amaze magazine :: winter 2005

by dr. laurie steelsmith

Natural Immune Boosters for Cold and Flu Season


It is cold and flu season, and the season to be jolly. To fully enjoy the holidays and side step the pervasive bugs responsible for colds and flus, give yourself the gift of optimal immunity. With natural medicine, there are many ways to keep your body strong and your spirits high.

To achieve and maintain optimal immunity, begin with your lifestyle. If you find yourself getting frequent infections or feeling excessively tired at the end of the day, it may be a sign that you need what I call a “lifestyle tune-up.” It includes evaluating your diet, getting regular exercise, and taking a good look at how you spend your time. In the event that you need extra immune support, there are also a number of natural remedies that can kick your immune cells into high gear so that no bug would be happy thriving in your body.

A healthy diet is important to creating strong immunity. Although the holidays bring lots of fun, they can also bring plates of sugary foods, which can suppress your immunity. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that excessive sugar ingestion can impair the ability of your immune cells to fight infection. To keep your immunity strong, eat a diet that comprises an abundance of vegetables, some fruit, whole grains, quality lean protein, and healthy fats like olive and flax oils. Once in awhile, you can indulge in treats, but limit your intake and don’t ingest them if you are feeling like you are coming down with a cold or flu. Also, experiment with making holiday goodies with natural ingredients and sweetened with stevia, an herbal sweetener.

Regular exercise keeps your system in tiptop shape. A study published in the August 2000 British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that “moderate exercise across the life span seems to increase resistance to upper respiratory tract infections.” Exercise at least 20 minutes every day, choosing exercises that bring you joy.

One of the most important lifestyle tune-ups is taking a good look at where you’re spending your time. Identify what you value most in your life—for example, your family, health, or career—and spend more time each day with what you value most.

Natural remedies that can give your immune system that extra boost during the holidays include Chinese and Western herbal and nutritional remedies.


Reishi mushrooms are among my all-time favorites because they have anti-tumor and immune-stimulating properties. Called the “mushrooms of immortality,” they have been used in Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Reishi mushrooms possess antioxidant and tension-relieving properties that can help fortify your immunity. It is best to use reishi for the duration of the winter cold and flu season. The recommended dose is 400 milligrams three times a day, containing a minimum of 10 percent beta-glucan and 4 percent triterpene.

Astragalus is another Chinese herb that has a long track record in enhancing immunity. It is known as a “Qi” tonic, which means that it strengthens your vital force. Studies have shown that astragalus has the ability to increase the production of immune cells that destroy viruses and bacteria. It is best used to prevent a cold or flu rather than to treat a cold or flu. Astragalus can also be used if you’ve suffered from a protracted illness and lack the strength to restore health. The recommended dose is 3 grams three times a day for at least three months.

As always, prevention is the best cure, but in the event that you feel yourself coming down with cold or flu symptoms, take the following steps to help your body oust any viruses or bacteria:

  • Drink hot fluids, especially ginger tea if you have chills.
  • Take zinc gluconate lozenges to help shorten the duration of a cold or flu. Suck on one 15 milligram lozenge four times a day, up to five days.
  • Dramatically increase your consumption of garlic, or take “sociable” garlic pills (be sure you ingest at least 5,000 micrograms of allicin, the active constituent in garlic, per day).
  • Take Vitamin A: 10,000 i.u. three to five times a day, for up to one week. (If you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant, take no more than 10,000 i.u. a day.)
  • Take a thymus extract. My favorite product is Proboost because it effectively helps your immune system respond quickly to an infection and has antiviral properties. You can read about it at
  • Take Vitamin C: 1,000 milligrams three to five times a day, for up to five days. (Larger doses of vitamin C can sometimes cause loose stools.)
  • If you have the early onset of cold and flu symptoms, such as dull headache, drowsiness, sneezing, dripping nose, and a sore throat, take homeopathic gelsemium. The recommended dose is gelsemium 30c, three pills under your tongue every two to three hours at the onset of symptoms. Stop taking it when you no longer have symptoms.
  • Steam with aromatherapy oils. One of the most effective methods for helping your body rid itself of a cold or flu is to bring essential oils with antiviral and antibacterial properties directly to your sinuses, throat, and lungs. Put a few drops of thyme, peppermint, and eucalyptus oils into a bowl, pour boiling water into the bowl, and with your face directly above the bowl of steam, create a miniature “steam tent” by draping a towel over your head and shoulders. If the steam is too hot to breathe, let a waft escape, or leave a small gap in the towel to circulate fresh air until you can inhale comfortably. Breathe in the steam for five minutes.

By taking good care of yourself during the holidays, you will be able to enjoy the season with great health and vigor!

about dr. laurie steelsmith

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith ( is the author of Natural Choices for Women's Health:How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness (Three Rivers Press, 2005). She is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Hawaii Society of Naturopathic Physicians, Hawaii Acupuncture Association and a Diplomate of the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.

Dr. Steelsmith can be reached at her private practive in Honolulu, HI (808) 943-0330.

dr. laurie steelsmith

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