Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
Vitamins C, D, A, E, and Zinc have shown to be effective in improving outcomes for patients with COVID-19. Additional supplements such as echinacea and cat’s claw are suggested to help fight off infections and boost immune function overall.
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Best Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
COVID-19 affects the immune system by producing a systemic inflammatory response, causing symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, pneumonia, and other respiratory challenges. Nutrition is a crucial determinant of good health, and vitamins such as vitamin C, D, E, omega-3s, zinc, and selenium have benefits to help your body fight off infectious diseases.
Vitamins and minerals can be found in several foods, but also purchased as supplements. Supplements can be found at most pharmacies, retail grocery stores, and natural food stores. There are no age restrictions on buying supplements, and they are usually low-cost.
Alleviating zinc deficiency with supplements reduces the risk of mortality from infectious diseases. The immune defense system relies on two major groups of cells, innate and adaptive immune cells, which both depend on zinc. Our innate immune system is the first line of defense to prevent the spread and movement of foreign pathogens throughout the body. Our second line of defense is the adaptive immune system, also called our acquired immune system, which specifically targets the pathogen.
Zinc is an essential nutrient a zinc deficiency can cause inflammation, potentially damaging other tissues. According to the MayoClinic, the recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11mg for men daily. Some food sources of zinc include:
- Baked beans
- Pumpkin seeds
Vitamin C is a micronutrient essential for humans, as it contributes to immune defense by supporting cellular functionality in the innate and adaptive immune systems. Vitamin C is considered antiviral – it protects against pathogens and environmental oxidative stress, and assists in killing harmful microbes. Studies show vitamin C increases the survival rate of COVID-19 patients by preventing an overactive immune response.
Adults should consume between 65 to 90 mg of vitamin C, but no more than 2,000mg per day. Foods that contain vitamin c include:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, kiwi, lemon, grapefruit)
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower)
- White potatoes
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with advanced age, obesity, and high blood pressure, and can lead to poor health outcomes. Deficiency in vitamin D has been suggested to increase the incidence and severity of COVID-19 infection, as COVID-19 patients have been repeatedly shown to have lower vitamin D levels.
Food sources of vitamin D include:
- Tuna fish
- Fortified milk
- Fortified orange juice
- Egg yolk
Vitamin E is one of the most effective nutrients known to regulate immune function. Vitamin E affects one’s susceptibility to infectious diseases, such as respiratory and allergic infections. A deficiency of Vitamin E is rare but can impair normal functions of the immune system in animals and humans. Supplementation of vitamin E above the current dietary recommendations can enhance immune function and reduce the risk of infection.
The current dietary recommendation for Vitamin E intake is 15mg daily for both males and females aged 14 years and up. Foods that contain vitamin E include:
- Wheat germ oil
- Sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Beet greens, collard greens, spinach
- Red bell pepper
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Vitamin A is known as the “anti-inflammation vitamin” because it plays a critical role in enhancing immune function and regulating cellular immune responses. Vitamin A has also demonstrated therapeutic effects in the treatment of various infectious diseases through enhancing immune response.
Food sources that contain Vitamin A include:
- Lead green veggies
- Red bell pepper
- Cantaloupe, mango
- Fish oils
A vitamin B6 deficiency can affect your immune response, specifically antibody production to fight off specific pathogens. When it comes to fighting COVID-19, it is suggested that vitamin B6 may alleviate the severity of the infection due to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties in the lungs - a primary target organ for a COVID-19 infection.
Food sources of Vitamin B6 include the following:
- Dark leafy greens
Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is promoted as a dietary supplement for common colds and infections based on its suggested ability to effectively fight infection. More specifically, echinacea has been shown to shorten the length of a cold. Depending on the type of plant and its bacterial composition, as well as the soil in which it grows, may determine the effect echinacea has on immune cells. Echinacea also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help regulate the immune response.
Echinacea is available in the form of extracts, tablets, capsules, and ointments, but also available in combination with other types of herbs, vitamins, and minerals. Many pharmacy retailers as well as vitamin and supplement stores sell echinacea.
Named after thorns resembling cat claws, cat’s claw is a woody vine commonly found in the wild Amazon rainforest and other tropic areas of Central and South America. Cat’s claw has been used by the indigenous people of South and Central America to ward off disease for nearly 2,000 years and is now promoted as a dietary supplement for a number of infections. Cat’s claw is said to help with viral infections such as herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), as well as Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, and a number of other health conditions.
Cat’s claw may also help lower blood pressure and slow blood clotting, however, it could make the immune system more active, potentially increasing symptoms of those with autoimmune diseases. If you are considering supplementing with cat’s claw to help ward off infection, consider consulting with your physician first.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Consider the following questions when determining which vitamins and supplements to incorporate into your diet.
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What vitamins should not be mixed?
It is suggested that when taking Vitamin C with Vitamin B-12, the amount of B-12 that is absorbed is reduced, so you should take them at least two hours apart.
Additionally, vitamin A should be consumed in moderation. If you are taking a Vitamin A supplement, you should avoid Vitamin A-rich foods, as too much can lead to weaker bones. Taking Vitamin E with Vitamin K can also counteract the benefits of Vitamin K in helping with blood clotting.
Can I take supplements with my medication?
You should consult with your physician whether vitamin supplements can be taken with your medication. Additionally, your physician may also run tests to determine where, and whether, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies exist to develop a tailored treatment plan with supplements specific to your needs.
Are vitamin and mineral supplements FDA-approved?
Dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA as food, not drugs, so they are not regulated by strict standards governing the sale and prescription of medications.
Getting an appointment to see a doctor may take weeks with the latest rise in the COVID-19 Omicron variant. To help prevent the onset of illness, consider incorporating vitamin and mineral supplements into your daily routine. Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and many other vitamins and minerals offer benefits in supporting your immune system to maintain good health.
With Mira, members have access to virtual primary care and urgent care for as little as $25 per month and a copay as little as $5. Members also have access to in-person urgent care centers at thousands of sites nationwide, in addition to telebehavioral health services and discounted prescriptions and labs. Plans are available for individuals, families, and even employers. Get covered today!
Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!