viruses from replicating and from entering the cells of our mucosal lining in our nose and mouth. An adult dose is 30 mg/day on a full stomach, otherwise it may cause some nausea.
  • Probiotics- Probiotics are the “good bugs” that keep our intestinal tract healthy. In a recent study, researchers reported that children who received probiotics developed 60% fewer colds, needed fewer antibiotics and missed fewer days of school than the children who did not take probiotics.
  • Ginger tea with raw honey- Ginger is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat colds, coughs, runny noses with clear nasal discharge, and sore throats. Ginger is high in antioxidants and has potent antiviral properties. Raw honey adds antioxidants and natural anti-microbial enzymes which help fight off viruses and bacteria. In addition, honey also helps sooth raw throats and cuts the spiciness of the ginger.
  • Eucalyptus Steam Inhalation- Essential oils, such as eucalyptus, clove, and thyme, have strong anti-microbial properties and are effective against some viruses, bacteria, and fungus. It is especially effective when used in a steam inhalation, as the evaporated essential oils come into contact with the mucus membrane in the nasal and sinus passages where the pathogens are located.
  • Immune boosting intra-venous nutrients- At the first signs of a cold or flu symptom, receiving a concentrated amount of high dose B-vitamins, Vitamin C, and other substances right into the cells in your body can be the most potent immune enhancement. This direct infusion allows your body’s cells to immediately use the newly available nutrients to bolster your immune system and give it the energy to fight off any impending infections. Ask your doctor if this treatment is available and appropriate for you.

How can you jump start your immune system?

In general, you can support your immune system by incorporating these good habits.

Get adequate exercise every day! Individuals who receive 40 minutes of moderate daily exercise cut down sick days by 50%.

Sleep/adequate rest- A full 8 hours of rest every night allows your body to recover from the wear and tear of every day work and stress.

Hydration- Drink ½ your body weight in oz of filtered water every day.

Avoid sugary foods and beverages including soda, fruit juice, and alcohol- 1 tsp of sugar decreases our body’s immune system by 50% for the next 5-8 hours!

Eating healthy meals of mainly protein and vegetables stabilizes your blood sugar throughout the day and gives you sustained energy, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

Cook with plenty of fresh spices and herbs such as garlic, onions, cumin, rosemary, basil, etc. Kitchen spices and herbs have anti-microbial properties that can protect you and your family from the cold and flu.

Stress reduction- Chronic stress decreases the function of our immune system. A daily system of stress reduction either through prayer, meditation, exercise, etc. can help enhance your immune system and overall wellbeing.

And of course, wash your hands at every opportunity!

Dr. Sonja Fung is a Naturopathic Doctor at Live Well Clinic. Live Well Clinic is located at 78900 Avenue 47, Ste 102 in La Quinta, CA. For more information you can visit Live Well Clinic’s website at or call at 760-771-5970.