During every winter season, I get many questions as to how one should support their immune system, naturally. And this winter with our first flu season in two years and the waning (hopefully) days of the pandemic, this is a question on everyone’s mind as we have been bombarded with advice on how to keep our immune systems strong.
So, how do you know what is right for you?
Allow me to give you my favorite immune boosters and you can decide which ones you may want to take. Fair warning - I take all of them and advise my patients to do the same. So, let’s get started.
For maintenance and support of your immune system, I recommend vitamin C, zinc, selenium, propolis extract, freeze dried Manuka honey, ginger root extract, and of course, vitamin D.
Let’s look at each one of the ingredients as they play different, but sometimes overlapping roles in how they protect us. But, with your immune system, it is always good to build up a little redundancy to make sure all your bases are covered.
Vitamin C - this nutrient is important for normal immune system function in mammals. We are the only mammal on the planet except for a small mouse that doesn’t produce our own vitamin C and must get it in supplement form or from the food we eat. And, according to the Linus Pauling Institute (the father of vitamin C), vitamin C is needed not only to produce the immune system’s front-line fighters, our white blood cells, but it also stimulates their activity and helps them know how to respond to an attack.
Vitamin C is found in many foods, but particularly in citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, melon, berries, kiwi fruit and green leafy vegetables.
Zinc- this mineral is needed for normal immune system function as it is critical for the normal development and function of immune cells, including certain types of white blood cell called neutrophils (which are activated during a bacterial infection) and natural killer cells. Without enough zinc, our bodies will be deficient in an enzyme that helps our T-cells gear up for battle against foreign invaders.
Foods rich in zinc include oysters, beef, seafood, pork, pulses (legumes), nuts and seeds, dairy and whole grains.
Selenium has been shown to help the immune system function by increasing the percentage of T-cells by up to 50% in older individuals after just 6 months of supplementation.
The best food sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, halibut, tuna, liver and sunflower seeds.
Propolis - is actually the glue that holds a honeybees hive together; but it contains many bioflavonoids which have immune supporting and anti-oxidant capabilities - a perfect fit for cold and flu season.
Manuka honey with the active ingredient known as methylglyoxal or MGO has an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial effect on the body. The reason I mention a freeze dried option is so you can find this in supplement form along with all of these other great ingredients I just mentioned.
Ginger root extract has been used for centuries for a range of problems, including coughs, and colds. It has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties along with its active ingredient known as gingerol which has anti-microbial properties enabling it to fight viruses and fungi as well.
Vitamin D plays a role in almost every bodily function including the immune system and is very difficult to get in food sources; so, we need to change the mantra from an apple a day to a vitamin D capsule or liquid per day will keep the doctor away.
While this list is in no way complete in how to turn on your immune system, it is an excellent place to start.