When it comes to the common cold, most of us grew up with the understanding that there is no real cure.
This most widespread of all viral illnesses – affecting the average adult between two to three times per year and children anywhere between six and twelve – is the result of an upper respiratory invasion by one of over 200 different viral strains.
Even in the world of natural health, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial remedies are far more common than those which effectively combat viral infections.
Here you will find seven of the most powerful anti-viral foods which will not only help you to ward off cold and flu bugs this winter, but can also improve your health and resistance to many other dangerous viral pathogens year-round.
1. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
One of the oldest natural remedies in existence, Elderberry is most well known today for its use in cold & flu-fighting syrups. Due in part to its long history of successfully ‘healing’ viral illnesses, elderberry extract has been the subject of many scientific studies.
Elderberry has been proven to significantly boost immune system response against viral infections, as well as to reduce the duration of cold and flu symptoms by more than half!
So, how does it work?
Viral particles, (aka virion) are coated in a layer of sharp spines which they use to attach to and penetrate the protective membrane of healthy living host cells. Once inside, a virion hijacks the cell’s contents and uses them to create as many copies of itself as possible.
These copies then burst out of the used up host cell and float off in search of new healthy cells to infect. Without the spikes, a virus can’t attach to its host. No attachment equals no entry, equals no nefarious parasitic business. This is where elderberry steps in.
Elderberry extract contains flavonoids which bind to a virion’s spikes (imagine a sweet gum seed husk wrapped in silly putty), thus rendering the virus inert.
While it is most effective against influenza, including H1N1; elderberry has also been proven effective for reducing infectivity of HIV and for inhibiting replication of several strains of the herpes simplex virus.
2. Olive Leaf (Olea europaea)
Olive leaf extract (and to a lesser extent olive oil) contain a polyphenol known as oleuropein. Highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, able to lower blood pressure, balance cholesterol and even ward off some forms of cancer; oleuropein is the key ingredient responsible for the olive tree’s claim to natural health fame. Of course, you’ve probably heard all of that before.
What you may not already know is that oleuropein is also anti-viral. Tested against a wide range of viruses including influenza, herpes mononucleosis, poliomyelitis and HIV-1, as well as viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV), salmonid rhabdovirus, canine parvovirus and feline leukemia virus; oleuropein exhibited inhibitory activity against all of them – either by preventing entry into healthy host cells or by blocking viral enzymes which allow the virion to corrupt healthy RNA/DNA in order to replicate.
If you’re interested in taking olive leaf extract, you can pick some up here; however, you should definitely speak to your doctor first as the high levels of oleuropein contain in the extract are known to interfere with certain other medications.
Health Tip: Oleuropein is the chemical responsible for giving a good, high-quality olive oil its bitter, herbaceous flavor. If your oil doesn’t taste “green” then you may want to upgrade to a better brand as many lower-end products are cut with cheap vegetable oils to reduce manufacturing costs and lower the shelf price. If you aren’t sure which brands you can trust at your local grocery store, skip the big-box and try this one by Bragg instead (the same fine folks who make our favorite unfiltered apple cider vinegar!)
3. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Tea leaves harvested from Camellia sinensis contain high concentrations of a group of flavonoids called catechins. Known for their many health benefits including the two highly sought after antioxidant abilities: to combat cancer and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing oxidative damage to arteries.
Three of these catechins naturally present in tea – epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG) and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – have also been studied for their ability to bind to and inhibit the entry of certain viruses into healthy living tissues. Specifically, these three compounds where tested and proven effective against influenza, HIV, herpes simplex and hepatitis B.
While all teas derived from Camellia sinensis contain EGC, ECG and EGCG, these three powerful antioxidants are at their highest concentration (nearly 5x more concentrated!) in Matcha green tea.
4. Fresh Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic is one of those foods that everyone should keep in their kitchen at all times. It is – by far – one of the most useful and versatile remedies in the natural world. If you’re interested to know more, you can find a lot of good information in this article.
Among its abundant health benefits, garlic has both the ability to reduce risk of contracting a viral cold by up to 64% when eaten regularly, as well as the effect of shortening the duration of a person’s symptoms by up to 70% if consumed post-infection. This antiviral activity is the result of garlic’s high concentration of allicin – the organosulfur compound which gives freshly cut garlic its signature pungent odor.
Aside from being one of the few anti-viral foods which has been proven effective against human rhinovirus – the most common form of the over 200 ‘common cold’ viral strains; fresh garlic has also been found to inhibit various strains of influenza, herpes simplex types I and II, viral stomatitis and human cytomegalovirus.
Allicin is only present in fresh garlic and is only synthesized by enzymes in the plant after some form of tissue damage occurs (chopping, biting, crushing, etc). However, once produced, allicin quickly breaks down into a series of other sulfur compounds, thus non-fresh forms of garlic will not have the same effect.
5. Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
All forms of edible mushrooms contain anti-viral compounds, however few can match the power of the mighty shiitake. Scientific studies have identified at least 11 different chemicals in shiitake mushrooms which inhibit viral replication, stimulate the host’s immune system or, in some cases, completely envelop viral particles and carry them harmlessly out of the body. Mushrooms also promote alkalinity which creates an inhospitable environment for viruses to inhabit, further lower the chance of infection.
As if all of that anti-viral activity weren’t enough, shiitake mushrooms – when exposed to sunlight – create and store their own vitamin D which can then be passed on to a person who consumes them. Growing mushrooms is also a truly fun and unique experience which everyone (green thumb or not) should try at least once.
6. Liquorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Liquorice root extract (also known as glycyrrhizin or glycyrrhizic acid) is a powerful anti-viral compound which has been tested and found effective against SARS, HIV and AIDS, as well as both acute and chronic viral hepatitis.
In cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), glycyrrhizin even out-performed several of the most highly-recommended (not to mention highly toxic) pharmaceuticals designed to combat the illness.
Glycyrrhizin’s anti-viral activity is threefold: preventing a virion’s attachment to and entry into healthy host cells, as well as inhibiting replication of any virions which have already penetrated the cell membrane.
Liquorice root extract may be purchased here. Please note however, that glycyrrhizin is a powerful compound and it is highly recommended that you speak with your doctor before taking it – especially if you are on any other medications. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid glycyrrhizin entirely.
7. Pink Lapacho (Handroanthus impetiginosa)
Pink lapacho (also known as pau d’arco) is a beautiful flowering deciduous tree native to Central and South America. The inner bark of the lapacho tree has a long-standing history as a traditional natural remedy for viral respiratory infections.
This anti-viral property is due in part to the bark’s high concentration of quinoids – specifically lapachol which inhibits viral replication in strains of the common cold, influenza, herpes simplex types I and II, poliomyelitis, viral and vesicular stomatitis.
Lapacho is also a natural expectorant and immunostimulant, which further increase its usefulness when combating cold and flu viruses.
Lapacho bark is traditionally brewed as an herbal tea, however its taste tends to be very bitter. Taken in capsule form, lapacho is far more palatable, however the active compounds may not be as potent as in lapacho tea.
It is highly recommended that you speak with a health care professional before taking lapacho in either form as the herb can interfere with other medications. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid lapacho and the herb is toxic to developing fetuses and small children.
Learn More Ways to Vanquish Viruses
Be sure to check out our new cold & flu series to pick up a total of 72 cold-crushing, bug-busting, flu-fighting tips that will help you survive cold and flu season this year!