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Supplements to Help with Immune Function

Read on to find out which botanicals I use to help boost my immune system!

Why should you supplement?

As a dietitian, my dream would be for food to have the adequate nutrients needed to promote health and radiance. And while food is usually first in my tool box, there is only so much we can expect from our diet to provide. New research is showing that staple crops, such as rice, will become less nutritious as time progresses due to climate change. It's also important to know that the current RDA guidelines are meant for disease prevention, rather than focusing on health promotion. That means that by following the RDA for nutrients you will be at low risk for disease, however you may not be at optimal health. For these reasons, I support the use of specific supplement use to help individuals feel their best. Here are ones I usually recommend:

A Good Multivitamin- Humans used to have a wide variety in their diet due to being hunters and gatherers. We would stay in one location, find what we could, and move on. With the advent of farming, we now have staple crops that make up a large portion of our intake. Getting variety into our diet may be difficult, and therefore getting adequate nutrition may be difficult. A good multivitamin covers all our bases to make sure our nutrient needs are being met. Looking at the dosage of a multivitamin will be important as you want to get the most bang for your buck, while making sure there aren't any unnecessary fillers.

Vitamin C- Vitamin C is extremely popular for its immune boosting effects. It's also an important anti-oxidant. In times of illness, our body's response to pathogens can leave oxidative damage in its wake due to cytokine response, which is happening with COVID19. Think of a war scene- just because the good guys win doesn't mean there were no casualties. Vitamin C comes in to help us clean up the war front and get us back into fighting shape. High doses of this vitamin, up to 10 g/day, have been found to shorten the duration of viruses such as the cold. However, these levels may also lead to gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Zinc- This element is essential to our immune system in its way that it affects both the innate immune system (basophils, macrophages, etc) and the adaptive immune response (T cells, B cells). Without zinc, we can not have a functioning immune system. Zinc has also been found to prevent the immune system from going too far in its fighting power, which is what's happening in some COVID19 patients- its not the virus necessarily that is causing death but the immune system going into overdrive in some instances. The current RDA for zinc is set at 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for me. Zinc toxicity is possible, with a tolerable upper level of 40 g/day.

Vitamin D- known for making our bones healthy, this vitamin has its hand in an inordinate amount of cell processes that maintain our health. From DNA synthesis to mood and mental health, Vitamin D is a powerhouse for basic life functions. Unfortunately, the main source is from the sun, which is not abundant in certain parts of the world for many months at a time. During the winter, I feel more lethargic, my nails aren't has strong, and immunity lessens. I always wondered "could it be a lack of Vitamin D?". As soon as a I started supplementing during the colder months I noticed that I became ill less frequently and the winter blues weren't nearly as bad. It should be noted that Vitamin D may increase receptors for ACE2, which is how COVID19 enters the cell. However, ACE2 receptors in the body as a whole increase as well, theorizing that COVID19 will attach to the non cell receptors of ACE2, preventing it from entering a cell and infecting the host. Overall the beneficially effects of Vitamin D may outweigh this possibly issue.

Black Elderberry Syrup- Created from black elderberries, this nutraceutical is packed with immune boosting properties. Studies have shown black elderberry to shorten the duration of viruses such as the flu and cold (which can have upper respiratory symptoms) but decreasing viral load and uptake. While we don't yet have research on the effect of black elderberry on COVID19, this supplement is a very well known antiviral. However, if you are an endurance athlete you may want to stay away; One study found that supplementing with black elderberry increased inflammatory response in participants.

Astragalus- The active component of astragalus, astrogaloside, has been found to have a multitude of health benefits ranging from the heart to the lungs. Research found that astragalus attenuates the inflammation in Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), helping calm the storm in these individuals. Non pregnant individuals can be taken in pill form.

While supplements are not the only aspect of health that I rely on to help my immune system (sleep is important!), I feel that they have definitely impacted me in a positive way. Always consult a medical professional before starting any supplements if you are already taking prescription medications.


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