How can I boost my 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 help improve immune response and potentially protect against illness.

However, note that some supplements can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Some may not be appropriate for people with certain health conditions. Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements.

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.

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2. Zinc 

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. Zinc also specifically protects tissue barriers in the body and help prevent foreign pathogens from entering.

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.

According to research, 16% of all deep respiratory infections worldwide have been found to be due to zinc deficiency.

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.

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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.

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4. Elderberry 

Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra), which has long been used to treat infections, is being researched for its effects on immune health.

In test-tube studies, elderberry extract demonstrates potent antibacterial and antiviral potential against bacterial pathogens responsible for upper respiratory tract infections and strains of the influenza virus.

What’s more, it has been shown to enhance immune system response and may help shorten the duration and severity of colds as well as reduce symptoms related to viral infections.

5. Medicinal mushrooms 

Medicinal mushrooms have been used since ancient times to prevent and treat infection and disease. Many types of medicinal mushrooms have been studied for their immune-boosting potential.

Over 270 recognized species of medicinal mushrooms are known to have immune-enhancing properties.

Cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, shitake, reishi, and turkey tail are all types that have been shown to benefit immune health.

Some research demonstrates that supplementing with specific types of medicinal mushrooms may enhance immune health in several ways as well as reduce symptoms of certain conditions, including asthma and lung infections.

6–15. Other supplements with immune-boosting potential 

Aside from the items listed above, many supplements may help improve immune response:

  • Astragalus is a 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 defence against influenza strains.
  • 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.
  • Andrographis. This herb contains andrographolide, a terpenoid compound found to have antiviral effects against respiratory-disease-causing viruses, including enterovirus D68 and influenza A.
  • Liquorice 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.
  • Pelargonium sidoides. Some human research supports the use of this plant’s extract for helping alleviate symptoms of acute viral respiratory infections, including the common cold and bronchitis. Still, results are mixed, and more research is needed.
  • B complex 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 that honeybees produce 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.

However, although these supplements may benefit immune health, they should not and cannot be used as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.

Aiming to eat a nutrient-dense balanced diet, getting enough sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, and not smoking (or considering quitting, if you smoke) are some of the most important ways to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce your chances of infection and disease.

The information in this blog has been taken from this article:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/immune-boosting-supplements