When trying to prevent illness and prevent disease, can we use immune booster supplements to help?
In this post, I will give you some fundamentals of immune response from a functional medicine standpoint. A healthy immune system is critical for heart health, mental health, preventing infections, and more. Immune health even plays a role keeping us healthy during flu season.
While diet is the foundation of our immunity, certain supplements can provide immune support.
Here, research related to various immune booster supplements, including balanced nutrition, vitamins, and minerals, is presented. From there, you and your doctor can decide what is best for you and how to care for your immune system.
[As an Amazon affiliate, I make income from qualifying purchases from links in this post].
Healthy Immune System Basics
Our immune system is primarily found in our digestive tract. Here are some interesting and related facts about gut health and immune function.
- 70% or more of our ability to fight illness begins in the gut with our gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
- Some strains of viruses are contracted through the gut [R].
- In feline-types of colds the ratio of good-to-bad healthy bacteria predict the presence of illness [R]
- HIV viral-infected patients with spontaneous control have healthier gut-associated lymphoid tissue [R].
- Probiotics in the gut create a healthier immune system.
- Probiotics help stimulate interferon production and activation of innate immunity to viruses [R].
Bottom line: immune support starts with a healthy digestive tract.
Supporting Gut Health
Nourishing your body means that you are nourishing your immune system in your gut. This means that the foods you include in your diet affect your immunity.
Gut health requires the following components:
- Fermented foods
- Prebiotics or fibers
- Healthy Fats
Digestive immunity also thrives if you are limiting or eliminating common allergen food triggers, processed foods, including sugars, packages foods, and herbicides and pesticides on foods, and GMO foods (my suspicion).
We know you can’t fix your gut overnight, but it can heal pretty fast, according to research.
Improving diet changes your gut bacteria in as little as a few days, according to a recent publication by Scientific American [R].
Ingredients that May Worsen Your Immunity
Some food products contain additives that may reduce your immune function. Make sure to read your immune-boosting labels. Common brands designed for immune benefits can have possibly harmful additives that disrupt your gut immunity.
- Titanium dioxide
- Sodium nitrite
You will find that many packaged foods contain these ingredients. The best course of action is to eat unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, fruits, fish, grass fed meats, organic nuts, and seeds.
Mushrooms for Immunity
All edible mushrooms are packed with nutrients that support immune function.
Mushrooms can also improve T-cell counts and immune compounds in the body.
In fact,we know that mushroom intake is linked to improved immune response [R].
Medicinal mushrooms are undoubtedly good for your immune system while supporting healthy brain function too.
My favorite mushrooms for immunity are:
You can add these mushroom powders to any recipe including soups, stews, stir fries, sauces, and more. I like to make mushroom coffee or mushroom tea with them as well. Simply add a 1/2 tsp or more to anything you desire.
Another popular mushroom supplement is called Host Defense My Community. This is often sold out so you can get Host Defense Mycobotanicals Energy here, which is somewhat similar.
Bottom line: mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to support health and immunity. You too can enjoy their health benefits by including them in your immune boosting supplements or in your meals.
Nutrients that Reduce Cold Symptoms
You may recall that there are many variations of the common cold.
Our immune system often responds in similar ways to different viruses, which is good for us. A basic premise is hydration. Make sure to drink adequate water and hydrating beverages like herbal teas.
Viral replication, or spread of viruses, is reduced by the following nutrients in human studies and cell culture studies [R].
Long known to support immune health and gut health, zinc is an obvious nutrient to list here. Another important fact about zinc: it plays a key role in sexual health. WebMD says that zinc is possibly effective for the common cold and for reducing other discomforts like acne, depression, diarrhea, and more.
Immunity and zinc details:
- Doses of 80-200 mg per day of zinc lozenges reduced cold symptoms by 33% to 35% in a large review of almost 600 people [R]. Smaller doses also seem effective.
Zinc helps with repair of the gut lining and in innate immune response. I’m not going to let my friends and family be low in zinc during this time of risk.
A zinc supplement I like is called Garden of Life Source Code Raw Zinc and you can find it here.
An issue of zinc within the body is transport. Some natural substances can enhance zinc uptake within cells in order for it to be effective.
Natural Zinc Ionophores
A couple of options are available to use as natural zinc ionophores.
What are zinc ionophores? They simply are substances that help get zinc into the cell where it is needed.
Zinc ionophores help the cell stop viruses from multiplying. One zinc ionophore is called quercetin, a natural plant extract from apples and onions. Another is green tea extract (epigallecatechin gallate) and resveratrol
Vitamin C helps immune function, and deficiencies are related to compromised immune response. Here is evidence about infections, immunity, and vitamin C:
- A case report of severe respiratory illness (ARDS) showed that IV vitamin C resulted in rapid and complete recovery [R].
- Extra doses of vitamin C during the upper respiratory infections reduced days of sickness, severity of illness, and fever, in a review of 8 clinical studies [R].
- Doses to reduce symptoms of common colds are greater than 1000 mg per day [R].
I recommend liposomal vitamin C for best absorption and you can find it here. If you have a history of kidney stones, use caution with vitamin C and as always, consult with your doctor before using.
Selenium is a mineral that serves as an antioxidant in the body. Selenium deficiency may make your symptoms stronger when you have a viral infection [R].
Your body needs just the right amount of selenium, so don’t get carried away with high dose supplements. Generally, around 100 micrograms per day is plenty.
- Many people are deficient in selenium and don’t know it because it is low in the soil where foods grow.
- Short-term doses of 100 mcg per day of selenium are safe for humans.
Men’s multivitamins typically have more selenium, so men and women would benefit from the men’s variety. I like this one.
Vitamin A plays regulatory roles in the immune system and helps protect the gut lining [R]. This powerful nutrient also supports healthy aging by reducing oxidative stress.
- About 30 percent of people have genes that limit their ability to make active vitamin A in the body.
- Experts recommend short-term dosing of vitamin A that is activated (retinol) for immune health and healing.
Vitamin D improves immune response to infections. This critical vitamin may help with healthy blood pressure, joint health, reducing cancer risk, reduce chronic pain, and more.
A review of studies found that vitamin D supplements improve the innate and adaptive response to upper respiratory illnesses [R].
- This includes T-cells, B-cells, and antigen presenting cells called dendrites
- 2-3 doses of 50,000 IU vitamin D3 may effectively treat flu-like symptoms [R].
This dose is high, but only for short-term use. Always check with your doctor before adding long-term vitamin D3 dosing.
I like this one for short-term use. Most people benefit from a lower dose supplement if they lack sun exposure, take medicines that deplete vitamin D3, or people who use a lot of sunscreen or live in northern latitudes.
Bottom line: while your dose should be individualized, vitamin D3 is known to boost your body’s immunity. I recommend screening your blood levels of vitamin D with your doctor yearly or more. Always check with your doctor before adding vitamin K2 if you are on a blood thinner called warfarin.
Probiotics and Fermented Foods
Probiotics are good to help immune function and gut function. We know that some even function to fight viral infections [R]. Foods rich in probiotics may help people with healthy weight loss.
The best way to get probiotics is by eating fermented foods like:
- Apple cider vinegar with the mother
- Fermented teas like oolong or Pu erh
Then, make sure to get a lot of good fibers from things like vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruits to provide the digestive tract with prebiotics. You can buy supplements of probiotics as well, which are generally safe unless you are severely immune-compromised.
We don’t know if probiotics prevent viral infections, but they sure do support many aspects of immunity.
Do you dislike all fermented foods? A good place to start is by adding a probiotic supplement like this one. It also contains prebiotics and digestive enzymes to support your immunity.
Protein is a critical building block for intestinal cells and for your immune cells. Now is not a time to skimp on protein [R].
Make sure to get about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of your body weight.
- Or this translates to about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should get at least 75 grams of protein per day.
Good protein sources are wild-caught salmon, wild sardines, grass fed meats, chicken, turkey, nuts, fermented legumes, and seeds.
You can also take a protein supplement and I like this one.
Spices and Herbs
Humans have long turned to spices and herbs for their immune system benefits.
- Avian viruses that cause bronchitis are inhibited by garlic, peppermint oil, and thyme oil [R R]. These are just a few examples.
You can support a healthy immune response with a wide range of foods and herbs.
Use what you have in your cooking and make up some soothing herbal teas.
Elderberries are widely used to help reduce symptoms of viral infections and this is supported by research. A review of research in 160 people concluded that elderberry supplements reduce symptoms of upper respiratory infections [R].
Since elderberries are safe to use daily, you can harvest your own and make syrup using this simple elderberry syrup recipe.
You can also buy elderberry syrup here.
Immune Booster Supplements Summary
In this post, I describe many ways to support your immune health. Our overall immune response depends on the foods we eat and the nutrients we get. Immune booster supplements can add to a healthy diet if done in an informed way.
Remember, many viruses and illnesses don’t thrive in a well-nourished host.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice. Of note, you should call your doctor if you are making any changes to your health care regimen. Individual guidance is based on your baseline health and should be judged by your health care provider. All rights reserved.