My top 5 supplements for immune support have been a part of my healthy foundation for years. I’ve never been so grateful for having a plan to stay healthy, in any season. During cold and flu season, we need to do everything possible to keep ourselves feeling our best to better fight any signs of infection. Today I’m giving you a peek inside my medicine cabinet.
If you have ever glazed over with decision fatigue in the supplement aisle or while researching about what supplements to take then you are not alone. We have limited daily capacity and energy to make decisions. Based on the research, it is easier to decide if you have limited choices, in the morning, and after you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast.
My Favorite Immune Supporting Supplements
I can help you by limiting your options based on my extensive research and experience in the field of culinary nutrition. So, no falling victim to overwhelm here, I’m going to help you outsmart it.
Before we dive in I want to remind you that supplements can’t make up for poor health habits and I recommend 5 super simple ways to boost your immune system as your foundation. Please, start with the basics and you will have an easier time deciding which supplements are vital to your unique body and lifestyle.
Starting with a food-based multivitamin and multimineral is one of the easiest and simplest ways to get what your body needs. But, if you need extra during times of illness then supplementing is a great option. Here’s what I suggest – vitamin D3 (actually a hormone), vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.
Let’s talk about the number 1 most important supplement first – the sunshine hormone! Did you even know that vitamin D3 is technically a hormone?! Ideally, we are designed to make enough D3 through sun exposure. But, in the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere it is hard to get enough, and supplementing is often necessary; especially since a vitamin D3 deficiency results in a suppressed immune response as well as issues with low mood.
I live in the North East where it is easy to get low in vitamin D3 over the winter, so I turn to supplements to feel my best and avoid getting sick. I am not alone either, it turns out that about 40% of the population is deficient in vitamin D3 and two of the biggest signs that you are low in D3 is if you are prone to catching colds more often or if your mood gets low in the winter months. Neither of which are fun to deal with.
Since our bodies make vitamin D3 via sun exposure, the best way to get your levels up is to increase your sun exposure to 30 minutes twice a week. Of course, with all the sunscreen we wear in the warmer months, this can get tricky. You can also get your levels up to optimal by incorporating vitamin D3 rich foods such as cod liver oil, fatty fish, and eggs into your diet and by supplementing when needed.
As always, I advocate for meeting nutritional needs naturally as much as possible but if you suspect you need a supplement to boost your D3 levels then it is recommended to get your blood levels checked so you can dose properly. If you aren’t able to get a blood test right away you can certainly follow the current RDA for vitamin D which is 600 IU for children and adults 1-70 years.
Some functional medical doctors suggest much higher doses or around 2,000 IUs a day, which still falls below the suggested upper limit of 4,000 IUs. If you are going to take a dose beyond the RDA, I suggest you work with your doctor to determine the safest dosage as there can be negative side effects from too high of a dose including digestive pain, nausea, increased thirst, and kidney stones.
One last note on this important supplement, it’s easy to absorb in liquid form. This is the Vitamin D + K2 that I use myself daily.
Next up is another key vitamin for immune health – Vitamin C. It’s an antioxidant superstar and sweeps up free radicals that damage cells and it also supports the production and function of white blood cells. It’s known to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold and viral pneumonia-related hospital stays. I will raise a mug of warm lemon water to that!
There are so many ways to get vitamin C via food and I always suggest you start with diet. Check on my top foods to fight the cold and flu to learn which ones we add into our diet when we get a hint of the sniffles.
But sometimes we need a boost, especially if we are deficient in vitamin C or facing illness. In that case, it’s helpful to supplement. The current RDA for vitamin C is 75mg for adult women and 90mg for adult men. Higher doses have been used in hospital settings and by functional medical doctors with great success as well, but if you are not fighting a viral infection that is endangering your life then megadosing is not necessary.
Have you ever tried slamming zinc lozenges when you get a cold to minimize the duration? You aren’t the only one; it’s commonly known that zinc is supportive of immune health. But, did you know that you need this metal daily for your body to function optimally? Zinc deficiency is really common, especially if you eat a plant-based diet.
Ideally, you will get your zinc from your diet and the best food sources of zinc are lamb, grass-fed beef, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, chicken, eggs, mushrooms, salmon and cacao powder. The last one makes me happy! Anyone else want to eat dark chocolate and drink hot cacao to help ward off colds?! Sign me up.
Now, if you are deficient despite eating a zinc-rich diet then supplementing is a wonderful way to get this vital metal. The RDA for zinc is 11 milligrams/day for men and 8 milligrams/day for women. In times of illness up to 20mg of zinc, a day is recommended to support the immune system. Men especially tend to be low in zinc, and it can affect their fertility as well.
I call this the “mom” vitamin. If there’s isn’t enough magnesium, nothing works great. Remember it this way, if mama isn’t happy, no one is happy. Magnesium is a mineral and electrolyte that many of us don’t associate with the immune system but it plays a key role in over 300 biochemical processes in the body.
A magnesium deficiency is associated with inflammation and apoptosis (cell death), neither of which are good for the immune system. And, as we age a magnesium deficiency is often associated with an increase in susceptibility to viruses.
A delightful way to increase magnesium levels is to take frequent Epsom salt baths before going to bed. While this method is luxurious it still may not be enough to fix a deficiency. In that case, you need to supplement using the RDA of 420 milligrams for men and 320 milligrams for women. There’s a lot of different kinds of magnesium and I share resources with my clients about which types are the best match with their symptoms or diagnosis.
Ongoing Immune Support
I hope you’ve made it through without getting that dreaded feeling of overwhelm and decision fatigue. The world of supplements can be truly hard to navigate. It helps to remember that building a strong and intelligent immune system begins with diet and lifestyle. And, if you suspect you are deficient in vitamin D3, C, zinc, or magnesium then you can always get a blood test that reveals your levels and then work with your doctor to pinpoint exactly what works best for your body.
What I want you to be most aware of is that deficiencies in vitamin D3, zinc, and magnesium are very common and you need optimal levels to have a thriving immune system…and body in general. So, if your daily multivitamin/multimineral doesn’t cover the RDA values and you are getting sick often and just not feeling your best then it is time to investigate further.
*This info is for educational purposes only. Please work with your own functional medicine provider to determine the best supplement plan for your own individual needs.