D for Defense
Vitamin D plays a big role in immune system function. “Most people are not getting enough vitamin D, and everyone needs it!” says MacKay. Normally, we get D from sun’s UVB rays and our diet. But it’s hard to get the amount we need from food alone, and sun exposure has its own risks. Although super-dosing on D won’t prevent colds, supplements may boost the immune system in people who are deficient.
To boost immunity, double your zinc dose in winter (from a regular 10 mg to 20 mg), says MacKay, especially if you feel a cold coming on. Studies show that taking 13 mg of zinc lozenges every two to three hours can shorten the duration of a cold if taken as soon as symptoms appear.
Probiotics can reduce the length and severity of colds by crowding out disease-causing bugs and stimulating your immune system. But not all probiotics are created equal -- each contains a specific strain of bacteria with its own set of benefits. To boost your immunity, look for Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12 or Lactobacillus fermentum on the supplement’s label. Yogurt and kefir may also contain these beneficial bugs.
Studies have found that Siberian ginseng may help prevent colds and flu and reduce their severity, if taken as soon as you get the sniffles. MacKay recommends taking a 100 mg to 200 mg capsule twice daily as soon as symptoms appear and until symptoms subside. Don’t get it confused with American and Asian ginseng, though. Those contain completely different chemicals and will not help ward off colds.
Finding it tough to get your five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day? Many Americans have less-than-optimal diets, so taking a multivitamin can help fill nutrient gaps, explains registered dietitian and exercise physiologist Samantha Heller. The wide variety of multivitamins on the market makes it tough to know which to choose. Avoid high-potency pills, and look for one that supplies 100 percent daily value (DV) of most nutrients.
Is winter wreaking havoc on your health? “Lack of sun, spending time indoors, and being close to others who are germy can all lead to an immune system meltdown,” says Duffy MacKay, N.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition. Although it’s not a cure-all, vitamins help fill nutrient gaps in your diet. Here, five must-haves for staying healthy all winter.
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