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Best Immune Supplements for Winter 2021

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Dec 18, 2021 10:30:00 AM

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The winter months can really put your immune system to the test. As the weather changes, you spend more time indoors and are exposed to more cool, dry air.

A robust immune system is critical to staying well this time of year. To protect yourself, it’s best to take a proactive approach. Healthy lifestyle habits are the first line of defense.

Even so, supplements for immunity may also be beneficial.* This time of year, you want to take advantage of all the immune-boosting tools available. Doing so gives you a better chance of having the immune resilience to fight back.

Is Our Immune System Weaker in the Winter?

Our immune systems are an intricate network of cells, organs, and proteins that work together to protect the body. When you’re exposed to something new, your immune system mounts a response to fight off the foreign invader.

We asked three reputable physicians for the fundmental steps to a stronger  immune system. Get their answers in our guide. 

Many of our actions impact how well the immune system functions. The foods we eat, our level of physical activity, and the amount and quality of our sleep are all factors that can determine immunity.

In the winter months, changes in light, humidity, and temperature may make us feel tired and sluggish. This is a normal, evolutionary response to winter, similar to hibernation in animals. Our bodies expect more rest and less activity once the weather turns.

This may be due to sleep’s vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for your immune system to function optimally. 

During the winter months, the desire to sleep more is a useful adaptation designed to boost your immune system when you need it most.

Best Ways to Support the Immune System

The best way to enter the winter season is to modify your activity levels and adapt to your body's natural response to changes in temperature and light. 

  • If you feel the desire for more sleep, don’t fight it. When it gets dark at 4:30 pm, your body will start winding down for the day. Plan earlier bedtimes or make time for a nap during the day.
  • Focus on eating nutritious foods that support immunity. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, contain phytochemicals and compounds that boost immunity.1
  • Try to minimize stress as much as possible. Being under a lot of stress negatively affects your immune system. 2
  • Consider adding immune-supporting supplements to your daily routine.*

Immune-Promoting Supplements and Herbs

The winter season is the perfect time to support your immune system with a little more intention than usual. 

These immune-supporting supplements have the potential to promote wellness and keep your immune system ready functioning optimally during the colder months.*

vitamin d

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin your body produces when exposed to sunlight. Your immune system requires vitamin D for balanced white blood cell function.* 

Naturally, getting adequate sun exposure during the winter months is challenging. Supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to help maintain health, especially in people who have naturally low levels.*3

zinc

Low zinc levels can cause issues with the inflammatory response.

Regularly taking a zinc supplement may be beneficial during the winter months. Zinc functions in the body to bolster the immune system and support a normal inflammatory response.*4

Elderberry

Elderberry in the form of syrups or lozenges may be beneficial if you're already under the weather and hope to support and maintain a healthy immune system through the winter months.* 

One study that evaluated the effectiveness of elderberry found subjects who took 15 mL of elderberry syrup showed markers for good health four days sooner than those given a placebo.*5

thyme (herb)

The leaf & oil of the herb thyme may boost respiratory health and lessen the severity of respiratory challenges.* One study found that consuming a syrup containing thyme helped participants reach markers for good health faster than a placebo.*6

Thyme is also high in vitamin C and minerals that support your immune system.*

garlic & onion

Garlic and onions belong to a group of vegetables known as alliums. They contain many antioxidants and healthy inflammatory agents that boost the immune response.*

One bonus of these foods is their ease of use in your everyday diet. They can be used widely in cooking and even incorporated raw into some dishes.

The active compounds in garlic and onion need time to activate, so chop them up and let them sit for 10 minutes before cooking to get the most benefit.

chinese mushrooms

Mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi are immune-boosting powerhouses.* Consumed regularly, they have the potential to increase the function of healthy immune cells and help maintain a normal inflammatory response.*7

While powdered forms are available, mushrooms are easy to add to your diet. They pair well with many savory dishes, and can be chopped up and added to taco meat, sauces, etc., to enhance your menu.

Immune Supplements to the Rescue

The immune system responds to many different stimuli, including the change of seasons. As we move into the winter months, your immune system will be tested. Be prepared to offer your immune system extra support during this time. 

First and foremost, healthy lifestyle habits are essential to a healthy immune system. For many people, immune-boosting supplements may provide another layer of support.*

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[1] Hosseini B, Berthon BS, Saedisomeolia A, et al. Effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on inflammatory biomarkers and immune cell populations: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;108(1):136-155. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy082

[2] https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

[3] Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Greenberg L, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory…: individual participant data meta-analysis. Health Technol Assess. 2019;23(2):1-44. doi:10.3310/hta23020

[4] Prasad AS. Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Mol Med. 2008;14(5-6):353-357. doi:10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad

[5] Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract… J Int Med Res. 2004;32(2):132-140. doi:10.1177/147323000403200205

[6] Kemmerich B, Eberhardt R, Stammer H. Efficacy and tolerability of a fluid extract combination of thyme herb and ivy leaves and matched placebo in adults… A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2006;56(9):652-660. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1296767

[7] Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, et al. Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-487. doi:10.1080/07315724.2014.950391

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