Immune health has garnered a lot of attention lately. Whereas a healthy immune system rarely makes itself felt, one that isn’t functioning optimally can produce a range of signs, from frequent colds and infections to low energy to digestive issues. There’s no better time to do something about it than right now.
The foundation of healthy immunity is an overall healthy lifestyle. We’re talking about a nutritious, balanced diet, adequate sleep and exercise, staying happy and positive, and not smoking or excessively drinking. Thanks to modern science, it’s possible to get the benefits of many immune-boosting foods in supplement form too. Some superfoods contain special phytonutrients known to enhance immunity in powerful but balanced ways, including antioxidation, immune cell stimulation, regulation of inflammation, and antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Two examples of superfruits with research-backed immune health benefits are black elderberries and sea buckthorn berries.
Black elderberries: potent respiratory health support
The black elderberry is the fruit of the European black elder tree (Sambucus nigra). These dark purple berries have long been used as a food and a folk remedy in North America and Europe. Elderberries are generally consumed after cooking because of the presence of toxic cyanogenic glycosides in the raw berries. Besides cooked preparations, elderberry extracts provide a safe, concentrated source of elderberry.
Black elderberries are rich in vitamin C, phenolic acids and flavonoid antioxidants, including flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin) and anthocyanins (cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside).
Although they have numerous other health benefits, elderberry’s bioactives are most valued for their well-documented ability to boost the immune response and respiratory health:
- Elderberry extract stimulates immune cells to produce cytokines, or chemical messengers, that conduct the inflammatory response.
- Elderberry flavonoids can bind to the surface protein (hemagglutinin) of the influenza virus and inhibit the ability of the virus to attach to and enter cells.
- An elderberry anthocyanin can block an influenza enzyme (neuraminidase) involved in virus release and infection.
- An elderberry extract inhibited the growth of three pathogenic human respiratory bacteria and two strains of influenza virus in cell culture.
- In clinical studies, supplementing with elderberry extracts reduced the length of influenza and the severity of flu symptoms.
- Among a group of air travelers, some of whom caught colds, those taking an elderberry extract experienced a shorter duration of illness and less severe symptoms.
Sea buckthorn berries: an antioxidant and nutritional powerhouse
The sea buckthorn shrub, also known as sandthorn or seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides), is native to parts of Asia and Europe. The yellow-to-orange sea buckthorn berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for respiratory, digestive and skin conditions. Legend has it that the sick, exhausted troops of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan were reinvigorated after consuming wild sea buckthorn berries
What’s so unique about these berries?
- They’re exceptionally nutritious, providing omega-3, 6, 7 and 9 fatty acids, beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and K, phenolic acids and flavonoid antioxidants, especially proanthocyanidins (OPCs) of the prodelphinidin type.
- A patented extract of organic Tibetan sea buckthorn berries (Cyanthox™) has a whopping eight times the antioxidant activity as grape seed extract based on the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) assay.
- In a clinical study, sea buckthorn berry consumption significantly reduced serum concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of systemic inflammation.
Given the susceptibility of the immune system to free radical damage and the role of inflammation in respiratory tract symptoms, sea buckthorn berries can benefit both aspects of health by serving as a free radical neutralizer and inflammation modulator.
During times of seasonal threats, several simple strategies can go a long way toward protecting wellness. Get the annual flu shot. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces. Wash your hands frequently. And try a high-quality natural supplement to strengthen the body’s internal defenses. Taking care of ourselves in these ways also helps protect the health of others around us: now that’s a win-win we can all appreciate.