Meta description: Worried about the upcoming cold or flu season? Learn which supplements to take this winter to boost your immune system.
During winter, the likelihood of contracting an infectious disease rises. Colds, flus and other illnesses of the respiratory tract become more common at this time of year.
It is not the cold weather per se that causes infection, though – that’s a myth. Instead, it is how the cold interacts with our body’s ability to clear germs. Low temperatures change the way the mucus lining in our nasal passages behaves, reducing its ability to clear germs and keep us infection-free. Furthermore, cold conditions encourage people to huddle together inside for warmth, making it easy for infection to spread from one person to another.
Fortunately, there are ways that you can protect yourself. “Vitamin supplements during the winter can boost your immune system up a few notches,” pharmacist Stuart Gale from Oxford Online Pharmacy tells todayuknews.com. Plus, they’re easy to take: just pop a pill and you’re done.
So which vitamins and supplements should you be taking to keep your immune system at its best between December and February? Let’s take a look.
There is no evidence that vitamin C can prevent you from getting colds, flus or any other respiratory infections. However, it may shorten their length and severity.
According to a Cochrane review – the highest level of scientific evidence available – people who take at least a gram of vitamin C per day had 8 percent shorter cold episodes. Whether it works for COVID-19 remains unknown.
Vitamin D is another much-touted micronutrient for keeping disease at bay. Historically, populations exposed to the most sunlight (and, therefore, generating the most vitamin D in their skin) were the most protected against virulent killers, such as tuberculosis.
Today, the evidence that this vitamin can protect people from colds and flus is strong. According to another Cochrane review, those who took the sunshine vitamin every day or once a week had a 50 percent lower incidence of colds.
The ancient Indians believed that virtually all diseases began in the gut. If you could make it healthy, then the rest of the body would soon follow.
Modern science is proving they had a point. Nurturing the good bacteria in your small intestine and colon can have dramatically beneficial impacts on your health and resistance to disease.
Unfortunately, some people don’t have optimal microbiomes (colonies of microbes living in their guts), so they may require probiotics. These supplements contain live cultures of health-promoting bacteria. Taking enough of them can help achieve digestive harmony which, in turn, can improve your body’s resistance to infection.
Zinc is an essential mineral that helps the body fight off disease. The immune system uses it to construct DNA and proteins, the tools that the body needs to resist invaders.
Low levels of zinc are potentially harmful. Studies show that people who lack the mineral are at a higher risk of pneumonia, a serious lung infection common in older adults.
Like vitamin C, zinc may help to reduce the duration of cold symptoms. A review published in the Open Respiratory Medical Journal found that it could shorten the length of common colds by around 20 percent.
Zinc is also important in maintaining healthy skin. Individuals with low zinc levels often have persistent wounds that won’t heal which are then susceptible to infection.
Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy for cold- and flu-like symptoms. It comes from the coneflower plant, native to North America.
Unlike other vitamins and supplements in this list, there is compelling evidence that echinacea may be able to prevent common colds from developing during the peak of the season. Research shows that when participants take it three times a day or more, they can cut their risk of developing disease by up to 26 percent.
Folate (or folic acid if you decide to get it in synthetic form), is a nutrient found in most whole plant foods, including greens, legumes, and some root vegetables. It is critical for DNA and protein synthesis as well as cell-mediated immunity. People who lack the nutrient tend to have worsened T-lymphocyte responses to infections, according to research.
Green tea is touted as a tonic for everything, from unwanted wrinkles to premature aging. Now research is showing that it may help protect against viruses too.
Matcha – a type of powdered tea leaf – is high in a compound called EGCG. Researchers believe that this chemical may protect cells against multiple RNA- and DNA-based viruses because of its ability to block viruses from entering cells.
Matcha is available in both tea and capsule forms. Most people take it daily in the morning.
Quercetin recently shot to fame for its ability to clear zombie cells from the body when used in combination with the drug, Dasatinib. However, this long-chain polyphenol found in apples, berries and greens, may also be immune-enhancing.
In laboratory experiments, researchers have found that high consumption of quercetin can block certain viruses from getting into cells. It works by blocking cell receptors that allow viruses to enter, stopping certain infections in their tracks.
Quercetin may also be a mucolytic agent. By enhancing the production of sticky mucus that lines the airways, it helps the body trap germs before they have a chance to get into cells or the bloodstream.
Lastly, herbs, such as ashwagandha and Panax ginseng (not Siberian), may potentially support the immune system via their adaptogenic properties.
During immune dysregulation, stress hormone levels rise. And when they do, it stops the immune system from working as well as it could. Adaptogens help to bring this back to baseline, allowing the immune system to resume normal function.
Evidence suggests that vitamins and supplements may individually prevent or shorten the duration of a variety of airborne illnesses, including those of the upper respiratory tract. Interestingly, they work through different mechanisms, suggesting that complementary usage may also be beneficial.