How to Boost Your Immune System: Best Vitamins, Supplements, and Foods for Immune Support in Winter

Fact checked by Megan Soliman MD, MSc
Board-certified physician at Saba University School of Medicine

Tired of feeling under the weather in winter? You may be thinking of taking vitamins and supplements to boost your immune system during the colder months, but which ones should you choose? And are there other ways to strengthen your defenses in winter?

In this article, you’ll find out some of the best immune support supplements and what lifestyle habits can keep you healthy all year round.

Is your immune function lower in winter?

Believe it or not, cold temperatures in winter don’t make you sick… but they can indirectly affect your immune function and make you more vulnerable to infections and viruses.

As the temperatures drop, so does the humidity level. The lack of moisture in the air can dry your sinuses out, leaving them more susceptible to viruses. In winter, we also tend to spend a lot of time indoors and don’t get enough vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Close contact with others makes it easy for germs to travel from one person to another, so crowded places are an ideal environment for the spread of respiratory infections.

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Proper nutrition and regular exercise are vital for supporting your immunity, but as the holiday season rolls around, we often push healthy habits aside. Plus, heavy meals and evenings of cozying up on the sofa can make you feel sluggish and reduce your immune function.

All these factors can make you more sickly during colder months. It’s only natural to want to boost your immunity with vitamins and supplements in winter.

But is there anything else you can do to stay healthy when the weather gets cold?

How to naturally strengthen your immunity in winter

While there is no surefire way to avoid getting sick, having a robust immune system can keep winter colds at bay. These healthy habits and tips help naturally support your immunity and overall health year-round:

  • Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. Include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to get enough vitamins and minerals… and (everyone’s least favorite advice) avoid drinking too much alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity gives you a boost of energy, improves sleep and mood, and lowers blood pressure. If you don’t feel like being active outside when it’s windy and cold, an easy at-home workout or dancing to your favorite tunes can also do the trick — anything to get you moving!
  • Sleep well, stress less. Lack of sleep and chronic stress can weaken your immune function and make you more susceptible to viruses. Try to allow yourself 7–9 hours of sleep each night and try relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga.
  • Keep it clean. Regularly washing your hands and cleaning your home, especially kitchen counters and utensils, can help prevent the spread of germs. Remember to rinse fruits and vegetables before eating them and cook your meats at the right temperature to get rid of any bacteria.
  • Get vaccinated. It helps your body to build immunity to those viruses and diseases.

Best immune system booster vitamins and supplements

Your immune system works hard to keep you healthy throughout the year and fight harmful viruses and bacteria. While a healthy lifestyle — a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and a consistent sleep schedule — can support a strong immune function, sometimes it might need a little more help. Let’s take a look at some vitamins and supplements that can boost your immunity and keep you healthy during winter.

A woman supplements to boost her immune system in winter

Vitamin C

Found naturally in citrus fruit and vegetables like onions, vitamin C is an effective antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It strengthens your immune system, helps fight off infections, and helps you recover faster when you get a cold. It can also keep your skin healthy and radiant and heal wounds faster.

Since your body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, you need to get it from your diet or take supplements. Aim to consume the recommended daily amount, which is:

  • 75 mg for women
  • 90 mg for men

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is key for strengthening your immune system and helping it efficiently fight bacteria and viruses. You can get a small amount of vitamin D from your diet — oily fish and liver are good sources of it — but it’s usually not enough to support your immune defenses, especially in winter, when we don’t get as much sunlight. You can really benefit from taking vitamin D supplements, but discuss the dosage with your doctor first.

Zinc

According to the World Health Organization, between 17 and 30 percent of the world’s population has a zinc deficiency. Zinc is one of the key minerals for a healthy immune system.

It is effective at fighting viruses and can shorten the duration of a cold.

Taking zinc supplements can keep you healthy in winter, but make sure to stay within the recommended daily amount for adults — 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men — as too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Iron

More common amongst women than men, an iron deficiency can cause anemia and lower your immune function. Iron supplements can help build up your resistance to infections, and pair well with another immunity booster, vitamin C, which helps your body absorb the iron better. Consult your healthcare provider beforehand, as excess iron can have unpleasant side effects like stomach pain and nausea.

5 Foods for immune support

A balanced, healthy diet can support your immune system year-round. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins like oily fish contain various vitamins and minerals that help keep you strong and healthy throughout the cold months.

If you can, try to get your daily boost of vitamins from your food rather than from supplements.

Depending on where you live, you may not always be able to get your hands on high-quality fresh produce in winter. But frozen vegetables can be almost as good for your immune system! Manufacturers usually freeze them when they are at their peak ripeness, so they’ll have a similar nutritional value to their fresh counterparts.

Let’s go through some of the foods that can give your immunity a much-needed boost in winter.

1. Ginger

We often turn to ginger when we get sick, and for a good reason — it can reduce inflammation, soothe a sore throat, and ease an upset stomach. Ginger packs some heat as well, so it’s a good ingredient to add to your tea on a cold, gloomy day to keep you warm and give you a boost of energy. Research has also found that ginger can lower chronic pain and cholesterol.

Ginger and lemons as example of foods for immune support

2. Citrus

Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which we already know is essential for a robust immune system, increasing the production of white blood cells that help to fight infections. A glass of orange juice in the morning can give you a daily squeeze of vitamin C, but there is a great variety of citrus fruits, so you can mix it up with other popular options like:

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Grapefruit
  • Clementines
  • Tangerines

3. Garlic

Garlic has been known for its medicinal properties for centuries. It's rich in minerals and vitamins that help fight infections and viruses:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C
  • Manganese
  • Selenium

In addition to reducing your chances of getting a cold in winter, garlic has also been found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. So add some garlic to your dishes — raw or cooked — and enjoy its health benefits.

4. Spinach

High in vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, spinach helps support your immune function and maintain healthy blood pressure. Eating raw spinach — adding it to a smoothie, for example — can ensure you reap the maximum health benefits, but it still retains most of its nutrients when blanched or cooked lightly.

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5. Almonds

This healthy snack is high in protein and healthy fats, and contains vitamin E, magnesium, and iron. Almonds can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as support a healthy immune function. They’re pretty versatile, too, so you can add them to your diet in a variety of forms. Eat them whole as a snack, add them to your salads or breakfast cereal for a healthy crunch, or use some almond butter in your smoothie.

Wrapping up

A strong immune system can keep you healthy in any season. The best way to support it year-round is to eat a balanced diet, have regular exercise, and get enough sleep. But in winter, when we tend to move less and spend more time indoors, your immune system may need a little bit of extra help. Of course, you can get some vitamins and minerals to support your immune function from your diet. But in some cases taking supplements can be more effective. Your doctor can help determine if you have any nutrient deficiencies and recommend specific immune booster vitamins and supplements to keep you healthy throughout winter.

August 31, 2022