These are the capsules, gummies and liquids our experts recommend
With flu season well and truly upon us and a new Covid variant doing the rounds, it's more important than ever to support our immune system this winter.
There is a raft of new immune-supporting tablets and tinctures available to meet demand. "The first time around with Covid, there was not much [in the way of supplements] available that was immunity-based, but people have cottoned onto it now," says Dr Sophie Shotter, founder of Illuminate Skin Clinic who went back into the NHS to work on Covid wards, during which time she says she took many immune-supporting supplements.
"Supplementation is a useful habit to form," she adds, "and you may vary them depending on what your body needs but now it's winter where naturally our immune system is a bit weaker anyway and with Covid resurging, anything we can do to support our immune system will help, be it exercising, keeping an eye on our diet or supplementing."
Be aware that supplements take time to work, she cautions, so now is the time to start. "They are not going to work overnight, if you suddenly panic in a month's time, if things are looking even worse on the news and want to start taking supplements, supplements will still have a benefit but it will almost be a little bit late. If you start now your body will be a little bit prepared."
GP and founder of supplements brand Zenii , Dr Johanna Ward adds: “Your immune system relies on a good intake of micronutrients to remain resilient and robust. A well-formulated immune supplement will help support the immense work that the immune system does each and every day in the name of health.”
What to look for in immune-boosting supplements
There is a whole host of ingredients to look for in supplements to help with your immune system. Dr Johanna points out: “A good immune supplement should offer the key immune supporting vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc and magnesium as well as some gut supporting probiotics. I also seek out beneficial herbal ingredients such as turmeric, cayenne, garlic and mushroom that show a lot of emerging evidence for supporting immune function and white cell defence.”
Dr Sophie also recommends looking for a complex with vitamin D, zinc and vitamin C, as well as probiotics to support the gut "because the gut plays such a huge role in immunity." Look for adaptogens , the plant compounds such as ashwagandha and schizandra and medicinal mushrooms, too as they help regulate the stress response. Stress too can impair our immune function. She particularly recommends the ayurvedic herb andrographis paniculata. "It’s a great ingredient that has studies behind it to show its effect on the immune system. In Scandinavia they recommend it ahead of echinacea," she says. "It's credited with halting the Spanish flu pandemic in India in the 1920s." She has yet to find it in an immune blend so takes it as a separate capsule. Try Pukka Herbs Organic Andrographis Supplement £6.35.
She also looks for beta-glucans (found in the supplement Lyma, below) for immune support as they activate the immune cells known as macrophages.
Healthspan ’s Medical Director Dr Sarah Brewer adds that vitamin B12 is also an important player in immune function, meanwhile while pharmacist Shabir Daya of Victoria Health recommends looking for the following ingredients in a good immune supplement.
"I am a great advocate of this herb for its safety and efficacy in helping to keep the immune system at its peak," says Shabir of the adaptogen. "Astragalus works to increase white blood cell counts, which is vital to detect infection-causing bacteria and viruses. The role of white blood cells is to destroy these and defend the body against infection."
"Rich in several beneficial nutrients such as vitamins C and B, as well as flavonoids , numerous studies indicate that elderberry extracts help reduce the duration of infections. This may be due to their ability to inhibit viral replication," says Shabir.
One study on elderberry showed significant improvement in flu symptoms in 93 per cent of patients treated with an elderberry extract within two days rather than six days for people who didn't take elderberry – rather impressive!
MORE GLOSS: Why scientists are excited about elderberries for treating Covid
Not just good sprinkled on top of pizza, Shabir rates oregano as one of the most potent antibacterial and antiviral compounds. "It also has other beneficial properties including helping to alleviate catarrh and help suppress coughs," he says.
The active compound in olive leaf oleuropein has powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties helping to inhibit a variety of organisms, according to Shabir. Additionally, olive leaf may help reduce a fever.
"Garlic offers numerous benefits to the body including enhanced circulation, protection against insect bites and helping to lower cholesterol," Shabir explains. "Garlic also possesses powerful antimicrobial and antiviral properties."
"Propolis is a bee resin and has a broad spectrum of activity against bacteria," Shabir says. "It is also the richest source of caffeic acid and apigenin, two very important compounds that have been known to aid the immune response. Propolis helps to ensure the immune system responds quickly and efficiently."
Maitake and shitake mushrooms
"Mushrooms contain powerful compounds called beta-glucans," explains Shabir. "These compounds have been scientifically studied and found to activate the immune system through a variety of mechanisms, one of which is to bind to white blood cells activating their ability to scavenge for invading organisms."
Probiotics - lactobacillus and bifidobacterium
These friendly bacteria have a powerful beneficial effect on restoring optimal gut health and aid the production of antibodies, according to Shabir. More than 80 per cent of our immunity is derived from these friendly bacteria. Dr Sophie agrees that in the current climate eveyone should be taking a probiotic.
Research has confirmed that catching a cold or an infection may actually be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency and as Dr Sophie points out, a deficiency doubles your risk of ending up in intensive care or dying of Covid. “Most of us should supplement all year round especially if we have an indoor job and BAME people in particular. Look for between 3- 6,000iu per day more than people think, more than the recommended daily intake of 400iu or 10mcg," she says.
MORE GLOSS: The best vitamin D supplements to support your immune system
Although a deficiency in any essential nutrient can compromise immunity, zinc is considered to be the most important of all nutrients according to Shabir. "It is vital for the thymus gland, the primary gland of immunity, and is required for white blood cell production.
"Vitamin C supplementation is equally important as it has been shown to boost white blood cell counts, antibody production and help the immune response and also antagonises viruses by inhibiting an enzyme that helps them to spread through body tissues."
MORE GLOSS: Why we should all be taking liposomal vitamin C
The best immune-boosting supplements
The double-whammy: Artah Immune Essentials, £62 for 120 capsules
Founded in 2020 by Rhian Stephenson, former CEO of spin studio Psycle, Artah hosts retreats in Spain and also sells a range of supplements, including this combination of immune supporting capsules. The ingredients list reads like a roll call of all the essentials we noted above, including zinc, selenium, vitamin D3, olive leaf extract, astragalus root, vitamin A and reishi mushrooms to provide anti-viral support to the immune system.
The CBD one: Apothem Defence CBD Oil Drops, £75
These drops, which won our Beauty and Wellness 2021 award for Wellness from Within blend calming CBD with antioxidant-rich ginger, and echinacea, which is commonly used to fend off colds. “There are so many supplements on the market it's hard to tell what is good but I love using these drops," Dr Sophie, who judged the category said. "They have lots of adaptogens in them as well as a really good dose of broad spectrum of CBD." They taste like ginger rather than the muddy CBD taste, which is always a plus point.
The does-it-all immune supplement: Inessa Immunity Complex, £24.99 for 60 capsules
Created by nutritional therapist Aliza Marogy, Inessa's immunity supplements combine vitamins and minerals including D3, selenium and vitamin C, along with elderberry, reishi and chaga mushrooms. It has 2000iu of Vitamin D3 and beta-glucans, as recommended by Dr Sophie.
The mushroom-based one: Healthspan Immunovit Mushroom Complex, £13.95 for 60 tablets
Healthspan's Immunovit range of five vegan immune-supporting supplements includes this one, which is rich in adaptogenic mushrooms from three mushroom species with specific nutritional profiles: reishi, maitake, and shiitake. Red reishi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over two thousand years to promote wellness and longevity, while maitake and shiitake have immune-enhancing effects. Vitamin B12 has also been added as a proven immune health nutrient that provides benefits for the nervous system and energy levels.
The oregano one: JS Health Immune, £31.99 for 60 tablets
We always have one tub or another of nutritionist Jessica Sepel's supplements on the go (currently Skin + Digestion ) but this is the one we reach for when we're after immune support. Herb-wise it includes oregano, echinacea and olive leaf, along with vitamin C and zinc for an all-around immune system handhold.
The day and night supplement: The Organic Pharmacy’s Immune Boost Kit, £84
In creating this day and night duo, The Organic Pharmacy combined vitamins proven to help with the immune system, specifically the respiratory system. The day supplement contains vitamins A, D and C which all contribute to a properly functioning immune system. Vitamin A specifically helps the body fight off illness and infections, vitamin C protects cells and aids their function and vitamin D contributes to reducing tiredness and fatigue as well as being essential for the overall health of bones and muscles.
The night supplement supports the body's ability to relax and helps the quality of sleep. “Seeing that the second arm of the immune system is a proper night's sleep, it is important that it doesn't get neglected,” says Margo Marrone, founder of The Organic Pharmacy. “Infection-fighting antibody production is enhanced by deep relaxation and adequate amounts of rest. This mixture of magnesium and herbs reduces anxiety and allows the body to recover through a deep night's sleep.”
The fatigue-buster: A. Vogel Immune Support, £12.95 for 30 one-a-day tablets
This vegan supplement includes zinc, vitamin C from acerola and nasturtium extract and vitamin D. Research shows that zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D contribute to the normal function of the immune system and these tablets may also help reduce tiredness and fatigue during spells of sickness.
The doctor's choice: Immune Defence by Zenii, £45 for 60 capsules
This blend is Dr Sophie's pick and it was created by Dr Johanna Ward after her own experience of falling seriously ill with Covid 19 in March 2020 and suffering the after-effects for many months. Jo wanted to create a high-performance food supplement that blends immune-supporting vitamins, minerals, herbs and probiotics to help overtaxed or exhausted immune systems to help create maximum resilience.
The tablets are packed with vitamins, minerals, probiotics and natural immune-boosting herbs and compounds; as well as the more obvious ingredients such as zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C, they are fortified with probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus, the powerful antioxidant selenium as well as herbs such as turmeric, rishi mushroom, aged garlic, ginger and cayenne.
The all-rounder: Victoria Health Daily Immunity, £26 for 60 capsules
These vegetarian capsules contain a powerhouse of ingredients to support immunity including the adaptogenic herb astragalus, known to enhance white blood cells which are vital for immunity, lactobacillus and bifidobacteria which produce immune-enhancing compounds in the gut, vitamin D3 and C and zinc.
The immune supplement for kids: Chapter one Immunity Gummies, £15 for 60 gummies
Recommended by pharmacist Shabir Daya as a good option for children, these gummies include a blend of immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamin c, zinc and black elderberry which not only gives the flavour but is also rich in antioxidants to boost the immune system.
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The liquid one: Sambucol Extra Defense Liquid, £12.50 for 120ml
Supercharged with immune-boosting black elderberry, the liquid is fortified with vitamin C and zinc to create a great tasting berry flavoured powerful liquid to help fight off winter viruses. Many people we know swear by this, and you couldn't get it for love nor money when lockdown began. As a liquid, it's easy to take if you don't like tablets, and there is a children's version Sambucol Kids too both in liquid and gummies.
The luxury one: Lyma, £149 per month
Possibly the glossiest looking supplement to grace our desks, vegan supplement Lyma has vegan vitamin D3 derived from algae to support the immune system and improve cardiovascular health as well as beta-glucans which support immune cell function and an immune compound called Wellmune. They also include saffron to alleviate anxiety, ashwagandha to restore mental and hormonal balance, cognizin to sharpen the mind and cynatine, for skin and hair.
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