The 15 Best Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
Your immune system consists of a complex collection of cells, processes, and chemicals that constantly defends your body against invading pathogens, including viruses, toxins, and bacteria.
Keeping your immune system healthy year round is key to preventing infection and disease. Making healthy lifestyle choices by consuming nutritious foods and getting enough sleep and exercise are the most important ways to bolster your immune system.
In addition, research has shown that supplementing with certain vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other substances can improve immune response and potentially protect against illness.
However, it’s important to note that no supplement will cure or prevent disease.
With the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to understand that no supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification other than social distancing and proper hygiene practices can protect you from COVID-19.
Currently, no research supports the use of any supplement to protect against COVID-19 specifically.
Instead, this article provides information on well-researched supplements that may bolster immune system defenses in general.
Note that there are many types of coronaviruses, some of which, like the common cold, cause only minor symptoms — unlike COVID-19, which often results in serious, sometimes fatal symptoms.
Here are 15 supplements that are known for their immune-boosting potential.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient essential to the health and functioning of your immune system.
Vitamin D enhances the pathogen fighting effects of monocytes and macrophages — white blood cells that are important parts of your immune defense — and decreases inflammation, which helps promote immune response.
Many people are deficient in this important vitamin, which may negatively affect immune function. In fact, low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections, including influenza and allergic asthma.
Some studies show that supplementing with vitamin D may improve immune response. In fact, recent research suggests that taking this vitamin may protect against respiratory tract infections.
In a 2019 review of randomized control studies in 11,321 people, supplementing with vitamin D significantly decreased the risk of respiratory infections in people deficient in this vitamin and lowered infection risk in those with adequate vitamin D levels.
This suggests an overall protective effect.
Other studies note that vitamin D supplements may improve response to antiviral treatments in people with certain infections, including hepatitis C and HIV.
Depending on blood levels, anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day is sufficient for most people, though those with more serious deficiencies often require much higher doses.
Vitamin D is essential for immune function. Healthy levels of this vitamin may help lower your risk of respiratory infections.
Zinc is a mineral that’s commonly added to supplements and other healthcare products like lozenges that are meant to boost your immune system. This is because zinc is essential for immune system function.
Zinc is needed for immune cell development and communication and plays an important role in inflammatory response.
A deficiency in this nutrient significantly affects your immune system’s ability to function properly, resulting in an increased risk of infection and disease, including pneumonia
Zinc deficiency affects around 2 billion people worldwide and is very common in older adults. In fact, up to 30% of older adults are considered deficient in this nutrient
Numerous studies reveal that zinc supplements may protect against respiratory tract infections like the common cold
What’s more, supplementing with zinc may be beneficial for those who are already sick.
In a 2019 study in 64 hospitalized children with acute lower respiratory tract infections (ALRIs), taking 30 mg of zinc per day decreased the total duration of infection and the duration of the hospital stay by an average of 2 days, compared with a placebo group
Supplemental zinc may also help reduce the duration of the common cold
Taking zinc long term is typically safe for healthy adults, as long as the daily dose is under the set upper limit of 40 mg of elemental zinc
Excessive doses may interfere with copper absorption, which could increase your infection risk.
Supplementing with zinc may help protect against respiratory tract infections and reduce the duration of these infections.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is perhaps the most popular supplement taken to protect against infection due to its important role in immune health.
This vitamin supports the function of various immune cells and enhances their ability to protect against infection. It’s also necessary for cellular death, which helps keep your immune system healthy by clearing out old cells and replacing them with new ones
Vitamin C also functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against damage induced by oxidative stress, which occurs with the accumulation of reactive molecules known as free radicals.
Oxidative stress can negatively affect immune health and is linked to numerous diseases
Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold
A large review of 29 studies in 11,306 people demonstrated that regularly supplementing with vitamin C at an average dose of 1–2 grams per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children
Interestingly, the review also demonstrated that regularly taking vitamin C supplements reduced common cold occurrence in individuals under high physical stress, including marathon runners and soldiers, by up to 50%
Additionally, high dose intravenous vitamin C treatment has been shown to significantly improve symptoms in people with severe infections, including sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) resulting from viral infections
These results confirm that vitamin C supplements may significantly affect immune health, especially in those who don’t get enough of the vitamin through their diet.
The upper limit for vitamin C is 2,000 mg. Supplemental daily doses typically range between 250 and 1,000 mg
Vitamin C is vital for immune health. Supplementing with this nutrient may reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.
COVID19 has undoubtedly put the whole world in a disturbing situation, where everyone is scared of self-isolation and is quarantined. This infectious disease is specially dangerous for the elderly as they are more prone to getting affecting by it. And the reason behind is that they do not have a very strong immunity. And they are more likely to have other serious concerns like diabetes, blood pressure, lung disease, or even heart disease that can lower the body’s immunity. WHO has also listed in their Q&A about this pandemic, “While we are still learning about how COVID-2019 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others.”
Immunity boosters for elderly
It’s a proven fact that good health and nutrition go hand in hand. As the elderly are more prone to coronavirus, a diet rich in certain vitamins and minerals can create a wall of immunity. You can include fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C & E and even zinc. These changes in the diet of the elderly can surely help them fight the infection.
Include super foods
Superfoods like broccoli, mushrooms, and even kale are a few immunity boosters that you can include in their diet. They improve the immune system of older people quite rapidly. You can also include all kinds of berries in their diet along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids – beans, flax seeds, and even some nuts. This will also help in boosting their memory.
They must have 8-9 glasses of water, as that will keep their mucous membranes moist which can further lower the chances of cold and flu. If they don’t sense thirst that much, you can prepare even soup for them or give coconut water, milk, green tea, and even some homemade fruit juice will be helpful.
Vitamin-C rich foods
Various researches have proven that vitamin C is an important aspect of improving immunity, be it kids, adults or even elderly! Fruits like oranges, papaya, kiwi, and guava are rich in vitamin C and should be included in their diet. Also, veggies like eggplant, bell peppers, beetroots, spinach, and cauliflower are known to be quite rich in vitamin C and are good for immunity.
Some of the immunity-boosting herbs are garlic, ginseng, black cumin and liquorice. Include them in the diet of the elderly in the form for tea or by adding them in their food. This will not enhance their immunity but improve their gut as well.
Diet low in sugar and fat
The diet of older people must have low-sugar and low-fat foods that can comprise of whole grains and lean proteins. This way, they will tend to have better overall health.
Vitamin-E rich foods
Some researches have proven that vitamin E is vital for maintaining the overall health of elderly people, including their immunity. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can protect you from various infections, bacterias and viruses. Include soaked almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and even hazelnuts to get the daily dose of vitamin E.
Other supplements with immune-boosting potential
Aside from the items listed above, there are many supplements that may help improve immune response:
Astragalus is an herb commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Animal research suggests that its extract may significantly improve immune-related responses
Selenium is a mineral that’s essential for immune health. Animal research demonstrates that selenium supplements may enhance antiviral defense against influenza strains, including H1N1
Garlic has powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It has been shown to enhance immune health by stimulating protective white blood cells like NK cells and macrophages. However, human research is limited
This herb contains andrographolide, a terpenoid compound found to have antiviral effects against respiratory disease-causing viruses, including enterovirus D68 and influenza A
Licorice contains many substances, including glycyrrhizin, that may help protect against viral infections. According to test-tube research, glycyrrhizin exhibits antiviral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV)
Some human research supports the use of this plant’s extract for alleviating symptoms of acute viral respiratory infections, including the common cold and bronchitis. Still, results are mixed and more research is needed
B complex vitamins.
B vitamins, including B12 and B6, are important for healthy immune response. Yet, many adults are deficient in them, which may negatively affect immune health
Curcumin is the main active compound in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and animal studies indicate that it may help improve immune function
Echinacea is a genus of plants in the daisy family. Certain species have been shown to improve immune health and may have antiviral effects against several respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus and rhinoviruses
Propolis is a resin-like material produced by honeybees for use as a sealant in hives. Though it has impressive immune-enhancing effects and may have antiviral properties as well, more human research is needed
According to results from scientific research, the supplements listed above may offer immune-boosting properties.
However, keep in mind that many of these supplements’ potential effects on immune health have not been thoroughly tested in humans, highlighting the need for future studies.
The bottom line
Many supplements on the market may help improve immune health. Zinc, elderberry, and vitamins C and D are just some of the substances that have been researched for their immune-enhancing potential.
However, although these supplements may offer a small benefit for immune health, they should not and cannot be used as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, and not smoking are some of the most important ways to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce your chances of infection and disease.
Moreover, remember that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that any of them can protect against
COVID-19 — even though some of them may have antiviral properties.