With fall coming, the first cold of the season usually isn’t far behind. But if you don’t want to be stuck coughing and sneezing, the best thing you can do is make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape.
While eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is important in maintaining a strong immune system, sometimes it’s hard to get all of the nutrients we need just from our food. That’s why taking supplements can help.
So we asked Shawn Burke, a new staff member at the Center for Holistic Medicine who is in charge of our apothecary for her thoughts on the best daily supplements to take to support your immune system.
Having the right balance of good and bad bacteria is essential in regulating your immune system and helping to fight off disease, Burke says. Unfortunately, the prevalence of antibiotics, medications, antibacterial soaps, high levels of stress and poor diet in our modern lifestyles kill off many of the good bacteria that we need.That’s why so many doctors now recommend that people take a daily probiotic — living microorganisms that live in your digestive tract — to promote the balance of good bacteria.You can get probiotics in some foods, such as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha and certain types of yogurts, or in a supplement in a capsule form.
So you’ve heard of a probiotic, but what is a prebiotic? “They are actually the food that makes probiotics more effective,” Burke says. Think of it like this: Prebiotics are the food that probiotics eat.Some of the foods that your tiny organisms enjoy are raw almonds, sprouted nuts, artichoke, jicama, legumes, oats, and honey – all of which take a long time to digest and make their way into your small intestines where the probiotics feed on them. However, instead of eating these foods themselves, you can get prebiotic supplements, often in a powder or capsule form.
- Vitamin C
You’ve probably heard that you should take vitamin C when you feel yourself coming down with a cold. But did you know why?Turns out that when your body is fighting inflammation or infection, immune cells pump more vitamin C to help the cells fight off the infection. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant, attacking free radicals, such as those from air pollution, secondhand smoke and ultraviolet light from the sun.As we age, our vitamin C levels decline, because we have more long-term exposure to free radicals, so it’s even more important to maintain high levels of vitamin C as we get older.According to the National Institute of Health, adult men should get 90 mg of vitamin C a day, while women should get 75 mg per day. However, some studies suggest older adults should get even more. For example, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University recommends adults over 50 should get up to 400 mg per day.
Vitamin C is present in lots of foods we eat, such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and more. One orange, for example, has about 51 mg of vitamin C, while 1 cup of sliced strawberries has 97.6 mg. However, if you’re not eating a lot of raw fruits and veggies, it makes sense to take a vitamin C supplement as well.
- Vitamin D
Like vitamin C, vitamin D is also key to proper immune system function. Vitamin D helps your immune system by reducing inflammatory proteins and increasing antimicrobial proteins, which fight off germs and viruses. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a host of chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and some cancers, as well as infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis or the flu.The main way we absorb vitamin D is through sunlight (one of the reasons we typically get fewer colds in the summer than in the winter). In our modern lifestyle, however, we are typically inside for most of the day and also wear sunscreen when we’re outside, making it challenging for most adults to get enough vitamin D on their own.That’s why it’s recommended to take a daily vitamin D supplement. Currently, it’s recommended that adults under age 70 take 600 IUs of vitamin D a day, and those over age 70 take 800 IUs a day.
- Mushroom blend
Mushrooms have been used in herbal medicine, especially in the Asian cultures, for thousands of years – and for good reason. Certain mushrooms have been found to be powerful anti-disease agents. For example, reishi mushrooms are said to be anti-inflammatory and can support people with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV or those undergoing chemotherapy. Enoki and maitake mushroom fruitbodies can fight cancer and boost your immune system, and shitake mushrooms have antiviral and anticancer effects. However, because there are so many different types of mushrooms, the easiest way to get the most benefit from them is to take a mushroom supplement made from a variety of mushroom varieties. We sell a supplement called MyCommunity by Host Defense, which is made up of a blend of 17 mushroom species, all designed to bolster your cells against assaults and provide a unique combination of mushroom mycelium and fruitbodies to help balance the immune system in your gut.