First that nasty cold knocked out the IT department, then your desk-mate started sniffling. At this time of year, there seems to be a perpetual virus going around the office. One way to help? Load up on superfoods that give your immune system a fighting chance, but don't wait until you're already feeling under the weather. Studies show that infection-fighting nutrients like zinc, selenium and beta-glucans work better before symptoms start, so load up on healthful foods now to keep your body's defense system strong throughout the season.
Garlic's history as an infection fighter runs long (it was used as an antibiotic during both World Wars) thanks to the sulfur-containing compounds in each clove, including powerful allicin, ajoene and thiosulfinates. The anitmicrobial effects of the garlic compound allicin are well-documented, including in a 2004 study in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, where researchers found the sulfinate effective against powerful, antibiotic resistant bacterial infections from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Wheat germ is one of the richest vegetarian sources of zinc -- an important mineral that is involved in nearly every aspect of immune system regulation. Zinc aids in the development of T-lymphocytes, a group of white blood cells that are central to fighting off infection. It also helps maintain healthy skin and mucus membranes -- the body's first barriers to infection.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)'s Office of Dietary Supplements, the reason grain-derived zinc is less available to humans than meat sources is because grains also contain phytates, a compound that binds to zinc and inhibits its absorption by the body. Soaking or sprouting the wheat germ before eating it will help to break down the phytates, improving zinc absorption.
Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium, a nutrient that helps to form selenoproteins -- a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals. That means selenium may help prevent chronic diseases like some cancers and heart disease, but selenoproteins also play a role in protecting the immune system by helping to form infection-fighting T-cells. One study in mice showed that the compound also helps regulate intestinal flora -- helping gut bacteria to defeat invading pathogens.