5 Supplements to Take During Cold and Flu Season

When cold and flu season strikes, it’s hard to hide. But just because your neighbor is sneezing doesn’t mean you have to as well. I’m here to arm you with some immune boosting tools to keep you healthy all winter long. While I’m focusing on things you can eat below, let’s not forget the power of adequate sleep (shoot for 7-8 hours) and low stress (I know, I know, but at least breathe!) in keeping your immune system strong.

One more note: as a dietitian, I recommend getting your nutrients through foods when possible. Below I’ll highlight the nutrient, link to a few foods and wrap up with a supplement you can take, just in case. Enough preaching, let’s get to it!

1. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that helps to boost the immune system, fight cold/flu and aids in growth and wound healing. Research shows that those low in zinc are less resistant to pathogens and therefore may get sick more often. High zinc foods include oysters, lobster (raw bar please!), beef, beans, seeds, nuts and eggs. If those don’t tempt you and you’re feeling that tickle in your throat, grab a zinc supplement to nip it in the bud or at least lessen the duration of your illness. I like the Sambucus lozenges by Nature’s Way — they contain zinc, elderberry and vitamin C! See ya, snot!

2. Probiotics

Nope, not just to prevent bellyaches and improve regularity! These healthy bugs actually fight off bad bacteria/pathogens and can prevent illness. Did you know many of the germs that make us sick come in through our digestive tract? Yuck! So if we are armed with lots of healthy bacteria, we fight off bad bacteria more efficiently and get sick less often! Greek yogurt, kimchi and kefir are great sources of healthy bacteria. If those foods aren’t your fav, you can also take an oral probiotic. My go-to recommendation is MegaFood MegaFlora 50 billion CFU. Keep it in the fridge for best performance!

3. Propolis

This is one of my favorite germ-fighting tools. It is made by bees (yes, the same ones that make honey) and is known to be both antimicrobial and antifungal, which means it may help to ward off illness. I carry around propolis by Bee Keepers Natural all year long and spray it once or twice a day in times of increased travel or when I’m feeling run down. It’s safe for kids, too!

4. Elderberry

Although it is an actual berry, you’ll usually see elderberry as a syrup, tincture, tea or lozenges (often combined with propolis and zinc!). These are easy forms to consume when you are starting to feel “off.” Elderberry is believed to help boost the immune system and decrease the duration of illnesses such as cold/flu viruses.

I recommend taking it regularly during “sick seasons” to boost your immunity or when you feel symptoms coming on. My favorite brand is Herbal Revolutions Elderberry Plus Elixir which not only works but it tastes great too. A few droppers full under the tongue and I’m good to go — but if that seems intense, feel free to add it to your tea or even some water.  

5. Manuka Honey

Yup, here are those bees again! What’s unique about this honey? It only comes from bees in a specific region of New Zealand, that’s it! Since it is both antimicrobial and antibacterial, manuka honey has been used for thousands of years to help treat illnesses that range from strep throat to acid reflux and even MRSA infection.

You can use it topically to prevent infection on a cut, burn or ulcer — or ingest it (my favorite way) during cold and flu season to fight bugs that might be headed your way. Unaltered, you can simply eat it off the spoon or add it to your oatmeal, smoothie, yogurt or tea. I recommend working your way up to 1-2 teaspoons daily for maximum benefits. My favorite brand is Wedderspoon, which makes consuming manuka all too easy with their functional snap packs (great for travel, gym bags or lunch boxes and kid-friendly) and their lozenges often mixed with a few other ingredients I listed above — like propolis! Hello, teamwork!  

*For those who are allergic to bees, please proceed with caution.*

Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a NYC-based private practice dedicated to healthfully and successfully guiding clients to their optimal nutrition, weight, and overall wellness. She is internationally recognized for her individualized, lifestyle-focused approach, which integrates realistic food plans, smart eating habits, and active living. Through encouragement, education, and the right “tricks of the trade,” Amy believes that anyone can achieve their nutritional goals while still enjoying the foods and flavors they crave.