Vitamins and Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
With cold weather comes cold season. All of the sneezing, coughing, and aching is enough to send you searching for ways to boost your immune system. Various products are marketed to improve immunity, but not all of them work. To better understand these products, I talked to Dr. Amy Smith-Morris, a pharmacist, about what supplements or vitamins are available to boost the immune system and prevent or treat the common cold.
Here is the rundown:
Vitamin C is the most widely marketed supplement for boosting the immune system, with plenty of research into these claims. Most recently, a research study looked at vitamin C use to prevent and treat the common cold. The results showed that vitamin C may prevent and decrease the duration and severity of a cold. To get the most benefit from vitamin C, you need to be supplementing prior to the onset of a cold. This means, you likely want to use vitamin C on an ongoing basis. But if you’re taking vitamin C and feel a cold coming on, not all is lost. Another study showed taking extra doses of vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the length of your cold. Taking vitamin C orally is relatively inexpensive so this may be a good option for you if you frequently suffer from colds.
There has long been conversation touting the immune boosting properties of echinacea. Unfortunately, these benefits have not been show in scientific studies. To date, there has been little indication that echinacea prevents or decreases the duration of severity of a common cold. Considering the lack of real benefit and cost of these products, it’s likely best to consider other options.
Vitamin D plays numerous roles in the body (e.g., bone health, muscle functioning), including boosting the immune system. Large studies have shown that individuals with low vitamin D levels are more likely to experience viral infections. In Canada, daily vitamin D supplementation is recommended due to limited sun exposure. The combination of low cost and large benefit makes vitamin D easy to recommend.
Elderberry is a supplement often sought to treat and prevent the common cold. It’s known for its antioxidant properties (similar to vitamin C). Although available scientific studies on elderberry include a small number of participants, there has been indication that this product may help with the common cold. A 2016 study showed that elderberry decreased the length and severity of cold symptoms. Although promising, it is likely too early to tell the true benefits. More studies are needed here to confirm.
Despite a widespread effort to find a supplement to prevent the common cold, the most effective way to keep yourself healthy remains to be good hand hygiene. Use soap and water frequently or, when that’s not available, hand sanitizer. Other non-drug measures to protect your immune system include proper hydration, stress control, well-balanced nutrition, adequate sleep, frequent exercise, and avoiding others who are sick. Of course, we all know these tips, but a reminder is important.
Dr. Marc Morris, PhD (Human Nutrition), CSCS is a Strength and Health coach living in Saskatoon, SK. Marc’s experience in fitness is varied: he is a competitive strength athlete and international coach, but takes pride in helping anyone remove the barriers to live their healthiest lives. Marc can be found on Instagram, Facebook, or reached by email.