Nutrients for Immunity

Elaine Ambrose and Alan Siddal
This content originally appeared on 

Every winter, many of us worry about catching a cold or flu. But with added concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are thinking about preventive health more than ever.

Luckily, you can fend off cold, flu or other illnesses by living a healthy lifestyle and embracing immune-boosting foods and supplements.

Below, you’ll find a list of herbs, vitamins, and even a few delicious snacks that can naturally improve immunity.

Herbs and Supplements for Immunity

  • Maitake Mushroom Extract

    Researchers studying stress's potential to reduce the immune system's ability to fight infection found that an extract of maitake mushroom stimulated phagocytes, white blood cells that target bacteria.

    A combination of extracts of maitake and the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha proved even more effective at reducing stress and boosting immunity.

  • Olive Leaf

    Olive leaf fights bacteria and viruses, and helps defend against colds and flu.

    Research suggests its compounds can modulate the body's inflammatory response and promote peak immune system performance.

  • Probiotics

    Gut-friendly bacteria are needed not only for a healthy digestive system but also for a robust immune system.

    Probiotics can be taken supplementally, or eat unsweetened yogurt with live cultures or drink kefir several times a week.

    Other cultured or fermented foods offer beneficial bacteria too.

  • Vitamin C, D, and E

    The immune system requires C to function, and D and E support immunity.

    Vitamin C aids the production of anti-stress hormones and immune system proteins, and stimulates production of infection-fighting white blood cells.

  • Zinc

    An essential mineral that promotes healthy immunity, zinc is found in every cell. Following zinc depletion, all kinds of immune cells show decreased function.

    Women need 8 milligrams (mg) of zinc a day and men need 11 mg. Pregnant or breastfeeding women need a bit more.

    If you feel yourself getting sick, lozenges containing zinc may help speed recovery from the common cold.

Immune-Boosting Foods

  • Almonds

    Not only are almonds a delicious part of many holiday meals and treats, but they also provide an all-natural dose of vitamin E that can support your body’s overall immune function.

  • Elderberry

    Available as a supplement, elderberry is antioxidant-rich and contains vitamin C, a known immune booster.

    Elderberries are also being studied for their potential to prevent flu viruses from taking hold. Click here to learn more about this immune-boosting ingredient.

  • Garlic

    That strong flavor comes from sulfur, which fights viruses and gives your immune system a healthy boost.

    Garlic enhances immune function to protect against infection and contains other substances (vitamin C, zinc) that support immune response.

  • Green Tea

    This superfood offers impressive health benefits including immune support, according to research.

    Sipping tea is a good way to lower stress and relax, but you can also take this as a supplement.

  • Oranges

    Oranges and other citrus fruits pack plenty of vitamin C, which helps fight infections.

  • Salmon

    Salmon is a great source of vitamin D, which enhances cells that battle viruses.

    Salmon is also a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost brain and overall health.

  • Yogurt

    Yogurt is a delicious snack or side that goes with many healthy foods.

    It’s also packed with immunity-boosting probiotic bacteria.

Adding Immune-Boosters to Your Diet

Incorporating nutritious foods and supplements doesn’t need to be hard. In fact, there are a handful of recipes that will help you do this naturally. Here’s one great example of a quick and yummy salmon dish.

For more on how to live a lifestyle that promotes immunity, check out this article for a plethora of healthy tips.

Click to See Our Sources

The 24-Hour Pharmacist by Suzy Cohen, RPh ($14.95, Collins, 2007)

“Eight Foods That Can Help You Stay Healthy This Cold and Flu Season” by Leslie Beck, Toronto Globe and Mail

“Essential Role of Vitamin C and Zinc in Child Immunity and Health” by S. Maggini et al., J Int Med Res

Green Immunity Boosters by James B. LaValle, RPh, CCN, ND ($8.95 Square One Publishers, 2009)

“Green Tea Consumption Is Inversely Associated with the Incidence of Influenza Infection Among Schoolchildren . . .” by M. Park et al., J Nutr

Personal communication: Brenda Watson, CNC

Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC ($12.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2010)

The Top 100 Immunity Boosters by Charlotte Haigh ($9.95, Duncan Baird Publishers, 2005)

“Zinc-Altered Immune Function” by K. H. Ibs and L. Rink, J Nutr