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14 Ways to Support Immune Health

Kicking off the new year with updated wellness goals? Wherever you are on your health journey, don’t forget about your immune system.

Your immune system keeps your body healthy by identifying and fighting off potential threats like infections and viruses, so it’s important to take an active role in supporting it. This includes staying hydrated, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, managing your stress levels and making sure your diet helps boost your body’s natural defense system. 

Vitamin C

This popular, supercharged antioxidant is integral for white blood cell production, the foundation of the immune system. It is also vital for connective tissue (like collagen) formation and can help neutralize harmful free radicals with it’s powerful antioxidant properties. 

Make the most of vitamin C:

  • Find it in many fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, bell peppers, berries, broccoli and tomatoes. 
  • Supplements include capsules, oral sprays, chewable gummies and drink mixes.

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It plays an important role in the health of your bones and the strength of your immune system. And yet, vitamin D deficiency is fairly common in the U.S. These deficiencies have been linked with an increased risk of illness or infection.

Make the most of vitamin D:

  • Spend time outside—about 15-20 minutes, three days per week, is usually sufficient.
  • Find it in salmon and other fatty fishes, mushrooms, fortified dairy products and orange juices.
  • Supplements include capsules, chewable gummies and liquid drops (vitamin D3 is active form). 

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This key mineral is used in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, while also playing a major role in immune system support. A zinc deficiency can significantly affect your immune system’s ability to function properly. Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is very common in older adults. 

Make the most of Zinc:

  • Boost your intake with meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and nuts. 
  • Look for it in capsules and lozenge forms or included in multivitamins (Upper Limit = 40 mg/day elemental zinc).

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Vitamin B6 

This vitamin supports the natural, rapid reproduction rates of immune cells, enabling a proper immune response. B vitamins, including B6, are important for a healthy immune response, yet many adults are deficient in them. 

Make the most of vitamin B6:

  • Find it in animal-based proteins like salmon, meat, and poultry.
  • Multivitamins often include B6 (Upper limit = 100 mg/day).

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Vitamin A (retinol) is a micronutrient that has a critical role in enhancing immune function, growth, vision, cell division and reproduction. It also has antioxidant properties that can help protect your cells against the damaging effects of free radicals.

Make the most of vitamin A:

  • Find it in spinach, Bok choy, dairy products and liver. 
  • Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Beta-carotene rich foods include green leafy vegetables, carrots and cantaloupe.

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Selenium is an essential mineral for immune health. It’s only needed in small amounts but plays a major role in important processes, including helping to lower oxidative stress in your body. This reduces inflammation and enhances immunity.

Make the most of Selenium:

  • Find it in seafood, nuts, eggs, whole grains and mushrooms. 
  • Because selenium content can vary depending on growing conditions, it is important to consume a variety of foods that contain it.
  • Selenium supplements are also available and it is often included in multivitamins. 

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Black Elderberry  

Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been used to treat infections and boost immunity for centuries. A rich source of antioxidants, elderberry is most often taken as a supplement to enhance the immune system response and treat cold and flu symptoms. Studies have shown it may help shorten the duration and ease the severity of colds and the flu, however, more research is needed. 

Make the most of Black Elderberry:

  • Look for it in liquid, capsule and chewable forms. 

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Native to North America, echinacea plants are loaded with compounds that function as antioxidants. Some species of the plant have been used medicinally for centuries. Studies that have used the appropriate amount, species and part of the plant have shown that this herb may be effective for stimulating the immune system.Its effects on the common cold are unclear. 

Make the most of Echinacea:

  • Find it in tea, capsule and tincture forms.
  • Look for it as a featured ingredient in cough suppressant and beverages. 

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Mushroom-based Supplements 

Functional mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to support wellness, and many types have been studied for their immune-boosting potential. Today, mushroom supplements span a wide range of options from capsules and tinctures to powders and drinks. Functional mushroom varieties such as cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, shitake, reishi and turkey tail have become headlining ingredients in beverages, powders and broths. 

Make the most of Mushroom-based supplements:

  • Blend powders into lattes, hot teas, smoothies and coffee. 
  • Its earthy rich flavor pairs well with chocolate, coffee and matcha flavors.

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Manuka Honey

This superfood sweetener comes from New Zealand and is believed to have a wide range of benefits like immune and digestive support along with skin-healing properties. Its antibacterial properties are thought to come from its high levels of an antibacterial compound called methylglyoxal (MGO).In fact,sterilized manuka honey is sometimes used as a natural ointment for wounds. 

Make the most of Manuka Honey:

  • Enjoy its rich, deep flavor by taking 1/2 to 1 tablespoon daily if you have a sore throat or want to be proactive.
  • Stir into smoothies and vinaigrettes, swirl into tea or drizzle on granola.
  • Look for manuka honey featured in cold remedies.

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Centuries ago, garlic was celebrated for its healing abilities and has been studied countless times since then. Its active ingredient is a sulfur compound called allicin, which becomes potent by crushing or chewing fresh garlic cloves. Allicin produces other sulfur compounds, which have numerous health benefits including to help boost the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells. 

Make the most of Garlic:

  • Crush or slice to increase the allicin content. 
  • Before cooking crushed garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes. 
  • Eat a lot of garlic—more than one clove per meal, if you can. 
  • Garlic is also found in (odorless!) capsule form. 

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Quercetin is a natural pigment that belongs to a group of plant compounds called flavonoids, found in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is known for its beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce inflammation, allergy symptoms and blood pressure. 

Make the most of Quercetin:

  • Find it in familiar foods like onions, apples, grapes, broccoli and berries.
  • Look for it as a dietary supplement too. 

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Oregano Oil Extract

This pungent herb is best known as a cooking ingredient, but it can also be concentrated into an oil. Oregano in all forms—fresh, dry and as an oil extract—are reported to be high in antioxidants and contain compounds that may help fight off bacteria and viruses and help reduce inflammation. 

Make the most of Oregano oil:

  • Oregano oil extract can often be found in liquid and capsule forms.
  • Note: Oregano essential oil should be diluted with a carrier oil and then applied topically—not ingested. 

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Olive Leaf Extract

Olive leaves have been used medicinally for centuries in the Mediterranean region. Today, the extract, a concentrated dose of the nutrients in the leaves, is appreciated for its antioxidants and protective polyphenols. There are indications that this extract can potentially help to enhance the body’s immune response by “down regulating” the negative immune responses of the body while “up regulating” the positive immune responses. 

Make the most of Olive leaf extract:

  • It can be taken in capsule form.

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The strategies, supplements and foods outlined here may help boost your immune health, but they don’t protect specifically against COVID-19. 

It is always important to discuss with your health care provider before trying out a new supplement. 

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