Winter now feels like it is only just around the corner and we know to expect crisp mornings and chilly nights. This is also a time when the common cold and flu begin to circulate once more. In order to best protect the health of you and your family this winter, Naturopathic practice encourages preventative measures which focus on building a strong and robust immune system to ward off unwanted bugs. Below are 5 immune-boosting supplements to support whole family wellbeing throughout the cooler months ahead.

Vitamin C

This well-known vitamin is a go-to for many of us at the first sign of winter ills, and for good reason. One of the main actions of Vitamin C is to stimulate the immune system, increasing the production of our all-important white blood cells mount a defense against pathogens like bacteria and viruses. It is also a powerful antioxidant that protects our body from the damage of free radicals, often produced in increased volumes during infection. 

Research indicates that Vitamin C is most effective when taken daily as a preventative measure and can help to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infection caused by common cold or influenza. 

As our bodies are unable to synthesize Vitamin C it is called an essential nutrient and must be consumed daily. Foods that contain the highest concentration of Vitamin C include blackcurrants, oranges, lemons and capsicums. Many other citrus fruits and green vegetables are also rich sources. However, Vitamin C is easily reduced in our food sources when exposed to light, heat, oxygen and alkali. While it is still important to eat a variety of fresh produce daily, for a consistent and high intake of Vitamin C many will turn to supplementation. 

The main forms of supplementary Vitamin C are;

  • Ascorbic acid – found in foods we eat. The supplementary form may be from natural sources (eg Acerola Berry or Camu Camu) but is often man-made. 
  • Mineral ascorbates – includes sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate. These forms are buffered, non-acidic and tend to be less irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. 

Bio-availability/rate of absorption of supplementary Vitamin C varies greatly and depends largely on the method of delivery. For optimal absorption, Vitamin C is best taken in small doses at regular intervals throughout the day (e.g. using a powdered form). Liposomal supplements offer a uniquely high rate of absorption from a single dose, as the Vitamin C bypasses the normal route of intestinal absorption and delivers anywhere between 80%-95% of total ingested Vitamin C. 

Zinc

Zinc is a trace element critical for the function of the human body, it is distributed across all body tissues and has important roles in many different biochemical processes. 

Immune function is heavily reliant on the presence of Zinc, for the normal development of our immune cells, proper maturation of those cells, and helping to ensure they are activated when needed. Zinc is also required for wound healing, particularly important for those with existing immune impairment to reduce risk of secondary wound infections. 

Suboptimal zinc intake has been shown to lead to a significant loss in immune-mediated defenses thus, is often supplemented to boost immune function and protect against the common cold. 

When supplementing with Zinc, be sure to always take with food as it may cause nausea when ingested on an empty stomach. 

Probiotics

It is now widely accepted that the state of our gastrointestinal microbiome can directly influence the health of the whole body. The relationship is bi-directional, where the proper or improper functioning of our bodily systems just as easily influence the health of our microbial colonies in the gut.

Probiotics are a formulation of bacteria or yeasts which exert a beneficial effect on the host and in the instance of immunity, probiotics have been shown to regulate our body’s immune responses and help mobilize and modulate the actions of white blood cells. 

We can support our microbiome naturally by including small but regular amounts of probiotic-rich foods in our diet such as kefir, unsweetened yoghurts, sauerkraut and kimchi. 

Supplementing daily with a probiotic is also a beneficial way to boost immune strength. There are many different products available on the market which contain a variety of strains which can make it difficult to decern which is most appropriate for your family. Widely studied strains of bacteria shown to reduce risk, incidence, duration, and/or symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection from common cold or influenza include; 

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GGLactobacillus acidophilus 
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Streptococcus thermophilus

To best support upper respiratory health throughout winter, choose a powdered or lozenge form of probiotics containing one or more of the strains listed above to help inoculate the nasopharyngeal passageways (ear, nose, throat). 

 

Echinacea

Echinacea species have been used for centuries as a herbal medicine to help support the body against a wide variety of infective ailments, first used by Native American Indians and introduced to standard medical practice in the USA around the early 1800's. Today, there are over 1200 scientific papers that explore the medicinal benefits of Echinacea, many of which focus on the plant's key actions as an effective immunostimulant, immunomodulator, anti-microbial and antioxidant agent.

Echinacea is beneficial as a prophylactic or preventative to reduce the incidence of infective illness but has also been shown to be effective when used acutely at the first sign of cold, influenza, streptococcal throat, or bacterial sinusitis. 

Common forms of supplementation include liquid herbal extracts and tableted formulations.

While this herbal medicine is generally considered safe, it is important to first consult a qualified Naturopath or Medical Herbalist if you are pregnant, taking any medication (especially immunosuppressants), or have an allergy to the Asteraceae plant family. 

 

Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms have long traditional use in supporting many facets of health and wellbeing. 

Medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides (beta-glucans) which have demonstrated immune-enhancing capabilities. While medicinal mushrooms have tonic and antioxidant actions which support the body to adapt and cope with stressors, an important consideration for immune support. 

Varieties such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Chaga, and Shitake are highly praised for their ability to support the immune system, reduce inflammation and support the body's stress response. 

You can find medicinal mushrooms in powdered, capsulated, and liquid extract formulations.

Our qualified Naturopaths are in store daily for support and advice, so drop in to discuss which immune-supportive supplements will see you and your family through this winter season. 

-Article by Naturopath and Herbalist Kate Dalliessi