With the coronavirus pandemic still affecting nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives, and without a definitive end in sight, most people are looking for ways to support their health, especially ahead of the winter months. Two simple strategies: proper nutrition and smart supplementation.
“The vitamins, minerals, and nutrients (including your macronutrients) that you consume play a vital role in ensuring that your immune system has the building blocks it needs to function properly,” explains says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D.
You probably already know about certain immune-supporting vitamins, such as vitamin C. However, drinking more OJ is not the only way to optimize your health during the winter months.
Here are some of the supplements doctors recommend taking this winter to support your inner defenses and overall health.
1. Vitamin D
Most of us get vitamin D when we’re exposed to the sun. But if you live in northern regions, where the winter is super-cold and the sun not as strong, you may get less than the recommended 15 micrograms (600 IU) of vitamin D per day.
That’s a big deal, since research (including one 2018 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine) shows that vitamin D can play a pivotal role in helping the body protect itself. Plus, a recent study published in JAMA Network Open discovered that low vitamin D levels may increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
In addition to helping support our immune system, vitamin D also helps our mood during the winter months and beyond, notes naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C.
2. Vitamin C
No surprise vitamin C made the list of supplements doctors recommend taking this winter. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has long been linked to immune health. In addition to showing that vitamin C supports the body’s response, research (including one published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease) has also linked C to a healthier balance of stress hormones.
Along with eating vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwi, orange, and red bell peppers, Rose recommends supplementing with at least 1,000 milligrams per day in the wintertime. If feeling under the weather, you can increase that to 5,000 milligrams per day for up to a week.
Zinc is involved in many systems in the body, including immunity, growth, and cognitive development. “This mineral increases white blood cell production and keeps the immune system primed so that when you’re exposed to a pathogen, your immune system is ready to seek and destroy,” says Rose.
That said, falling short can spell trouble for your inner defenses. Deficiency is especially common in vegans, vegetarians, and those with digestive issues, she explains. Plus, recent research published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology suggests ample zinc may be particularly important in this current season.
During the colder months, Rose recommends taking 10 to 15 milligrams of zinc daily. Just know that supplementing with zinc for more than a month or so can contribute to copper deficiency.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to myriad health benefits. They aid in the functioning of the heart, blood vessels, endocrine system, and immune system, explains Rose. You can score omega-3 fatty acids from foods like fish, nuts, and seeds like flax.
“At a minimum, individuals should aim for 500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA per day,” Rose says. So, pending what your plate looks like, “supplementation with omega-3s is convenient and allows you to obtain therapeutic dosage ranges,” she says.
While not an actual nutrient itself, experts say elderberry is a must-have supplement during the winter months. “Elderberry contains high amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C and polyphenols,” says Friedman. Research published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies suggests elderberry extract supports the body’s response to common viruses.
While there is no standard dose of elderberry, 15 milliliters (one tablespoon) has been shown to be beneficial, according to research published in the Journal of International Medical Research. “Take one tablespoon of elderberry four times daily for three to five days,” Friedman says.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, which is made from fermented apples, has been used as a remedy for all sorts of ailments for thousands of years and is still hailed today. Thanks to that fermentation process, ACV contains helpful bacteria, enzymes, and acids. For this reason, it’s one of the supplements doctors, like Friedman, recommend taking this winter.
To incorporate ACV into your own immune health routine, mix one-part apple cider vinegar with five-parts warm water and sip daily. “If you don’t like the taste of vinegar, you can try dehydrated tablets,” says Friedman. “There is no established dosage, but I recommend 1,500 milligrams per day to my patients.”
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera), is derived from the fruit or leaf of a shrub known for immune, stress, and sleep support, says certified nutritionist Liana Werner-Gray, C.N., author of The Earth Diet, Cancer-Free with Food. “This herb is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body respond to stress,” she explains.
In fact, one Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine study found that ashwagandha helped adults ward off feelings of stress and anxiety.
While there’s no official recommendation for the best amount of ashwagandha to take daily, Werner-Gray recommends adding 250-500 milligrams of loose powder to smoothies, shakes, soups, or hot water per day.