Can we support our immune systems with specific supplements? "In a perfect world, we'd all have access to a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that's chock-full of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, adequate protein and fiber—and theoretically, shouldn't have to take additional vitamin supplements in order to strengthen our immune system," says immunologist and functional medicine doctor Heather Moday, MD. "However, not only do most of us fail to hit these daily nutrition goals, but we may have situations—like physical stress or inflammatory health issues—when we need more of certain nutrients than what we're getting from food." Here are five supplements that will help support your immune system. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Curcumin is a substance found in turmeric. "The magic of curcumin is how it decreases inflammation at multiple levels in the body, not only helping with symptom relief from pain and arthritis but also blocking inflammatory cytokines driving autoimmune disease, heart disease and diabetes," says Dr. Moday. "It also improves the health of our gut bacteria, which adds to our overall immune health. Because curcumin is not absorbed well and one would have to eat copious amounts of turmeric root to have significant benefits, I recommend supplementing with 1,000 milligrams per day with food."
"Since humans cannot manufacture vitamin C and it's not stored in the body, it needs to be constantly replenished," says Dr. Monday. "Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and strengthens our immune system cells. It gets used up rapidly during infection and when we are under tremendous stress. It also speeds wound-healing and is great for your skin. Supplemental vitamin C has been found in studies to lower the severity and duration of a cold, and in early studies may lessen the severity of hospitalized Covid patients' symptoms. A good dose to start with is 500 milligrams twice daily for maximum absorption."
Studies have shown that Vitamin D can positively impact immune health. "Low vitamin D status has long been implicated as a significant risk factor for the development of several autoimmune diseases," says Professor Richard Mellanby, of the University of Edinburgh's Center for Inflammation Research. "Our study reveals one way in which vitamin D metabolites can dramatically influence the immune system."
Zinc is crucial for wound healing and immune support, experts say. "Zinc helps boost your immune system and possibly prevent infection like pneumonia," says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD.
Elderberries have long been used for medicine and immune support. "[Elderberry] may help support a healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production – cytokines are a group of proteins that are secreted by specific cells of the immune system," says registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook. That said, don't expect it to be a wonder drug against COVID. "Herbs? Forget about them," he has said. "Forget about it. If people want to use them, fine, but it's not something to recommend."