Excerpt from Healthy at Home by Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. A healthy body is well positioned to fend off harmful microbes. But are there things you can do to actually “boost” your immune response or help stave off harmful microbes? Many traditional systems of medicine had special herbs and/or foods that were recommended to help keep the body strong and reduce the risk of infection. Garlic, onions, and leeks have long been recommended, and modern science shows that they may indeed help keep you from catching a cold or getting diarrhea.

If you seem to catch everything that goes around your school or office, I would suggest you consider taking a basic multivitamin that provides 15 to 20 milligrams of zinc and 200 to 400 milligrams of vitamin C for extra infection-fighting nutrients. Both of these nutrients are critically important for optimal functioning of the immune system. Studies have shown that healthy children who take zinc regularly have fewer colds, fewer school absences, and less antibiotic use. Taking vitamin C regularly can shorten the duration of colds by about 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children.

Astragalus membranaceus, also known as huang qi, is native to northern China and is considered one of the most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. It is taken to strengthen the immune system and prevent upper respiratory infections. Scientific studies support this. Astragalus increases immune cells in nasal secretions, one of your first lines of defense against respiratory infections. It also can rev up your “rapid-response” team of T cells, making your body better able to fight off an infection if it gains a foothold. Astragalus is quite safe. In China, a few pieces of the dried root are cooked in soups, especially during the wet and/or cold times of the year.

For a real immune boost, you could include some medicinal mushrooms in your meals a couple times a week or take a supplement. Although mushrooms have many compounds that contribute to their beneficial effects on human health, it is the polysaccharides, large complex carbohydrates that account for their potent antiviral and immune-enhancing properties. Mushroom polysaccharides have been scientifically shown to help the body resist infection and fight off tumor cells, making them an excellent addition to the diet any time of year, but especially during the long cold winter months. Here are three of my favorites.

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is a culinary mushroom enjoyed around the world for its delicious meaty taste. Shiitake are highly nutritious, being a good source of vitamins B2, B5, B6; iron, magnesium, vitamin D2, and protein. It contains lentinan, a polysaccharide with potent immune-boosting and antiviral activity.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa), or “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, is another culinary mushroom that can be enjoyed raw, roasted, grilled, baked, or sautéed. It is a good source of B vitamins, vitamin D, and protein, and a mere 3 ounces provide almost 1,000 IU of vitamin D2!

You may have also heard of reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Only the hard core will want to attempt to eat this very tough fibrous mushroom. It’s strictly a medicinal mushroom in my book. But with more than 400 bioactive compounds and a large body of evidence confirming its immune-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and cardiovascular benefits, this is one mushroom you might want to take as a supplement.

Author: Tieraona Low Dog, MD

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or low-sodium soy sauce

Instructions

  • Remove stems and slice shiitake into ½-inch pieces.
  • Crush garlic and let sit for 10 minutes; this allows the medicinal benefits to be released so that the garlic can be heated.
  • Mix the lemon juice, tamari, and brown sugar.
  • Heat the oil in a skillet and cook mushrooms for 5 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the tamari mixture and cook until absorbed.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Top with chopped green onion and, if desired, a few drops of dark sesame oil.
  • Serve as a side dish or over rice, chicken, or fish.