More than ever, people are running out to the stores and stocking their shelves with dietary supplements to boost immunity. While a balanced diet can give your immune system a great base to work with, sometimes you need a little something extra to keep your immune system working on all cylinders.
There’s a lot of marketing out there for supplements, especially in light of COVID-19, so let’s breakdown which supplements you really need to boost your immune system and stay healthy.
#1 Vitamin D
Most people don’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight, so this is one vitamin that’s especially important to get through a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D is well known for its role in bone density and calcium management, but this nutrient also plays a crucial role in the health of your immune system. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk for autoimmunity as well as increased susceptibility to infection.
Vitamin D acts as a receptor on your immune cells (specifically B-cells, T-cells, and antigen-presenting cells) to assist with cell signaling, and therefore helps your immune system communicate in times of infection[*].
#2 Vitamin C
Vitamin C is found in high amounts in citrus fruits, which are way too high in sugar to be included in a keto diet. Luckily, vitamin C supplements are easy to come by and not very expensive.
When it comes to immunity, vitamin C is a powerhouse nutrient. Research shows that supplementing with C can shorten the duration of common colds, and decrease the severity of symptoms. In addition, for virus-induced respiratory infections, vitamin C may relieve symptoms up to 85%[*].
Part of its immune-enhancing activity is the effect that vitamin C has on your white blood cells. This supplement seems to stimulate not only the production, but the function of neutrophils, lymphocytes, and phagocytes[*].
Zinc plays a crucial role in many enzymes and transcription factors that are involved in immunity. Both enzymes and transcription factors are vital to the signaling and inner workings of your immune system to keep things processing smoothly[*].
In addition, zinc has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in your body, which are two crucial aspects of immunity.
Zinc may also help your body fight viral-induced respiratory infections by inhibiting the replication of viruses[*].
Elderberry can be found in a variety of forms as a supplement. Elderberry syrup is most common, but you can also get capsules, gummies, tea, and lozenges.
Elderberry displays a range of immune-enhancing qualities and is particularly helpful in fighting viral infections. In fact, elderberry flowers and berries have been tested against ten different strains of the flu virus[*][*].
Interestingly, when elderberry is taken at later stages of the flu, it seems to have an inhibitory effect on the viral propagation — meaning it slows down the replication of the virus in your body even after the beginning stages*].
Elderberry supplements are also known for their ability to calm symptoms of respiratory infections — something to keep in mind with the coronavirus[*].
Garlic is one of the most powerful immune-boosting foods out there, and while you can cook with it to your heart’s content, one of the best ways to get a potent hit of garlic is through garlic supplements.
Garlic displays a range of immune-enhancing qualities, including antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory[*].
It does this by stimulating your immune cells and turning on immune cell signaling. It also enhances the production of antibodies by your immune system and supports the process of phagocytosis — which helps your body clear out viruses and other infected cells[*].
For thousands of years, this ancient spice has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a way to calm inflammation and support your immune system.
The primary compound in turmeric, curcumin, enhances the activity of immune cells and downregulates the expression of pro-inflammatory compounds in your body. For this reason, many researchers have taken curcumin as their subject to study its effect on autoimmunity and other immune conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and even heart disease[*].
Like garlic, you can cook with turmeric to get a hit of its inflammatory benefits. However, taking turmeric as a supplement will provide a more potent source. When looking for a turmeric (or curcumin) supplement, make sure they have included some type of pepper (typically long pepper), as this enhances the bioavailability of curcumin in your body.
#7 Vitamin A
Vitamin A is involved in the two branches of your immune system — humoral immunity and cellular immunity.
Humoral immunity refers to the fast-acting response to antigens that are stimulated by antibodies in your immune system. Cellular immunity refers to the secretion of small proteins called cytokines that attack pathogens[*].
Part of its job as an immune-enhancing nutrient is to regulate the integrity of the mucus lining in your body. This lining protects your body from pathogens by creating a barrier that keeps them out of your circulation.
On a cellular level, vitamin A supports the function of several immune cells allowing for proper signaling and structure. In addition, it plays a role in regulating immune specific genes, which allow for the proliferation of new immune cells[*].
Research shows that supplementing with vitamin A may even reduce mortality in some infectious diseases[*].
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that plays a key role in the health of your immune system due to its incorporation in selenoproteins.
Selenoproteins are crucial for immunity because they regulate the activity of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in almost every tissue in your body.
Multivitamins are important for immunity because they serve as a catch-all for any nutrients you may be deficient in. Even if you eat a varied diet of whole foods, there may be some vitamins and minerals that are falling through the cracks.
Since your immune system relies on a wide range of nutrients for optimal function, having a good multi is always a good idea. You can think of it as a safety net.
Among the many beneficial effects that probiotics serve in your body is their ability to modulate your immune response. While research continues on the subject, what is currently understood is that probiotics can affect your immune system on a genetic level.
By affecting the health of the cells lining your gut, along with the mucosal immune cells (lymphocytes), probiotics appear to provide a therapeutic potential for diseases and conditions, including viral infections, allergies, and eczema[*].
#11 Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in abundance in fatty fish, but taking a fish oil supplement can be a more potent form of this beneficial fat source.
The beneficial effects of omega-3 fats on immune health are two-fold:
- They enhance the health of your cellular membranes.
- They serve as signaling molecules.
As a part of the membranes of your cells, inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids allows for fluidity allowing for optimal structure and function.
As signaling molecules, omega-3s assist in the products of cytokines, which attack pathogens in your body. They also support chemokine production, which are signaling molecules that help to bring immune cells to the site of infection for healing[*].
Echinacea is a popular herbal remedy for a variety of immune-related conditions.
Research shows that echinacea can reduce the severity and duration of common colds and upper respiratory tract infections, inhibits tumor growth, reduces inflammation, and even plays a role in wound healing.
Echinacea activates innate immune cells in a way that supports overall immune function and response. Some examples of this include enhancing the ability of immune cells to clear pathogens, increasing the speed at which immune cells reach infected tissue, and stimulating the release of molecules like cytokines that can attack foreign compounds[*].
#13 Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and plays a crucial role in defense of your cell membranes against reactive oxygen species (ROS).
In addition, vitamin E is known for the many benefits that it provides to your immune system, including[*]:
- Increased production of immune cells in your lymphatic system.
- Increased levels of antibodies that recognize and bind to antigens.
- Increased activity of natural killer cells, which play a vital role in host-rejection of virally infected cells.
- Increased production of cytokines, which are released from immune cells to attack foreign compounds.
Astragalus root is an herb that’s widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for a number of diseases and imbalances due to its immunoregulatory activity.
It’s known as a tonifying herb that supports the health of your lungs (also known as a lung tonic) by increasing your resistance against respiratory infections. It supports the function of both your thymus and spleen and works through your humoral and cell-mediated immune responses.
Studies show that astragalus can promote the proliferation of B-cells (cells that produce antibodies) and in doing so support the production of antibodies and cell-mediated cytotoxicity.
Licorice is another herb that’s been used in TCM for thousands of years to boost immunity
Research shows that licorice can enhance the activation of immune cells by stimulating the release of cytokines, and may have an anti-cancer effect by suppressing the growth of tumors[*].
What’s more, glycyrrhizin (the active compound in licorice), is shown to have a positive effect on SARS-related coronavirus infections. Research shows that glycyrrhizin can inhibit the replication of SARS-associated viruses, and could, therefore, be used as a potential treatment[*].
Propolis is a compound produced by bees, and comes from the sap of cone bearing trees. Propolis is rich in a wide array of nutrients including polyphenols (especially flavanols), terpenoids, steroids, and amino acids.
Research shows that when taken as a supplement, propolis can display both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and may be useful in a range of health conditions including lower and upper airway diseases, cutaneous ulcers, and sinusitis, and viruses.
Propolis also has a positive effect on both cellular and humoral immunity, increasing the number of immune cells and signaling molecules[*].
Maintaining a healthy immune system can take more than proper diet and exercise. Sometimes you need to pull in the big guns to protect your system against viruses and other pathogens in the environment.