Cold and flu season is here, and experts are predicting that this year’s “triple threat” of COVID-19, flu and RSV will be tough. We all want to stay healthy for the holidays and beyond. What can you do, beyond washing your hands, wearing a mask when appropriate and avoiding contact with sick people?
While no supplement is a magic bullet, boosting your immune system can give you an edge this winter. Combined with good hygiene, a healthy diet, exercise and reducing stress, supplements will give your body the nutrients it needs to power through cold and flu season.
Here are the supplements you should consider adding to your regimen.
Many vitamins play a role in warding off illness and infection:
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is crucial for eye and skin health, as well as your growth and development. However, it’s a key vitamin for the immune cells which fight off infection and inflammation. Try to get 700-900 RAE each day.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 helps power your immune function to fight against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. If you’re not getting enough, you might not be producing enough antibodies to ward off illness. Getting 1.2 to 1.7 mg per day will help boost your immune response.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an immunity powerhouse—there’s a reason your mother told you to load up on C when you’re sick. It’s used to help fight infections, and can even decrease the symptoms and duration of respiratory infections. Try to get 75-90 mg every day for best results.
- Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 is used in your body’s immune cells. If you have a deficiency, it will actually increase the likelihood of infection. While most vitamin D supplements will help ward off illness, D3 is the best at increasing your vitamin D levels. Aim to get 400-800 IU per day.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is often associated with healthy hair, skin and nails, but it’s also great for fighting free radicals and oxidative stress. E boosts white blood cell production and can increase your overall resistance against illness. Get 15 mg per day to improve your immune function.
Some minerals also play a key role in warding off illness and infection. Add these to your regular regimen:
- Iron: Iron is known for assisting red blood cell production and transporting oxygen through the bloodstream. This is important because iron deficiencies can interfere with your immune response. Women, infants, children and non-meat-eaters are particularly at risk. Men need about 8mg, while women need 18 mg daily.
- Selenium: Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties. While deficiencies are very rare, it does help balance free radicals to avoid damaging your cells. Scientists think it also helps prevent excessive inflammation by regulating the immune response. It’s present in many foods and even in drinking water, but you should aim to get about 400 mcg per day.
- Zinc: Zinc isn’t just for immune function, but it plays a key role. It helps maintain your overall health, by encouraging immune cells to survive, proliferate and mature. This regulates the immune response and can even help reduce the likelihood of contracting serious illnesses like malaria and pneumonia. Eight to 11 mg daily will help keep you healthy.
These supplements might not be vitamins or minerals, but they have been shown to have a positive effect on immune function:
- Elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup is loaded with polyphenols, which can naturally treat flu symptoms and help you feel better faster. Taking one tablespoon up to four times daily can shorten an illness’s duration and treat upper respiratory symptoms.
- Probiotics: Your gut plays a major role in your overall immune function. Helpful bacteria line the gut, and help ensure harmful bacteria can’t infect you. Plus, they offer improved digestion and may even lower your “bad” cholesterol levels. Try to get 10 to 100 billion colony-forming units each day. The actual dosage varies, depending on brand and variety.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is responsible for the bright yellow color in curries, but it’s also packed with curcumin. Curcumin reduces inflammation, moderates immune function and helps your antibodies fight off illness. Aim for 500 to 2,000 mg of turmeric extract each day—and get a supplement with black pepper, which is key to absorption.
Using these supplements—whether on a daily basis or when you feel a cold coming on—will help your body harness its resources to fight off illness. As always, check with your doctor to make sure they won’t interact with prescription medications or pre-existing conditions.