13 Vitamins (and Supplements) Nutritionists Take to Boost Their Immune System
Fight back this cold and flu season with the vitamins, herbs, and other supplements nutritionists use for immune system support. Take with lots of fluids and plenty of rest to help your body battle the virus. You’ll be back on your feet in no time!
Vitamin D does more than strengthen your bones. “It’s not a vitamin, but a hormone that boosts your immune system,” explains Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, of Simple Cravings Real Food. She recommends vitamin D supplements, especially for people who live in northern climates and don’t get much sun exposure at certain times of the year. More than 36 percent of healthy adults have a vitamin D deficiency, a condition that is linked to a higher risk of infection. Check out these symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
Registered dietitian Maria Zamarripa says, “Vitamin D supports a healthy immune system by acting like a so-called volume control—turning up or down our immune cell actions.” Supplementing with vitamin D may reduce your risk of getting the flu as well as the common cold.
This mineral offers both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power. “Research suggests that people who are deficient in zinc have severe dysfunction in their immune systems,” says Ginger Hultin, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Studies have shown that people who took a zinc acetate lozenge (13.3 milligrams zinc) significantly reduced the duration of cold symptoms (cough, nasal discharge, and muscle aches) compared with a placebo. “Not to mention that zinc is also important for enzyme function, wound healing, and protein synthesis,” Natalie Rizzo, RD, explains.
Hultin recommends getting zinc from food sources like seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products, especially during cold and flu season. Because a little zinc goes a long way—and it’s easy to take too much, resulting in toxicity—she also recommends that you ask your doctor how much may be appropriate for you. Rizzo likes LifeExtension Zinc Caps. They are vegetarian and contain zinc methionate, one of the most absorbable forms of the mineral. Check out these 21 natural cold remedies that really work.
Even though there isn’t much research on it, Chrissy Carroll, RD, takes elderberry extract when other people in her house are sick or when she feels herself coming down with something. A 2016 study found that air travelers who took elderberry extract spent less time sick with a cold and had lower symptom scores than a placebo group.
Carroll says that even if it turns out that elderberry isn’t effective for immune support, it’s generally thought to be safe for short-term consumption and is also rich in phenolic compounds like anthocyanins. She recommends trying NOW Elderberry Liquid or lozenges.
Did you know that 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut? That’s why getting probiotics every day may help boost your immune system. Probiotics are friendly bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, that are naturally found in the intestinal tract as well as in fermented foods such as like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. “These friendly microbes help protect the body from disease-causing microbes. They also produce substances that keep the lining of the gut healthy, improving immune function and warding off inflammation,” explains Michelle Loy, RDN.
But not all probiotics are created equal. Registered and licensed dietitian Shannon A. Garcia explains, “There are three criteria for good bacteria to be considered probiotics: First, they need to be able to survive the stomach acid, and they also need to colonize the gut. In addition to that, they must provide a benefit—for example, improve the digestive health of the person consuming them.”
My go-to is GoodBelly Probiotic Supplement because it contains ten billion live and active cultures of probiotic strain LP299v. Its ability to promote healthy digestion and populate your digestive tract with good bacteria is demonstrated in more than 50 human clinical trials. Consider keeping these medications on hand during cold and flu season.
Oil of oregano
Oregano is a culinary herb that has also been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Beyond its uses in the kitchen, you can find oil of oregano as a supplement in capsule or tincture form.
This cold and flu season, oregano could support your health and help manage symptoms. Oregano exhibits antibacterial and antiviral properties and contains compounds that may help you cough less frequently. Oregano may also help keep your gut healthy by increasing the flow of bile. Some research indicates that taking oil of oregano for six weeks can kill intestinal parasites. Gaia Oil of Oregano is organic and vegan. Don’t ignore these 9 ways you could be making your cold or flu worse.
You can find this blue-green algae—which is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll—in a powder or capsule. It offers potential antioxidant power and may help lower cholesterol levels. Taking chlorella could be helpful for reducing the risk of iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy.
When it comes to your immune system, one small study suggests that chlorella causes the body to produce more antibodies, while in another study it seemed to increase markers of immune activity. GNC Earth Genius Smart Greens contains chlorella along with more than 40 fruits, vegetables, greens, mushrooms, and botanicals that you can easily add to your morning smoothie.
Sure, eating mushrooms regularly as part of your immune-system-boosting healthy diet is a great idea—but what if you just don’t like them? Registered dietitian nutritionist Doug Cook doesn’t, so he takes mushroom supplements. “Mushrooms have uniquely structured carbohydrates that help the immune cells fight infections, including increasing the production of natural killer cells,” Cook shares.
Cook likes Purica mushroom supplements. Beyond Immune Support is a blend of six whole organic mushrooms that have been studied for their potential immune system benefits. Take note of these 15 surprising ways to prevent cold and flu.
Garlic does more than keep the vampires away. According to Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, “Garlic strengthens certain types of our immune cells so we are better able to fight cold and flu invaders.” Garlic could help lower your risk of getting sick and help you get back to your old self more quickly. It may also reduce the severity of your cold and flu symptoms. Blatner recommends AlliBiotic CF, which contains not only garlic but also elderberry and oil of oregano for immune system support.
Astragalus is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that has many health benefits and has been used for thousands of years to help keep the immune system healthy. Registered dietitian Tracee Yablon Brenner takes astragalus root on a regular basis during the cold and flu season to boost her immune system.
A study from Beijing, China, supports the idea: The herb controls T-helper cells 1 and 2, which help regulate the immune system. Astragalus appears to have antioxidant effects that can help prevent free-radical damage. Best Naturals Astragalus is free of common allergens and contains no artificial ingredients. Try adding these 10 winter foods to your diet to prevent cold and flu.
Panax ginseng root may not only help prevent colds—it may also help reduce symptoms such as a sore throat and sneezing. Some research suggests that ginseng may also help shorten the duration of colds so that you start feeling better faster. Taking 200 milligrams a day of North American ginseng may help prevent a cold. Ginseng also provides an energy boost that can help you power through cold winter days.
Nature’s Bounty Ginseng Complex is a blend of three different types of ginseng. It also contains vitamin B12, which your body needs to convert food into energy.
Does winter have you craving nothing but comfort foods and skimping on the leafy greens? Taking a multivitamin to boost your overall nutrient intake could be helpful. According to Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, “Falling short in even one or two key nutrients can have a negative impact on your overall health and immune system, so a daily multivitamin acts as an insurance policy help prevent nutrient imbalances and deficiencies.”
Palinski-Wade recommends Swisse Women’s Ultivite because it has been shown in clinical trials to support stress while assisting with energy and stamina. “Since high-stress levels have been found to weaken the immune system, having additional support to manage stress may also help to promote a healthy immune system,” she says.
Vitamin C has been on and off the immune-system-boosting list because of conflicting research. However, says Cook, “Vitamin C supports all aspects of immune function. It’s needed for optimal antibody production and function. Without enough vitamin C, the immune system can be a bit ‘sluggish’ and slower to respond to invading pathogens.” Not only does vitamin C support your immune system when you already have a cold, but there’s also evidence that higher doses of vitamin C help the immune system fight infections, which may lead to reduced cold symptoms and cold duration.
Beyond eating plenty of citrus fruit, strawberries, and bell peppers, my favorite way to get extra vitamin C into my day is adding Emergen-C packets to water. That way I’m getting 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C and another two cups of fluid. They have Immune+ powder, which also contains vitamin D. Avoid these 10 foods that could make your cold or flu worse.
South African geranium
You may have heard of South African geranium as umckaloabo or by its scientific name, Pelargonium sidoides. This plant may help you recover from the cold and flu more quickly and could also make your symptoms less severe.
You can get South African geranium as a chewable tablet, capsule, or liquid. I like Nature’s Way Umcka ColdCare’s lemon-flavored hot drink. It soothes a tender throat, and adding some honey could help suppress your cough, too.
When to see your doctor
Feeling sick is the worst, and sometimes your body can’t fight off infections on its own. You should go see your doctor right away if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- A severe sore throat that lasts more than two days, along with a fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, or a rash
- A fever that gets worse or lasts more than three days
- A cough that lasts more than seven days or is chronic, especially if you have asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema
- A cough with lots of phlegm (mucus) or with a headache or rash
- New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
- Symptoms that last more than seven days
Now check out these 50 ways to avoid catching a cold this season.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected]