7 Immune-Boosting Supplements for a Healthier Winter
Emergen-C isn't the only way to build up your body's defenses this season.
You're likely willing to try anything to stay healthy this flu season (this flu season is literally the worst). And fortunately, on top of other immune-boosting habits you're already practicing on the reg (sleeping eight hours a night, making exercise a habit) there are additional steps you can take to stay healthy-namely when it comes to your diet. (Related: Exactly How Contagious Is the Flu?)
"Vitamins and minerals with antioxidant properties can support a healthy immune system," says Kelly Hogan, R.D., the clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. (Think: vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and selenium.)
And while many can be found in healthy whole foods-fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds-there is a case to be made for supplementing a healthy diet this season. (Related: 12 Foods to Boost Your Immune System This Flu Season)
"Herbs are the original medicines, and many have antiviral and antibacterial activity," says Robin Foroutan, R.D., a dietitian at The Morrison Center in New York City and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Even more: "They're totally safe, and many have great research to back up what generations before us already knew."
Of course, no one vitamin or mineral is going to build your body into a fortress against infection. "In regards to 'immune-boosting' claims, I think we need to be careful," says Hogan. Example: Some research suggests certain vitamins (C, for example) might ease cold symptoms, but finds that they're not necessarily preventative in keeping said cold at bay.
But if you're feeling a little under the weather (or just want to feed your body with more healthful nutrients), consider these supplements that dietitians swear by. (As always, make sure to check with your doctor before you start taking any supplements.)
Turmeric and Ginger Tea
"I personally like sipping on green tea or herbal teas with turmeric and ginger if I feel like I'm getting sick," says Hogan. "They're also packed with antioxidants and can help strengthen the immune system." Teas and warm beverages are also super soothing, she notes-a perk if you're feeling under the weather.
Try: Organic India Tulsi Turmeric Ginger Tea ($6; organicindiausa.com)
Buffered Vitamin C
Vitamin C has long been used to support immune function. "Research to support its use as a supplement to prevent or shorten the duration of colds typically shows some benefit-some more marginal, some more significant," says Stephanie Mandel, a holistic nutrition consultant at The Morrison Center.
She prefers "buffered" vitamin C-a form of the vitamin paired with magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which many people are low in. Another plus? "It's easier on the stomach, so it's a good option for people who are bothered by the acidity of vitamin C," Mandel explains. Aim for 2,000 to 4,000mg per day.
Try: Buffered Vitamin C ($38; dailybenefit.com)
A study published in the BMJ found that vitamin D supplementation was effective in preventing acute respiratory infections. Pro tip: "It's known that vitamins D and K work together in the body, so when you supplement with vitamin D, it's a good idea to pair it with vitamin K," says Mandel. (FYI, vitamins D and K are also fat-soluble, meaning that your body has to have enough healthy fat in order to reap their full benefits.)
Try: Vitamin D3/K2 ($28; dailybenefit.com)
"As we come to learn more about how our microbiome works, we're beginning to understand that certain strains of bacteria play specific roles in the body," says Mandel. Both Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei are strains that have been shown to play a role in protecting against the common cold (and shortening its duration), she notes.
Try: Daily Flora Immune Probiotic Capsules ($35; dailybenefit.com)
Extract from the elderberry has been shown to have antiviral, pro-immunity effects. "I love elderberry extract for supporting the immune system," says Foroutan. Make your own extract by simmering dried elderberries in water, she notes. Or, pick up a product at your natural health foods store. "Just look out for added sugar, which is completely unnecessary because elderberry is naturally sweet and delicious," she notes.
Try: Sambucus Fizzy Elderberry ($5; vitaminlife.com)
Some research finds that andrographis, a bitter plant native to some South Asian countries, can play a role in weakening the symptoms of the common cold if you're already sick. In fact, extracts of the plant have been used medicinally for centuries, thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antiviral properties. "These capsules aren't the easiest to find, but it's worth it," says Foroutan.
Try: Gaia Quick Defense ($17; naturalhealthyconcepts.com)
Taken daily, silver in its hydrosol form (particles suspended in water-similar to colloidal silver) can help fend off general colds and the flu, says Foroutan. (In spray form, silver can also help with nasal congestion, she notes.) "It's very, very, very diluted at about 10 parts per million," she says. "There have been warnings about developing argyria [a graying of the skin] from using silver products, but those risks are associated with using cheap products like elemental silver, ionic silver, or low-quality colloidal silver, which is why good manufacturing practices matter so much."
Try: Sovereign Silver ($21; vitaminshoppe.com)