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Safe and Effective Agents to Improve Immune System Function

EnFuse Institute For Learning

Category: Health & Wellness


Drinking plenty of water, getting enough rest and washing your hands are all helpful to prevent colds and infection this winter. However, if you really want to support your immune system, consider giving it a boost with one or more of these additions.

  1. Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that improves the body’s ability to fight and prevent infections. Supplementing with vitamin C has been found to improve components of the immune system acting in an antimicrobial fashion. This powerful vitamin improves natural killer cell function, lymphocyte proliferation and chemotaxis, the movement of cells to fight an infection.1 Vitamin C may also protect the integrity of certain immune cells. Neutrophils, mononuclear phagocytes, and lymphocytes accumulate vitamin C, which can protect from oxidative damage.2 Additionally, vitamin C regenerates vitamin E to improve its function in the body.3 The recommended dose is 500mg 2-4 times per day.
  2. Vitamin D3. Studies have shown that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D during the cold and flu season significantly lowers rates of infection.4 Vitamin D3 increases the body’s production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial compound that helps fight viral and bacterial infections. Vitamin D has also been shown to stimulate other components of innate immunity, including immune cell proliferation and cytokine production.5 The Vitamin D Council recommends a maintenance dosage of 1000IU of Vitamin D3 per 25 pounds of body weight, which may be higher in those with Vitamin D deficiency.4
  3. Zinc. As a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes, zinc influences various systems, including the immune function.  Zinc is required for the normal functioning of white blood cells, having direct effects on their production and maturation.6 Zinc deficiency has been shown to impair cellular mediators of innate immunity such as phagocytosis, natural killer cell activity, and the generation of oxidative burst.7 Synergistically, adequate levels of vitamin C and zinc work to ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections.1 It is advised to take 10-30mg of zinc in between meals.
  4. Arabinogalactan. This compound, derived from the bark of the larch tree, enhances natural killer cell and macrophage activity, two types of cells in the first line of defense against an infection. One study demonstrated that arabinogalactan decreased the incidence of common cold episodes by 23%.8 Arabinogalactan is hypothesized to act indirectly through microbiota-dependent mechanisms, potentially having a direct effect on the immune system via the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) in the intestinal tract.8 Arabinogalactan is available as a pure powder that is easy to dissolve in a beverage or smoothie. For adults, the typical dose is about 1-3tsp per day, which is about 2-6g. This compound is contraindicated in cases of active tuberculosis. Similar to other immune augmenting herbs, it is sometimes recommended to take breaks in supplementation. For example, two months of supplementation interrupted by two weeks off.
  5. Echinacea purpurea. This herb contains a variety of constituents that contribute to its therapeutic value, such as essential oils, flavonoids, alkamides, caffeic acid derivatives, and polysaccharides.9 This plant’s immunomodulatory effects on innate immunity strengthen the immune system against pathogenic infections through activation of the neutrophils, macrophages, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and natural killer cells.9 Echinacea has been found to reduce episodes of illness and fever when given daily during the three-month winter period.10 Research has also demonstrated that more significant benefits of echinacea occur when used to treat recurring infections.10 Moreover, alkamides are demonstrated to be effective on cannabinoid receptor type 2, a possible mechanism of the herb’s immunomodulatory advantage.9 Echinacea is contraindicated in those with progressive systemic diseases such as tuberculosis and leukemia and should be used with caution with AIDS, HIV and certain autoimmune conditions. In general, encapsulated echinacea doses are 900-1500mg daily, while liquid tinctures range from 5-10ml daily.


  1. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions.Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. Epub 2005 Dec 21. Review. 
  2. Jariwalla RJ, Harakeh S. Antiviral and immunomodulatory activities of ascorbic acid. In: Harris JR, ed. Subcellular Biochemistry. Ascorbic Acid: Biochemistry and Biomedical Cell Biology. New York: Plenum Press; 1996:215-231.
  3. Carr AC, Frei B. Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on antioxidant and health effects in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(6):1086-1107.
  1. Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the Immune System.” Journal of investigative medicine?: the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research 59.6 (2011): 881–886.
  1. Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol. 2008;8(9):685-698. 
  2. Rink L, Gabriel P. Zinc and the immune system.Proc Nutr Soc. 2000 Nov;59(4):541-52. Review. 
  3. Prasad, Ananda S. “Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells.” Molecular Medicine 14.5-6 (2008): 353–357.
  4. Dion, Carine, Eric Chappuis, and Christophe Ripoll. “Does Larch Arabinogalactan Enhance Immune Function? A Review of Mechanistic and Clinical Trials.” Nutrition & Metabolism 13 (2016): 28.
  5. Barnes J, Anderson LA, Gibbons S, Phillipson JD. Echinacea species (Echinacea angustifolia (DC.). Hell Echinacea pallida (Nutt.) Nutt Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench): A review of their chemistry, pharmacology and clinical properties. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2005;57:929–54.
  6. Jawad M., Schoop R., Suter A., Klein P., and Eccles R., “Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 841315, 7 pages, 2012.




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