As the COVID-19 pandemic continues nearly two years later, people have been searching for new ways to take control of their healthcare routines to support their overall wellness.
Duffy MacKay, N.D.
Senior Vice President, Dietary Supplements, Consumer Healthcare Products Association
This interest in self-care has led to increased interest in immune-strengthening strategies, including the use of dietary supplements aimed to optimize immune function.
While there are no supplements that can prevent or treat COVID, a combination of healthy lifestyle practices and the responsible use of science-backed supplements can keep the immune system functioning at its best. A weakened immune system cannot fully protect your health and help you fight back against any germs you may encounter.
In addition to taking preventive steps like washing your hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing, other important immune-strengthening activities include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
Evidence suggests that despite our best intentions to eat right and exercise, life’s daily stressors often get in our way.
Many Americans face nutrition gaps in areas that directly support immune function. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates more than 90 percent are deficient in vitamin D, which is often linked to a stronger immune system. And while vitamin D can be obtained through sunlight, many people are staying indoors as a result of the pandemic.
Furthermore, vitamin D isn’t naturally prevalent in many foods, making dietary supplements a prudent choice to meet the daily recommended intake. This is especially important throughout the pandemic, as several recent studies associated sufficient vitamin D levels to less severe cases of COVID-19.
Other science backed ingredients that are important for the immune system include:
- Vitamin C, an essential vitamin that acts as an antioxidant to support the body’s natural immune defenses
- Vitamin E, a fat soluble antioxidant that plays a role in antibody production and natural killer cell activity
- Selenium, an essential mineral that supports innate and adaptive immunity
- Zinc, an essential mineral with antiviral and antimicrobial activity
- Omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that are important mediators of inflammation and immune function
There are many other science-backed supplements outside of these that fill nutrition gaps that may help support your immune system response. For example, herbs like elderberry and echinacea have been extensively studied for immune health, and emerging categories like probiotics are demonstrating how gut health is directly tied to immune health.
Despite perpetuated myths, supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are often subjected to third-party and retailer quality review.
If you are exploring new ways to support your health, do your research and speak with your doctor or pharmacist to help find the right supplement(s) for you.