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Sleep, adequate water, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and moderate movement—there is not one supplement that can take the place of these key practices. That said, there are some herbs, plants, vitamins, and minerals that can be taken to help support a strong foundation.
Below, discover some of the best supplements to help boost your immune system and help set the foundation for a healthier you. Many of the following supplements are safe for general use, however, it is important to discuss supplement changes with your health care provider and seek medical help for illness.
Meet the Expert
Sydney Greene is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist focusing on integrative, customized nutrition counseling and coaching for individuals in recovery from substance use. She also works with individuals who are looking to change their relationship to food and body image.
Sarah Flower is a nutritionist and author. She helps her clients achieve a healthy weight and wellbeing, and her expertise includes diabetes and autoimmune disease management, hormonal balance, and maintaining optimal gut health. She also teaches numerous health education workshops.
What to Look for in an Immune System Supplement
Supplements Worth Taking
There are a number of immune-boosting supplements out there, but there are three that nutritionist Sarah Flower recommends adding to your regimen: magnesium, vitamin D, and turmeric.
Magnesium, she explains, is a hero nutrient and almost every fundamental process in our body needs a good supply of it. “These range from the processing and transporting of nutrients to making enzymes and activating cellular pumps so that important substances can move in and out of each cell,” she says. Low magnesium levels can also contribute to a range of hormonal problems in women and increase platelet aggregation, which can contribute to clotting.
Magnesium is also known as an anti-stress mineral and can help relax muscles, nourish the nervous system, and improve the flexibility and tone of blood vessels. “Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, and migraines are usually shown to be deficient in magnesium,” she adds.
In the case of vitamin D, she explains that a deficiency can affect our immune system, respiratory system (especially incidences of asthma), depression, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and even cancer. “Vitamin D also helps lower our blood pressure and helps to keep us calm and less anxious,” she says. “It has even been shown to help the body break down stubborn fat cells.” There are two supplement forms of vitamin D: vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). She recommends vitamin D3 because she feels it absorbs into the body better.
And finally, she recommends taking turmeric for its powerful anti-inflammatory abilities. “The use of turmeric for medicinal reasons dates back over 4,000 years,” she says. “In Ayurvedic medicine, it’s used as a cleansing and detoxifying agent. This has been shown to help with a variety of anti-inflammatory conditions including arthritis, as well as helping to soothe IBS.”
Supplements Worth Skipping
Flower also lists three supplements that she says we can afford to ditch (and get from whole foods, instead): B vitamins, selenium, and vitamin E.
While vitamin-B complexes tend to be popular supplements to take, she says that the average person is most likely already getting plenty of B vitamins from the food they eat, unless they’re on a special diet that eliminates certain food groups. “Each B vitamin has enough contents in various everyday goods that make it unnecessary to take them in supplements,” she explains. For example, vitamin B1, which helps the body make healthy new cells and protects its immune system, can be found in various common foods like whole grains, peanuts, beans, spinach, and kale.
In the case of selenium, Flowers says it has grown in popularity due to its antioxidant properties and ability to boost the immune system and promote reproductive health benefits. “However, numerous evidence has shown that too much can cause bad breath, fever, nausea, and liver, kidney, and heart problems,” she says. “Some vitamins and minerals that are consumed at higher-than-recommended concentrations may interfere with nutrient absorption and cause unwelcoming side effects. It seems unnecessary to put your body through this when you only need 400mg of selenium a day, which you can easily get from foods that contain this mineral like Brazil nuts, brown rice, broccoli, or salmon.”
Vitamin E is praised for its ability to treat and prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels. However, she says that vitamin E supplements can sometimes be harmful, especially for individuals who already have illnesses such as cancer, and can increase the risk of bleeding in people on antiplatelet medication. Instead, she suggests upping your intake of vitamin E-rich foods like vegetable oils, cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and wheat germ oil.
Of course, the above may certainly be beneficial to some, so be sure to check with your doctor before taking (or ditching) any of these specific supplements.
Ready to boost your immune health by adding supplements into your routine? Read on for the very best supplements for your immune system.
Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic Extra Care Go-Pack
Probiotic products consist of live, active bacteria that show a health benefit. Taken to support or improve a person’s gut microbiome (the presence of all living microorganisms within a person’s digestive tract), probiotics can have a significant impact on mood, digestion, and immunity.
Research exploring the impact of beneficial bacteria on immunity has been exploding. The immune cells inside of the digestive tract play a major role in maintaining homeostasis of the immune system. Managing optimal ratios of good bacteria (probiotics) in the gut has been shown to promote intestinal epithelial cell survival, enhance gut barrier function, and stimulate protective cell responses which in turn can prevent infections or shorten the duration.
Renew Life’s Extra Care probiotics provide 50 billion live cultures from 12 different probiotic strains, designed to re-establish digestive balance. Ensuring quality and potency through expiration, Renew Life’s capsules are designed to be delayed-release, making sure the contents make it past the acidic environment of the stomach. As an added bonus, these probiotics do not need to be refrigerated, a plus when shipments might be delayed or routines are disrupted by travel or emergency times without refrigeration.
Hilma Immune Support
Time and time again we read ingredients labels on supplements without any idea of what's actually inside. But that's not the case with Hilma, an easy-to-use packet formulated with just six essential ingredients clinically proven to boost immune system function. That's right—no mystery ingredients, just a heaping dose of vitamin C, echinacea, zinc, ginger, turmeric, and ivy leaf extract.
The brand is super transparent (and picky) about those ingredients, too, with detailed reasons—all backed by science—for why each one made the cut listed directly on their website. We also love that there's less than one gram of sugar, no gluten or nuts, and all packets are vegan-friendly.
New Chapter Elderberry Force
Research examining the use of elderberry for immunity has shown moderate evidence to support the reduction of the duration and symptoms of colds, not the prevention of them. Elderberry extract seems to help the production of inflammatory cytokines, proteins that are released in the body to fight infection.
One randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of 312 adults traveling from Australia to an overseas destination aimed to investigate if a standardized elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) extract would have beneficial effects on physical health. Placebo group participants had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days, and the average symptom score over these days was also significantly higher, however, this study was sponsored by the producer of the elderberry extract.
According to Consumer Labs, an independent product testing company, New Chapter Elderberry Force contained the highest amount of anthocyanosides compared to the 10 other popular products tested. Anthocyanosides are the compounds that give elderberries their purple color and seem to stimulate the immune system. These capsules are also vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of artificial colors and flavorings.
Amazing Grass Protein Superfood The Original
Amazing Grass’s Original Protein Superfood covers all nutrient bases. Including 20 grams of complete plant-based protein, seven different greens, and two servings of fruits and vegetables, this is a great nutrient boost to add to a daily routine or to keep on hand as an immunity add-on when routines are interrupted.
More specifically, this product contains 12% of energy-boosting, plant-based iron and 20% of vitamin A which supports adaptive immunity, the body’s ability to adapt and respond to foreign invaders.
Amazing Grass sources their greens from a family farm in the United States and uses a low-temperature dehydrator to retain nutrients. This mix does not include Stevia or any sweeteners, so it’s best enjoyed as a base for a smoothie, soup, or sauce rather than having on its own.
Nature's Bounty Echinacea
Echinacea consists of a group of nine plant species and has been traditionally used for colds, flu, and other infections. Research has shown some ability to reduce symptoms of the common cold and flu and maybe prevent occurrence, however, results vary based on the type of echinacea used, as well as the dose.
A recent study showed that taking echinacea three times a day during the cold season modestly prevented cold occurrence. Nature’s Bounty has been third-party tested by Consumer Labs, is free of gluten, wheat, and yeast, and contains 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams of E. purpurea (one of the species of echinacea most commonly studied).
Kirkland Signature Daily Multi
The efficacy of vitamins and minerals depends on one another for their absorption and activation. When taking a multivitamin, you take various nutrients all at once, which leads to optimal processing in the body. Multivitamins contain potent immune supporters such as vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.
Kirkland’s supplements are one of a handful of brands on the market that feature the seal of approval and quality from United States Pharmacopeia (USP). A USP Verified seal means that the product contains the ingredients listed on the label in the declared strength and amounts. It means that the product does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants. It also ensures that products are made according to FDA and USP Good Manufacturing Practices, using sanitary and well-controlled processes and tests to make sure the product will break down and dissolve within a specified amount of time so the active ingredients can be released and absorbed by the body.
Nordic Naturals Omega 3D
This supplement combines two potent immune nutrients in one: vitamin D3 and the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased infections.
Fish oil has been researched for a wide variety of uses such as improving mood, supporting heart health, slowing cognitive decline, decreasing cancer risk among many others. Fish oil has such a far-reaching impact across the body because the essential omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil bolster cell membranes, helping them perform their function optimally. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it can only be adequately absorbed when it has fat molecules to travel with it through the body.
Nordic Naturals Omega 3D pairs 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 with omega 3 fatty acids from wild, sustainably sourced fish making each capsule primed for efficient digestion and absorption. In addition to 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, this product provides 745 milligrams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 500 milligrams docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per serving; both of these amounts are at the higher end of the suggested daily intake. The combination of vitamin D3 and EPA/DHA packs a potent punch to support overall immunity.
Source Naturals Vitamin D-3 Liquid Drops
Vitamin D has been shown to be beneficial in supporting the body’s immune system in many ways. For anyone who has a hard time with pills, this product is for you.
These vitamin D3 liquid drops provide 2,000 IU per serving, however, for those that want more or less vitamin D, dosing can be adjusted directly by the user by increasing or decreasing the number of drops consumed. Free of yeast, dairy, corn, soy, wheat, egg, and gluten, this product is an excellent choice for those with food allergies and/or intolerances.
Zand HerbaLozenge Elderberry Zinc
Many studies show that supplementing with zinc, specifically in lozenge form can reduce cold symptoms such as muscle aches, runny nose, congestion, and cough, however, these studies showed effectiveness with frequent and higher doses. It is important to note that excessive intake of zinc can lead to copper deficiency, so frequent use of lozenges should be limited to a few days.
In addition to reducing symptoms, zinc supplementation has been shown to shorten the duration of colds. Both zinc gluconate and zinc acetate have been studied and there does not appear to be a major difference between the two.
Zand’s Herbalozenge has been third-party tested by Consumer Labs and contains 5 milligrams of zinc gluconate per lozenge. This product also contains a blend of other herbs known to soothe and help with cold symptoms such as licorice and eucalyptus.
How do you know if you need a supplement for your immune system?
As with any health-related issue, it's always important to check with your doctor first. Supplements can have a variety of side effects, and they are not made to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. It's important not to self-diagnose and begin taking something on your own.
How can you get more information about a supplement for your immune system?
Since supplements are not approved by the FDA prior to their market release, it's up to the brand to be completely transparent about their ingredients and any other label claims they may have. If you're looking for more information about a particular supplement you can ask the distributor about their products, research any scientific studies related to the product or ingredients, and try looking at the ODS dietary supplement fact sheets.
Do supplements for your immune system really work?
In short, yes. Supplements for your immune system can be a helpful way to fill in the gaps your diet may not be filling. However, it is important to remember that they are only fillers and should not be a full substitute. You can think of them as boosters and use them in conjunction with a healthy diet. The best way for your body to receive vitamins and nutrients is directly from food.