Everyone wants a healthy immune system, especially during this time of year. But apart from washing your hands and getting good sleep, what does science suggest you do to boost your immune health through supplements?
Read on for six herbal supplements and vitamins (and the foods that contain them!) to support optimal immune health.
Six Immune-Supporting Supplements
Plant-based solutions for health:
1. Echinacea for immune health
- 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, andantibacterial 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
2. Andrographis for immune health
- What it is: A plant originally found in India and Sri Lanka, andrographis has historically been used by people 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, people generally choose to ingested it in tablet or capsule form, though extracts do exist. It is especially effective when paired with ginseng.
- Shop andrographis supplements
3. Elderberry for immune health
- 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 may 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: Find it in extract, lozenge, berry, or juice form. You can use the whole berries 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
You rely upon the following vitamins and minerals for a properly functioning immune system. Therefore, supplementing (or eating them in food form) can boost your immune system, especially if you are already deficient.
Vitamins & minerals for immune health:
4. Vitamin D for immune health
- 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 for immune health
- Evidence/mechanism: Vitamin C is probably the most heavily marketed item on this list because of its known 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.
- Shop here
6. Zinc for immune health
- Evidence/mechanism: When researchers combined the results of seven studies (meta-analysis), they found that duration of the common cold 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. You can also find zinc in lozenges and sprays, but the sprays often lead to side effects.
- Shop here
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. Science says supplements can support your immune health.