Five foods and four nutritional supplements that can boost your immune system

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As humans, we share our environment with a multitude of microorganisms – bacteria, viruses, parasites – that are alien to us.

The body does its best to deal with these invaders using a complex process based on a number of factors.

But what can we as humans do to support our immune system?

With COVID-19 remaining a threat, you are probably thinking about ways to boost your own and your family’s immune system.

Many of us cram our pill boxes full of supplements, reach for cleansing drinks, and swallow more chewable vitamin C than you can shake with a flu shot – all in hopes that you won’t get sick.

Different colors and types of fruits and vegetables are important to provide useful nutrients for yourself and your family. Photo credit: Lew Robertson/Getty Images

The question is, does it all work? And does it work as well – or better than – things we could naturally do, like eat well, sleep well, wash our hands, and avoid cigarettes?

Experts recently suggested that the concept of “strengthening” the immune system may not be what the body needs.

Instead, a person should want their body to have the correct immune response when it is needed. This requires a balanced immune system.

In addition to well-known immune regulators, such as adequate physical activity and a healthy diet, these are the few foods and dietary supplements that can support the immune system.

Foods That Can Help Your Body Fight COVID-19, Cold, and Flu

1. Colorful fruits and vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables will boost your circulation of all of the cold and flu fighting nutrients that you want to include in pills like vitamins C, D, E, zinc, and selenium.

Different colors and types of fruits and vegetables are important to provide useful nutrients for yourself and your family.

2. Garlic

Garlic belongs to the allium family. Any member of this family, including onions and leeks, can help build your immunity to the diseases that are most common during the colder months.

A 2020 review of 33 studies found a list of whole foods that may reduce your risk of upper respiratory infections, and garlic cut the cut.

While studies were conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they still conclude the effectiveness of a healthy diet in disease prevention and healing.

3. Chicken soup

“Chicken noodle soup is good for the soul.”

We’ve all heard it before, but did you know it’s good for more than just that?

A study in CHEST magazine is probably the most extensive cited in articles and shows why chicken soup works for colds. It concluded that chicken soup can actually be a real cure for the common cold.

It provides fluid that we may need more of if we have COVID-19, a cold, or the flu. Also, hopefully chicken soup has carrots and onions in the recipe, which also boost the antioxidants.

It doesn’t hurt that it is delicious, especially for your kids!

A study in CHEST magazine is probably the most extensive cited in articles and shows why chicken soup works for colds. It concluded that chicken soup can actually be a real cure for the common cold.

Photo credit: Westend61/Getty Images

4. Whole grains

Eating whole grains (think intact grains like buckwheat, brown rice, and oats) helps healthy gut bacteria thrive. This process can help strengthen your immune system.

Whole grains are one of the foods recommended for consumption to support a strong immune system that can help fight COVID-19.

5. Fish oil (omega-3)

When you think of fighting COVID-19, a cold, or the flu, fish probably isn’t the first food you think of.

Maybe this thinking has to change.

A recent review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences finds that omega-3 fatty acids in food actually promote specific immune responses.

A recent review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences finds that omega-3 fatty acids in food actually promote specific immune responses.A recent review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences finds that omega-3 fatty acids in food actually promote specific immune responses. Photo credit: Iryna Veklich/Getty Images

If you are a smoker, a habit that severely limits your body’s ability to fight COVID-19 and seasonal illnesses like the common cold and flu, you should quit.

You can also use a healthy dose of fish oil each day to help you out. One study found that this could reduce nicotine cravings and the amount of cigarettes smoked daily.

You can get your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids by adding salmon, trout, and sardines to your diet, as well as plant sources like hemp seeds and walnuts.

Food supplements that can boost your immune system

1. Vitamin D

Even with a “perfect” diet it would be very difficult to get enough vitamin D because few foods provide enough of it.

Oily fish is probably the best source of vitamin D, followed by egg yolks and liver.

But the best source of vitamin D is UV radiation from the sun, which is absorbed through the skin.

A 2017 study by the British Medical Journal found that nutritional supplements are not only outside and safe in the sun, but can also protect against colds and flu.

Another study, conducted by the University of Chicago Medicine in 2021, found that elevated vitamin D levels above recommended levels can actually reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in the people studied.

2. zinc

A 2016 study found that zinc supplementation helped increase zinc levels and immunity in older adults.

Although you can get zinc from foods like sesame and pumpkin seeds, lentils, and turkey, the elderly population studied were more prone to ingesting insufficient amounts in their diet, making them more prone to infection.

Further studies have shown that zinc can shorten the duration of a cold.

Studies have shown that zinc can shorten the duration of a cold.Studies have shown that zinc can shorten the duration of a cold. Photo credit: Akaradech Pramoonsin/Getty Images

3. Probiotics

When it comes to building defenses against the cold and flu, start by building the army in your belly.

A 2017 animal study found that a specific gut microbe triggered by consuming flavonoids in tea, berries, and chocolate could help reduce the incidence of viral infections.

4. Vitamin C

Many studies have linked consuming larger doses of vitamin C to lowering the common cold and COVID-19 by reducing inflammation in the lungs.

In addition, the vitamin offers an increased ability to fight infections.

Remember, however, that consuming megadoses of vitamin C can cause diarrhea and stomach upset.

While it is most likely safe to ingest the tablets and powdered sachets, try not to burst them all day long. The upper tolerable limit for adults is 2000 mg.

Bottom line

In addition to dietary factors, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, getting enough sleep, regular physical activity, and good hand washing are all vital in the fight against COVID-19, the cold virus, and the flu.

Supplements work best when you need higher doses like vitamin C, or when you’re trying to get a nutrient that your body has difficulty getting from food, like vitamin D.

However, you should most likely avoid the various cleansings and vitamin combinations that promise a cure for infections beyond washing your hands properly.

As with most things that help reduce the risk of infection, chronic illness, and premature death, it’s not one thing that the “miracle cure” offers, but a variety of good lifestyle choices that make all the difference.

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