Even if you've already gotten your flu shot, it might still make you nervous when Ian from accounting comes to work with a suspiciously runny nose and cough. While you might be already bundling up and washing your hands thoroughly to prevent the spread of infection, you might not be getting enough of the vitamins that can boost your immune system this time of year. We asked experts what the best vitamins to take during flu season actually are, because there's a lot of vitamin info out there.
It turns out vitamins D3, A, and C are all very helpful in boosting your immunity. Combining these vitamins with zinc and probiotics, you’ve got yourself a good flu-fighting remedy, says certified holistic nutrition consultant and founder of Gut of Integrity Stephanie Papadakis. You’re likely to experience vitamin D deficiency during the winter because of a relative lack of sunlight to help your body supply you with the immune-system boosting vitamin. So, supplementing during flu season will help your body fortify itself against the virus, Papadakis says.
According to Dr. Melinda Ring, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, supplementing with vitamin D when you've got low levels can reduce your risk of infection by about 40%. And if you're the kind of person (like me) who tends to get pretty dry, hacking winter coughs, Ring tells Bustle that vitamin D might help your immune system reduce inflammation in your lungs.
In addition to supplements, Papadakis says that it’s important to eat foods rich in vitamins A and C. These antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress on your body and also help bolster your immune system. Papadakis recommends winter squash, sweet potato, kale, and carrots for your Vitamin A, and black currant, bell peppers, kiwi, guava, oranges, strawberries, kale, broccoli, and parsley for vitamin C. Ring tells Bustle that these kinds of vitamin-rich foods act as a form of “natural immune support” that can help your body prevent and fight infection year-round.
Getting enough zinc is also critical for maintaining a robust immune system. “There is some data that suggests that high-dose vitamin C (oral supplements) and zinc (in lozenge form, not nasal applications), when started early in an infection, may help decrease the duration and severity of cold symptoms,” Ring says. Zinc in particular reduces replication of cold viruses, she tells Bustle, which can be extra important during flu season. (Even though cold and flu viruses are different, getting both in the same season is an absolute nightmare that you definitely want to avoid.) To help make sure your body is getting the zinc it needs, Papadakis recommends turning to zinc-rich foods. These foods can include oysters, shellfish, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and organic soy, she says.
Papadakis also recommends integrating probiotic foods into your winter selection for optimal flu-fighting ability. “Probiotics not only support gut health by repopulating good bacteria,” she says. “They also extend beyond the gut barrier to influence and strengthen immune function throughout the body.” To get your probiotics in, Papadakis says turning to fermented foods is your best bet. Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, full-fat yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, natto, and traditional buttermilk are good sources of probiotics, she tells Bustle.
Even when you’re making sure to have all these vitamins and minerals, Ring says, it’s important to keep in touch with your physician. “People who are on medications that can deplete the body’s stores of vitamins may need additional support,” she tells Bustle, and chatting with your pharmacist or doctor can help you figure out the best way forward. If you’re not sure what effects your medications may have on your vitamin levels, it can be helpful to check in with your doctor. Because you deserve the best chances you can get against getting the flu, this year and every year.
Stephanie Papadakis, certified holistic nutrition consultant and founder of Gut of Integrity
Dr. Melinda Ring, executive director, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Northwestern University