10 Best Immune-Hacking Antiviral Foods to Fight the Flu

Every dietary decision you make can either help or harm your immune system. Each food we consume is enriched with vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins that can either boost or hinder your overall health. The difference in these nutrients is what gives some foods different benefits, including antiviral properties. Here’s a list of ten antiviral foods that will help you fight off viral attacks.

Top Antiviral Foods
Here are the Top 10 Antiviral Foods!

What Are Antiviral Foods?

Antiviral foods are enriched with a litany of organic compounds that help fight off pathogens within the body. Viruses like to infiltrate healthy cells and use their membranes as a host. Here is where viral replication takes place.

Viral replication is when virus DNA disrupts our natural DNA production. In turn, the virus can take over the system. 

One analysis about how viruses infect cells explained,

“Once a virus gets inside a cell, it hijacks the cellular processes to produce virally encoded protein that will replicate the virus’s genetic material. Viral mechanisms are capable of translocating proteins and genetic material from the cell and assembling them into new virus particles [1].”

Biophys J

So, you want to make sure you are eating foods that not only fight off viruses but also offer support to your healthy cells. The best antiviral foods should nourish and rejuvenate compromised cells and aid in cell proliferation. With these qualities, antiviral foods can help keep your immune system strong during flu season.

The Best Antiviral Foods to Boost Immune System

There are an array of foods that have antioxidant-boosting abilities that will keep your immune system strong. However, even some of these nutritious foods have even more benefits. They’re antiviral foods! That means these food sources can fight off a viral attack. Here are the ten antiviral foods that will give you the balanced diet necessary for optimal wellness.

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Stock up on these gems!

Garlic

There’s a reason why garlic keeps vampires away. Things that suck that life out of you aren’t a fan of the potent aromatic compounds found in garlic. Luckily for us, these molecules make garlic one of the most delicious antiviral foods out there [2].

There are three primary compounds found in garlic that exhibit antiviral capabilities:

  • Allicin
  • Diallyl Trisulfide
  • Ajoene

Research shows that these compounds can impede the growth of influenza A and influenza B, as well as herpes and HIV. In the case of HIV, ajoene, in particular, has proven particularly helpful. Early HIV studies suggest ajoene prevents the irregular cellular processes triggered by HIV-infected cells [3].

There are many garlic supplements out there. However, nothing beats raw garlic. Garlic is easy to incorporate into a healthy diet. It adds flavor to anything and builds a strong immune system. So, stock up on this spice!

Star Anise

Star anise is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of antiviral foods. It’s been used since ancient times as an herbal medicine for improving the immune function. 

This licorice-flavored spice is rich in shikimic acid. Shikimic acid has potent antiviral properties. In fact, it’s an active ingredient in Theraflu!This spice has a very powerful flavor. It’s ideal for broths and teas. There are many ways to use star anise, but don’t go overboard. A little can go a long way with this Chinese herb.

Olive Leaf and Olive Oil

There’s a reason why those who follow a Mediterranean Diet have a longer lifespan. They consume an abundance of natural products, whole foods, and healthy fatty acids. One of their greatest sources of these desirable health habits is the olive.

While olives themselves (and olive oil) have many health benefits, don’t sleep on the olive leaf. Olive leaves are one of the most abundant sources of oleuropein. Studies involving this molecule found that it shows significant effects against respiratory syntactical virus and para-influenza type 3 virus [5].

While olive oil has less oleuropein than olive leaf, it has a considerable amount of healthy fatty acids that repair our gut and keep our immune system strong. Up the antioxidant effects and give free radicals a scare with a delicious garlic oil infusion!

Ginger

Ginger is a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s also  a tasty way to spice up your list of antiviral foods! This tangy root can bring life to any stir-fry or give your water a fizzy flavor. It also has excellent antiviral capabilities that makes this root essential for a healthy daily diet.

One study found that ginger helped improve the cells in both the upper respiratory tract (HEp-2 cells) and lower respiratory tract (A549 cells) [6]. The analysis noted improvements in both HEp-2 cells and A549 cells up to 27% and 12.9% respectively.

Furthermore, analysts noted that ginger caused cells to secrete Interferon-beta (IFN-β). IFN-β is a polypeptide that has antiviral capabilities because it regulates DNA encryption [7]. So, it can help block a viral attack.

Oregano Oil

An unsung hero in antiviral foods is oregano oil. Oregano plants are one of the most flavorful and effective antiviral herbs in the world. Extracts from this Italian herb are rich in antioxidants and other healing compounds that fight off free radicals.

In particular, oregano oil contains a high concentration of the following antiviral compounds:

  • Carvacrol
  • Thymol
  • Terpinene

Namely, carvacrol can stop nonenveloped murine norovirus (MNV) in its tracks [8]. MNV is a precursor to noroviruses. Carvacarol achieves this by targeting the virus’ RNA. Researchers noted that antiviral effects can happen within an hour of ingesting oregano oil.

Oregano oil is highly abrasive on the skin. Make sure to mix it with a thicker carrier oil if you are using it as a chest rub. Excellent choices for carrier oils include coconut oil and olive oil. Be sure to add in some lemon balm for the scent of citrus fruits and an extra dose of antiviral properties!

Antiviral Foods for Thryve Gut Health 2 of 2
Preventative care at its finest!

Spirulina

The sea-based superfood spirulina is one of the most versatile antiviral foods. You can add spirulina powder to a variety of superfood smoothies. If you never thought about doing so, it might be time to reconsider.

One study looked at the effects of spirulina on three predominant types of influenza [9]. Considerable evidence suggests that after one hour, the blue algae inhibited virus replication.

Researchers saw viral yields of the following types of influenza decrease by the following:

  • A/WSN/33(H1N1) – 68%
  • A/TW/3446/02(H3N2) – 90%
  • B/TW/70555/05 – 94%

Many of the antiviral benefits of spirulina are attributed to its high levels of cyanovirin-N. This protein has shown promise in slowing down the progression of HIV to AIDS [10]. It’s also shown promise in blocking the progression of the herpes virus, Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1). 

This plant-based food is also a great source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E not only helps fight off free radicals but it helps convert our food to energy. So, by consuming Vitamin E, we can cut down the inflammatory-causing fat tissues that might cause an adverse immune response. This preventative measure makes our body less susceptible to viral replication.

Shiitake Mushrooms

If you give a shiitake about your health, you should give shiitake mushrooms a try. In fact, shittake mushrooms are so popular that many health food stores sell it in organic teas!

Don’t worry about getting a fungal infection or sick from eating these fungi. Shiitake mushrooms are teeming with beta-glucans. These are sugars that have antiviral capabilities. In fact, hospitals administer beta-glucans via an IV to prevent infection post-surgery [11].

One study on the antiviral benefits of shiitake mushrooms found that these foods had a positive impact on the immune system. Researchers stated that compounds in shiitake mushrooms increased secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) in the body [12]. They noted that this action improved gut motility, which would help with many gastro problems.

sIgA is an antibody. It plays a significant role in protecting the cell membrane. As we mentioned, viruses like to use the cells as hosts so they can carry out their agenda. Eating antiviral foods rich in sIgA can help prevent that attack.

Green Tea

We are big proponents of drinking tea in a healthy gut diet plan. Green tea is one of the many reasons why tea time is always on our agenda. Our tasty brew is enriched with catechins. In particular, green tea has an abundance of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

An analysis about this antiviral brew noted,

“EGCG, the most abundant catechin in green tea, was shown to minimize the infectivity of the influenza A and B virus in Madin–Darby canine kidney cells. Furthermore, EGCG and ECG inhibited the activity of viral RNA (ribonucleic acid), which suppressed virus propagation [13].”

Molecules.

Furthermore, ECGC fights off the following viral families:

  • Flaviviridae
  • Retroviridae
  • Hepadnaviridae
  • Herpesviridae
  • Adenoviridae
  • Orthomyxoviridae
  • Picornavirida

Suffice to say, if you are showing some symptoms of the flu, get the tea flowing. Add some star anise to your green tea. If not, try the next item on our list of top antiviral foods.

Elderberries

Elderberries are finally getting the credit they deserve in the world of flu prevention. These things got more Vitamin C than the ever-popular orange! Compounds in this superfruit bind onto the little spikes found on virus proteins. As a result, these viruses are unable to leech onto healthy cells and overtake the system.

One study administered treatment to 60 influenza patients [14]. Half received elderberry syrup, while the other group had a placebo. Those who consumed elderberry felt better on an average of four days sooner than their counterparts.

It should be noted that elderberries are one of the best foods for flu and preventative measures against viral attacks. In fact, many Vitamin C supplements contain elderberry. However, if you have COVID-19, Dr. Weil suggests to stop using this immune booster. He noted that cases of the coronavirus may experience an adverse immune response from elderberry.

Yogurt

One of the best antiviral foods is probiotics. Probiotics in yogurt help set up our gut to be the first line of defense against viral infection. Filling your gut biome with good bacteria has shown to help fight off the growth of enterovirus (EV) 71 up to 45% [15]. 

Many healthy adults start their day off right with a yummy yogurt bowl. For extra gut-healing power, make sure you get yogurt fortified with Vitamin D. May people have low levels of Vitamin D3, which is essential for many metabolic functions that support our immune system.

Speaking of, add in some berries for free radical protection. Lastly, top off with protein-rich sunflower seeds to build healthy cells throughout the GI tract. 

One analysis noted common probiotic species helped alleviate symptoms of the flu, such as:

  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum

Both of these stomach bacteria are also common recommendations in the Thryve Gut Health Program. That’s why many of our custom probiotics supplements contain these strains. Find out if your gut needs this support against a viral attack. Get your gut tested today!

How to Incorporate Antiviral Foods Into A Diet

So many antiviral foods, so little time? The most challenging aspect of switching up your diet habits is knowing where to begin. That’s where Thryve Inside can help.

Our gut health program offers targeted insights into your dietary choices. By testing your gut biome, we get a snapshot on everything causing your system an immune response. Based on the results, we can determine your risk of developing autoimmunity and how well your metabolism functions.

Get insights on your health like never before!

To better your chances of a passing grade, the Thryve Inside Gut Health Program offers you recommendations on foods you should eat, and which ones to avoid.

thryve gut health food recommendations
Get personalized recommendations, including recipes featuring antiviral foods

Combine these insights with our recipes full of antiviral foods, and your immune system will be strong enough to take-on flu season head-on!

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Resources

[1] Cohen F. S. (2016). How Viruses Invade Cells. Biophysical journal110(5), 1028–1032. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.02.006

[2] Bayan, L., Koulivand, P. H., & Gorji, A. (2014). Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine4(1), 1–14.

[3] Tatarintsev, A V, et al. “The Ajoene Blockade of Integrin-Dependent Processes in an HIV-Infected Cell System.” Vestnik Rossiiskoi Akademii Meditsinskikh Nauk, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1992, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1284227.

[4] Bochkov, D. V., Sysolyatin, S. V., Kalashnikov, A. I., & Surmacheva, I. A. (2012). Shikimic acid: review of its analytical, isolation, and purification techniques from plant and microbial sources. Journal of chemical biology5(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12154-011-0064-8.

[5] Omar S. H. (2010). Oleuropein in olive and its pharmacological effects. Scientia pharmaceutica78(2), 133–154. https://doi.org/10.3797/scipharm.0912-18.

[6] Chang, Jung San, et al. “Fresh Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) Has Anti-Viral Activity against Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus in Human Respiratory Tract Cell Lines.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23123794.

[7] Markowitz, Clyde E. “Interferon-Beta: Mechanism of Action and Dosing Issues.” Neurology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 June 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17562848.

[8] Gilling, D H, et al. “Antiviral Efficacy and Mechanisms of Action of Oregano Essential Oil and Its Primary Component Carvacrol against Murine Norovirus.” Journal of Applied Microbiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24779581.

[9] Chen, Y. H., Chang, G. K., Kuo, S. M., Huang, S. Y., Hu, I. C., Lo, Y. L., & Shih, S. R. (2016). Well-tolerated Spirulina extract inhibits influenza virus replication and reduces virus-induced mortality. Scientific reports6, 24253. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep24253.

[10] Tsai, Che-Chung, et al. “Cyanovirin-N Inhibits AIDS Virus Infections in Vaginal Transmission Models.” AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15000694.

[11] Rahar, S., Swami, G., Nagpal, N., Nagpal, M. A., & Singh, G. S. (2011). Preparation, characterization, and biological properties of β-glucans. Journal of advanced pharmaceutical technology & research2(2), 94–103. https://doi.org/10.4103/2231-4040.82953.

[12] Dai, Xiaoshuang, et al. “Consuming Lentinula Edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866155.

[13] Furushima, D., Ide, K., & Yamada, H. (2018). Effect of Tea Catechins on Influenza Infection and the Common Cold with a Focus on Epidemiological/Clinical Studies. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)23(7), 1795. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23071795.

[14] Zakay-Rones, Z, et al. “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections.” The Journal of International Medical Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016.

[15] Choi, Hw-Jung, et al. “Antiviral Activity of Yogurt against Enterovirus 71 in Vero Cells.” Food Science and Biotechnology, The Korean Society of Food Science and Technology, 1 Jan. 1970, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10068-010-0042-x.