Immune-Boosting Foods and Supplements to Fight Cold and Flu

Health Professional

Have you ever noticed that when there’s a bug around your office, not everyone “gets” it? Why does this happen? Probably for the same reason that some houses get knocked down in a hurricane and some remain standing. Some houses are made of sturdy materials, while others are made of much flimsier stuff. In the same way, if your immune system is well-nourished and healthy, it will better withstand challenges.

Remember, your health isn’t measured by whether or not you get the cold or cough; it’s measured by how well your body handles it if you do get it, and by how quickly your body recovers.

Nutritionist Jonny Bowden takes a whole-body approach to building immunity, which means immune-boosting foods (such as garlic) and supplements (such as Sambucol; see below) to strengthen your immune system. At the first sign of a cold, he adds these supplements and foods.


Cells need this mineral to fight bacteria and viruses. Zinc is also important in the development of white blood cells, which are the immune system cells used to protect against infections. Your body does not store zinc, so we need to consume zinc daily during the cold season. If you do get sick, zinc might help shorten the length of your illness. Bowden recommends supplementing 15mg of zinc daily during “regular” times and 50mg daily at the first sign of a cold.


This herb is used to fight the cold and other upper respiratory infections. Take it at the first sign of symptoms. It might keep the cold from developing or make symptoms less severe. Bowden states it is safe to supplement anywhere from 300-500mg three times a day.

Cherries and other berries

Almost every cold is accompanied by inflammation. Cherries and berries are filled with compounds called anthocyanins, which are highly anti-inflammatory. All berries are beneficial to health, but remember to go organic if you choose strawberries as they are consistently on the Environmental Working Group’s list of most contaminated produce. One to two daily servings of cherries or berries is ideal. One-half cup of fresh berries equals a serving. NOTE: Cherries are an old, traditional remedy for gout, with research confirming that dark cherries (and dark cherry juice) do wonders for the pain and inflammation that comes with it.

Black elderberry

One of the most powerful berries in the world is black elderberry. But unfortunately, you won’t find black elderberries at the grocery store. (They taste horrible.) What you will find is a marvelous extract of black elderberry, sold over the counter as Sambucol. Sambucol has been added to the expanded 10th anniversary edition of Bowden’s best-selling book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Black elderberry is good to take even if you’re not sick, because it helps to turn up the dials on your very complex immune system. Bowden recommends one to two capfuls of Sambucol a day during cold and flu season — three caps a day when you’re coming down with something.

Bowden notes that Sambucol also comes in delicious gummies, perfect for children, though children tend to like the taste of the regular Sambucol liquid as well.

Vitamin C

One of the most researched vitamins when it comes to boosting the immune system, Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant that helps protect against the free radicals generated by the immune cells as they work to kill pathogens. Vitamin C has also been shown to increase the function and production of important immune system components such as leukocytes, phagocytes, and neutrophils, in particular, which attack foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Think of vitamin C as a turbocharger for the whole process of healing. Especially during cold and flu season, Bowden recommends supplementing 1000 mg of vitamin C daily, plus consuming plenty of vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, such as yellow bell peppers, guava, kale (or other dark green leafy vegetables), and oranges.


Garlic has been used since ancient times to ward off colds. Supplement your diet with fresh garlic or garlic extract which may help keep nasty germs away. When you use garlic for cooking, be sure to add it towards the end, and be sure to chop it up thoroughly — the active ingredient (allicin) is created by breaking down the cell walls.

Vitamin A

It’s an immune system booster like almost nothing else, even though few people outside the health professions know this. Bowden recommend 50,000 IUs for three days in a row if you start to feel something coming on. Yes, that’s a high dose, but it’s only for three days, and according to Bowden it’s quite effective. While cold-water fish (like salmon) won’t necessarily fight a specific disease, Bowden states the omega-3s from salmon (and from fish oil supplements) are one of the most beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds on the planet. Inflammation is one of the major promoters of every degenerative disease we know of, from obesity to heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Two servings of wild salmon a week and/or daily fish oil supplements (3-4 grams a day) helps keep inflammation in check.

Bowden shared a few more tips if you do get sick. Make sure to:

  • Get lots of sleep.
  • Try using a Neti pot to soothe your sinuses.
  • Gargle with warm water, sea salt, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.
  • Spread on a mentholated rub like Vicks.
  • Gobble down some homemade chicken soup. (That’s not just an old superstition. Research by Stephen Rennard, MD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, shows that chicken soup actually does help support your immune system.)

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