To use an oft (over) quoted line from Game of Thrones – Winter is coming….
This means more time cooped up indoors and more sharing of germs. Of course, the best foundation for your immune system is a nutritious diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep, however, it can also be beneficial to give yourself an extra boost at this time of year, so you don’t end up feeling like you own shares in Kleenex.
These three supplements are designed to boost your immune system, and they work best when taken as a preventative rather than when you’re already ill. They are all readily available and have a good safety profile. If you are taking other medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding, please check with your health professional.
Vitamin C and Zinc Combo
These two nutrients are the workhorses of the immune system.
Your immune cells need Vitamin C to enhance their killing actions and clear pathogens from your body. Vitamin C also helps histamine (the chemical responsible for allergy symptoms) to break down faster.
Zinc is a nutrient that has its fingers in all the immunity pies. It is responsible for maintaining healthy skin and mucous membranes. You need to have adequate amounts to make immune cells, and zinc helps enhance their ability to neutralize pathogens.
Both zinc and vitamin C are often depleted in states of chronic stress and if you love the sweet stuff.
What to look for in a supplement:
Ideally a couple of different forms of vitamin C such as sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate with some bioflavonoids like (rutin and hesperidin) to enhance the absorption. Zinc citrate or a glycinate are less likely to make you nauseous and are well absorbed.
Cod Liver Oil
Ok, I can already hear people of a certain age groaning with this one but don’t be put off. Twenty-first-century cod liver is more palatable than the “back in the day” version.
Cod liver oil makes my list because it has high levels of vitamins A & D. It also contains essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation. That’s three big ticks from me!
Vitamin A is known as the anti-infective vitamin because it protects the health of your mucous membranes, which form the first line of defence of the immune system. If the bugs can’t get in, they can’t cause havoc! It helps produce super-charged, infection-fighting white blood cells. Antibody production is also increased making your immune army bigger and ready to roll out faster.
**A note on safety. More is not better when it comes to Vitamin A. Preformed Vitamin A (retinyl esters) can be toxic when consumed at high levels over a long time in amounts greater than 3,000IU per day for a six-year-old child or 15,000 IU per day for an adult. Natural cod liver oil contains between 400-900IU per 5mL serve making it a safe source of Vitamin A.
Most known for its role in calcium regulation and bone health, Vitamin D is very important to keep the immune system in balance. Adequate Vitamin D means your immune system is ready to fight both viral and bacterial pathogens but not too trigger-happy to start killing everything in its path as happens with autoimmunity. Vitamin D also increases the production of the body’s own antibiotic, cathelicidin.
What to look for in a supplement
Purity & Safety
There are legitimate concerns about heavy metal toxicity when it comes to fish oils so go with a reputable manufacturer who can provide testing data on the quality and safety of their product. In the clinic, I use Metagenics and Nordic Naturals. Pricing is often an excellent guide in this area, and good quality supplements will cost you between $40-$50 for 200mL depending on the concentration.
Echinacea is a herb which helps build up your white blood cells. It is both antiviral and antibacterial, so Echinacea is an
excellent immune all-rounder. Phagocytes are the immune system’s version of PacMan, and they eat up the nasties and destroy them. Echinacea increases their ability to do this.
What to look for in a supplement:
You can get Echinacea in a tablet or liquid form. In a liquid, you ideally want a mix of two Echinacea species – E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. The part used should be the root. The leaves aren’t as useful for immunity. A mark of a good quality Echinacea is that it should make your tongue tingle!
So, that’s my top three supplements to support immunity. Have you got any others you swear by? Let me know in the comments below.
Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and provides consultations in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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