Everyone wants a healthy immune system, especially during this time of year. But apart from washing your hands and getting good sleep, what can you do to boost your immune health?
Read on for six herbal supplements and vitamins (and the foods that contain them!) to support optimal immune function.
Six Immune-Supporting Supplements
- What it is: Commonly known as the purple coneflower, Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida) have been widely used (and researched!) for their immune-boosting effects.
- Evidence/mechanism: Affects immune system and gut microbiome in rats according to this study, and promotes overall immune system function according to this study. Has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial activity. It also happens to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (bonus!).
- Use for: Preventing/treating upper respiratory tract infections (the common cold), speeding up recovery from flu-like symptoms.
- Forms: You can find it in capsule, tincture/tea, and tablet form.
- Shop cold and flu-fighting echinacea products
- What it is: A plant originally found in India and Sri Lanka, andrographis has historically been used to treat a huge variety of ailments, from the flu to allergies and digestive problems.
- Evidence/mechanism: Stimulates the immune system, though researchers aren’t exactly sure how. Also has anti-inflammatory properties and exhibits antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial activity.
- Use for: Research suggests that it is most effective for common colds and sore throats. In some cases, high Andrographis dosage (3-6 g) can have fever-reducing and anti-inflammatory power similar to acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Forms: Because it is bitter, it is generally ingested tablet or capsule form, though extracts to exist. It is especially effective when paired with ginseng.
- Shop andrographis supplements
- What it is: Also known as Sambucus, these dark berries are harvested from, you guessed it, the elderberry shrub. They are packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins, and have been used to treat coughs, colds, and flu-like symptoms for hundreds of years. For more examples of nutrient-dense, indigenous ingredients, check out our blog post.
- Evidence/mechanism: With especially high levels of antioxidants, elderberries are thought to lead to a healthier state through fighting/preventing oxidative stress (a particular kind of cellular damage). One study found they reduced the length and symptoms of a cold, and other human trials showed reduced flu symptoms.
- Use for: Coughs, colds, and flu-like symptoms
- Forms: Can be found in extract, lozenge, berry, or juice form. The whole berries can be utilized to make syrups or add intrigue to savory or sweet dishes, too (but make sure to cook them completely to neutralize their poison!).
- Shop elderberry products
The following vitamins and minerals are relied upon for a properly functioning immune system, so supplementing (or eating them in food form) can boost your immune system, especially if you are already deficient.
Vitamins & minerals:
4. Vitamin D
- Evidence/mechanism: Many of the cells that make up the immune system respond to vitamin D, making vitamin D an “immune modulator”. As a result, people with vitamin D deficiency are more susceptible to infection. According to this study, a whopping 36% of healthy adults and up to 57% of general medicine inpatients in the U.S. don’t get enough vitamin D.
- Use for: General immune support and avoiding upper respiratory tract infections.
- Found in: Fatty fish like cod, salmon, and tuna. Mushrooms, egg yokes, and fortified cereals, juices, and dairy products (see NIH list here). And, of course, in supplements and in your skin after exposure to sunlight.
- Shop vitamin D supplements here
5. Vitamin C
- Evidence/mechanism: Vitamin C is probably the most heavily marketed item on this list because of it’sknown role in building immune cells and helping them function.
- Use for: Avoiding vitamin C deficiency and potentially preventing colds (must be taken regularly). Providing immune support to athletes, as the results from this meta-analysis indicate that athletes who supplement vitamin C are half as likely to get a cold than athletes that don’t.
- Found in: Citrus fruits, white pine needles, and tablet or gummy form. Pair it with zinc for an extra boost.
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- Evidence/mechanism: Zinc is thought to support the immune system through When the results of seven studies were combined (meta-analysis), researchers found that common cold duration was 33% shorter in people who supplemented zinc.
- Use for: Speeding up common cold duration (take first does within 24 hours of the start of symptoms). Athletes, especially, should ensure they are not zinc-deficient.
- Found in: Meat, dairy, and seafood. Plant-based options include greens, nuts, grains, and beans. A 100g serving of cashews, for example provides 37% of your daily value. Zinc also comes in lozenges and sprays, but the sprays are often associated with side effects.
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Instead of waiting until you feel it and then trying to backpedal and do everything right, consider setting yourself up for success from the start through your diet.
Feel free to share this article with coworkers, friends, and family, because after all one of the most effective ways to stay healthy is to surround yourself with healthy people!