If you’re hoping to stay healthy through holiday parties, gift shopping, and time off with your family, you’ve got to show your immune system some serious love. Whether you just want to strengthen your defenses or already feel under the weather, these immune-boosting supplement combos are just what you need.
1. Elderberry & Echinacea
Both elderberry (otherwise known as Sambucus) and echinacea are prized for their ability to support a strong immune system. Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system and boost our number of white blood cells. Elderberry, meanwhile, contains tons of antioxidants called flavonoids—along with vitamin A, B vitamins, and vitamin C.
One study in Nutrients, for example, found that elderberry helps ward off the immune impairment that often comes with traveling. Meanwhile, a study published in Phytomedicine found echinacea to be helpful for those dealing with seasonal respiratory issues.
That’s why certified professional herbalist Melanie St. Ours, founder of Psyche & Soma herbal medicine practice and author of The Simple Guide to Natural Health, recommends taking echinacea and elderberry together at the first sign of immune trouble.
As soon as you start to feel under the weather, take one tablespoon of liquid elderberry extract or syrup three times a day and half a teaspoon of liquid echinacea extract every two hours. Or, look for tea that contains both herbs and drink a mugful every couple of hours.
2. Elderberry & Oil of Oregano
Elderberry also pairs well with another herbal all-star: oil of oregano. The oil of this Mediterranean herb contains a number of health-boosting phytochemicals, including antioxidants and a compound called thymol.
Oil of oregano’s powerful antioxidants and other compounds make it particularly helpful for keeping your immune system strong all winter long, says Alexandra Catalano, holistic nutritionist and creator of the popular lifestyle brand Eat Cute.
Consider this combo your go-to for staying healthy in the face of holiday travel and sick coworkers. Since oil of oregano has a very strong taste, Catalano recommends mixing three to five drops of oil of oregano extract into a tablespoon of sweetened elderberry syrup.
3. Echinacea Goldenseal & Oil of Oregano
Okay, technically this immune-boosting duo is a trio. Echinacea Goldenseal is a combo in itself! It combines the powers of echinacea and goldenseal (the root of an herb long used by Native Americans). These two herbs work together to boost the body’s natural defenses when under attack and support respiratory health.
Echinacea and goldenseal work beautifully with oil of oregano, which Catalano calls ‘an atomic bomb’ to cold season immune invaders.
Related: When A Cold Is Not Just A Cold
“I like to drink Echinacea Goldenseal tea with a few drops of oil of oregano, a tablespoon of Manuka honey, and fresh orange and lemon,” she says. If you don’t like the taste of oil of oregano, Catalano recommends mixing three to five drops of the oil into half a tablespoon of liquid Echinacea Goldenseal extract.
Vitamin D and zinc both play major roles in immune health. Getting enough of them throughout the colder months is key for keeping your system strong.
Vitamin D, which is technically a hormone and not a vitamin, helps your cells function optimally by boosting the immune function of certain cells and suppressing harmful cytokines produced by other cells. Zinc boosts immunity by supporting the function of macrophages, white blood cell warriors that fight illnesses. Consider the duo a potent power-up to your body’s front lines.
“Vitamin D essentially plays the long game, keeping the right cells strong and ready to fight,” says Arielle Levitan, M.D., author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. Extra zinc, on the other hand, can be especially helpful when your immune system is already in the trenches.
Levitan recommends most people take vitamin D year round. Dosage varies based on individual health conditions and climate, but typically lands somewhere between 800 and 1,200 IUs per day. When your immune system needs extra support, add 15 milligrams of zinc to the mix.
5. Manuka Honey & Camu Camu
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll have no problem getting behind this immune-loving combo. Manuka honey, a variety of honey native to New Zealand, is known for being high in antioxidants and a health-boosting compound called methylglyoxal. Meanwhile, Camu Camu, the fruit of an Amazonian shrub, contains almost 60 times more vitamin C than an orange.
“I love mixing these two ingredients to make a vitamin-packed throat coat that boosts my immune system,” Catalano says. “I mix a teaspoon of Camu Camu powder and a tablespoon of Manuka honey into hot water with lemon and ginger whenever I feel under the weather.”
You already know that probiotics (a.k.a. friendly bacteria) are crucial to your immune function. But certain strains can be especially helpful in bolstering your body’s defenses. “Lactobacillus reuteri, or L. reuteri, enhances the gut barrier, which is critical for maintaining good immune function and protecting against the less-friendly bacteria and viruses we are exposed to,” says Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.N., registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center. L. reuteri also supports the function of T cells. These immune cells identify bodily invaders (think viruses and bacteria) and tell the immune system to respond. Plus, they also support the function of dendritic cells, which act as messengers within our immune system.
Mushrooms, which have recently gained popularity in the health and wellness world, are perhaps best known for their immune-enhancing effects. Dixon personally loves AHCC (active hexose correlated compound), a fermented mushroom extract that’s been clinically studied for its immune benefits.
Dixon likes to use these two supplements together because they support the two major components of the immune system: the innate immune system (general defenses like skin and chemicals in our blood that immediately react to all invaders) and the adaptive immune system (slower but invader-specific defense mechanisms). While mushrooms support innate immunity, L. reuteri supports adaptive immunity.
By combining the two, you bolster your immune system in a holistic way. They’re especially helpful if you’re traveling during cold and flu season or starting to feel rundown, Dixon says.
AHCC supplements typically contain somewhere around 1,000 milligrams of the extract. If you can’t find L. reuteri on its own, look for a probiotic formula that contains the strain (like Ora Organic’s Trust Your Gut Vegan Probiotic & Prebiotic).
Pin this infographic for quick immune salvation: