You see it all around you: People sniffling and sneezing, wiping their runny noses with their hands. Balled up facial tissues littering desks. Coughing echoing throughout stores and offices and busses and trains. It’s cold and flu season, and you’re trying to ward off this year’s round of illnesses. You can’t stay indoors all winter—though that would be nice—so what can you do to ensure you stay as healthy as possible?
Boost your immune system, naturally, with food, drink, and supplements.
Here are the top 7 immune system boosters to help keep you breathing easy, sleeping well, and feeling good all season long.
1. Vitamin C. Resist! That’s what vitamin C helps the immune system do, quite literally. Boosted levels of vitamin C help the immune system resist more widely and effectively. Citrus fruits are common sources of vitamin C, but it can be found in other fruits (strawberries, kiwi) and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower).
2. Vitamin B6. B-complex vitamins are popular for their energy-boosting properties, but they do a lot more. B6, specifically, helps the body produce antibodies needed in immune response. Some believe that B-complex vitamins are always better together; whatever you and your physician feel is best for you and your health is the right choice. If you’re not getting enough B6 in your diet, B-complex supplements are a popular choice.
3. Vitamin A. If you get a yearly flu vaccine, you’re putting your adaptive, or acquired immune system to work. We have both an innate immune system and an adaptive one. The adaptive one responds to specific pathogens for which there is already a familiarity. Vitamin A is critical to a correctly functioning adaptive immune system as well as the innate immune system. Boost your immunity and vitamin A levels with carrots, sweet potatoes, and liver.
4. Vitamin E. It’s great for the skin. It’s a wonderful antioxidant. It also modulates immune system function and is especially beneficial for folks as they age and anyone who is already dealing with an ongoing illness. Almonds are chock full of vitamin E; so are tomatoes, spinach, and sunflower seeds. Maintaining a vitamin E-rich diet during cold and flu season will not only help hedge your bets against getting sick, it’ll also encourage you to get the right intake of other immune-boosting vitamins and minerals.
5. Vitamin D. Bet you didn’t know that, in the body, vitamin D acts as a powerful antibacterial. It’s more commonly known that vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium, but it also supports the immune system. Not only can it help prevent infection, vitamin D also promotes T cells, reducing the likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases—any disease in which your body attacks itself. Need more vitamin D in your diet? Try a supplement, and get plenty of sunshine.
6. Folate or folic acid. No, it’s not just for pregnant women. Though the importance of folate in fighting off seasonal illness is similar to the reason expectant mothers are encouraged to take it: it is essential to the DNA and protein synthesis process. What does this have to do with immunity for colds and flu? Folate promotes immunity at the cellular level, allowing lymphocytes to fight invading illness. Not enough folate, and that response is decreased. Try incorporating more leafy greens, citrus fruit, and avocados into your diet to up your folate levels.
7. Iron. Recent research has concluded that iron is actually a fundamental building block of our immune systems. Specifically, iron is required for the creation and growth of immune cells, like lymphocytes. An iron deficiency (either due to anemia or poor diet) can impede effective immune response when your body needs to fight off an invading cold or flu bug. Need more iron? Try spinach, lentils, and even dark chocolate. Proceed with caution, however: The same body of work has also noted that too much iron could help an ongoing bacterial infection grow. It’s important to strike a balance.
With these vitamins and minerals in your cold and flu arsenal, you’ll be better prepared to stave off the sniffles and cancel coughs. If you’re finding it difficult to add more of these immune boosting nutrients into your diet, consider adding a vitamin and mineral supplement to your routine.
Stephan Maldonado is a digital marketer, health & fitness enthusiast, and aspiring novelist. He is currently a freelance writer for SHOP.COM, where he writes about a variety of health-related topics.