February 4, 2016
Looking for an integrative approach to fight the cold and flu season?
Flu and cold season is the time when everyone starts thinking about boosting their immune system to stay healthy. There are a number of factors that go into your body's immune system response. Diet, exercise, age, and lifestyle are all indicators of good health and the most important factors in keeping your immune system strong and healthy. A plant-based rooted fruits, vegetables, greens, whole grains, and healthy fats is a great start. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and maintaining a healthy weight are important, too. But what else can you do? How do herbs and supplements play a role in immune health?
We asked DIFM's very own Kelly Morrow for her best immune-boosting supplement strategies to stay ahead of the cold and flu. In addition to getting plenty of sleep, managing stress, avoiding excess sugar, and eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, miso and pickles everyday, she recommends the following supplements.
5 Supplements for Immune Health
Vitamin D: Winter is the best time to take vitamin D – it's important to have a healthy vitamin D level to keep the immune system strong. I recommend taking 1,000–2,000 IU per day unless directed by a doctor to take more.
Elderberry: Elderberry has bioactive compounds that inhibit replication of the influenza virus and stimulate the immune system. It is very safe for both adults and children to take. The typical dose is 1-2 teaspoons per day for prevention and 1 teaspoon every 2-3 hours if fighting an virus. Children can also take elderberry syrup preventively. Just 1-2 teaspoons per day for prevention and 1 teaspoon every 2-3 hours, if getting sick. Kids and adults need the same nutrients to keep the immune system working at its best. When it comes to supplements – for kids I usually recommend 1/2 the adult dose – except for elderberry – it is so safe and effective.
Zinc gluconate: zinc lozenges have been found to reduce the duration of a cold especially if symptoms include a sore throat.
Vitamin C: Everyone knows optimal vitamin C status is important for a healthy immune system. I don’t think it's necessary to take a lot –I recommend about 500 mg/d. The upper limit is 2,000 mg so taking up to that amount is ok but may not be necessary. Some people can get diarrhea at that higher level.
Garlic: Garlic is a well studied immuno-stimulant and has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. One clove a day is preventive and 2–3 per day can be helpful if someone is actively fighting a cold. There is a product by Integrative Therapeutics called Garlitrin that is equivalent to one clove of garlic per pill. Their retail line is Enzymatic Therapy and the equivalent product is called Garlinase. This is my preferred combination when I am trying to ward off a cold or flu.
The Linus Pauling Micronutrient Information Center, Vitamin D Council, and the American Botanical Council are good resources to find out more on these supplements.
Kelly is a Registered Dietitian and the Associate Professor in the department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University and Nutrition Clinic Coordinator at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Washington. She is also DIFM's chair elect for 2016-2017!