By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS
We know the importance of a healthy immune system. In fact, there’s never a bad time for supporting a healthy immune system.
The great news is there are relatively simple ways you can boost your family’s immune system health, and many of these immune system “assisters” have been utilized by different cultures for centuries. (Of course, an overall healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial.)
This is exactly what I'm personally doing to support my immunity. It's what my wife, Chelsea, and my entire family follows, too, to support immune health.
Why is this so important? Because our immune systems are our built-in first line of defense for our bodies. It’s always important — but especially in an age where we move and connect faster than ever before.
Thankfully, nature provides us with a treasure trove of botanicals and other ingredients to support a healthy immune system.
Here are the top healthy immune system-supporting ingredients nature has to offer, in my opinion, along with one-of-a-kind ingredient pairings Ancient Nutrition and I formulated to bring what we believe are the best immune-boosting supplements out there.
Top Supplements for Immune System Health
1. Vitamin C Optimized for Absorption
How many times growing up did your mother remind you to get enough vitamin C?
Known as “the immune system vitamin” in studies, vitamin C works with other amino acids like proline to strengthen areas of your body, including connective tissue, too.
Kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, bok choy, cabbage, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, papayas, spinach, strawberries, oranges and black currants serve as rich natural sources, but for times when you need more, we created a body-ready capsule version that also includes tough probiotics to bring immune defense support like you’ve never seen it before.
Our vitamin C is delivered in a gold-standard, liquid metabolite form that maximizes absorption for more sustained benefits, including a healthy response to inflammation. This means your body is retaining more (and you’re generally urinating out less).
2. Enzyme-Activated Zinc
An essential trace mineral involved in hundreds of enzymatic functions in the body — including supporting healthy immune system functions — zinc plays a crucial role in overall wellness.
Generally speaking, zinc catalyzes nearly 100 enzymes and is essential for proper protein synthesis in the human body. Zinc supports immune system health in its own right, and also relies on vitamin C to maximize its role in the human body.
As humans, we need to take in zinc each day because our body doesn’t manufacture it. Zinc-rich foods, including pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas and cocoa powder, can help us get the zinc we need, although animal sources like grass-fed beef, liver or kefir are often more bioavailable in the body. Oysters also contain zinc, but they can also contain unwanted substances.
Supplementing is often necessary to hit your zinc goals. Just make sure you’re unlocking the supplement’s potential by sourcing an enzyme-activated zinc that boosts its bioavailability to maximize your supplement investment.
Just like enzymes and probiotics help you break down nutrients in food, sourcing a newer type of zinc in enzyme-activated form means, in my professional opinion, you’ll enhance absorption.
With evidence of elderberry-based recipes dating back to Ancient Egypt, historical documents show us elderberry has been a staple of wellness workers for centuries.
Elderberry is a powerful berry high in vitamin C, but it also features unique antioxidants that support our immune health. A lot of people take elderberry today to support different areas of their immune system.
To me it's my No. 1 superfood when it comes to supporting the immune system. I take this one on a regular basis. It’s considered so powerful due to its unique type of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help activate a healthy immune system.
The problem is this, though.
Most elderberry supplements on the market contain added sugars, which is counterintuitive to immune protection. My team and I sourced the highest quality elderberry on the planet and fermented it, resulting in what I believe to be a superior elderberry supplement containing 0 grams of sugar per serving.
We also paired our unique elderberry formula with probiotics in one convenient supplement to offer immune and gut support unlike any other. The SBO probiotics in this formula are built tough to survive harsh conditions like stomach acids so the benefits make it to your gut.
Used traditionally by Native Americans for lung support and respiratory health support, echinacea, also known as coneflower, is the go-to immune herb in the West.
But we went beyond immune health by weaving together the most popular herb for respiratory wellness in Western herbalism with what’s, in my professional opinion, the most powerful immune herb of the East, astragalus. (See No. 5 below.)
And since approximately 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is in the gut, we added the beneficial probiotic Bacillus subtilus, a unique soil-based organisms (SBO) resistant to bile, heat and stomach acid, meaning it’ll make it to your gut to bring benefits like immune system and digestive support. This is the same probiotic used in natto, a Japanese superfood made from fermented beans.
We’re the first ever to combine echinacea and astragalus together in a single formula with a long-revered SBO.
Astragalus is an herb treasured for centuries in traditional Chinese herbalism, and in my opinion, one of the most powerful herbs on the planet for supporting immune health.
Astragalus supports gut and immune system health. In fact, of all the things on this list, astragalus is one of my absolute favorites to use on a regular basis.
How Is Immune Health Tied to Gut Health?
Today, we know your gut houses between 70 percent and 80 percent of the cells that make up your immune system, which is why I believe maintaining the integrity of the gut is a crucial, and often underappreciated, form of supporting your immune system health.
And this is nothing new. There’s a reason cultures all around the world relied on probiotic-rich, fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and apple cider vinegar over the centuries. In general, probiotics possess the capacity to support healthy immune system function and more.
Generally speaking, the walls of your large intestine are covered with immune modulators, but the gut-immune connection doesn't stop there.
In fact, from the white blood cells hiding under your tonsils to your small intestine's lymphatic tissue brimming with white blood cells, we're finally starting to appreciate the link between the GI tract and immune health.
Because of this, millions of people turn to probiotics to support gut and immune system health.
But did you know that the majority of probiotics supplements out there today — they don’t fully make it through your digestive tract to colonize, support and transform your gut microbiome?
That’s why choosing ‘survivable’ probiotic strains is key in my viewpoint. These soil-based organism (SBO) naturally occurring strains survive higher temperatures and a harsh environment (i.e., stomach acid, body temperature and bile).
They are known to survive the wild ride from your mouth, through your stomach, gallbladder and liver, making it to your lower GI tract to work their benefits.
So while you may think you need to choose probiotics that require refrigeration, that isn’t necessarily true. Our bodies generally run at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so we selected hardy, no-fridge-required probiotic strains so they can make it to your digestive tract. These are some of the same probiotics your great-grandparents would ingest when eating veggies fresh out of the garden.
If you ask my professional opinion — I actually had someone ask me this recently — they said, “Dr. Axe, of all the probiotics, what is your favorite probiotic species?”
And my answer is Bacillus subtilis.
There's an ancient meal called natto, and it’s commonly consumed in Japan and Korea, where they ferment a unique type of organic soybean.
Now, soybeans have gotten a bad rap because of all of the modern processed soybeans that affect the body in a negative way. But when we're talking about organic, fermented, probiotic-rich natto, it creates some amazing probiotics, in a particular, a probiotic called Bacillus subtilis.
This is a unique type of probiotic that supports immune health and many aspects of digestive health. It actually kind of acts like a shield in different areas of your body, and I believe is one of the most beneficial probiotics on the planet.
Other Ingredients That Support You!
And just to round out the list, here are some other ingredients and practices known in traditional cultures to help support overall wellness …
- Reishi mushroom
- Schisandra berry
- Olive leaf extract
And last but not least, let’s take a closer look at those last three. As you are taking care of your immune system, you've got to practice the proper lifestyle, including stress reduction, getting healthy amounts of sunshine, exercising, spending time in nature and fostering feelings of gratitude and hope to overcome fear.
Resetting your mindset to a state of joy, gratitude, love, faith and hope are essential.