With colder weather on its way, colds and flu are soon to follow. “Viruses replicate at a greater amount in lower temperatures making you more prone to get sick in the winter months,” says Dr. Jaquel Patterson, ND, MBA, a naturopathic physician and medical director of Fairfield Family Health. “That coupled with more family gatherings, get-togethers and staying inside more often help to spread germs further.”
To avoid catching your favorite nephew’s sniffle, now is the best time to shore up your body’s defenses. In addition to the healthy habits you may already have in place — eating a varied diet, getting plenty of sleep and (trying) to keep your stress levels low — supplementing with vitamins and herbs that boost your body’s ability to fight germs will help keep your immune system in tip top shape all season long. Here, eight vitamins and herbs to add to your immunity regime.
Vitamin D Important for reducing inflammation, vitamin D also helps to optimize the body’s white blood cell response. “This vitamin helps regulate our innate immune system,” says Dr. Wendy Warner, MD, ABIHM, IFMCP, a functional medicine practitioner, trained herbalist and co-author of Boosting Your Immunity for Dummies (2013), who adds that there is a natural variation in vitamin D metabolism across seasons, which results in a need for more vitamin D during the winter months. Winter’s shorter days, which means less vitamin D producing sunlight, also has a depleting effect. To keep levels on the up and up, take 2,000 – 5,000 iu daily with meals.
Vitamin A Practicing balance is essential in life, and the same rings true when it comes to a healthy immune system. Vitamin A helps to control regulatory T cells in your body which regulate immune response, says Dr. Patterson. These special white blood cells play an important role in helping the body recognize what’s a threat (think bacteria and viruses) vs. what’s not, ensuring a balanced immune response. Plus, Vitamin A can also help reduce inflammation. The recommended dose is 700-900 mcg, daily, with meals.
Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C not only helps to fight infection, it protects the immune system, itself. While vitamin C aids in getting white blood cells where they’re needed and improves their ability to get rid of pathogens in the body, says Dr. Warner, “at the same time, it protects host tissue from excessive damage.” At the molecular level, antioxidants help to stabilize harmful free radicals and prevent damage to immune cells, which means your healthy cells stay that way. Vitamin C isn’t made or stored in the body, so it’s important to get your daily dose: 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. And, while Vitamin C won’t prevent you from catching the common cold, studies have shown that taking it regularly (before you get sick) can shorten the length and severity of symptoms.
Elderberry: The fruit of the Sambucus tree, elderberries are high in immune boosting Vitamins A and C. “Elderberry is widely known for supporting immune function and is rich in anti-oxidative properties,” says Dr. Patterson. Most often used to counteract colds and flu, elderberry is a boon for stuffy noses: A 2018 study found that supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms. Dr. Patterson recommends 300 to 600 mg, which may be increased acutely for a cold up to 1500 mg, daily. (A word of caution: Elderberry syrup is high in sugar, says Dr. Patterson, so it can be contraindicated for diabetics.)
Andrographis: While known as “the king of bitters” for its sharp taste, Andrographis’ effect on the immune system is categorically sweet: A 2021 study showed that Andrographis helps to stimulate the immune system, including boosting the production of T cells. “I love using this early on to really knock out a budding infection,” says Dr. Warner. To wit, studies have found that Andographis helps lessen the severity of coughs and a sore throat, as well as lessen the duration of symptoms. Given its bitterness, it’s best taken as a tablet or capsule; aim for a total of 48-60 mg, in two to three divided doses, daily.
Turmeric: This spice that gives curry its bright yellow hue also contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. “Turmeric is great, especially if inflammation occurs, particularly in respiratory conditions or in someone with a history of asthma or other pulmonary challenges,” says Dr. Patterson. Studies have also shown that curcumin helps stimulate the immune system, including the making of infection-fighting T cells.For effectiveness, taking at least 500 mg daily is recommended.
Elecampane: Derived from the root of a flowering plant, elecampane bolsters the body against germs and inflammation. “It’s antibacterial and antiviral,” says Dr. Warner, “and works very well for respiratory illnesses.” Studies confirm elecampane’s anti-inflammatory properties, particularly when used for respiratory infections. Bitter in taste, Dr. Warner recommends taking it as a tincture, 1 to 2 ml, up to four times daily.
Shiitake: This anti-inflammatory fungi is packed with immunity goodness: Shiitake mushrooms have been shown to boost T-cells and boast antioxidant properties, too. “There are so many medicinal mushrooms, and they have various actions on the immune system and work through various pathways,” says Dr. Warner. To that end, shiitake is often used in conjunction with other mushroom varieties known to prop up immunity, including Maitake, which is rich in Vitamin D; Reshi, found to stimulate white blood cells; and, Chaga, which, like Shiitake, contains beta-glucans, known to help regulate the body’s immune response. For immune support, dosing varies based on the varietal and form.