Bolster your natural defenses against winter’s worst with key minerals and foods

At this point in the season, you’re still probably being harassed to get a flu shot. But it remains important to keep up your natural defenses against the flu and other viruses in circulation.

As we discussed on Tuesday, the first step in building a healthy immune system is to make sure you obtain optimal amounts of five basic vitamins.

So, today, let’s continue that thread by talking about key minerals and foods that also help build your natural defenses…

Three essential minerals to build your immunity

1.) Selenium

It’s said that selenium works like a “natural antibiotic” against viruses. (Remember, actual antibiotics are completely ineffective against viruses!) It’s even been called “birth control” for viruses, as it blocks a virus’ ability to multiply, which allows your immune system to catch up and eliminate the infection. Plus, it works against dangerous cytomegalovirus (CMW) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Of course, selenium also has anti-cancer activity, as I learned from my research in the 1980s with Nobel laureate Baruch S. Blumberg. It also works as an antioxidant, along with vitamin E and glutathione, to neutralize free radicals, a common problem in many chronic diseases, not just cancer.

For most people, the best way to obtain optimal levels of selenium is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Brazil nuts are a rich dietary source as well as tuna, cod, turkey, chicken, and eggs. You can also supplement with selenium. I recommend 100 mcg each day for optimal health. But keep your intake below 400 mcg per day.

2.) Zinc

Zinc is another critical mineral for the immune system. It helps fight a wide variety of viruses, including the common cold. In fact, like vitamin C, zinc has been shown in scientific studies to lessen the severity and duration of colds.

That being said, moderation is the key when it comes to supplementing with zinc, as some studies show that doses of 200 mg per day or higher can actually suppress the immune system.

The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is just 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. But you can safely increase that dose to 100 mg a day if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold.

Zinc lozenges, which are sold just about everywhere nowadays, make an easy choice. Just make sure you opt for zinc acetate instead of zinc gluconate, as your body more readily absorbs it.

3.) Beware Iron
If you’ve been diagnosed with clinical iron-deficiency anemia by a doctor, it means you’re not making enough blood cells to effectively fight viruses and infections. (It’s more common in menstruating and pregnant women than in men.) And your doctor probably has you taking some type of iron supplement.

But iron supplements are strictly off-limits for everyone else. That’s because in healthy adults, excess iron can actually increase the risk of infections, as I also learned many decades ago, while conducting research with Dr. Blumberg. (Our research also showed that excess iron contributes to cancer. And other research shows it’s also a risk factor for heart disease.)

Instead, get your iron from a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of wild-caught fish and organic, free-range meat. (Be wary of useless multivitamins, too—which you should avoid anyway—as many contain iron.)

Which brings me to my next point…

Four foods that support a healthy immune system

 1.) Garlic

There’s a reason why garlic is the first ingredient I use to prepare many of my main dishes during the winter…

It’s an immune-enhancer with potent antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

Specifically, allicin, the main active compound in garlic, seems to improve your white blood cells’ ability to fight off colds and the flu. And like zinc, it also shortens the duration of colds and the flu, and may reduce their severity. Garlic even appears to enhance your immune system’s activity against cancer cells. So start adding garlic to your meals, too!

2.) Mushrooms

Mushrooms, which are technically fungi, have been in Nature, competing with bacteria, for hundreds of millions of years. Which is why they often have potent antibacterial compounds.

Plus, modern science shows that numerous other compounds in mushrooms promote a healthy immune response. Which means they help your body know when to relax and when to kick into overdrive.

Specifically, we know that compounds in mushrooms are effective against nasty viral invaders, including hepatitis, human papilloma virus (HPV), and influenza.

Plus, they’re even effective against cancer! In fact, in Japan, cancer patients who undergo chemo and radiation treatments, which wipe-out immune cells, are given mushrooms to bolster their immunity.

3.) Full-fat yogurt, kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut

These foods may not be top-of-mind when you think about foods to help you avoid getting a cold this winter, but they should be!

That’s because they all contain active, healthy probiotics that benefit your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome, which, as I’ve reported quite a bit recently, is really “ground zero” for your health and immune system. It’s quite literally the frontline where your body fights off harmful bacteria and microbes.

So, by supporting your microbiome, you’re really giving your immune system powerful ammunition.

Specifically, the natural probiotics in these foods compete with—and ultimately shut out—harmful bacteria to keep them from proliferating. They also exert important influences through the gut-immune system axis. (There’s more immune tissue in the GI tract than anywhere else in the body.)

On the flip side, people who don’t have enough healthy bacteria—and too many harmful bacteria—in their guts can suffer from poor immunity. As a result, they get sick more often. And they’re even more prone to developing serious chronic diseases.

Now, many “natural know-it-alls” recommend probiotic supplements as a short-cut to a healthy microbiome. But studies show these supplements just don’t work—and can even cause harm. Instead, simply opt for healthy foods that support natural probiotics, including full-fat yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi.

In addition, go ahead and add plenty of the following foods to your healthy, balanced diet as well. They act as “prebiotics,” feeding the probiotics already present in your gut:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Black pepper
  • Barley
  • Cheese
  • Flaxseed
  • Oats (whole grain)
  • Onions
  • Turmeric
  • Wheat bran

Of course, in addition to the vitamins, minerals, and foods I covered this week, there are many other effective ways to guard against colds and the flu without resorting to drugs or vaccines.

In fact, you can learn about six vaccine-free strategies for flu prevention in the September 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“The deadly dangers of flu vaccinations”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started!


“Zinc acetate lozenges for treating the common cold: an individual patient data meta-analysis.” Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016 Nov;82(5):1393-1398.