LAST UPDATED: January 21, 2022
Your immune system is the body’s primary defense against infection. If you’re overstressed or not getting the right nutrients to support your immune system, it can’t function properly, and you’re more likely to pick up colds, flu, stomach bugs, and other infections.
There’s a lot of discussion about immunity these days, which isn’t surprising given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the focus tends to be on vaccination, many people are asking if there are other ways to boost immunity, perhaps with supplementation. The good news is that the right supplements can help your immune system function more efficiently and keep any number of seasonal viruses at bay, from flu to norovirus.
Of course, when something becomes the focus of a lot of attention, there are always some unscrupulous people who see the chance to make a fast buck. Immunity is a hot topic now, so naturally, if you go shopping for immune-boosting supplements, you’ll get bombarded with adverts for thousands upon thousands of products, all claiming they can give your immune system superpowers.
We’ve written this article so you have a straightforward beginner’s guide to the substances in supplements that can genuinely help your immune system function better, based on scientific evidence. Here’s our rundown of the best natural immunity boosters:
Your body needs vitamins A and E so your immune system can function normally. Vitamin D is also vital for regulating your immune cell response – the way your immune system reacts to potentially harmful invading microorganisms. Studies show that boosting your vitamin D levels helps to prevent respiratory infections.
There are eight B vitamins, all of which play a role in immune system function. However, vitamins B6, B12, and folate (vitamin B9) are of particular interest. These vitamins help your natural killer (NK) cells (a kind of immune system cell or lymphocyte) to work properly.
Perhaps the most well-known of the immunity-boosting vitamins is vitamin C. Vitamin C supports the health of immune system cells that help you deal with infections. Plenty of research supports the idea that vitamin C supplementation makes colds less severe and shorter-lived.
Your body needs the mineral zinc in small quantities for numerous reasons, one of which is immune system cell growth and function. Zinc supports the activity of neutrophils and macrophages, immune cells that stop viruses from entering your cells and reproducing in your body.
Selenium also plays a role in immune system response. Your body uses it to make selenoproteins, which regulate immune cell function.
Iron is perhaps the most well-known of the minerals your body needs. An iron deficiency causes anemia – a lack of red blood cells – and depresses your immune system.
Both the flowers and fruits of the elderberry bush contain high levels of antioxidants and immune-boosting vitamins. Research into elderberry has shown that the plant’s flavonoids (compounds rich in antioxidants) bind to the influenza A virus more successfully than anti-viral drugs. Elderberry also contains high levels of quercetin, another powerful antioxidant. Quercetin has anti-viral properties that prevent some viruses from binding with your cells, helping you ward off infection. Of the 30 or so types of elderberry worldwide, the one with the most potent effects is Sambucus nigra, the European or black elderberry.
Echinacea or purple coneflower is a plant that has a reputation for its ability to boost your immune system. This medicinal plant is the best source of antioxidants, including flavonoids, rosmarinic acid, and cichoric acid. Echinacea plants also contain alkamides, which boost antioxidant activity.
Garlic has multiple, well-researched health benefits. It contains flavonoids and selenium, which increase the quantities of T-cells in your bloodstream that kill viruses. Taking garlic regularly also lowers your stress levels. Your adrenal glands don’t produce such high levels of stress hormones when you take garlic, and lower stress means you’re better able to fight off infections. The sulfur in garlic (which makes it smell!) also helps by assisting with the absorption of zinc, one of our other immunity boosters.
Green tea extract
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) has long been recognized for its health benefits, thanks mainly to its high levels of EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate). EGCG affects the structure of viruses, preventing them from entering your body’s healthy cells. Like elderberry, green tea also contains significant amounts of quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-viral agent.
Thyme isn’t just an aromatic and delicious herb for cooking and seasoning. It also helps your body protect itself from bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections, making it a valuable immune system booster. In addition to containing high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds, thyme can strengthen your immune system and stop pathogens like viruses from multiplying in your body. It also contains baicalein, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Baicalein, which also comes from the Baikal skullcap plant, is a type of flavonoid.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. They perform an essential role in digestion, and recent research reveals that they are also vital to immune system regulation, boosting your body’s production of T cells. The three primary probiotics available in supplement form are Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Bifidobacterium. They’re most likely to be beneficial when they have at least a billion colony-forming units.
How to choose your immune-boosting supplements
When choosing supplements, it’s not just the products themselves and their effectiveness you need to consider. There are also issues such as how they interact with each other and with any prescription medications or supplements you’re already taking.
The effects of supplements also vary between different people due to the way your body absorbs and uses them. Another crucial consideration is that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which supplements will be of most benefit to you as an individual.
Autumn takes the guesswork out of choosing supplements. Using your DNA, Autumn can create a personalized profile detailing precisely which micronutrients you could benefit from the most. Our team of scientific and medical practitioners uses nutrigenomics, a branch of science that studies the relationship between diet and genes, to determine your optimal daily supplement intake.
For better everyday health and natural defense against infections, find the immune-boosting supplements that are right for you.