In a perfect world, we’d all have access to a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that’s chock-full of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, adequate protein and fiber — and theoretically, shouldn’t have to take additional vitamin supplements in order to strengthen our immune system
However, not only do most of us fail to hit these daily nutrition goals, but we may have situations — like physical stress or inflammatory health issues — when we need more of certain nutrients than what we’re getting from food.
As an immunologist and functional medicine doctor, I always say that you cannot supplement yourself out of bad health or replace a poor diet with vitamins, but you can fill in the gaps to give yourself that extra leg up.
Below are the four supplements that I take every day and often recommend to my patients. Trust me: Your body will thank you.
1. Vitamin C
Since humans cannot manufacture vitamin C and it’s not stored it in the body, it needs to be constantly replenished.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and strengthens our immune system cells. It gets used up rapidly during infection and when we are under tremendous stress. It also speeds wound-healing and is great for your skin.
A good dose to start with is 500 milligrams twice daily for maximum absorption.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide issue, which is a problem because this superstar vitamin modulates so many aspects of our immune function. It makes our innate immune system more efficient in killing bacteria and viruses, and can reduce the frequency of upper respiratory infections.
Low vitamin D has also been correlated with a higher incidence of autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis. Because vitamin D isn’t found readily in many foods (save for fatty fish, cod liver and fortified foods), most people benefit from vitamin supplementation, especially in the winter months or if they don’t spend much time outdoors on a regular basis.
I suggest starting with 1,000 to 2,000 international units per day, taken with a meal.
The World Health Organization reports that between 17% and 30% of the world population has a zinc deficiency, potentially affecting health outcomes.
Zinc is a trace mineral with crucial effects on the effectiveness of the cells and cytokines of our innate and adaptive immune systems. Zinc aids in fighting viruses, protects us from free radical damage to our cells, and has been shown to shorten the duration of a cold when given as a supplement.
Zinc is found at high levels in oysters, beef and crab, and in lower amounts in legumes, tofu, pumpkin seeds, cashews and other nuts and seeds. I recommend adding in 15 to 30 milligrams of zinc daily, especially during the fall and winter months and at the first signs of cold or flu.
This substance is the main active ingredient in turmeric root and has been shown to bestow multiple health benefits.
In fact, there are more than 120 human clinical trials showing the effectiveness of curcumin in treating diseases ranging from autoimmunity to Alzheimer’s disease.
The magic of curcumin is how it decreases inflammation at multiple levels in the body, not only helping with symptom relief from pain and arthritis but also blocking inflammatory cytokines driving autoimmune disease, heart disease and diabetes.
It also improves the health of our gut bacteria, which adds to our overall immune health. Because curcumin is not absorbed well and one would have to eat copious amounts of turmeric root to have significant benefits, I recommend supplementing with 1,000 milligrams per day with food.
Dr. Heather Moday is a board-certified allergist, immunologist and functional medicine physician. She is also the author of “The Immunotype Breakthrough: Your Personalized Plan to Balance Your Immune System, Optimize Health, and Build Lifelong Resilience.” Follow her on Instagram @theimmunityMD and Facebook.