Tag Archives: immunity

The Best Immune Booster Supplements

Finding ways to boost your immune system naturally with supplements is all the rage these days. From vitamin D to elderberry capsules to zinc and vitamin C, in this article we’ll take a deeper dive into some of the best immune defense supplements out there. 

We’ll share the latest and greatest research about the benefits, risks, and optimal dosing for several of the best natural immune booster supplements, according to science. 

Vitamin D 

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in a small amount of foods and a hormone our bodies make. 

Since few foods naturally contain vitamin D, for most people the best way to get enough vitamin D is by spending time in the sunshine (which is good for getting vitamin D but not-so-good for your skin) or by taking supplements. 

Vitamin D Benefits 

  • Helps the body absorb more calcium and phosphorus, both of which are critical for building bone.
  • Supplementation with 800 IU of vitamin D per day reduced hip and nonspinal fractures by about 20%. 
  • A randomized clinical trial in Japanese school children tested whether taking daily vitamin D supplements would prevent seasonal flu. The trial followed nearly 340 children for four months during the height of the winter flu season. Half of the study participants received pills that contained 1,200 IU of vitamin D; the other half received placebo pills. Researchers found that type A influenza rates in the vitamin D group were about 40% lower than in the placebo group.
  • A large meta-analysis of individual participant data indicated that daily or weekly vitamin D supplementation lowers risk of acute respiratory infections.
  • One study of people with autoimmune conditions found “the beneficial effects of supplementing vitamin D deficient individuals with autoimmune disease may extend beyond effects on bone and calcium homeostasis.”
  • In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, nearly 50,000 healthy men were followed for 10 years. Those who had the lowest levels of vitamin D were twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who had the highest levels. 

Vitamin D Adverse Effects / Risks 

According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin D is generally considered safe when used in appropriate doses. 

However, taking too much vitamin D supplements can be harmful. Children age 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and breastfeeding women who take more than 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D might experience:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Weakness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Kidney stones and kidney damage

Possible drug interactions include:

  • Aluminum
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Calcipotriene (Dovonex, Sorilux)
  • Cholestyramine (Prevalite)
  • Cytochrome P-450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin)
  • Diltiazem (Cardizem, Tiazac, others)
  • Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
  • Thiazide diuretics
  • Steroids
  • Stimulant laxatives
  • Verapamil (Verelan, Calan SR)

Talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplementation if you’re taking any of these. 

Vitamin D Dosing

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, many people may not be getting enough vitamin D. 

Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D (the daily amount needed to maintain healthy bones and normal calcium metabolism in healthy people, assuming minimal sun exposure), is: 

600 IU daily for men and women 19 years and older, and 800 IU daily for adults >70 years. 

The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)–the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause harmful effects on health–is 4,000 IU of vitamin D for adults and children ages 9+. 

Vitamin C

What Is Vitamin C? 

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient involved in the repair of tissue, the formation of collagen, and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters. 

Vitamin C Immune Defense Benefits 

Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants for immunity. It has been shown in clinical studies to: 

Since the human body can’t create or store its own vitamin C, it needs to be constantly replenished and that’s where supplements can help. 

Vitamin C Adverse Effects / Risks 

According to a 2020 research review, potential adverse effects of Vitamin C supplementation include headaches, flushing, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness. There have been reports of migraine headaches with a daily dose of 6 grams.

Significant amounts of vitamin C can increase the risk of kidney stones and elevate uric acid and oxalate because it acidifies the urine.

Vitamin C supplementation is contraindicated in blood disorders like thalassemia, G6PD deficiency, sickle cell disease, and hemochromatosis. Avoid taking supplements immediately before or following angioplasty. Diabetic patients should take vitamin C supplements with care as it raises blood sugar levels.

Vitamin C Dosing

The average protective adult dose of vitamin C is 70 to 150 mg daily.

Zinc 

What Is Zinc? 

Zinc is a trace mineral that’s found at high levels in oysters, beef and crab, and in lower amounts in legumes, tofu, pumpkin seeds, cashews and other nuts and seeds. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that between 17% and 30% of the world population has a zinc deficiency. 

Zinc Immunity Benefits

Zinc is known as the “gatekeeper” of immune function and its immune-boosting benefits include: 

Zinc Adverse Effects / Risks 

Acute adverse effects of high zinc intake include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. 

Taking 150–450 mg of zinc per day have been associated with chronic effects such as low copper status, altered iron function, reduced immune function, and reduced levels of high-density lipoproteins. 

Zinc supplements can interact with several types of medications, including: 

  • Antibiotics
  • Penicillamine
  • Diuretics

Talk to your doctor about using a zinc supplement if you’re on any of these medications. 

Zinc Dosing

Zinc has been studied in clinical trials in doses ranging from 45 mg to 300 mg. Research has shown that use of total daily zinc lozenge doses of over 75 mg reduced the duration of the common cold, whereas lower doses did not. 

However, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) has established a daily Upper Limit (UL) for zinc because long-term intakes above the UL increase the risk of adverse health effects. 

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0–6 months 4 mg 4 mg
7–12 months 5 mg 5 mg
1–3 years 7 mg 7 mg
4–8 years 12 mg 12 mg
9–13 years 23 mg 23 mg
14–18 years 34 mg 34 mg 34 mg 34 mg
19+ years 40 mg 40 mg 40 mg 40 mg

We recommend starting with adding 15 to 30 milligrams of zinc to your daily supplement regimen daily, especially during the fall and winter months and at the first signs of cold or flu. If you get sick, talk to your healthcare professional about upping the dose of zinc for the duration of your symptoms for increased immune defense.

Turmeric

What Is Turmeric? 

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of curcuma longa, a plant in the ginger family. Its main active ingredient is a compound called curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color. 

Turmeric Immune Health Benefits 

Turmeric is known for its antioxidant profile and anti-inflammatory properties. 

  • One study showed turmeric/curcumin may help protect your body from free radicals. 
  • A 2020 research review found that turmeric’s antioxidant effects may also stimulate the action of other antioxidants in your body.
  • A 2017 research review found that turmeric “aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia”.
  • In one study of patients with ulcerative colitis, a common autoimmune disease, patients who took 2 grams of curcumin / day along with prescription medication were more likely to stay in remission than those who took the medication alone. 
  • Turmeric may reduce joint swelling and stiffness from rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • A 2018 study found that “turmeric shows pivotal role in the modulation of immune system”. 

Turmeric Adverse Effects / Risks 

When taken orally in supplement form, turmeric is usually well tolerated. 

In human studies, doses of up to 8000 mg / day of turmeric / curcumin have been used for eight months without toxic effects. 

The most common side effects were GI-related, including:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • abdominal distension
  • flatulence
  • dyspepsia
  • nausea
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • vomiting
  • yellow stool
  • stomach ache

Turmeric extracts can trigger biliary colic (abdominal pain) in people with gallstones. About 7% of the adverse reactions reported to the MHRA for curcuma were for hepatobiliary disorders or abnormal liver function test results.

Turmeric or curcumin-containing preparations may cause heart rate or rhythm disorders.

Curcumin may also have antiplatelet (blood thinning) effects.

Talk to your doctor before supplementing with turmeric / curcumin

Turmeric Dosing

Research shows that 500 milligrams of a turmeric / curcumin supplement twice daily with food appears to be a safe and efficacious dose for most people. 

The dose that’s right for you depends on your overall health and pre-existing conditions you may have. More isn’t necessarily better, and in some cases can be worse, so talk to your doctor first. 

Another important caveat: on its own, curcumin is poorly absorbed. So look for a curcumin / turmeric capsule with piperine (a black pepper extract) or combine it with some healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.) to increase absorption. 

It’s usually best to take turmeric with or immediately before a meal to avoid any side effects. 

Elderberry

What Is Elderberry? 

Elderberries come from a tree variety known as Sambucus. The berries and flowers of these trees are edible, but must be cooked before they’re consumed (because they’re toxic and can cause diarrhea, vomiting and nausea if consumed uncooked). 

Elderberry Immune Boosting Benefits 

A 2016 randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of 312 economy class passengers traveling overseas from Australia sought to investigate whether elderberry extract has beneficial effects on physical, especially respiratory, and mental health. 

Researchers found that the group that didn’t take the elderberry supplement had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days and the average symptom score over these days was also significantly higher. These data suggest a significant reduction of cold duration and severity in air travelers. 

Elderberry also may be an effective option for:

It should be noted that elderberry’s ability to fight the flu has been a point of contention, with one study showing “no evidence that elderberry benefits the duration or severity of influenza”. 

Elderberry Adverse Effects / Risks 

  • Raw unripe elderberries and other parts of the elder tree, such as the leaves and stem, contain toxic substances that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; cooking eliminates this toxin. Large quantities of the toxin may cause serious illness.
  • Little is known about whether it’s safe to use elderberry during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
  • Don’t rely on elderberry or other dietary supplements for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. They have not been shown to be effective.

Elderberry Dosing

Elderberry is available in many different types of products, including syrups, mouth rinses, and capsules. But there are currently no dosing standards for elderberry supplements. It has been studied in doses ranging from 500 mg to 1200 mg daily. 

Long story short, elderberry is a promising but understudied supplement: it may reduce the symptoms of colds and the flu, but the evidence is still preliminary.

Larger controlled clinical studies are needed to better understand the safety, efficacy, and dosing. 

Probiotics 

What Are Probiotics? 

Probiotics are gut microbes that may exert some health benefits. 

Which Probiotics Support Immunity? 

Here are the strain-specific probiotics that may work for boosting your immune system:

Probiotic Strain Immune System Benefit
Bifidobacterium bifidum Reduces cold and flu incidence.
Lactobacillus brevis Reduces the incidence of flu.
Lactobacillus GG Decreased risk of upper respiratory infections for children in daycare.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum  Reduces the risk of colds in school-aged children.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus Reduces the incidence of pneumonia in people in the intensive care unit.
B. longum  Helps prevent the flu in elderly patients.
Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei Reduces the number of days with symptoms and severity of colds.

Also, a 2016 review and meta-analysis of 23 randomized controlled trials found that probiotics appear to decrease the incidence of respiratory tract infections in children. 

See our article Which Probiotics Are Best for Immunity? for further reading on this topic. 

Probiotics Adverse Effects / Risks 

According to the Cleveland Clinic

Because microbes used as probiotics already exist naturally in your body, probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered safe. They may trigger allergic reactions, and may also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (passing gas) and bloating for the first few days after starting to take them.

There are certain people who need to use caution when using probiotic supplements, including those who:

  • Have a weakened immune system (those going through chemotherapy for example).
  • Have a critical illness.
  • Recently had surgery.

Caution should also be used when giving probiotics to very sick infants.

Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement.

Probiotics Dosing

Probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFUs), which indicate the number of viable cells. 

Many probiotic supplements contain 1 to 10 billion CFU per dose, but some products contain up to 50 billion CFU or more. 

However, higher CFU counts do not necessarily improve the product’s health effects.

And unfortunately, at this point there are too many strains and not enough clear evidence about the optimal dose for each strain, so probiotic supplementation can often take some trial and error. Be sure to stick with supplements that use strains that have been studied for safety and efficacy in clinical trials (like the ones mentioned above). 

How to Find the Best Natural Immune Booster Supplements  

There are a few things to look for to find the best immune boosting supplements for you

  1. Stick with supplements that are supported by research and have some efficacy and safety data to support them: vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, elderberry, and probiotics. 
  2. Choose a product with optimal doses for efficacy and safety (if optimal doses have been established). 
  3. Look for supplements made in the USA in a GMP-compliant, FDA-approved facility that have been third party lab tested for purity and safety. 

We recommend trying an elderberry with Vitamin C and zinc supplement, along with vitamin D and probiotics to support immune health

If you’re interesting in exploring Pure Food supplements for a strong immune system, read more here:

Pure Food Immunity Bundle: 4 Proven Immune Defense Supplements

3 Research-backed Ways to Stay Healthy and Get Sick Less

foods to eat to stay healthy

Given the current state of the world, I thought I’d take a minute to share my “secrets” for staying healthy and protecting your immune system.

After developing an autoimmune disease that caused me to get sick all the time from 2016 – 2018, I have only been sick one time in the past year (a minor cold that went away after two days).

To put that in perspective, my wife is an elementary school teacher and we have a 6-year-old in school and three-year-old in daycare. We have seen our share of germs run through our house (including, but not limited to, croup, bronchitis, the flu, pneumonia, stomach bugs, conjunctivitis, ear infections, sinus infections, hand foot and mouth disease, etc.). Not COVID-19, it seems.

Wanna know how I’ve managed to stay healthy while everyone around me is sick?

Read on to find out some proven methods you can use to give your immune system a boost.

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

How to Stay Healthy: 3 Things You Should Focus On

1. Sleeping. If you struggle with sleep, I can’t stress the importance of creating habits that help you sleep better enough (more on this below). Sleep loss and disrupted sleep are strongly linked to inflammation. And inflammation makes you more susceptible to illness. I was an insomniac for years. While I still wake up a few times during the night, my sleep quality and consistency has improve exponentially since I started making sleep a priority. My best tips: i.) go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, ii.) sleep in a dark, quiet space (a white noise machine can do wonders), iii.) if your mind spins in bed, focus on slowing your breathing and thinking about the people you’re thankful for in your life.

2. Eating / Supplementing. What you eat has a profound effect on your immune system response. It’s well known the modern Western Diet is one of the worst culprits when it comes to inflammation. If you don’t put the right foods and drinks in your body, you will get sick more often. Period.

The tricky part is finding the “right foods” for you, and then creating systems (or habits) that’ll help you eat healthy habitually every day (most peoples’ systems do the opposite).

Try getting both allergy and microbiome testing done as a first step. I recommend Viome for the microbiome test … it’s $120 or so. These tests will tell you exactly which foods you should / shouldn’t be eating. As I said in one of my emails, personalized nutrition is the future of healthy eating. And the future is here and accessible to all!

My “systems” that help me stay healthy include:

  • foods to eat to stay healthyCooking everyday. I know that if I get takeout or go to a restaurant then I’m usually not going to eat as healthy. So I try to only eat out about once a week and the rest of the days I make time to cook for myself and my family. I schedule time on my calendar from 5-6ish every day to cook dinner and prepare lunches for everyone for the next day.
  • Planning meals ahead of time. Even if you don’t like cooking, you can still create systems that help you eat better by having a plan for meal time. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll likely succumb to the easy way out (which is usually food you know isn’t going to help you stay healthy). It can be as simple as writing down a more nutritious takeout option you’re thinking about for dinner instead of fast food, or as complex as tracking everything you eat (I prefer the former, personally). Be deliberate and specific about what you are/are not going to eat today.
  • Avoiding trigger foods and sticking with foods I know don’t cause an inflammatory response in my body. Again, go see an allergist and get your microbiome tested to see which foods are good/not good for you.
  • Spending most of the grocery budget on perishables. I don’t like wasting food, so I know if I load my shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, I will make sure they get eaten. Minimize the processed, carb-laden snacks in favor of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds (or smoothies with all of these, ideally!). One of my easiest systems I use is creating a grocery list without junk food on it each week. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it.
  • Drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated is one of the keys to immunity. Drinking sugar-sweetened coffees and sodas is not. Also, 1-2 glasses of red wine a night may help with immune response.
  • Taking supplements. These are some of the supplements I take each day that are proven by research to keep your immune system strong:
  1. Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes
  2. Zinc / Calcium / Magnesium
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Vitamin C

3. Exercising. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. It’s well known that our bodies break down as we age. But there’s an easy way to drastically slow that progression: get up and frickin move!

As many of us age we “let ourselves go” and this leads to an endless cycle of injuries and rehab. Exercise is the absolute best way to keep your muscles, bones, and tissues strong. Being sedentary, on the other hand, is one of the worst things you can do for your immunity.

There’s no excuse not to exercise (unless you’re injured and rehabbing an injury). Find something you enjoy doing (walking, golf, tennis, gardening, hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, etc.) and schedule it into your damn calendar every day or every other day. Even 5 minutes makes a difference. Make exercise part of your daily system and you will get sick much less. If you’re still not convinced, check out some of the conclusions from this 2019 research paper:

  • Regular exercise training has an overall anti-inflammatory influence mediated through multiple pathways. Epidemiologic studies consistently show decreased levels of inflammatory biomarkers in adults with higher levels of physical activity and fitness, even after adjustment for potential confounders such as BMI.
  • There is increasing evidence that the circulation surge in cells of the innate immune system with each exercise bout and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect of exercise training have a summation effect over time in modulating tumorigenesis, atherosclerosis, and other disease processes.
  • Recent studies indicate that exercise and physical fitness diversifies the gut microbiota, but more human research is needed to determine potential linkages to immune function in physically fit individuals and athletes.

Now, the researchers in that study also cautioned that overtraining and stressful competitions can make you more susceptible to getting sick. So it’s important to make time for recovery if you’re exercising hard like I do (stretching, foam rolling, light yoga, percussion and/or massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc.).

Long story short, the best way to stay healthy is to take care of your body (because it’ll take care of you if you do).

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here