by Carolyn Meers
As we all work to stay healthy in the face of a global pandemic, strengthening our immune system is more of a priority than ever before. But how can you do so naturally?
Here, we discuss why some popular immunity supporting supplements might be better found in your diet than in pill form, and which herbs (and mushrooms) can provide natural, powerful protection against infection and viruses.
Vitamin C and Zinc: Easy Ways to Get Them From Your Daily Diet
While both vitamin C and zinc are frequently recommended immunity-boosters, their prevalence in a range of foods makes it easy to work them into your daily diet without additional supplements.
A significant amount of research — including this study from 2017 — has found that vitamin C “contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system.” Adults should aim to get between 72 and 90 milligrams of vitamin C each day and to not exceed 2,000 milligrams.
But take note: It’s best to keep your levels of vitamin C consistent through diet instead of spiking your intake via powders and pills when you feel a cold coming on.
“It's better to get vitamin C from food, because you also get other important nutrients,” advised Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in an article from the Harvard Health Letter. “Eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day for general health, and you'll get enough vitamin C.”
Here are a few foods rich in vitamin C to deliver your daily dose, fast:
- Sweet potatoes
- Red cabbage
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard spinach
- Yellow peppers
Health benefits of taking vitamin c
While taking Vitamin C has plenty of nutritional benefits, there are some that are important and could help your daily routine.
This 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that higher vitamin C intakes could be associated with lower wrinkles in the skin, dryness, and an overall better skin-aging appearance.
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C could potentially help and protect against damage caused by harmful molecules also known as free radicals. Some conditions that are affected by the build-up of these compounds include arthritis, and cardiovascular issues.
However, studies note that a good vitamin C intake could help. This 2018 study reported that the consumption of this antioxidant was associated with reducing the risk of specific cardiovascular issues.
Other users have reported feeling more energized while taking supplements like vitamin C or D. However for a lab-certified supplement that uses natural extracts, we think you’ll love our FOCL Day supplement.
This powerful blend uses lion’s mane and 4 other herbal extracts that can help by giving you energy and the clear-headed focus you might need. The premium hemp CBD included in the supplement also help the mind and body to stay focused but also relaxed.You can read more about the herbal extracts, and concentration and mood regulation wellness effects, over here.
Zinc plays a key role , including cellular metabolism, immune function and wound healing. Like vitamin C, zinc cannot be stored in the body, and you must ingest steady levels of the mineral from outside sources.
The recommended daily dose is between 8 and 11 milligrams and can be gained from the following foods:
- Shellfish (oysters, crabs and mussels)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pine nuts
- Dark chocolate
What are the health benefits of taking zinc
Zinc has plenty of health benefits, including boosting the immune system and accelerating the healing of wounds.
The first one helps as cells need zinc for their function and signaling other cells. The proper intake of zinc could lead to a stronger immune response.
Some reviews and studies, like this 2017 one, demonstrated that a healthy dose of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by about 33 percent.
Other studies like this one showed that zinc ions are indispensable for immune function, making supplement taking a must for patients that need a boost in their system. This is especially important for older adults, as it can reduce the risk of infections and promote system response.
Lastly, as zinc plays such an important role in collagen synthesis, it is necessary for proper wound healing. In this study, the mineral was helpful to treat diabetic foot ulcers and help with a 200mg dose when compared to the placebo group.
Some users have also reported sleeping better while taking zinc at night.
Five Immunity-Boosting Herbs and Supplements
In addition to the vitamin C and zinc readily available in foods, there are a number of powerful natural herbs that support a range of immune functions and can help strengthen the body’s response to infections and viruses that are not typically in the average diet.
This flowering herb is touted as having the ability to lessen the duration and intensity of cold symptoms. Plus, it is rich in anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants. It also supports the production of white blood cells, which help fight infection and protect against viruses.
What does echinacea do
Besides being an incredible plant loaded with fiber, it has two compounds that help with your day-to-day function. The first one is the use of antioxidants, which can help your cells defend against oxidative stress.
This means it could potentially help to boost your immune system. Some of the antioxidants that could help are flavonoids, cichoric acid, and even rosmaniric acid, as this 2015 review noted.
The second group of compounds that helps with the overall boosting of antioxidants is called alkamides. These compounds can help renew worn-out antioxidants, giving them a new life. So in simpler terms, these compounds boost antioxidants to work better in your body and perform better.
Does echinacea boost the immune system?
Short answer, yes. Echinacea can be a powerful ally to help you combat several infections and viruses.
For example, this 2007 study provided insights into how herbal extracts of this plant could help the immune system in mice. In particular, the study mentioned that it could help modulate the immune responses and even have anti-inflammatory potential.
We’ll explore how this plant can help the immune system, as it can modulate the immune responses and improve the overall immune system communication.
How does echinacea help the immune system?
Now let’s delve deeper into how immune enhancement from echinacea works. This 2004 study reported that using a root extract could enhance the immune system response by reducing the regulatory T cell number and function.
This means it can help by modulating and regulating the response of the system but also actively reducing the T cell number. This could potentially help other ailments in the future, but more studies are needed to use it in clinical treatments.
Native to North America, elderberry has gained popularity for its reported immune-modulating, antioxidant, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties.
A study out of Australia’s University of Sydney suggests that the herb has considerable antiviral benefits as well. "What our study has shown is that the common elderberry has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu virus," noted lead researcher Dr. Golnoosh Torabian.
“It inhibits the early stages of an infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells."
How does elderberry support the immune system?
Elderberry has several ways of supporting your immune system. The first one and maybe the easiest one to talk about is their high antioxidant content.
This newcomer superfood is high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, phenolic acids, and even flavonols. These last two are known for being anti-inflammatory and antiviral on their own, which leads to the second way elderberry supports your system.
Elderberry extracts have been shown to help thanks to their antiviral properties.This 2017 review reported that its antiviral properties could be helpful towards respiratory diseases and ailments, such as influenza.
Further studies are required to incorporate the superfood into clinical treatment, but so far, elderberry has shown positive results in general.
Flavorful? Yes, but nutrient-rich shiitake mushrooms are also a potent source of immune-supporting elements including B vitamins, vitamin D, free-radical neutralizing selenium, niacin and seven essential amino acids.
What health benefits do shiitake mushrooms have
These Japanese fungi are full of nutrients and wellness effects. Some of the most important health benefits we found are their antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects. Other wellness effects also include strengthening your bones.
Mushrooms are one of the biggest vitamin D sources that do not come from animal origins, so besides a possible allergy, they can fit any lifestyle.
That could be beneficial for bone-strengthening, as when these mushrooms are grown with UV light they can have longer quantities of this antioxidant.
Shiitake mushroom & the immune system
As we stated above, the real hero supporting the immune system with this kind of mushroom is the polysaccharides called lentinans.
These compounds basically help by boosting the blood cell production to fight off bacterial infections and microbes in general.
Polysaccharides also have anti-inflammatory properties that could support your immune response. This 2005 review also talks about the overall antiviral and anti-inflammatory wellness effects of shiitake fungi, helping with cell signaling and the swelling in certain areas.
These mushrooms are also commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine and herbal treatments for inflammation and boosting your immune system.
Think of maitake mushrooms as an additional kick-starter for the body’s immune response.
This mushroom stokes the activity of the body’s immune cells, particularly helper T cells. Helper T cells stimulate virus-fighting B cells to make antibodies and help killer T cells develop. Killer T cells attack cells that have been infected by a viral invader.
Maitake mushroom immune system
While less known than other mushrooms, this one can mostly help the immune system by boosting the production of certain proteins and protein moderators.
By boosting the production of lymphokines, it can help the system to have a quicker response. And through the production of interleukins (secreted proteins) can improve the overall anti-body production.
The other compound that could be helpful is known as beta-glucan. Especially when used with vitamin D. So, while this impacts a specific ailment, it can help boost your overall immune response.
Reishi mushrooms are anti-inflammatory powerhouses — they battle inflammation often caused by an infection. They also help accelerate the production of white blood cells that rev up the body’s anti-tumor response.
Plus, this mushroom, also known as Ganoderma lucidum, helps fend off fatigue.
Reishi for the immune system
While there is still much research to be done, one of the most important effects of the reishi mushroom is boosting the immune system.
This 2005 review noted that the mushroom promotes the function of cellular and humoral immunity. That could mean that thanks to its properties, it can help the molecular and cellular mechanisms to efficiently trigger signaling.
Another noticeable effect is how this mushroom can potentially help fight certain infections thanks to the increased and improved lymphocyte function.
This 2008 study about athletes exposed to stressful conditions noted that it could aid health by elevating white blood cell production (lymphocytes).
For a comprehensive combo of all these natural immunity boosters — plus a dose of system-enhancing premium hemp CBD grown in the New Mexico Valley — add FOCL Immunity to your daily routine.
For more on how to boost your body’s immunity and keep your mind and body resilient, check out FOCL’s blog posts 5 Ways to Be Resilient During Tough Times and 4 Wellness Tips to Keep You Healthy All Year Round.
Carolyn Meers is an editor and copywriter based in Los Angeles. She has more than a decade of experience in the luxury lifestyle realm, specializing in health and wellness. She has contributed to publications including CSQ, C Magazine, Robb Report, 805 Living and The Knot.