As if the new COVID-19 strain wasn’t enough of a stressor, it’s also high time for the flu and common cold, which means it’s all the more important to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Thankfully, there are several ways you can do this naturally—and on a daily basis.
Nicole Avena, Ph.D., nutrition expert and author of Why Diets Fail, specializes in functional nutrition and holistic health. Here, she shares five tricks you can employ to best prepare your immune system for illness this winter through diet and supplements alone. And after, be sure to read The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
This one’s a no-brainer, right? We all know vitamin C is crucial for combatting the common cold, in addition to myriad other viruses, but do you know why? Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects against oxidative damage in white blood cells—as well as in other important immune cells—so that they can function optimally, says Avena. Essentially, the antioxidant builds a strong barrier around these cells so that environmental pathogens and pollutants don’t weaken or destroy them.
If you already have a cold, Avena suggests aiming for consuming anywhere between 1 and 2 grams (1,000-2,000 milligrams) of Vitamin C per day—which can be attained through a high-powered supplement. If you don’t have a cold, the recommended dietary allowance of the vitamin for women 19 years and older is 75 milligrams and for men, it’s 90 milligrams.
Be sure to check out 5 Foods High in This Vitamin That Can Help Protect You From COVID-19 for tips on which foods are the richest sources of the antioxidant.
“A quick walk during the day can do wonders for the body, especially when the sun is shining,” says Avena. “Make sure to apply SPF and head outside for 10 to 30 minutes per day to take advantage of the sun’s natural form of Vitamin D, as this vitamin helps protect against common colds and can decrease inflammation.”
Of course, you could always reap the health benefits of vitamin D3 from a supplement, but making it a point to go outside also gets you some exercise—which is ideal to do every day. There are a few foods you can source the vitamin from, as well, but they aren’t many options.
“Vitamin D can be tough to get from foods since fewer foods naturally contain it,” Avena explains. “Salmon is one source that can be good. Also, many dairy products and cereals are fortified with Vitamin D, so check the label and opt for those.”
“Vitamin C and zinc are cofactors that help your cellular immune system work better,” Brittany Busse, MD, associate medical director at WorkCare told Eat This, Not That! in another article. The vitamin and the mineral work in tandem to support the immune system, which can shorten the duration of the common cold.
“Macrophages and other white blood cells that attack pathogens need zinc to function at full capacity,” says Avena. You can source zinc naturally from oysters, pumpkin seeds, crab meat, and beef or you can get your daily dose by way of a supplement. Avena suggests trying vitafusion’s zinc gummy vitamin.
You’ve probably heard mixed reviews about Elderberry in 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, Elderberry was believed to play a role in spurring what’s called a cytokine storm, however, more recently, experts have come out to say that isn’t necessarily true.
William Schaffner, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told North Carolina Health News that while taking Elderberry syrup likely won’t prevent COVID-19, it wouldn’t be harmful either. But, taking the supplement as a means to prevent the common cold is a different story.
“The berries and flowers of Elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system and reduce recovery time after a cold or flu by activating the body’s immune response, increasing antibodies, and expanding immune cell production,” says Avena. If you’re not a fan of syrup, opt for Nature Made’s Elderberry gummies.
In fact, you should be getting at least 300 milligrams of the mineral every single day.
“There’s evidence that magnesium plays a major role in brain function, sleep regulation, and emotional stability,” says Avena. “The mineral contains calming properties while activating your parasympathetic nervous system and can be found naturally in leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and milk.”
Many foods offer magnesium, which may make attaining the recommended dietary allowance through diet alone a bit easier. One ounce of dry, roasted almonds provides 80 milligrams of magnesium, for example, and one cup of soymilk offers just over 60 milligrams of the mineral.
Now, be sure to read These Vitamins May Help Prevent COVID, Study Finds.