With the sweep of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic many of us are looking at ways we can improve our health to hopefully protect ourselves. Right now we know that social distancing, washing our hands and wearing a mask can all help with stopping the spread of the virus. But what’s really important is supporting our immune systems so if we do get a bug, our body has the tools it needs to fight it. The cornerstone of health and a properly functioning immune system includes eating a healthy diet rich in veggies and plant-based foods, getting plenty of exercise, sleeping well, and finding ways to relieve stress.
Please keep in mind much study needs to be done about COVID-19 and there aren’t any known cures. The best we can do right now is support our health and well-being and maybe give our immune systems a little nutritional and supplemental help just in case.
Here we have a review of some vitamins and supplements that have been shown in studies to improve immune function and may help boost your immune system.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D. known as the “sunshine vitamin is a super important fat-soluble vitamin for our immune system and the maintenance of healthy bones. Vitamin D can help activate the fighting power of our white blood cells and also helps to decrease inflammation. If left unchecked in the body Vitamin D can hinder proper immune response leaving us susceptible to infection.
And since it’s also the only vitamin that our bodies need sunlight to produce it can be easy to become deficient, especially for those of us who are older, have darker complexions, live in colder climates, or are now forced to shelter in place and spending a lot of time indoors. While some foods are considered good sources of vitamin D including salmon, shrimp, oysters, tuna, egg yolks, milk, and mushrooms, it’s very difficult to get all you need from diet alone. The best and easiest way to make sure you’re getting all you need is with a supplement. It’s also a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor to determine if you just need daily maintenance dose or a higher therapeutic dose to bring low levels back to normal.
Recommended Product: Now Foods D3 (2000 IU)
2. Vitamin C
An essential nutrient that our bodies can’t produce or store, Vitamin C plays an important role in proper immune function. It acts as an antioxidant protecting cells from damage from free radicals and enhances immune cell function while helping the immune system make new white blood cells that fight infection. Vitamin C can be found in fresh vegetables, leafy greens, tomatoes and fruits like strawberries, oranges, and lemons and should be eaten everyday. There hasn’t been any evidence yet that Vitamin C can protect you from the effects of COVID-19 but studies have shown that Vitamin C can help shorten the duration and the severity of symptoms of the common cold.
For an easy way to get your daily C, we like Effer-C Drink Mix. It’s a fizzy orange tasting drink powder that you add to water providing 1000mg of Vitamin C that also offers B vitamins and minerals in one single pouch.
Recommended Product: Effer-C Drink Mix
A small tree that grows in the northern parts of the U.S as well as Canada, and Europe, the elderberry bush or Sambucus tree produces small, dark-colored berries chock full of nutrients, powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, and immune system boosting benefits! Naturally low in sugar, elderberries have a delicious, bright, tart, and honey-like flavor that are high in vitamin C, vitamin A, B6, potassium, iron, calcium and fiber. Used for centuries as a medicinal herb for folk remedies, elderberry has shown promising evidence in studies to be an immune system booster and may help reduce the severity and length of cold and flu symptoms. In a Norwegian study, patients experiencing flu-like symptoms of less than 48 hours were dispensed who were given the elderberry syrup reported their symptoms subsided four days before those given the placebo. In a review of four studies, elderberry supplements were found effective in minimizing the symptoms of viral induced upper respiratory infections. (1)
Perfect for kids and adults, Elderberry is great to keep on hand for whenever you’re feeling run down and you can find it available in capsules, lozenges, and syrups. It’s often combined with zinc for total immune support too.
To keep your immune system running in tip-top shape, zinc is one of the most important minerals to make sure you’re getting enough of. Studies show people who are deficient in zinc are prone to getting sick more frequently and are more susceptible to infections. In our bodies, zinc is not only essential for healthy immune response, but it’s also a necessary trace mineral involved in over 300 different enzymatic reactions. It helps the body metabolize carbohydrates, stabilize blood sugar, supports healthy cholesterol, and is needed for wound healing and the skin health. Zinc helps the immune system in many ways. Not only does it activate the immune fighting cell but it’s also known to activate enzymes that break down proteins in bacteria and viruses making them less infectious. Studies have conclusively shown that supplementing with zinc daily reduced the occurrence of the common cold and if taken early with the onset of symptoms reduced its length and severity. (2)
For an easy and yummy way to get your daily Zinc along with Vitamin C and elderberry we love the Now Sambucus Zinc-C Lozenges .
Recommended Product: Sambucus Zinc-C Lozenges
5. Pau d'Arco
Made from the bark of an evergreen tree that grows in South America and native to the Amazon Rainforest, Pau D’Arco has been used in South America to treat a wide range of ailments including arthritis, pain, inflammation and even cancers. Scientists so far have isolated two antimicrobial chemical compounds in Pau D’Arco called lapachol and beta-lapachone that not only may help to kill bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi but have also shown anti-inflammatory effects. (3) The beta-lapachone compound specifically interferes with the enzymes that allow viruses to replicate and infect cells. Pau D’Arco is also high in selenium, a mineral with antioxidant and immune boosting effects. Try Pau D’Arco in a capsule or try sipping some tea. The inner bark is considered the most potent part of the tree. Be sure to start slowly with Pau D’Arco as it can cause nausea and dizziness in some sensitive individuals and is not to be used for those on blood thinners.
6. Olive Leaf Extract
From the same trees that give us olives and heart healthy olive oil, extract from the leaves of the olive tree is a health boosting food bursting with antioxidants and a long list of benefits . The active compound in olive leaf extract called oleuropein, has been found in studies to be antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and a potent immune booster with anti-viral properties. And there’s scientific evidence to back it up. Research suggests that olive leaf extract may inhibit the ability for the viruses that are responsible for the common cold, flu and certain respiratory infections. Olive leaf has also shown in studies to enhance the body’s ability to fight infection by stimulating the immune response to a viral infection. (4)
Recommended Product: NOW Olive Leaf Extract
A superfood that isn’t just for babies anymore, colostrum is a highly nutritional liquid with super immune system benefits found in the breasts of humans and other mammals in the days before the breast milk develops. Along with nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, colostrum also contains substances like antimicrobial peptides and immunoglobulins (protein antibodies that your immune cells produce to fight off infectious invaders) that help regulate and support the immune system and protect babies from infections.(5) Colostrum has also been shown in a 2014 study to be able to strengthen our “natural killer” or NK cells to help fight off viruses like those that cause the flu and other respiratory infections. Lactoferrin, another substance in colostrum, can help the gut repair itself while also binding to toxins produced by microbes, helping prevent sepsis in the body. (7)
Lucky for us colostrum has been isolated for supplemental use so we can all enjoy its immune boosting effects. Considered a food rather than a supplement, try this bovine-derived Colostrum by Now Foods. If you have a dairy allergy contact your doctor before taking. Those with lactose sensitivity shouldn’t have an issue.
You may use garlic regularly in your cooking, but part of the allium family and relative of onions, leeks, and shallots, garlic is a superfood with incredible immune benefits. Each time we crush or chop fresh garlic, a compound called alliin is converted into allicin. Allicin, an unstable compound responsible for giving garlic its signature scent, is quick to break down into sulfurous compounds that scientists believe unleash garlic‘s powerful antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It is believed that garlic enhances immune system response by stimulating protective immune cells, which may offer protection from viral infections. (7) An important study found that a group found those given garlic over a 3 month period had a 63% lower risk of getting a cold. Those who did get a cold recovered 70% quicker. (8)
The benefits of garlic can be deactivated with heat. So if you’re not into eating raw garlic, but want the benefits a garlic supplement may be your best bet.
Now Garlic Oil Triple Strength
We all know peppermint as a popular breath freshener and herbal tea known for its cool minty taste. But peppermint is so much more than just a tasty herb. High in antioxidants has potent antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. (9) The oils from peppermint have been shown in studies to kill the bacteria that lead to Staphylococcus infection and pneumonia-linked bacteria and to have antiviral action against influenza A. (10) If you have a respiratory infection the menthol in peppermint oil may help. Try breathing in steam mixed with peppermint oil to open nasal passages, It will act as a decongestant shrinking swollen irritated membranes in the nose, making it easier to breathe, also helps loosen mucus in the lungs. (11) Since peppermint is a tasty herb it’s easy to add to your daily routine. Try brewing a soothing cup of peppermint tea or taking peppermint gels with you on the go.
10. Dandelion Root
While you might find yourself trying to rid your lawn of these dainty little yellow flowers related to the daisy, dandelions are actually highly beneficial and have been used medicinally for centuries. Now commonly used as a detoxifying liver and gallbladder cleanse, dandelion root may also carry antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Some test-tube studies have shown that dandelion may be effective in fighting viral infections like hepatitis B, HIV, and influenza while others found that the extract of dandelion was effective in blocking viruses from being able to replicate themselves. (12) (13)
11. Licorice Root
While the flavor of black licorice candy is inspired by the root of the licorice herb, it isn’t just used for sweet treats. Licorice, originating in Asia, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine practices for centuries and science is just starting to unravel some of its antimicrobial powers. With over 300 active compounds, licorice has shown in studies to display antiviral properties including glycyrrhizin, liquiritigenin, and glabridin. (14)
A few test-tube studies have shown that licorice root extract has shown promising evidence of being effective against herpes, HIV, viruses, and pneumonia caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). (15) While licorice may be effective against viruses, please check with your doctor before taking it as it can interfere with certain medications and conditions.
Recommended Product: Now Foods Licorice Root
12. Panax Ginseng
Panax Ginseng, a plant that grows throughout the mountainous parts of Korea, Northeastern China and parts of Siberia, and also known as Asian or Korean Ginseng, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 5000 years as a restorer of health. Not to be confused with American Ginseng, this perennial plant whose root extract is commonly taken and marketed to improve thinking, concentration and stamina is also an effective immune system booster with antibacterial and antiviral properties. Studies have shown that Panax Ginseng not only can only enhance the efficacy of the flu vaccine, but can also boost the immune system’s natural killer cell activity, increase and white blood cell count and immune response while decreasing the overall occurrence of flu and colds.(16) (17) (18) Another study in patients with bacterial bronchitis showed faster recovery when ginseng was treated with antibiotics than with antibiotics alone. (19)
Now Foods Panax Ginseng