Even the healthiest of us get sick sometimes. It can be frustrating when you eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and sleep enough and still end up getting sick every once in a while. However, sometimes there’s nothing we can do and you just have to take the opportunity to rest and recover. Whenever I get sick, I go into full-on immunity boosting mode to help my body heal more quickly. These are a few of my favorite supplements and nutrients to increase while I’m feeling under the weather. I’ll also explain how I change my routine to allow more time for rest and recuperation.
Vitamin C: An essential water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C is also an antioxidant and helps to reduce the impact of free radicals in the body. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, which helps to maintain the balance of energy (too little iron, AKA anemia, often results in exhaustion) and supports oxygenation of the blood. Vitamin C is very helpful for white blood cells to ensure their proper function so they can ward off invading pathogens. If you’re deficient in vitamin C, your white blood cells can’t function as well, so you’re likely to be more susceptible to infection.
The best sources of any vitamin or mineral will come from the food you eat! Foods high in vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, berries, kiwi, and mango, along with some vegetables. If you want to take a supplement, vitamin C will be found as ascorbic acid. Be sure to buy your vitamins and supplements from a reputable brand, where you’re sure of the processing of the supplement. In general, high quality supplements will be more expensive. I don’t purchase this supplement, but the one I would buy can be found here.
Zinc: Zinc is an essential micro-mineral required in at least 20mg/day for proper cell functioning. It’s an antioxidant and functions as a cofactor for many enzymes in your body, helping enzymatic reactions to run more smoothly and efficiently. This mineral is crucial for immune function and cell growth and cell differentiation. People deficient in zinc are more susceptible to infections, and zinc helps the production of various white blood cells, which are like the soldiers of the immune system, seeking out invaders and attacking them before pathogens create an infection.
Zinc is commonly formulated as a lozenge. The most bioavailable forms are types of chelated zinc, including zinc gluconate and zinc citrate, as well as zinc orotate (which is more rare in supplements).
Echinacea: Echinacea is an herb that’s also known as American coneflower. It’s popularly used in tea, herbal extracts, and supplements to help support the immune system and reduce symptoms of cold and flu. Echinacea (along with many herbs) contains phenols, which are antioxidants and antimicrobial. Like many natural compounds, these phenols boost the immune system’s natural functioning, helping to ward off viruses and bacteria.
I like to drink echinacea green tea regularly to support my immune system, and drink it a couple times a day if I’m sick or feel a cold coming on. I also take it as an extract when I feel under the weather to get more concentrated herbal benefits. This tea from Yogi is my favorite echinacea green tea. I also like this herbal extract, although there are plenty of other extracts you could use.
Reishi mushroom: Called the master healing mushroom, reishi is a type of medicinal mushroom with many beneficial properties for your body and immune system. It helps to calm the nervous system and supports immune function. Acting as an immune modulator, it supports the overall function of your entire immune system, not just one specific area. Reishi is anti-fungal and antimicrobial, so it helps to fend off these invading pathogens. Reishi is also anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, helping to reduce cellular stress in the body. These are all extremely useful qualities when you’re sick!
There are many ways to consume reishi. I like to use herbal extracts, especially this one from Herb Pharm. However, you could also take reishi in capsules or in a dried powder, like from Four Sigmatic here.
Vitamin D: This is a super-critical fat soluble vitamin that is absolutely necessary for your body’s immune functioning. Multiple research studies have found that people deficient in Vit D are sick more often throughout the year. You can think of vitamin D as an armor for your immune system: it helps ward off attacks from viruses and bacteria. Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin cells via sunlight, and the recommended daily allowance (RDA percentages often seen on packaging) is far lower than what is actually going to benefit your health. Vitamin D specifically helps stimulate the production of AMPs, which are anti-microbial peptides that act as broad-spectrum antibiotics and immune modulators, helping to protect cells from infection.
Getting at least 15 minutes of sun exposure per day (without sunscreen – use caution, of course) or taking a good vit D supplement will help your immune system stay strong year-round. The best vitamin D supplements will be liquid drops that you’ll take under the tongue. My chiropractor and acupuncturist both recommend 3,000-4,000 IUs per day, but depending on where you live and your specific need for D, your supplementation may vary. The bioavailable form found in many supplements is D3, or cholecalciferol. Be sure to look for a vegetarian source, as this form is often extracted from the fat of lamb’s wool (!). I use this supplement.
Apple cider vinegar: Although this vinegar has been a bit overhyped by the media, its unique combination of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals can aid the body’s immune function. ACV is also anti-fungal and anti-microbial, once again helping to defend from potential pathogens invading your body. Always make sure you drink ACV as a dilution! Many people take ACV shots and burn their throats – this is because vinegar is very acidic and can actually damage your throat lining if not diluted. Mix 1 tbsp with a glass of water and drink it slowly, or mix it in with your morning lemon water.
Be sure you’re using unfiltered and organic ACV. My favorite is from Bragg’s, as it’s fermented and contains strains of the ‘mother’, which was the original probiotic source to ferment the vinegar. I use Bragg’s ACV.
Ginger: Ginger is truly a magnificent superfood. It’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-fungal. It also eases nausea, indigestion, and stomach pains or cramps, so it’s perfect as a natural solution to soothing period cramps. Ginger boosts the immune system by providing a stronger shield overall for the body’s internal organs, so the immune system is strong enough to fight off pathogens. Most of these natural plant remedies work to support the function of the body’s immune system, vs. directly killing off pathogens or bacteria.
Ginger can be taken in many ways: as ginger tea made from the ginger root, as a powder added to soups or smoothies, or as an extract or supplement form. I prefer to use ginger in my curries, soups, and smoothies, and to make tonics or juices with it.
Turmeric: Turmeric is another amazing superfood that’s gained a lot of media attention for its incredible anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, like ginger, is also a root, but is most commonly found and used in powder. Turmeric contains specific compounds, called curcuminoids, that are beneficial for health. Curcumin is the compound most commonly extracted from turmeric that can be found in supplement form. Be sure to consume turmeric with black pepper, or to purchase a supplement with added black pepper (also called bioperine) to improve absorption of the curcumin. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, which helps to fortify the immune system by reducing any chronic inflammation in the body. When the immune system isn’t constantly dealing with chronic, low-grade inflammation that’s common from poor diet, alcohol or drug use, or chronic diseases, the white blood cells (soldiers of the immune system) can more easily use resources to attack pathogens and prevent infections.
I always add turmeric powder to my curry, tofu scramble, and sometimes even my smoothies if I’m really trying to boost my antioxidant load and improve immunity. If you are buying a curcumin supplement, make sure it’s a high quality supplement company and that the supplement contains bioperine.
I hope these tips can help you stay healthy and strong throughout the year as our bodies are exposed to bacteria and pathogens. Of course there are many factors to a healthy body and immune system: these remedies will only help if you’re taking good care of your body – getting plenty of sleep, drinking enough water, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
To your good health!