If you think you’ve caught a cold virus, there are things you can do to feel better faster. This post includes supplements and lifestyle tips to help boost the immune system when you’re sick.

how to stay healthy and boost your immunity

If you’re looking for a protocol that you follow when you first get sick, I’ve done the research about what practices, foods, and supplements have evidence that they can help shorten the duration of a virus.

sick woman in bed


There is scientific research showing that some nutrients can help boost the immune system to help fight off a virus, so it’s not a bad idea to have these supplements on hand. I’ve included brand recommendations and links to the items that I keep at home for when a cold strikes.

As always, please consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your supplement routine.

Boost Immune System

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for the immune system, not to mention for many other functions in the body. It might not be a coincidence that vitamin D naturally comes from the sun, and the flu seasons generally occurs in the wintertime when sunshine is limited.

It’s easy to counteract the limited exposure to sunshine by taking a Vitamin D supplement. I would suggest, however, that you get your vitamin D levels tested by your doctor a few times a year.

While it’s agreed that most Americans are deficient in vitamin D and could benefit from taking a minimum of 2,000 I.U.s a day, it’s better to have your levels tested because you could potentially need a lot more than the recommended minimum. See my related post, “what vitamins should I be taking?”

When you’re fighting a cold virus or want to boost your immune system when sick, some healthcare practitioners have recommended taking as much as 50,000 I.U. of vitamin D in one single dose. The research hasn’t been conclusive in that regard, but research does show that vitamin D does have benefits at lower levels to help prevent and treat infections.

Vitamin D can also help prevent the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder.

Recommended Vitamin D Brand:

2. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that works in the body to support the immune system. There is conclusive evidence that zinc supplementation can help shorten the duration of a cold virus. The ideal way to take zinc is at the first sign of a getting sick with a cold, so it might make sense to keep it on hand just in case.

Some practitioners prefer a zinc lozenge or syrup, with the idea that the zinc can come in direct contact with the virus. However, a zinc capsule or supplement can work just as well.

Recommended Zinc Brands:

3. Elderberry

Elderberry is a dark, purple berry that comes from the Sambucus tree. Elderberry has a long history of usage in the treatment of colds, flu, and other viral infections. There is research that shows the effectiveness of using elderberry to boost the immune system and to shorten the duration of symptoms once you’re sick. Elderberry itself is a good source of other helpful cold-fighting vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and zinc. 

You’ve probably seen elderberry syrup at the store or farmers’ market. Syrup is the most common way that elderberry supplements are packaged, but you can also find capsules if you prefer.

Recommended Elderberry brand:

4. Vitamin C

One of the reasons its important to eat fruit and vegetables daily is to get the required amount of vitamin C we need to have our immune systems (and other body functions) work properly. Some healthcare practitioners believe that taking a mega-dose of vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms might help the body fight it off.

There is some evidence that taking a mega-dose of Vitamin C might help prevent and shorten a cold. Doses of vitamin C over 1,000 mg can cause stomach upset, though, and it’s not recommended to take mega-doses for a long time, unless advised by a doctor.

Recommended Vitamin C brand:

5. Echinacea

Echinacea is an herbal treatment that has medicinal value in boosting the immune system. The research around this herb shows more evidence for cold prevention than shortening a cold’s duration once you’re sick. So, it may be more helpful to take echinacea during cold season, rather than waiting until you get sick. Please check with your healthcare provider to make sure this one is appropriate for you.

Another way to take echinacea and benefit from its cold prevention properties is to take it a few days before an event where you might be exposed to the cold virus, such as going on an airplane. One study also showed that there may be benefits in boosting the immune system if the dosage of echinacea is increased after you get sick.

Recommended Echinacea brands:

supplements to boost immune system when sick

Other Holistic & Lifestyle Tips 

Supplements are most certainly a great way to boost immunity when you’re sick, but there are some other lifestyle and nutrition tips that can help too. The key is to remember that you’re body is doing it’s very best to fight off the virus, so it’s your job to support your body’s natural healing capabilities.

And, please remember, if you develop a fever or feel like you are seriously ill, it’s best to see a healthcare provider and make sure you get the care you need.

1. Take Time to Rest

The most obvious lifestyle choice you can make to aid your immune system is to rest. Even if you have to miss work or school, cancel an appointment, or re-schedule something you’ve planned, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and others.

When you’re home sick, don’t spend the whole day working or catching up on chores. Give yourself permission to snuggle up on the sofa and relax. When you’re sleepy, take a nap. Go to bed early when you’re sick and let your body do the hard work of getting you better quickly.

As far as exercise goes, a short, gentle walk is okay, as long as you are feeling well enough. You can also spend a few minutes doing gentle stretches or yoga if you want some light activity. It’s not recommended to go to the gym or do any kind of moderate to intense exercise when you’re fighting a cold. Your immune system is already working very hard, so it’s your job to rest.

sick woman resting in bed

2. Hydrate & Nourish

Most cold viruses result in a stuffy nose, and all of the that mucus being expelled through nose-blowing can lead to dehydration. You’ll help the process of healing along if you eat and drink foods and beverages that are nourishing and hydrating.

Soups, smoothies, and stews are great choices, along with tea, mineral water, and fresh vegetable juices. One of my favorite beverages to drink when I’m under the weather is Traditional Medicinals Herbal Throat Coat.

A bonus recommendation is to consider taking this Kick-Ass Immune Activator from WishGarden. My functional medicine doctor recommends it.

woman drinking water in bed

3. Limit Medication

It’s tempting when you’re sick to pop a pill and not slow down. This is probably the worst thing you can do to support your immune system. Over-the-counter cold medicine will not shorten the duration of your cold. In fact, it might make it worse because you’ll think you’re feeling better and might overdo it.

If you have a headache when you’re sick and it’s interfering with your ability to rest, then taking a NSAID like Advil or ibuprofen is acceptable, but not if you’re using the pain medication to avoid resting. Always be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner before taking medication, and be very careful to take only the recommended amount. 

Other Healthy Habits 

Once you’re feeling better, continue to practice holistic health habits, including:

  • exercising regularly
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • sleeping 7-9 hours a night (read my healthy sleep tips)
  • eating 7-9 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, plus other healthy foods (read my article about how to fill your plate)
  • washing hands frequently
  • practicing stress management
  • eat a low-sugar diet

greens with avocado


How can I boost my immune system when sick?

Try the supplements and lifestyle interventions listed in this post. Most importantly, get plenty of rest.

How can I boost my immune system quickly?

Take vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, elderberry, and vitamin D as soon as you can.

What are signs of a weak immune system?

If you are catching colds more than 5-6 times a year, then you might have a weak immune system.

Which vitamin is best for immune system?

There isn’t just one. The body is a complex organism that is influenced by a variety of factors. Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, elderberry, and vitamin D all support a healthy immune system.

I hope you stay well this season, friends! What are your go-to supplements or practices when you get sick? Let me know in the comments!

Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.

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