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8 Super Ingredients To Boost Your Immune System

Coughing and sneezing? Head ache? Run down? Bounce back from colds and flu and boost your immunity with these powerful natural ingredients. Many of them may be already in your kitchen cupboard.

Aching joints, headaches, itchy eyes and a sore, red nose: colds can leave you feeling pretty miserable. The flu can be much more serious, with thousands of people hospitalised due to the virus each year.

Experts are predicting a severe flu season ahead, following a record season in Australia, where hospitals saw almost double the cases of flu compared to 2016 (168,337 compared to 91,000).[1] The increase is believed to be due to a particularly nasty strain of flu called H3N2, which tends to be more severe than other strains. Health trends in Australia have long been viewed as a predictor of what is to come in the US and the rest of the northern hemisphere, so it looks like we may be in for tough winter ahead.

Fortunately, there is plenty we can do to boost our immune function and keep those winter colds and flus at a bay. Nature has given us a veritable arsenal of herbs and nutrients to keep our immune system strong and stay fit and well all winter. And the good news is many of these super nutrients can be found in your kitchen cupboard!

1. Turmeric

Keep your immune system kicking with lots of warming curries this winter! The wonder nutrient that gives curry its characteristic yellow colour, turmeric supports every body system. Indian and Asian cultures have recognised the powerful health benefits of this rhizome for thousands of years.[2] The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage (it may even have a role in fighting cancer), keeps the skin soft and youthful and reduces pain and inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties also help build the immune system and fight colds and flus. A comforting drink of turmeric, ginger and warm milk is often used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for colds and flu and while convalescing.

2. Piperine

Folk medicine usually has it right. In traditional Indian cooking, black pepper is always used with turmeric as the two are considered complementary. And science has demonstrated that turmeric and black pepper do in fact work hand in hand. A problem with curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is its low levels of bioavailability. Taking turmeric with black pepper helps the body absorb and utilise these powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.[3]

But pepper has its own important health-giving properties too. Piperine, the active compound in pepper which gives it its pungent flavour, seems to boost immune function, and may even have the ability to destroy bacteria and cancer cells.[4] A good grind of pepper on your salads each day may help keep those winter colds at bay.

3. Bilberry Extract

During World War II, British fighter pilots reportedly ate bilberry jam to improve their nighttime vision.[5] The vision-boosting benefits of bilberry are due to its rich concentration of anthocyanins – polyphenols which give the berries their characteristic blue/black colour and have powerful antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins boost the production of rhodopsin, a pigment that improves night vision and helps the eye adapt to light changes. These antioxidants also help build strong blood vessels and improve circulation, improve blood sugar balance and even boost immunity. Bilberry’s anti-microbial properties[6] mean it may be beneficial in fighting the viruses associated with colds and flu.

4. Bromelain

Did your mum ever give you pineapple juice when you were ill as a child? Turns out she was on to something. Pineapple is high in the bioflavonoid bromelain, which works in two ways to help fight colds and flu. A proteolytic enzyme (or more simply: an enzyme that breaks down proteins), bromelain helps break down mucus to keep airways clear and ease that nasty cough. It also boosts the function of our key immune cells, T and B lymphocytes[7] which destroy pathogens and form our immunological memory (meaning when we encounter the same bugs again, our body knows how to respond). It also enhances the function of macrophages and natural killer cells (white blood cells that consume viruses, bacteria and diseased cells).[8]

5. Cysteine

Not just an old wives tale, chicken soup really does help cure (and prevent!) the common cold. Chicken is rich in the amino acid cysteine, which the body converts into glutathione peroxidase, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals and protect our cells from damage[9]. It also boasts powerful immune boosting benefits.[10] The supplemental form of cysteine is N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC). NAC also helps break down mucus, clearing airways and easing the characteristic symptoms of colds. An Italian study showed that NAC even helped ease flu symptoms.[11]

6. Beta 1-3 Glucan 

Fan of shiitake mushrooms? You are on to a good thing. Mushrooms have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries for their healing and immuno stimulating properties. As well as being rich in B vitamins and minerals, shiitake (and other wild mushrooms) are very high in a family of polysaccharides known as beta-glucans. Found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts and algae, beta-glucans support immunity by enhancing the function of macrophages and natural killer cells. So potent is beta-glucan’s immune-boosting strength that it may even help to fight cancer.[12]

7. Olive Leaf Extract

Olive leaf is the leaf of the olive tree (Olea europaea). A cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet, olive oil has long been touted as a superfood for its role in protecting heart health, improving circulation and promoting healthy skin. Oleuropein is the active polyphenol found in olives that give the plant its health-promoting properties, but olive leaves actually have much higher levels of Oleuropein than the fruit. Their high Oleuropein content gives the leaves potent antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, and they have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat acute illnesses and boost the immune system.[13] Oleuropein is also the secret behind olive oil’s characteristic slightly bitter and tangy taste.[14] Olive leaf may actually inhibit the growth of viruses, bacteria, yeast and parasites – helping nip those annoying colds and flus in the bud.

8. Black Cumin Extract (Nigella Seeds)

One of the oldest known spices, nigella seeds (black cumin extract) were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and are mentioned in the Bible’s Old Testament[15]. The tiny black seeds have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. It is the oil in the seeds that have the therapeutic benefit, and studies have shown it may have antibacterial properties.[16] The active ingredient thymoquinone (TQ) extracted from its seeds and oils may be beneficial against certain forms of cancer, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease[17]. With these powerful immune boosting benefits, black cumin extract is a potent ingredient in our winter-wellness prescription. Not commonly used in cooking (although you may see it sprinkled on the top of some naan breads), the easiest way to consume black cumin extract is as a supplement.

Everything you need for winter wellness

A healthful diet is key to improving immunity, boosting your overall health and protecting your body from free-radical damage, aging and inflammation. However, during the winter months, it is important to provide your body with extra support. Xtend-Life Total Balance is a standardised, research-proven formulation that provides a constant range of active ingredients, as well as containing the full spectrum of coactives. Compared to food nutrients which are not standardised (resulting in unknown or uncertain results), Total Balance combines all of the above powerful nutrients in one convenient supplement – helping supercharge your immune system and keeping you well all winter.


[1] Experts Predict Severe Flu Season in U.S. Vitamin Retailer Magazine, September, 2017

[2] Prasad, S. and Aggarwal, B. Turmeric, the Golden Spice. NCBI Bookshelf

[3] Shoba G, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):353-6.

[4] Liu Y, Yadev VR, Aggarwal BB and Nair MG. Inhibitory effects of black pepper (Piper nigrum) extracts and compounds on human tumor cell proliferation, cyclooxygenase enzymes, lipid peroxidation and nuclear transcription factor-kappa-B, Nat Prod Commun. 2010 Aug;5(8):1253-7.

[5] Ehrlich, S. Bilberry. University of Maryland Medical Center.

[6] Wing-kwan C., Cheung, S., Lau, R. and Benzie, I. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Herbal Medicine, NCBI Bookshelf

[7] Engwerda, C., Andrew, D., Ladhams, A. and Mynott, T. Bromelain modulates T and B cell immune responses in vitro and in vivo. Cellular Immunology 210, 66-75(2001).

[8] Engwerda , C., Andrew, D., Murphy, M. and. Mynott, T. Bromelain Activates Murine Macrophages and Natural Killer Cells in Vitro. Cellular Immunology 210, 5-10 (2001).

[9] Lopez, L. Natural Health: A New Zealand A to Z Guide. David Bateman, Auckland. 2002 (32)

[10] Arranz L, Fernández C, Rodríguez A, Ribera JM, and De la Fuente M. The glutathione precursor N-acetylcysteine improves immune function in postmenopausal women. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Nov 1;45(9):1252-62.

[11] De Flora S, Grassi C, Carati L. Attenuation of influenza-like symptomatology and improvement of cell-mediated immunity with long-term N-acetylcysteine treatment. European Respiratory Journal. 1997, July. Institute of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine, University of Genoa, Italy.

[12] Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606.

[13] Omar, S., Oleuropein in Olive and its Pharmacological Effects. Sci Pharm. 2010 Apr-Jun; 78(2): 133–154. Published online 2010 Apr 23.

[14] Olive Leaf: The Natural Immune Booster. 2014, June. Healthpost

[15] Christian, G. Nigella Seeds. BBC Good food..

[16] El-Kamali H., Ahmed A., and Mohammed A. Antibacterial properties of essential oils from Nigella sativa seeds, Cymbopogon citratus leaves and Pulicaria undulata aerial parts. Fitoterapia 1998. 69:77–78.

[17] Asaduzzaman Khan, M. Chen, H., Mousumi, T. and Zhang, D. Anticancer activities of Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin). African Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011 8(5 Suppl):226-232

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