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Top 10 immune system boosters

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They lurk in elevators, airplanes, shopping malls and schools. They threaten to attack you at work and even at home. Yes, they're the common cold and flu, and no matter where you are these days, they seem to be "going around." This season, instead of turning to your stash of Sudafed, Tylenol, Robitussin, NyQuil and TheraFlu, try a few alternative solutions that get to the root of the problem.

We're generally concerned with masking and suppressing the symptoms of the cold and flu — a practice that allows us to continue our daily lives without missing a beat. But masking these symptoms often comes with uncomfortable side effects from drowsiness to upset stomach, dehydration and foggy heads. Chasing only the symptoms on the surface, we ignore the imbalances within and end up prolonging our illnesses or experiencing lingering afflictions. Here is a list of nature's finest remedies to improve your general well-being and give your immune system its needed boost. 

Astragalus
For thousands of years, astragalus (Huang-Qi) has been used in China to restore life force. As an immune system booster, it strengthens general vitality, improves digestion and builds up the body's defense against viruses. Popularly found in tea and tablet form, we recommend selecting a product that contains an extract of the root, with 0.5 percent glucosides and 70 percemt polysaccharides. For general well-being, this is a good tonic to keep in your routine, but alternate the use of astragalus with another immune-boosting herb such as echinacea, so as not to build up a tolerance to its healing effects.

Cold Snap
Cold Snap, a mega-mixture consisting of twenty herbs employed in traditional Chinese medicine, works to restore your "righteous chi," or inner strength and balance. The ingredients in Cold Snap, such as forsythia, Japanese honeysuckle, burdock and soybean, work as catalysts to help your body do its exquisite healing work. Instead of stimulating the system or eliminating toxins, these natural healers instead nourish and build your chi, which in turn helps fight off "unwanted guests" such as stress, contagious sickness, chills and heat.

Echinacea
Echinacea has recently found its way into the American vernacular after a long tradition of medicinal use by North American Plains Indians and homeopathic doctors in Europe. Also known as the purple coneflower, it has been used to treat general infections and wounds, the cold and flu, strep throat and allergies. The potent herb encourages white blood cells and lymphocytes to attack invading organisms, thus increasing the number and activity of immune system cells. While you can find echinacea in power bars, teas and capsules, researchers recommend the standardized extract above all other forms.

Esberitox
Hailing from Germany, Esberitox is an all-natural herbal supplement that has been used in Europe for decades as an immune system booster. Combining two powerful immune-enhancing herbs, Thuja and Baptisia, with two different types of echinacea, this potent little pill strengthens the body's own natural defenses and can help prevent against the flu and common cold. While Esberitox is best taken for several weeks at a time as a preemptive measure, it can also be taken at the onset of symptoms to stimulate the production and activity of infection-fighting cells.

Olive Leaf
Olive leaf extract has received a lot of attention from alternative health care advocates in recent decades; however, this immune system booster has been used medicinally for centuries in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, where olive trees grow in abundance. Aside from fighting the common cold and flu, this powerful little leaf can also help increase energy levels, lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar levels, and aid in fighting autoimmune disorders. Rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals, olive leaf is especially potent when used in combination with other antioxidants.

Sambucus
Sambucus (elderberry) is a shrub whose blue-black berries have traditionally been used to help fight colds and flu viruses. Sambucus is high in a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which can help alleviate bothersome symptoms. It also contains a property that stimulates the body's own defenses by producing anti-inflammatory molecules called cytokines. The leaves, twigs, branches and seeds of Sambucus are toxic if ingested, as are the berries if unripe, so we don't recommend going out to gather your own plant. Instead, try an over-the-counter supplement such as Sambucol, which contains elderberry extract. As with all herbal remedies, consult with your physician before embarking on a treatment regimen.

Vitamin C
Long known for its myriad health benefits, vitamin C is one of the most popular nutrients taken in supplement form—and for good reason. This potent antioxidant has been shown to protect against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease and even wrinkly skin. While many multivitamins and energy drinks, such as Emergen-C, include "superdosages" of vitamin C, the ubiquitous immune system booster can be found in many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, including red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, dark leafy greens, and of course, oranges.

Umcka
Native to South Africa, Umcka (short for "Umckaloabo") is an herbal extract known for its antibacterial and immune-boosting properties. It is derived from the plant Pelargonium sidoides, whose medicinal qualities have been utilized by African cultures for centuries. Studies have shown that Umckaloabo works similarly to other immune-boosters found in nature such as elderberry (Sambucus or Sambucol) but what makes this over-the-counter extract uniquely effective is its ability to combat infections brought on by either viruses or bacteria. Aside from Umcka's dual antibacterial/antiviral qualities, it also serves as a natural expectorant, helping to remove excess mucus from the sinuses and respiratory tract. For fighting a cold, it's best to use Umcka within 48 hours of showing symptoms. While Umcka has been proven effective in short-term trials, discontinue use and consult a doctor if you remain feeling under-the-weather for longer than seven days. We've had great success with it for fighting colds as well as bronchitis, even in kids!

Wellness Formula
Wellness Formula has been a leading cold weather herbal supplement for over 20 years thanks to its powerful combination of herbs, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals designed to get to the root cause of bodily imbalances. Containing potent doses of vitamins A and C alongside herbs long-used in Eastern medicine, such as astragalus, garlic, and isatis, this carefully-crafted concoction provides support for the multiple body systems that impact immune and upper respiratory health. Together, these proven immune system boosters work to strengthen the body's natural protective barriers and cleanse the mucous membranes

Zinc
Zinc, an essential trace element with antioxidant properties, plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Individuals who suffer from mild to severe zinc deficiency are more prone to a variety of illnesses, but even those without a deficiency have been found to benefit from the administration of zinc, either in lozenge or spray form, at the early onset of a cold or flu. In order to maintain proper zinc levels in your diet, be sure to eat foods rich in the element, such as red meat, seafood, nuts and eggs.

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