Over lunch last week, I asked a couple of Wildwood practitioners about their favorite approach to supporting immunity. My specific request was for their favorite immunity-boosting supplements that would be available at the typical health food store (since our practitioners often use these for their families, friends, and patients many of these supplements are available at Wildwood).
After getting their recommendations, I also did some research into the foods that contain these vitamins and minerals, because eating your medicine is fun, too!
Check out the suggestions below.
5 Supplements to Support Immunity
Helps maintain optimum immune function. Also involved in collagen production, wound healing, and vision. Could reduce the length of time of sickness, as well as the intensity; recommended that supplementation is started at the first signs of getting sick.
Dosage: 30 mg a day of zinc picolinate (or zinc gluconate) for those first couple of days when you feel like you’re getting sick. Because I eat free-range eggs and beef from pastured cows (small amounts, but every week), I do not supplement daily with zinc unless I feel like I might be getting sick. If my body starts waiving the pink flags (back of throat inflammation, aching shoulders and neck), I take 30mg of zinc once a day for 3 days. I like Pure Encapsulation Zinc 30.
*Please take note that too much zinc, if taken as a daily supplement, can disrupt copper balance. If you take daily zinc, see dosage recommendations here).
Food Sources: (Cooked) oysters! An 1 oz. oyster (your average-sized oyster) contains about 8-9 milligrams of zinc. Also, beef, eggs, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and lentils are good sources of zinc.
Vitamin A & D
These two fat-soluble vitamins are important for immune health and can help prevent and/or reduce the instances and longevity of colds and flu. I’ve listed them together because they work best when taken together.
Vitamin A serves an important role in immunity and helps the skin and mucous membranes repel bacteria and viruses. Also important to bone growth, reproduction, and vision. Vitamin A is the all-encompassing term for retinoids, which occur naturally in both plant and animal tissue.
If from animal tissue, Vitamin A comes as fat-soluble retinoic acid, retinal, and retinol, which are all bioavailable forms, and often referred to as preformed Vitamin A. (Because of this fact, a person can have an excess of animal-derived Vitamin A in the body, which can occur in populations eating the liver of certain animals, including polar bear, seal, walrus, and moose, or in cases of over-supplementation).
The Vitamin A in fruits and vegetables come in the form of carotenoids (you’ll often see “mixed carotenoids” on the listed ingredients of a supplement). Carotenoids are water-soluble and do not accumulate in the body, therefore no toxicity is associated with taking too much (though super high doses can turn the skin orange, this is a reversible condition).
Dosage: Dependent on the form of Vitamin A you are taking; follow instructions on back of bottle and see here for more info.
Food Sources: 3 ounces of beef liver provide over 23,000 IU of retinol (preformed Vitamin A); in other words, one does not have to eat much liver to get plenty of Vitamin A, so consume in moderation. Plant foods high in carotenoids include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, butternut squash, cantaloupe, mangoes, and pumpkins.
The immunoregulatory actions of vitamin D have been recognized for over a quarter of a century, but it’s only been in the past decade that it’s received such significant attention in the media. Unfortunately, there have been some upsides and downsides to this. First, and most importantly, know that too little Vitamin D is not good, but too much of it is also not good. For a while, most advice (and research) was directed at deficiency, but over-supplementation is possible and can have serious negative effects. Ideally, have your Vitamin D levels testing before taking megadoses of Vitamin D.
*Deficiencies of vitamin D are common, especially in industrialized countries in northern latitudes, where sun exposure is typically infrequent…that’s us, Maine!. See here for more detailed info on Vitamin D.
Typical dosage: 1,000 – 5,000 IU a day, depending on blood level. I use Liquid Vitamin D-3 because I’d rather drip of drop of (tasteless) oil on my tongue than take a pill. I also use a liquid vitamin for women, they taste much better than a pill vitamin would.
Sources: Real sunshine is the best, but not always practical. If your arms and face (or the equivalent amount) is exposed to the following amounts of midday sun (11 am to 3 pm), without sunscreen, on a day when sunburn is possible (i.e., not winter or cloudy), then you should not need any dietary vitamin D that day. It’s also interesting to note that aging, being overweight, and inflammation reduce our conversion of sunlight to vitamin D.
Light-skinned: 10 to 15 minutes
Dark-skinned: 20 minutes
Elderly: 30 minutes
Food Sources: The egg yolks of free-range chickens, cold-water, fatty fish (like sardines and salmon), and dairy products from cows that ate green grass (not corn). Shiitake mushrooms have vitamin D in small amounts. For a more detailed list of Vitamin D food sources, see here and here.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant that is abundant in vegetables and fruits. Vitamin C is involved in maintaining connective tissue tissues, protecting against heart disease, and decreasing total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. According to research, it’s also likely that vitamin C helps protect against a variety of cancers by combating free radicals, and may also lessen the duration and symptoms of a common cold.
Typical dosage: The most common supplement for of Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and an average dose for an adult is around 75mg-90mg a day (though many people take up to 1000 mg per day; it’s common to increase the dosage to combat or prevent a viral infection.) If I feel like I’m getting sick, I take as much as 1 gram (1000 mg) of Vitamin C for a few days.
Sources: Vitamin C is abundant in fruits and vegetables. Good sources include: apples, asparagus, berries, broccoli, cabbage, melon, cauliflower, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges), kiwi, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), peppers (especially red bell peppers, which have among the highest per-serving vitamin C content), potatoes, and tomatoes. For more on this, see here.
Elderberry extract offers an effective, safe, and affordable treatment for influenza and upper respiratory infections, but should be taken at the first signs of cold or flu. One study shows improvement in cough, sleep quality, mucus discharge, and nasal congestion for those in the treatment group (taking elderberry).
Dosage: Take elderberry according to dosage recommendations upon feeling the initial signs of sickness—and continue taking it if you do get sick. I love Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup (and so does my 3 year old daughter!).