My son just got over a nasty upper respiratory infection/ear infection double-whammy, his first of this winter season. So far my husband has had a couple of minor colds, and I’ve managed to avoid being sick completely. This is such a huge change from last year, when it felt like all 3 of us were sick all winter.
In fact, my son had such a horrible, nagging cough last winter that I took him to the doctor several times. We did X-rays, allergy tests, and asthma tests, but all the tests came back negative. The cough didn’t clear up until spring.
I was determined not to let that happen again! Armed with nothing but my will to keep my family well (and the entire internet), I set out to find the most effective, research-backed supplements to add to our routine over the winter. My whole family has been taking these supplements since August and I feel like they’ve made a huge difference.
So, today I just want to share a peek into our winter supplement routine and some of the reasons I chose to add these specific supplements. I’ll also drop a link to my preferred brand for my 4-year old (I buy vitamins for my husband and I based 50% on quality, 50% on sale price). Anyway, on to the good stuff:
Elderberry is an immune powerhouse.
In a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial of over 300 people, elderberry reduced the incidence of colds, along with their severity and duration when compared to a placebo group.
Another clinical trial of 40 people with the flu found that taking elderberry syrup reduced the severity and duration of the illness compared to a placebo.
While these are not huge studies, they were both double-blinded, randomized controlled trials, which – as many of y’all already know – are the “gold standard” for health research.
We use Nature’s Way Sambucus for Kids syrup, which my son really likes. My husband and I take elderberry capsules because the syrups have way too much sugar for me.
Echinacea is one of my favorite smells on earth. Seriously, it smells so good.
Unfortunately, the research is a real mixed bag in regards to its effectiveness for treating colds and upper respiratory infections.
However, I choose to include echinacea in our routine because it’s a powerful immune mediator, meaning it beefs up your immune system.
While it may not be effective at treating sickness, it can help your body to more efficiently ward off those germs and viruses the next time they come around, and can decrease your risk of getting sick by about 10-20% based on the data pulled from available studies.
My son gets echinacea in his elderberry syrup, and my husband and I take echinacea capsules.
3. Vitamin D
When I was a young, bright-eyed dietetic intern (way back in 2012), I had the opportunity to meet a pediatric endocrinologist who was intensely obsessed with vitamin D. I also cried when he read The Velveteen Rabbit to a group of kids at diabetes camp, but that’s another story for another day.
Long story short, I now share this doctor’s passion for the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is an outstanding immune mediator and anti-inflammatory agent. I could go on and on about it all day, so one of these days it will get its own blog post.
In the meantime, here are the highlights:
- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune conditions like lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Vitamin D promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and helps heal leaky gut (BTW, your digestive system plays a HUGE role in immune function)
- Your immune cells (and many other cells in the body) have vitamin D receptors
In my personal experience, during the periods in my life where I am consistently supplementing with vitamin D, I do not get sick nearly as often. Full disclosure: it definitely worked better before I had a toddler (AKA, a walking germ factory) in daycare (AKA, a germ factory full of walking germ factories).
My son takes Vitacost InfantHealth Liquid Vitamin D Drops for Kids, and my husband and I take 5000 IU gelcaps. This is one that we take year round.
4. Vitamin C
So, vitamin C has a reputation that is not quite…. accurate. Tons of people reach for vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on, but unfortunately by that point it’s too late for the supplement to do any good.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it pretty much just passes right through you and you will pee out any excess your body doesn’t use. Unfortunately, taking too much can also cause diarrhea, so if you’re unclear on the use of vitamin C for sickness you could end up with a cold, and diarrhea, and a bunch of useless vitamin C in your urine!
Here’s the deal: there is some evidence to show that supplementing regularly with adequate levels of vitamin C can decrease your risk of catching a cold and may make your cold less severe and shorter. The catch is, you have to be supplementing with it regularly, because starting when you’re already sick won’t help!
My son gets vitamin C from his Lil’ Critters Immune C + Zinc and Vitamin D gummies.
I hinted at this above when discussing vitamin D, but your gut health plays a HUGE role in your immune function. It is so easy for us to think about all of these different systems as being totally compartmentalized, but that is not the truth. All of these moving pieces fit together very intricately and are 100% interconnected, and it all starts with your gut and the food you eat – which provide the very building blocks for every cell, tissue, and hormone in your body.
Having an overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria can make you more susceptible to disease, while having a flourishing colony of healthy gut bacteria can strengthen your body’s defense against invaders.
Keeping your gut bugs healthy is key to keeping you healthy, which is why I’m including probiotics on this list of immune supplements.
My son takes NOW Supplements BerryDophilus Kids probiotic chewables.
The last supplement I’m going to discuss in this post is zinc. Like vitamin C, the role of zinc in treating sickness is a bit misunderstood.
Supplementing with it can help decrease your risk of catching a cold.
But, several studies show that zinc has minimal or no effect on the length or severity of a cold. Some people recommend taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms to possibly help decrease the length of the cold. Additionally, zinc lozenges may help you get over your cold faster as well.
The research is just too inconclusive to make any real claims about zinc, but I choose to include it because it does have a huge effect on the immune system. It helps to maintain the integrity of your mucous membranes, which can help prevent germs and viruses from weaseling their way in.
My son gets zinc in his Lil’ Critters immune gummies.
In conclusion, I want to add a brief list of other evidence-based things your family can do to help prevent the relentless onslaught of illness in your home this winter:
- Get adequate sleep
- Avoid highly processed foods and added sugars, which can disrupt your gut bacteria
- Wash your hands regularly
- Get a flu shot
- Manage stress
Additionally, you can get vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and probiotics from healthy foods like red meat (which is totally a health food), fatty fish, dark green leafy vegetables, and full-fat yogurt (sans sugar, preferably).
These six supplements seem to have really made a difference for my family. Have you found success with any immune supplements? Let me know in the comments!