What are the 10 Best Supplements to Support a Strong Immune System?

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    A balanced immune system protects us and keeps us feeling our best. Nutrients support immunity and supplements are an easy way to consume these essentials.

    Supplements for Promoting Your Immune System Health

    The immune system is a complex network comprising cells, tissues, and organs. Specific vitamins and minerals – called micronutrients – help support immune system health. These micronutrients may help improve immune response, allowing us to feel our best. Many of these nutrients can’t be produced by the body itself. That’s why supplements can be a convenient way to help support the immune system, providing the essential nutrients that might be lacking in our diets.

    1.) Vitamin C

    Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, plays a crucial role in the body by supporting the development of blood vessels, cartilage, and muscle tissue. Additionally, it functions as an antioxidant, aiding in the body’s defense against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals, which can originate from the foods we eat, natural bodily functions, chemicals we breathe in the environment, and other sources. Managing oxidative stress is important for overall health and wellness.

    Vitamin C cannot be made by the body, but luckily this water-soluble essential is found in many foods, such as strawberries, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, peppers, and broccoli. Vitamin C supplements can also help provide this powerful antioxidant. It’s important to look for vitamin C supplements made from whole food based extracts, which have been shown to be more effective than simply ascorbic acid on its own. Whole food sources of vitamin C also contain bioflavonoids, the pigment that gives fruits and flowers their vibrant colors, which may help the body more effectively utilize its antioxidant pool, including vitamin C.

    By supporting cellular functions, vitamin C plays an important role in helping to keep the immune system functioning properly. Since vitamin C is a powerful ally in supporting the immune system, it can be tempting to think more is better. But taking too much vitamin C can result in side effects, such as heartburn, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. Doses of vitamin C supplements should always remain under 2,000 milligrams a day.

    2.) Zinc

    Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning it’s only needed in very small amounts. Like vitamin C, zinc has strong antioxidant-like properties and helps promote a healthy immune system. In addition, this mineral has critical functions in the body, including creating DNA, healing damaged tissues, building proteins, aiding cell development, and preventing foreign invaders from harming the body.

    A zinc deficiency can impair the formation and maturation of lymphocytes and disrupt immune system functioning. To maintain proper balance of certain minerals in the body, zinc should be taken along with copper. When taking zinc supplements, it’s beneficial to look for a bisglycinate version, because this is more easily absorbed by the body in comparison to other forms.

    3.) Vitamin D

    The best source of vitamin D is healthy amounts of sun exposure to the skin, a process which produces vitamin D in the body. However, vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise, in large part because people tend to spend more time indoors and consume less foods naturally containing vitamin D. While vitamin D is known for its bone-building properties, it also enhances the immune system. In one study, pregnant participants who were given 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D saw a higher concentration of the immune cells responsible for strengthening the body’s natural defense system. A meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials that included healthy adults and other populations provided strong evidence for vitamin D and healthy immune system responses.

    Research has found that vitamin D3 can modulate the immune system, supporting healthy immune response. Vitamin D supplements should be taken with a meal that contains fat for optimal absorption. The body can only produce vitamin D year-round near the equator. At higher and lower latitudes, UVB rays are not direct enough all year to produce vitamin D, even with direct sun exposure. In much of North America, for example, it’s only possible to get meaningful vitamin D between April and September.

    4.) Vitamin B6

    The B group comprises eight vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate/folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). But when it comes to a healthy immune response, vitamin B6 is essential. Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine or pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P), is critical to supporting a multitude of biochemical reactions, including the immune system’s production of white blood cells and T cells as well as the formation of hemoglobin.

    While challenges with digestion might affect nutrient absorption and possibly lead to B6 deficiency, most healthy people could benefit from adding more vitamin B6 to their routine. Vitamin B6 deficiency in the body can lead to decreased immunity, including unfavorable serum antibody production and reduced interleukin 2, an immune compound essential in regulating the immune system. A B6 deficiency can contribute to anemia by lowering hemoglobin levels. The upper limit of safe intake of vitamin B6 is 100mg per day for adults.

    5.) Vitamin E

    Vitamin E is a potent and crucial antioxidant that aids in protecting the body from oxidative stress. The fat-soluble vitamin is present in comparatively higher concentration in immune cells, thus making it an effective nutrient to help you feel your best and maintain a healthy immune system.

    Authors of a review of the current evidence on vitamin E requirements in older adults suggest a need for increasing the recommended daily doses of Vitamin E.

    6.) Antioxidants

    Antioxidants are nutrients that help manage oxidative stress in the body. As discussed, oxidative stress is the negative result of the action of free radicals. These free radical compounds form from various bodily processes, some from normal daily processes and others from unhealthy physiological states of stress. Antioxidants work to neutralize these free radicals to prevent them from causing damage. Regardless of the origin, antioxidants are essential to maintaining optimal health.

    In particular, antioxidants support the immune system. When the immune response is hindered by oxidative stress, it can contribute to various health challenges. Antioxidants, whether generated internally by the body or obtained from foods and supplements, play a role in preventing and repairing damage caused by free radicals. By doing so, they help bolster the body’s natural defense mechanisms

    Certain antioxidants cannot be created by the body. Therefore, we must obtain these through foods and supplements. These include vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc, and other compounds such as flavonoids and carotenoids.

    7.) Elderberry

    Elderberry, also called Sambucus, is rich in antioxidant compounds. In fact, the deep purple color of elderberry syrup and derivatives is in large part due to its high concentration of anthocyanins. Elderberry components may help support the immune system, although more research is needed to understand the specific effects.

    8.) Adaptogenic Mushrooms

    In addition to culinary mushrooms common in many cuisines, adaptogenic mushrooms, long used as a component of traditional Chinese medicine, have increased in popularity in recent years. And for good reason. Functional mushrooms, which include reishi, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, cordyceps, and turkey tail, act as adaptogens, compounds which help to balance the stress response.

    Due to these stress-balancing benefits as well as antioxidant properties, adaptogenic mushrooms can support the immune system. In particular, a study showed that daily consumption of shiitake mushrooms increases immune cells that play a role in initiating and propagating the immune response. Reishi mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, which are carbohydrate-like compounds that can influence the immune response in ways that may be beneficial especially in supporting overall immune health.

    9.) Garlic

    Garlic has a storied history of traditional use in many cultures. Modern research has shown that garlic plays a role in balancing the immune system. In particular, garlic can enhance the functioning of the immune system by stimulating certain immune cell types, such as macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, dendritic cells, and eosinophils. It can even support production of immunoglobulins, essential proteins of the immune response. In addition, garlic can further enhance the immune system through its antioxidant-like properties, which are also why garlic is known to support heart health. Garlic has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels already in normal range.

    10.) Probiotics

    Probiotics are good bacteria that help the body with numerous tasks, including supporting the immune system. While typically associated with their benefits on the digestive system, these “good gut bacteria” can actually greatly impact the immune system. In fact, at least 70-80% of immune cells are present in the gut. That’s one reason why a healthy gut promotes healthy immune function. Strains such as B. lactis, L. rhamnosus, and L. acidophilus can help support immune function.

    What activities weaken your immune system?

    Lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on the immune system. There are numerous habits and activities that can negatively impact or disrupt immune system health. These unfavorable activities include:

    • Over-stressing the body (this can include over-training)
    • A diet of highly processed, nutrient-poor foods
    • Consistent lack of sleep
    • Smoking
    • Excessive alcohol consumption

    But, the good news is, there are plenty of lifestyle choices that we can make that support the immune system, giving us a better sense of wellbeing. To better support the immune system, try:

    • Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in colorful fruits and veggies and other antioxidant-rich foods
    • Finding proactive ways to manage stress, such as meditation, walks and socializing with friends
    • Prioritizing sleep by limiting caffeine later in the day and keeping a regular bedtime schedule that’s free of electronics
    • Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol use
    • Maintaining a healthy weight

    Taking the right amount of vitamins through foods and supplements can help maintain your immune system. However, a healthy lifestyle, consistent sleep habits, and ample rest are crucial to building a balanced immune system.

    The Bottom Line

    Certain supplements have the potential to support immune health through antioxidants, adaptogenic properties, and gut microbiome benefits. Vitamins B6, C, E, and D are well-known for supporting the immune system, as are the minerals zinc, copper, and selenium. In addition, other nutritious ingredients such as garlic, adaptogenic mushrooms, and elderberry provide immune benefits. Probiotics provide a direct impact on the large microbiome located in the gut. If you are looking to maintain and support your immune system, consider the powerful potential of supplements for immunity. As always, consult your healthcare professional before incorporating supplements, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or take medications.

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    Laurel Ash, ND
    Laurel Ash, ND: Medical Content Reviewer
    Laurel Ash, ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Physician. She holds additional credentials with a master’s in integrative mental health. Dr. Ash graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in 2019. Dr. Ash practices in Oregon and Washington where ND’s scope of practice includes primary care. Using the best tools of allopathic/conventional medicine with the holistic tenants of naturopathic medicine has created a powerful force of healing for the patients in her practice. Dr. Ash focuses on combining integrative/functional health modalities with evidence-based medicine. She has experience as a medical reviewer in the holistic medicine field and partners with companies and practitioners to produce science-backed content for readers and consumers interested in holistic medicine. She is passionate about blending the strengths of allopathic and integrative medicine to transform the healthcare industry, empowering people with an understanding of all their options on their wellness journey.
    Victoria Peck-Gray, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Victoria is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist who helps people with resistant weight loss and PCOS transform their metabolic health and lose weight through a functional nutrition and lifestyle approach that addresses root causes. She is owner of her private practice, Wonderfully Made Nutrition and also leads her group metabolic coaching program for women called The 4 Method.