Give your immune system a lift this season with these 5 powerful nutrients!
For many, fall is the busiest time of the year—the kids go back to school, the demands of work pick up, and the holidays loom as the end of the year approaches. And with so much going on, it’s easy to let bad habits take over. Skimping on sleep, stressing out over every little thing, and making poor food choices can have a detrimental impact on the immune system, undermining the body’s ability to keep up. The truth is, if you find yourself consistently skipping meals or pulling into the drive-thru, there’s a good chance your immune system is lacking the essential nutrients it needs.
Not only can a weakened immune system increase the odds of catching a seasonal cold or the flu, it can also put you on the path to chronic conditions like coronary heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, among others. So give yourself a boost this fall and keep your immunity in peak form with the following key nutrients:
Andrographis has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries to thwart a variety of conditions thanks to the herb’s cold-busting anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting properties. During one placebo-controlled clinical trial of 223 cold sufferers, those who took 200 mg of andrographis experienced rapid improvement in their cough, congestion, headache, fever, sore throat, and fatigue. Another study which pitted andrographis against acetaminophen for sore throat and fever, found that the herb was just as effective as the over-the-counter drug. Most herbalists recommend picking a supplement standardized to 10 percent andrographolides and taking 400 mg three times a day while symptoms persist.
Elderberry is another ancient cure-all, one the Greek physician Hippocrates referred to as “nature’s medicine chest.” A native to Europe, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is gaining renewed attention for its dynamic antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-modulating activities—all meaningful elements to a thriving immune system. Several studies suggest that the berry can be especially effective on the severity and duration of cold- and flu-like symptoms.
In one recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, Australian researchers found that elderberry supplementation reduced the duration and severity of cold symptoms in air travelers. The group taking the elderberry experienced a two-day shorter duration of the cold and also noticed a reduction in symptoms. On the other hand, the placebo group had significantly worse symptoms for a longer period of time.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in Norway looked at elderberry’s effects on the influenza virus. Sixty patients, ages 18-54, who were suffering from flu-like symptoms were given either elderberry extract or a placebo over five days. Symptoms were relieved four days earlier in those receiving the elderberry compared with the placebo group—further indication that elderberry is a safe and efficient treatment for cold and flu sufferers.
Let’s face it—the gut is where good immune health truly begins. It’s the first line of defense against most everything that we consume. One of the most vital nutrients in supporting that defense is vitamin A. But if you find yourself making poor choices at mealtime, then there’s a good chance you may well be deficient. Researchers at Purdue University found that retinoic acid—a metabolite derived from digested vitamin A—is necessary for a key set of innate immune cells to find their proper place in the intestines. This means that without ample amounts of this specific form of A, these important cells that protect the body from infection would be lost. Beta-carotene—a popular vitamin-A precursor—doesn’t offer the same protection. That’s a critical difference since a retinoic acid deficit may raise the risk of having an intolerant immune system which can lead to a wide range of illnesses.
Pregnant women can specifically benefit from taking up to 5,000 units of vitamin A daily. This nutrient is integral to several developmental processes of the fetus including the immune system. But do not take over 8,000 units of vitamin A a day if you are pregnant, as it may increase the risk of birth defects.
According to reports, selenium is essential to optimal immune response. This crucial micronutrient influences both the innate and the adaptive immune systems and is pivotal to cellular processes in nearly all tissues and cell types throughout the human body. Selenium is elemental in proper thyroid gland function, DNA production, and the reproductive system. It also helps to protect the body from free-radical damage and infection, and may even be effective in suppressing the progression of HIV.
However, dietary selenium intakes in several countries are lower than international recommendations. And a selenium deficiency can have potentially serious consequences, particularly for the heart. Cases of congestive cardiomyopathy have been documented in parts of China where the soils are selenium-deficient. Fortunately, simple supplementation was able to curb the deadly disease.
Individuals with moderately low levels may actually get more immune-boosting benefits from supplemental selenium than those whose levels are adequate. You may be deficient if you smoke, drink alcohol, take birth control pills, or have certain conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
To say that Zinc is important to a healthy and thriving immune system would be an understatement. This mineral plays an indispensable part in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the human body, making it a necessary nutrient for optimal health. But as we grow older, the body’s ability to absorb and utilize zinc declines, which can lead to a harmful deficiency. Insufficient levels can severely impair immune function, and as a result, older adults can become more susceptible to health problems. In recent research published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, investigators at Oregon State University found a potential link between zinc deficiency and increased inflammation that can occur with age. This is significant because many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are often found more prominently in older adults, who are more likely to have a zinc deficiency.
Moreover, another trial conducted by Tufts University in Boston found that zinc boosted T-cell levels in nursing-home patients with moderate to high zinc deficiencies. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that are vital to controlling and regulating immune responses as well as searching out and destroying invaders the immune system has targeted.