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Key Vitamins, Minerals & Herbs to Boost Your Immune System This Winter

by Carly Gallagher (Naturopath and yoga teacher)

With winter fast approaching, there are many things we can do to prepare and support our immune systems and protect against infection. Supplementing with key vitamins, minerals and herbs provide a strong platform in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

In this 3-part series, I will help break down the most important and effective options for supporting your immune system and helping overcome those winter colds and flus.

What Is the Immune System?

Let’s recap what the immune system is and how it operates.

The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defend the body against infection. It keeps a record of every germ (microbe) it has ever defeated, so it can recognise and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again. Abnormalities of the immune system can lead to allergic diseases, immunodeficiencies, and autoimmune disorders.

The main parts of the immune system are white blood cells, antibodies, the complement system, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and the bone marrow. These are the parts of your immune system that actively fight infection.

How Supplements May Help

close up of hand with supplementsThere is a lot we can do for the immune system with the right diet. However, often we don’t get the daily recommended amount of nutrients to meet therapeutic needs. We tend to eat foods that increase inflammation and deplete nutrient levels faster than we can replenish them.

Supplements offer that replenishment. A supplement to your daily diet can help deliver the right amount of vital nutrients to the body to support a specific task or function, including immune system function.

Here are my top seven supplements I recommend for helping prevent colds and flus, and minimising symptoms and severity:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C enhances natural killer cell numbers and activity by a factor of ten, as well as enhancing T and B cell function. Take 1.5g the first day and 1g daily during a cold to reduce symptoms. Vitamin C is useful for reducing the duration of colds, viruses and pneumonia.

Zinc: Zinc supports the development and function of natural killer cells. Deficiency can lead to lower Th1 cells, decreased thymic function, and increased cell death. Zinc is essential for cytokine production and secretion. Taking up to 30mg of zinc daily with food has been shown to reduce the incidence of pneumonia in adults and children. It’s also useful for reducing the duration of colds and viruses.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for and/or a driver of inflammation, with an increased risk of respiratory infections. Vitamin D strengthens mucosal defences and regulates the production of specific antimicrobial proteins that directly kill pathogens, and thus is likely to help reduce infection, including in the lungs. Vitamin D reduces concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines responsible for the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs, leading to pneumonia.

The goal is to raise serum (blood) 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations into the preferred range of 100 – 150 nmol/L. This can be checked with your doctor or health practitioner. To reduce the risk of respiratory infection, 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 is recommended. Vitamin D is useful to prevent flu, viral infections, and respiratory syndromes.

Echinacea augustifolia and purpurea: Echinacea is an immune modulator. It suppresses common respiratory pathogens and modifies T Helper cell populations. It works as an antiviral, particularly in enveloped viruses (herpes, hepatitis D, Coronavirus, Poxviruses, retroviruses), and also possesses antimicrobial properties.

Take tincture doses of 25 to 60ml per week (based on 1:2) or 2.5 to 5g /day in tablet form as a preventative. Use caution if you are taking immunosuppressant drugs.

Andrographis paniculate: Andrographis paniculate provides immune support, especially in acute infections. It also works as an antiviral and anthelmintic (fights parasitic infections). Take 20 to 40ml/week (based on 1:2 liquid tincture) or 4 to 6g/day tablet. Avoid use during the first trimester of pregnancy, or if you are taking immunosuppressants.

Elderflower (Sambucus Nigra): Effective for respiratory tract diseases, such as the common cold, influenza and sinusitis. Neutralises spikes on enveloped viruses (influenza), modulates cytokine expression and provides antimicrobial activity against strep. Take 15 to 40ml/week (based on 1:2 tincture). Elderflower is useful for all bacterial infections.

Probiotic–Ethical Nutrients Inner Health Immune Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2, Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL 9: Study shows that this probiotic reduces the incidence of colds and reduces the severity of symptoms, and the number of days a cold lasts if you do get one [Berggren et al, 2011]. Take one capsule daily. Requires refrigeration.

Be Prepared

Use a combination of these in the 8 weeks leading up to winter, and for 8 weeks after the cold months end. They are also powerful when treating active immune cases to lessen severity and recover faster. The faster you can supplement when sick, the faster your chance of reducing severity.

These supplements are commonly found in health food stores, chemists or practitioners. The key is to be prepared and have these on hand in your home.

Schedule Today

Contact us today to schedule a naturopathy consultation to help optimise your immune system for winter! We have appointments at Pickford Chiropractic Clinic on Wednesdays, and via telephone consult on other days.

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