Quick disclaimer: The article focuses on how supplements boost immune system effectiveness. However, given the pandemic currently causing havoc in certain parts of the globe, it is necessary to emphasize that little to no evidence exists as to the efficacy of supplements in combatting any novel virus, including COVID-19.
However, I think we’d all agree that doing whatever we can to ward off COVID (or any virus for that matter) most certainly can’t hurt.
It is also important to note that supplements may interact with both OTC and prescription medications. Please confer with your doctor or other trusted health professional before supplementing if this applies to you.
As mentioned, in this article, we’ll be discussing a bunch of supplements that can boost your immune system. Let’s get to it!
Let’s begin by first discussing what the immune system is.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a community of biological elements – cells, chemicals, and processes – that continually work to prevent infections and diseases. With a properly functioning immune system, we can kill off disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, infectious proteins (prions), protozoa, viruses, and worms.
On the flip side, a weakened immune system makes us much more prone to illness, disease, and death. Sadly, in the age of COVID-19, we can see these troubling trends for ourselves. Statistics show that nearly 75 percent of all deaths caused by the virus consist of those over the age of 65. (Aging causes a progressive lowering of the immune system defenses.)
Fortunately, almost everyone can boost their immune system by making healthy lifestyle choices. This includes eating a nutritious diet, getting adequate exercise, sleeping correctly, and, yes, supplementing. The difference between the last and the rest is that supplementation is entirely optional, though often necessary.
Without further ado, here are 15 supplements that can boost your immune system.
Andrographis (‘Green chiretta’)
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)is a bitter-tasting herb that has been used in both traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda for centuries. Also called Green chiretta, healers note Andrographis worthy of mention for its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties.
Per an article published in the ScienceDirect website, “Andrographis is particularly suited to acute infections, with consistent evidence for its clinical efficacy [emphasis added].”
Astragalus is another herb oft-used in TCM and other traditional medicinal systems. People take Astragalus for conditions such as diabetes, hay fever, kidney disease, and even heart disease. Astragalus is also called milkvetch or Huang qi (Chinese).
Per WebMD, “Astragalus is thought to stimulate the immune system. It has antioxidant effects that inhibit free radical production.” Free radicals are unpaired molecules that contribute to oxidative stress and, thus, immune system damage.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the immunostimulatory (stimulation of the immune system) effects of astragalus. In addition, the herb exhibits anti-toxicity properties.
Curcumin is a bright yellow chemical produced by the Curcuma longa genus of plants. Turmeric takes its color from curcumin- and it has a bunch of medicinal benefits. Relatedly, curcumin is one of the most well-researched and scientifically-validated natural treatments in the world.
Research shows that curcumin is both a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Healers recommend curcumin as a primary or complementary treatment for various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – and even depression and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
B-complex vitamins often link to converting food into energy. However, specific B vitamins also help to support and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is perhaps the most important in this respect.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, B6 “is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Most research points to potential benefits to the immune system by taking a B-complex vitamin every day.
Food sources of B6 include pork, poultry, fish, bread, wholegrain cereals, eggs, vegetables, and soya beans.
Echinacea (‘American coneflower’)
People who take echinacea – usually as tea – say that it encourages the immune system. It is most often consumers to reduce the symptoms of the common cold, flu, and other infections and illnesses. The Native Americans were early proponents of the coneflower.
Per a WebMD article, “Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, [the] body’s defense against germs. Research [also] shows that it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections.”
Elderberry is a flowering plant that “is packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system,” reports WebMD. Elderberries contain a special type of flavonoid called anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect the body from a myriad of diseases.
According to Raul Corredor, MD, “Diets rich in polyphenols, including anthocyanins, helps the human immune system to work more efficiently to protect against viral infections.”
Garlic is another potent immunostimulant with awe-inspiring health benefits.
First, according to a meta-analysis study published in The Journal of Nutrition, garlic possesses “immunomodulatory effects [that] increase [white blood cell] activity, natural killer cells, and the production of T and B [immunity] cells.”
In the same study, the authors also noted the cholesterol-reducing effects of garlic. In fact, it “significantly” lowered the blood pressure of hypertensive individuals.
In case you were wondering, we aren’t referring to Twizzlers (to this author’s chagrin.) Instead, we’re talking about licorice root extract, which packs some potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting characteristics.
Concerning the latter, a 2017 study published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies concluded that licorice polysaccharides (sugar polymers) “[demonstrated] immunomodulatory activities in … tumor-bearing (mice).” These findings led the researchers to conclude that licorice polysaccharides possess anti-cancer properties.
No, these ‘shrooms won’t take you to a faraway land, but they may just benefit your immune system.
In a study published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, researchers tested the efficacy of five mushrooms for potential oncological uses. “[Medicinal] mushrooms have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and anti-cancer properties [and]…mushrooms are adept at immune modulation,” the authors state.
The study’s finding’s led the research team to conclude that medicinal mushrooms “should be considered as an adjunct therapy” for certain cancer patients.
Pelargonium sidoides (‘Black geranium’)
Yet another unpronounceable supplement, healers recommend using ‘black geranium’ in the treatment of respiratory tract infections (e.g., bronchitis, sinusitis). Many studies also attest to the potent antibacterial and immune-boosting properties of black geranium.
In a meta-analysis study of four randomized controlled trials (RCTs), a specially-formulated extract of black geranium (‘EPs 7630’) “significantly reduced” bronchitis symptoms within seven days. Researchers link these outcomes, in part, to EPs 7630’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Propolis (‘Bee glue’)
Bees produce Propolis, a resin-like compound, earning it the nickname bee glue.
Per a 2019 study published in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine, ‘bee glue’ is a natural immunomodulator agent. Per the author, “…propolis or/and its ingredients…could be promising in [altering] the immune response and inducing immunomodulation.
Those who use Propolis rely on it for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties.
The chemical element Selenium plays a key role in immune system health. Selenium is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; thus, a natural modulator of the immune system.
Per Healthline, selenium “may help boost the immune systems of people with HIV, influenza, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C.”
No big surprise that ‘C’ makes an appearance on this list. Indeed, vitamin C may just be the nutrient most commonly associated with immune system health. Per a study published in the journal Nutrient, “Vitamin C is an essential macronutrient … a potent antioxidant [and] … contributes to immune defense by supporting [myriad cell] functions … of both the innate [‘natural’] and adaptive [‘reactive’] immune system.
The best food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, including oranges, kiwi, lemons, grapefruit, and guava. Good vegetable sources include brussels sprouts and capsicums.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is important to immune system health.
Per a review of vitamin D’s effect on the immune system, published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine, vitamin D deficiency is implicated in “increased autoimmunity and increased susceptibility to infection.”
The easiest way to get your daily dose of ‘D’ is to spend 15 minutes in the sun!
Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (e.g., mackerel, salmon, tuna), fortified products, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vegans and vegetarians will need to get vitamin D through fortified food products and/or exposure to sunshine.
Zinc is essential for the normalization and maintenance of immune system function. Per WebMD, zinc “keeps the immune system strong, helps heal wounds, and supports normal growth.”
Good sources of zinc include milk products, whole grains, fortified cereals, seafood, almonds, baked beans, chickpeas, and nuts.
Final Thoughts on Using Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
Each of us has a unique immune system. While some of us never fall ill, others seem to catch every virus that comes their way. Using supplements to boost your immune system may the missing secret to better health.