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Environmental Nutrition: Boost your immunity

With cold and flu viruses seemingly stronger than ever, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic*, the thought may have crossed your mind more than once: How to boost your immune system? Studies have proven that these three dietary supplements are among the most effective at enhancing your immunity to infectious diseases. Consider your child’s immune health care as they begin planning to return to classrooms and playdates, and as cold and flu season nears.

1. Echinacea

There are nine different species of Echinacea, although three are used for medicinal purposes: Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea purpura.

Echinacea purpura extract is widely used to help deal with various infectious diseases, especially in children, the elderly and the immunocompromised.

Echinacea has various medicinal properties. First, it is antimicrobial against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria that cause colds, flu, sore throats and other respiratory illnesses. However, it has been shown to enhance the growth of gut flora - healthy bacteria in the gut - specifically increasing the healthy Bifidobacterium species. Therefore, echinacea may enhance the effects of probiotics containing Bifidobacterium. Echinacea also has anti-inflammatory properties, supports wound healing, and has been shown to improve the immune system's resistance against infection.

2. Vitamin C and zinc

Several cells of the immune system accumulate vitamin C and need the vitamin to perform their tasks, especially phagocytes and T-cells. And, zinc has been demonstrated to fight infections and help heal wounds.


Despite these therapeutic properties, for quite some time there has been a controversy on whether vitamin C and zinc can contribute to the prevention and therapy of the common cold. However, a large number of randomized controlled intervention trials have settled this debate. These trials document that adequate intakes of vitamin C (up to 1 g) and zinc (up to 30 mg) ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections, including the common cold. Furthermore, vitamin C and zinc reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea infections.

3. Black elderberry

The elderberry plant, Sambucus nigra, is a good source of protein, amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition, elderberry contains antioxidants called polyphenols, mostly in the form of anthocyanins, flavonols, phenolic acids and proanthocyanidins, as well as terpenes and lectins.

The antioxidant effect of the polyphenols in elderberry has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, glycemia (blood sugar) reduction, and immune system stimulation with anti-viral and even anti-tumor potential. In commercially made elderberry syrups, the dosage is often two teaspoons per day.

As always, discuss the use of supplements with your care provider before adding it to your regimen.

*There have been no proven results of these supplements in regards to preventing or curing COVID-19; if you suspect your child may have COVID-19, please call their doctor and discuss testing and isolation.