When it first appeared in India in October 2020, the delta variant of the coronavirus swept around the globe and quickly became the predominant strain in the United States. Since then, we have seen the emergence of several other variants, including Omicron in late 2021 and, more recently, sub-variants of Omicron including JN.1, which by early 2024 had become the most prevalent strain in the United States.
Delta was more contagious than the original virus and its earlier variants, and it caused more severe illness, especially in those who had not been vaccinated. Later variants have caused less serious illness, although they have caused spikes in the number of cases and hospitalizations.
It’s understandable that you’re worried about the new variants, but the way to ward them off is the same as it was for the original virus and earlier strains: Get fully vaccinated, avoid crowds whenever possible, consider wearing a mask indoors especially if you are immunocompromised, wash your hands frequently, and keep your body in the best health possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a vaccine update to maintain your protection against serious illness.
As for general immune boosters, I recommend considering the following foods, herbs, and nutrients to help support a healthy immune system when faced with the common cold and other viral illnesses:
- Garlic (Allium sativum)
- Quercetin (found in buckwheat, apples, onions, kale, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, berries, red wine, and tea)
- Green tea
- Astragalus membranaceous (huang qi)
- Full mycelium and fruiting body mushroom extracts
- Andrographis paniculata
- Vitamins A and C
See my guide to What You Should Know About Coronavirus for more information about all of these immune boosters and more tips on how to protect yourself.
No one can predict when new variants will circulate to cause yet another wave of new infections. New mutations are sure to emerge, and it’s unknown how well the current vaccines will protect against them. The basic tenets of good health remain your best defense against these and other respiratory illnesses: Eat well, get enough sleep, stay active, and manage stress. As we enter the new year, continue to use the proven strategies for avoiding infection, starting with staying up to date on your vaccinations.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Originally Posted September 2021. Update January 2024.