Every year it’s the same. When some bug goes around the office, you end up catching it. Or, your kids bring home a virus from school. No matter the source, if you seem to get sick a lot, it can leave you feeling drained and frustrated and looking for a reprieve.
Taking care of our immune system is a multifaceted task. Taking dietary supplements can be helpful, but they’re just one piece of the puzzle. Together, we’ll talk about how the immune system functions and what you can do to support it, including which supplements are most supportive of your immune function.
What Is The Immune System?
The immune system is your body’s defense system. It’s a network of cells, organs and even microbes that identifies bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses and other pathogens and eliminates them, or keeps them out of our bodies, to help keep us well.
It also determines whether external stressors (like poisonous plants or chemicals) are hazardous and works to neutralize their effects if we come in contact with them. Lastly, it works internally to prevent disease-causing cells, such as cancer cells, from proliferating.
Our immune system works hard every day, and we don’t even notice it. But when our immune system’s performance is compromised, it may not be able to defend against illness.
There are three important parts of the immune system.
The skin is the body’s first line of defense. The skin barrier keeps bacteria, germs, viruses, and other harmful substances outside our bodies. Microflora living on the skin (the skin’s microbiome) is in constant contact with the gut microbiome, which is another integral part of the immune system.
Your gut microbiome consists of healthy bacteria that can help identify the good guys (beneficial bacteria) from the bad, and then signal to other parts of the immune system. Additionally, your gut bacteria help with nutrient absorption. This means that without your gut microbiome, you might not get the full array of nutrients your body needs to have a healthy immune response.
Circulating armies of white blood cells within our bodies locate intruders and fight off foreign invaders.
It might surprise you to know that about 70 to 80% of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut — so making sure our gut health is well-supported is vital for supporting our immune health.
What Are the Signs of a Weakened Immune System?
Catching a few colds a year that pass in about a week isn’t necessarily a sign of a weakened immune system. In fact, it could be a sign of a bustling immune system working to keep you well against your busy schedule and bustling life. However, if you have more than three colds per year, it could be a sign that your immune system is weakened.
- Digestive issues. Because a large part of your immune system resides in the gut, experiencing digestive issues (like gas, bloating, and constipation) can be a symptom of an imbalance in your gut health.
- Feeling fatigued. If you’re getting plenty of sleep and still feeling tired, your body could be conserving its energy to supply your immune system with the fuel it needs to function.
Further, in cases of an autoimmune condition (when the body's natural defense system can't tell the difference between its own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack its own healthy cells and tissues), one might experience symptoms such as:
- Increased sensitivity to cold. In some cases, the immune system malfunctions and attacks the thyroid. This can result in symptoms like cold extremities.
- Dry eyes. Another symptom of immune deficiency can be dry eyes, but it’s worth noting that this may be related to autoimmune disorders.
- Headaches. Frequent headaches can be caused by stress, dehydration, and imbalanced immunity.
- Rashes and achy joints. When you experience issues with your skin, it can mean there’s a deeper cause. Both rashes and aching joints can be symptoms of an autoimmune condition.
If you suspect your immune response isn’t as healthy as it can be, you can take steps to support it, including taking a supplement.
Which Supplements Are Best for Your Immune System?
There are tons of supplements on the market that claim to support a healthy immune system. We’ll only cover the ones that are proven to support your immune defenses and contribute to your healthy lifestyle.
Nature-made and doctor-approved, vitamin C is the OG of immune-supporting vitamin supplements — and with good reason. It is necessary for numerous immune cell functions and also helps support the epithelial barrier (the lining of the intestines) where your gut flora lives.
Vitamin D is important for our bone health, but it’s also important for our immunity. In fact, vitamin D receptors are located in almost every immune cell in the body.
The problem with vitamin D, especially vitamin D3, is that it’s not very bioavailable. Taking it with a zinc supplement helps your body absorb it better.
While you can get vitamin D from a multivitamin or gummy vitamin, you can also get it from dietary sources like fatty fish, egg yolks, and beef liver. If you’re having trouble getting enough vitamin D, it may be worth seeing a dietitian to optimize your diet.
Elderberry and Echinacea
Both black elderberry and echinacea have been staples in holistic medicine for decades, but what does the research say? It says that our holistic forerunners were right.
Elderberry helps alleviate cold symptoms an average of four days faster. Echinacea helps support proper oxygenation in the blood, making it a perfect post-workout immune booster. It also helps reduce the length of time you’ll experience symptoms from an upper respiratory infection.
Astragalus is an herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since ancient times. In some studies, it has shown a promising ability to modulate immune cells. It’s beneficial for alleviating symptoms associated with the common cold and is loaded with protective antioxidants.
You can find astragalus in our Restore Turmeric Superblend. This gluten-free superblend combines the health benefits of curcumin, a powerful antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory substance, with astragalus and ashwagandha to support the immune system. And, if you want to experience all of this herbal goodness in chocolate form, check out our Defend Functional Chocolate.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that live in our body and keep us healthy. These aren’t to be confused with prebiotics, which are types of fiber that act as food for your probiotics.
We can ingest additional probiotics through supplements or probiotic-rich foods, which further support healthy levels of good bacteria in the gut. Think of taking a probiotic supplement or eating a probiotic food like sending in the troops. You’ll be supplying fresh, beneficial bacteria to your gut, which in turn helps support your immunity.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, which means it can help regulate your body’s natural stress response. This alone helps give it immune-supportive properties because managing stress is vital to your immune function.
There’s more. Ashwagandha has immunomodulating properties. Specifically, it helps increase white blood cells in the body, ensuring you have plenty of protection against foreign invaders.
You can find ashwagandha in our Focus Matcha Superblend, which combines lion’s mane mushroom, matcha and moringa for antioxidant support and promoting overall wellness. You can also find this ingredient in our Defend and Restore Superblends, as well as our Balance Functional Chocolate.
Not only is ginger a great source of antioxidants, it’s also great for gut health. Ginger helps support healthy digestion and also works as a natural therapy for treating coughs and congestion.
You can find ginger in our Restore Superblend, along with turmeric, cinnamon, astragalus, and black pepper.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom has immunomodulatory effects. In some early studies, lion’s mane enhanced both cell-mediated and humoral immunity, two types of immune responses that send out specific immune cells (B cells and T cells) when an antigen is identified. Researchers believe that this is because lion’s mane helps regulate gut health. Lion’s mane is rich in beta-glucans, which act as prebiotic fibers to help nourish gut flora.
You can find lion’s mane mushroom in our Defend Functional Chocolate, which also features antioxidant-rich cacao, as well as astragalus for added immune support and stress support. You can also find lion’s mane in our Focus and Defend Superblends.
Another mushroom that can help boost your immunity is the mighty reishi, aka, the Queen of Mushrooms. Reishi mushrooms are adaptogenic, so they can help balance the body’s stress response in a similar way as ashwagandha. Reishi is one of the broadest-acting immunomodulating botanicals and has been studied for its antiviral activities.
You can find reishi mushroom in our Balance Functional Chocolate, which also features ashwagandha and cacao to support a balanced stress response, as well as our Zen Functional Chocolate, Defend Superblend, and Calm Superblend.
How Else Can You Support Your Immune System?
In addition to taking a high-quality, well-researched supplement, there are a few lifestyle hacks that can help you support your immune system and boost your health as a whole.
Eat A Balanced Diet
If your diet could use a little work, now is a great time to start. Avoiding excess sugar and heavily processed foods in lieu of nutrient-rich whole foods with immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, can help. Berries, salmon, matcha, and pine pollen are all good sources of nutrients that also have functional health benefits.
Hydration is also important to ensure cells are fully hydrated and able to function properly.
Exercise is part of a balanced lifestyle, but the type of exercise you do and how long you perform the exercise matters to your immune system. Studies show, for instance, that short periods of moderate exercise support immune function.
Conversely, long periods of exercise or exceptionally strenuous activity (think: running a marathon or lifting heavy weight for a long period of time) can cause your immune system to weaken for a short period of time post-exercise.
No one in the history of time has ever found themselves less stressed by simply hearing the words, “Don’t be so stressed,” but hey — don’t be so stressed!
Managing your stress levels can help support your immune system, which can tank during periods of intense or chronic stress. Not only does stress reduce the number of white blood cells in the body responsible for defending against illness and infection — it also suppresses the good bacteria in our gut, home to around 70% of our immune system.
Get Consistent Sleep
Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night and practicing good self-care. During deep sleep, your body releases cytokines, proteins that aid in infection and inflammation control.
These little helpers are like the generals of your immune army, guiding it to fight off threats effectively. So, when you hit the hay, you're basically sending in the reinforcements to keep your immune system strong and ready to rock!
Another hack? Try taking an adaptogen. Adaptogens (like rhodiola, ashwagandha, and reishi mushroom) can help rebalance your body’s stress response and support balanced immune function.
The Bottom Line
Your immune system may seem like it’s on the fritz, but you can fix it with the help of powerful supplements and a few lifestyle changes. As a reminder, to make sure that you implement the supplements and overall regimen that’s right for you, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider before making any big lifestyle changes.
If you’re looking for an easy, delicious, and convenient way to add some of these immune-boosting supplements to your day, check out JOYÀ’s Functional Superblend Powders and Functional Chocolates. Our meticulously formulated and chef-crafted supplements and foods are packed with nutrition and immune-supportive ingredients to help keep you well and allow you to thrive.