In today’s fast-paced, multi-tasking culture, resilience is the name of the game. Yet, a fast-paced, multi-tasking approach to eating and living is precisely what can chip away at our reserves and create stress– perceived and unperceived– on our bodies. A weakened immune system is often a consequence of this. Although I’m 100% supportive of getting all of one’s essential needs from whole foods, modern living leaves most of us deficient in some key vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. Here are some basic supplements that can support your immune system and help you build back your resilience:
- Vitamin D: this vitamin is essential in boosting the immune system in fighting infectious diseases as well as cancerous cells, by supporting T-regulatory cells. Studies show that most people are deficient in this vitamin. Vitamin D is made in our skin cells from UV exposure or obtained through natural fats; but most people do not get enough through sun or food. Moreover, inflammation and fat accumulation, older age, and other factors can further decrease active vitamin D. Most primary care providers will check your blood levels if you ask; it is not actually necessary in most cases, but is helpful to monitor in those who have weakened immunity. I recommend the average adult take 2000-5000IU of D3 daily with meals. Those with chronic inflammatory conditions usually need much higher doses for a specified time period before going back down to maintenance doses.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: these essential fats help your immune system to keep the pro-inflammatory chemicals in check, and the fat-soluble vitamins contained in fish oil act as antioxidants. Omega-3’s in food come in the form of either vegetarian (ex: flax seed oil, greens like purslane, marine algae) or fish oil. For non-vegetarians, fish oil supplements are the better option because they have a significantly higher percentage of the omega-3’s, DHA and EPA, that our bodies can utilize. Cod liver oil (vs. just plain ‘fish oil’) contains higher amounts of fat-soluble vitamins/antioxidants. Check labels and make sure your brand screens for environmental contaminants (mercury, PCBs). The recommended dose of this varies (ex: during pregnancy, nursing, or high inflammatory conditions to 6-10g daily), but the usual recommendation is 2-4g daily, also taken with meals. For vegetarians, supplementation with marine algae will provide the beneficial omega-3s your body can use.
- Probiotics: these are supplements or foods that contain beneficial bacteria for our intestines. Gut flora help us maintain a strong intestinal barrier, which filters what comes into our bodies and what doesn’t. Also, gut microorganisms communicate with our immune cells (gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT) to teach them what is foreign and what is not. Look for probiotic supplements with a CFU count of ~2 billion for general maintenance (higher doses may be recommended by a health care practitioner). Or better yet, get your probiotics from naturally fermented foods like the many generations before us. Fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kim chi also enhance digestion, so eat those up!
- Magnesium: this mineral is involved in over 300 biochemical processes in our bodies, and imbalances in Mg have been implicated in depressed immune responses, insomnia, high blood pressure, muscle dysfunction, and constipation, just to name a few. Mg is a cofactor that works within our cells, so most deficiencies are missed by checking blood levels of Mg. Most people can benefit from a daily dosage of 400-600 mg of Mg; if you have kidney problems, however, any of such supplements should be monitored closely. Mg glycinate and Mg citrate are easily absorbed forms; try the former if you are prone towards diarrhea, and the latter if you’re prone towards constipation. Mg glycinate correlates with better intracellular levels of Mg. You can also get Mg by soaking in a bath with Epsom salts– a great way to relax from a full day.