by Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN
Once the cold weather arrives, I always start to notice an increase in my weekly emails and messages from friends and family members asking for my best tips for boosting immune health and fighting off those dreaded cold and flu viruses. While there really isn’t just one way to help improve your immune health and protect your body from seasonal illnesses, over the years I have found that there are a few holistic herbs, vitamins, and behaviors that will benefit just about anyone.
So, since we are at the beginning of what for many people can be a long winter I wanted to share with you a few of my go-to holistic methods for keeping you feeling your best and preventing colds all winter (and year!) long.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is comprised of a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that all work with one another to help protect your body from potentially harmful pathogens and environmental exposures.
When you think of your immune system, think of it as your body’s very own personal defense system that is working 24/7 to keep you healthy and quickly fight off anything it determines as being potentially dangerous to your body. As long as your immune system is running smoothly, it isn’t something that you would notice on a day-to-day basis, however when your immune system is compromised due to a particularly aggressive pathogen, this is when you can start to feel sick and run-down, as your immune system kicks into overdrive to work at eliminating the harmful exposures from our body.
If you have ever noticed that the lymph nodes around your ears and throat begin to feel tender and swollen, or you suddenly are hit with a constantly running nose or fever, these are all signs that your immune system is working hard to remove an unwanted pathogen from your body to get you feeling your best as quickly as possible.
The Best Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
While your immune system was perfectly designed as your body’s very own defense system, today we are constantly being exposed to external stressors, environmental pathogens, poor quality foods, and often too little sleep – all of which can over time cause our immune system to get a little run down. When this happens (or to prevent this from happening), as an integrative dietitian I believe that there are a few specific herbs and supplements that can help to support our immune systems.
Think of the following supplements as a helping hand to your immune system, that will aid your immune system in doing the best job it can but will never be your main form of defense. Herbal aids and supplements will always be just that – supplements, which is why it is so important to utilize them in a specific supportive role while also focusing on other lifestyle and behavior changes.
Zinc is an essential mineral that helps to promote skin and immune health and plays an active role in healing. This Zinc Food Complex from New Chapter is one of my favorite zinc supplements because it combines whole-food-based zinc with other complementary immune-supportive herbs like astragalus, ginger, turmeric, and elderberry.
Something that is important to know about zinc is that it will compete with copper in the body. For these reasons, if you plan to include zinc in your wellness routine long-term it is important to ensure that you choose a supplement like this Zinc Food Complex that includes complimentary copper.*
If I had to choose just one herb to recommend for supporting immune health it would absolutely be elderberry. Anecdotally, I have seen how elderberry can keep colds at bay, which is no surprise as elderberry’s immune benefits have been used for centuries in herbal medicine and are now supported by scientific research.
I find myself often turning to the Elderberry Force herbal supplement from New Chapter that is made from potent Black Elderberry and Black Currants for comprehensive immune support that can be used all year round. I also am loving their new Elderberry Syrup, which activates the immune defense with Black Elderberry extract concentrated 64x! It’s sweetened with honey to help soothe the throat and can be used by adults and kids (4+).*
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps to support your body’s natural immune response by aiding in the fight against oxidative stress and free radicals. While there are many vitamin C products you can choose from, I personally prefer the Activated C Food Complex from New Chapter which has been fermented to improve absorption and digestion, and is combined with other complimentary herbs for immune support.*
Probiotic All Flora
Our gut health is directly connected to our immune health, which means that when our gut health is compromised so is our immune response. This is why I believe that using the right high-quality probiotics to support and improve your gut health can be one of the most important factors keeping your immune system functioning at its best.
But not all probiotics are created equal and it is important to know what to look for before choosing the best option for you. I personally love using the Probiotic All Flora from New Chapter, which provides two types of clinical strength flora (bacterial and yeast) that help support healthy balance in the gut microbiome and can improve immune health, regularity, reduce gas and bloating, and improve diarrhea/constipation related symptoms.
Many people are chronically deficient in vitamin D, especially those who live in darker/colder climates, where they may experience very little sun exposure for 4-6 months of the year. Vitamin D affects our bodies immune response and helps to modulate the innate and adaptive immune systems, which is why vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of infection.
Before starting a vitamin D supplement, it is always important to get your baseline levels checked by your doctor, so you know where you currently stand and then refer to your doctor or personal dietitian for personalized supplementation guidance. On average, supplementing between 1000-5000 IU of vitamin D is recommended for improved vitamin D status and maintenance. Be on the lookout for a NEW Fermented Vitamin D from New Chapter coming soon!*
My Go-To Protocol to Boost Your Immune System Naturally This Winter
Looking to further support your immune health naturally this winter? The following is my go-to protocol for boosting your immune system naturally and can be adapted to fit your personal needs.
- Get 8 Hours of Sleep
- Drink 2-3 Liters of Water Daily
- Add Vitamin C and Antioxidant Rich Foods Into Your Diet
- Limit Alcohol and Caffeine Consumption
- Check Vitamin D Levels and Supplement As Needed
- Consider Adding Complimentary Herbal and Vitamin Supplements (per the recommendations above and with the guidance of your personal physician)
By following this protocol, you will be well on your way to supporting your immune system and keeping your body feeling it’s best throughout cold and flu season, and all year long.*
What are a few of your favorite ways to support your immune health naturally? Leave a few of your favorites below in the comments.
Before starting any new supplements, it is always recommended to speak with your personal physician. The information in this article is not meant to be viewed or interpreted as personalized medical advice.
Megan Faletra (MS, MPH, RDN) is an environmental and global health advocate and the founder of The Well Co. where she aims to inspire and reconnect others with their food, body, planet, and personal impact.
Megan has worked both domestically and abroad to address social justice and health equity issues globally. She holds a Master of Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine and a Master of Science from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition.