You’re avoiding the worst foods for cold and flu season, right? And loading up on these immune-boosting foods? “But of course,” you reply. Nobody wants to get sick with a cough, headache, fever, runny nose, congestion, the works. To up your cold-and-flu protection game, follow this advice from nutritionists and health experts on the best supplements for colds and the flu you should load up on to keep you healthy and strong.
As always, consult with your doctor before adding any new vitamin or supplement to your diet. And worth remembering: “A healthy diet is the best way to maintain a strong immune system. But nutritional supplements are a convenient way to ensure that nutritional needs are met,” offers Karen Cooney, MA, CHHC, nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe.
Dosage: 1,000 IU vitamin D per day
“Vitamin D plays an essential role in helping your immune system fight off invaders before they develop into acute infections,” says nutritionist Bri Bell, RD, of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen. She recommends individuals get 1000 IU of vitamin D per day during the cooler months to ensure you’re getting enough year-round.
“A BMJ meta-analysis found that taking vitamin D supplements decreased the risk for respiratory infections,” Bell says. In lieu of a supplement, you can get the nutrient naturally in vitamin D-rich foods like mushrooms, egg yolks, fatty fish and products fortified with vitamin D, such as plant-based milk and cereals.
Dosage: 1 billion to 10 billion colony-forming units (CFU) probiotic supplement per day
There’s a reason so many health experts wax poetic on these guys. “One of the benefits of probiotics is that they help keep your gut healthy, which studies show may keep your immune system running better with an overall immune health plan,” says nutritionist Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. “Probiotics help create a healthy gut biome by supporting the good bacteria that we need in the gut.”
If you don’t like taking tablets, you can also look for natural sources of probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods.
Dosage: 75 milligrams zinc per day
“Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system including the innate (natural or inborn) immunity, neutrophils (white blood cells that fight pathogens, and NK (natural killer) cells. Macrophages—the body’s first-line defense system—can be [negatively] affected by zinc deficiency,” shares Donese Worden, NMD, Board-Certified Physician and Adjunct Faculty Member at Arizona State University. “Zinc lozenges taken within 24 hours of the first signs of cold symptoms may decrease the duration of the cold at greater than 75 milligrams per day for adults,” advises Worden, who says continuing to take a daily dose of 75 milligrams while you have a cold is ideal.
Also worth noting: “Due to insufficient evidence, there is no agreed-upon recommendation for taking zinc to prevent the cold. Even without the hard evidence I still recommend my patient to start the lozenges when they have been exposed or feel symptoms.” Some great foods for zinc? Shellfish, legumes, nuts, and eggs.
Dosage: 500 milligrams of turmeric per day
This potent root in the ginger family is well worth incorporating into your anti-cold-and-flu routine. “Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce all-over body inflammation, antibacterial and antiviral properties which help fight off colds and flu and it helps improve the immune system,” says functional and integrative medicine physician Yeral Patel, MD.
Let’s geek out on the deets as to why: “Clinical trials and research have shown that turmeric reduces inflammatory signals such as Nf kappa Beta. Upregulation of Nf kappa beta is seen with environmental toxins, pollutants, chemicals, physical, mechanical and psychological stress, elevated blood sugars, UV damage, radiation and smoking, Turmeric down-regulates Nf Kappa beta and thus decreases the inflammation in the body, improves both the immune system and the overall functioning of the cells in the body,” says Patel. He also notes that individuals should consult with physicians prior to use and that breastfeeding and pregnant women, as well as patients taking blood thinners, should avoid taking turmeric.
You can buy turmeric as an organic powder and take with black pepper to enhance absorption, or you can buy it fresh at the grocery store in the produce section. Patel recommends aiming for 500 milligrams per day.
Dosage: 80 grams of elderberry fruit, 50 grams of the more concentrated elderberry juice, or 5 grams of the most concentrated elderberry crystals daily
It may not be as common as other go-to’s in your flu-fighting arsenal, but there’s some evidence elderberry can help you. “Elderberry has phytochemicals that prevent viruses from entering human cells and stop them from replicating. Elderberry can also improve the immune system’s own Cytokines ability to communicate and respond,” explains registered holistic nutritionist Dana Remedios, RNCP, NNCP for health & wellness company Flora. “Studies show that elderberry inhibits the flu virus, reduces the length and severity of respiratory illness, modulates the body’s immune response, and blocks viral proteins.”
Dosage: 1,000 milligrams per day or consider taking 500 milligrams twice a day
We know you know, but we’d be remiss in not informing you of what a boon vitamin C is for your health during cold and flu season. If you’re not regularly eating vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, and kiwi galore take 500 mg per day of Vitamin C. “During a cold or infection take 1,000 milligrams per day. Or, consider taking 500 milligrams twice a day since the absorption of vitamin C decreases as you increase the dose. The upper tolerable intake for adults is 2,000 milligrams, children 9-13 is 1,200 milligrams and teens 14-18 is 1,800 milligrams,” shares Roseanne Schnell, CDN, a dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe.
“Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant. This vitamin contributes to immune defense by supporting a variety of cellular functions within the immune system. Vitamin C protects against environmental oxidative stress. Your vitamin C levels can decline rapidly during illness and emotional and physical stress. If you’re suffering from a vitamin C deficiency, it can result in an impaired immune system and puts you at risk to be more susceptible to infections.”
Dosage: 1 capsule daily or 4 drops oregano oil liquid
“Oregano oil is a powerful antimicrobial herb that fights infection. Use diluted and in small amounts for short periods of time as it can alter the gut microbiome,” comments Cooney. “A 2017 study found that oregano oil, especially from the leaves of an oregano plant, had strong antioxidant properties. The researchers noted the traditional use of oregano oil in treating fevers and respiratory symptoms, which are both associated with the flu. This is likely due to carvacrol, one of the main compounds in oregano oil. While carvacrol was more effective against certain viruses on its own, oregano oil was more effective against respiratory viruses, such as flu viruses.”