NFM Secret Shopper: I’m confused about what’s best to boost my immunity. Is it zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, elderberry or something else?
Retailer: Any of those can help with immunity, but it depends on when you take them. Vitamin C is good for when you already have a cold, but if you eat your fruits and veggies, you probably don’t need to take a vitamin C supplement all the time. Same with zinc and elderberry. But vitamin D is a supplement you might need every day, depending on your levels.
NFM: That makes sense. Any other supplements you’d recommend, especially for cold and flu season?
Retailer: Garlic is popular and seems to work pretty well for immunity.
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Our expert educator: Yufang Lin, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine
Immunity is very complex. As an integrative practitioner, I look at the whole picture, so the first things I suggest are getting enough sleep, hydrating well and eating healthy. As for specific foods that boost immunity, garlic and ginger are both antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral. You can use them in your day-to-day cooking, but if you are getting sick, definitely step up your intake, whether through food or supplements. Ginger, which is also anti-inflammatory, can also be made into tea.
There is data showing that both vitamin C and zinc support the immune system when you are sick. They are particularly useful in the first few days of illness, as they can reduce the duration and severity. But use these supplements only as needed, not on a long-term basis.
Elderberry is a diuretic, so if you are running a fever, it can help you sweat it out. Another supplement, echinacea, revs up the immune system, so it is great for fighting off a cold or even for the early stages of the flu. The problem with echinacea is it can stimulate the immune system too much, which is bad if you have an autoimmune disease. But for most people, it can be very helpful, but take it only for three to five days.
Vitamin D is a hormone so it generally has many benefits—for mood, bone health and immune support. But it is more for day-to-day care, not to start taking once you get sick.