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What supplements are good to help my immune system?

Eating healthy food is the best way to get the nutrients you need. However, some people don’t get enough vitamins and minerals from their daily diet. Dietary supplements may provide nutrients that might be missing from a person's daily diet.

It is important to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Some supplements can change how medicines you may already be taking will work.

Consider the following if you are thinking about using dietary supplements:

  • Learn as much as you can about any dietary supplement you might take. Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or a registered dietitian. A supplement that seemed to help your family member or neighbor might not work for you.
  • Tell your doctor or healthcare provider. They need to know if you decide to use a dietary supplement. Do not self-diagnose or treat any health condition without first checking with your doctor. Learn how medications can interact with dietary supplements.
  • Just because something is said to be “natural” doesn’t mean it is safe or good for you. It could have side effects. It might make a medicine your doctor prescribed for you either weaker or stronger. It could also be harmful to you if you have certain medical conditions.
  • Buy wisely. Choose brands that your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist recommend. Do not buy dietary supplements with ingredients you don’t need. Don’t assume that more is always better, especially since some supplements may be dangerous at high levels. It is possible to waste money on unnecessary supplements.
  • Check the science. Make sure any claim about a dietary supplement is based on scientific proof. The company making the dietary supplement should be able to send you information on the safety and/or effectiveness of the ingredients in a product, which you can then discuss with your doctor.

Here is a brief list of some popular supplements that may support the immune system.

  1. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that plays a crucial role in immune function. It helps stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off infections. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli.
  2. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for immune function and has been shown to enhance the activity of immune cells. Some studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks.
  3. Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a key role in immune function and wound healing. It helps regulate immune cell function and may reduce the duration and severity of colds when taken at the onset of symptoms. Zinc-rich foods include meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  4. Elderberry: Elderberry is a fruit rich in antioxidants and vitamins that may help support the immune system. Some studies suggest that elderberry supplements may reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
  5. Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut health and may help modulate immune function. Some research suggests that probiotic supplements may reduce the risk of respiratory infections, particularly in children. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
  6. Echinacea: Echinacea is a plant that has been used traditionally to treat colds and respiratory infections. Some studies suggest that echinacea supplements may help reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms, but results have been mixed.
  7. Garlic: Garlic contains compounds that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. Some research suggests that garlic supplements may help reduce the risk of colds and other infections, although more studies are needed to confirm these effects.

It's important to note that while supplements can play a role in supporting immune health, they should not replace a balanced diet or other healthy lifestyle practices such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, and good hygiene. Before taking any supplements, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications.

The general rule remains that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It is also important to know that supplement manufacturers are not allowed to claim that their product can be used to “treat” medical conditions.

For more guidance, go to: FDA, LA Public Health, National Institute of Aging

This article was written and edited by the Tayo editorial desk and has been reviewed by an independent panel of subject matter experts.

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