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  • Writer's pictureLucy Sparkes

Support your immune health - the top researched food supplements to keep you healthy this winter

It is a well-held belief that if we have a varied diet, eat everything then we shouldn’t need to rely on food supplements to support optimal health. This is of course true in its theoretical sense, however in this real modern world, even with the best of intentions and virtuous of diets, we still find people unable to reach optimal levels of key nutrients and this can be for a number of reasons. Here are a few of those:

1)     Depleted soils due to overpopulation of the planet, intensive farming and development of high yield crops the profile of our soils has been changing through the generations, whereby the mineral content is not what it once was. Therefore, the food we buy is not as rich in nutrients as we may hope.

2)     Chronic stress. We are designed for acute stress really well, but the more chronic insidious stress is a condition of more modern times, the pinging of your phone alert, the phone call with your boss, the ever decreasing circles of community and support networks, reduced time spent outdoors are examples of our body enduring repeated and chronic stress levels, as our stress levels persist, our nutrients resources reduce and our need increases, resulting in deficit.

3)     Loss of traditions within diet. In the western world, and increasingly in the eastern world, tradition is being pushed out in favour of speedier, ‘tastier’, ‘trendier’ alternatives meaning that often whole food groups can be lot. Take for instance fermented foods. These are recipes that our grannies held, rituals in the kitchen of preserving food when ingredients were only ever seasonal and there were periods of time of scarcity and abundance. These days, we are used to having what we want when we want, and so common practices of preservation such as fermentation no longer top the charts with our list of priorities. In this way, our collective gut has been missing out as these bacteria produced through the fermentation process are vital for optimal microbiome conditions in order to prime our immunity.

In this way it is advised that if you relate to any of the above and have chronic health conditions or symptoms of dis-ease, improper or poor digestive health then it is likely you could benefit from topping up your nutrition through supplementation. Here are some of my favourites:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical for immune health and maintaining optimal levels is vital for supporting the body’s ability to fight infection. A large 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal found vitamin D to be effective for preventing colds and flu.Links have also been made between vitamin D deficiency and disease severity in Covid-19.  However, the main source of vitamin D is not food, but sunshine; your bare skin produces vitamin D when it comes into contact with the sun’s UV rays. It’s easy to understand then why levels are lower in the northern hemisphere and often plummet even further during cooler months.

Vitamin D is best supplemented in the form of cholecalciferol; vitamin D3, since this is the form produced naturally by the body in response to sunlight.

Did you know low levels of vitamin D have been associated with autoimmune disease risk!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory activity and supports the body’s ability to fight infection. It has been shown through clinical studies to shorten the duration of the common cold.

Vitamin C also helps to support a healthy stress response, especially as we need a lot of this vital nutrient in times of stress. Vitamin C rich foods include cruciferous veg such as broccoli and cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, citrus fruits & kiwi fruit.

Did you know vitamin C is vital for optimal collagen production - that means healthy youthful skin and joints!


A severe deficiency of zinc is known to suppress immune function, and even mild to moderate deficiency can have a negative impact on the immune system’s ability to deal with infection.

Multiple studies have shown low levels of zinc are associated with increased risk of infections. Ensuring optimal levels of zinc, particularly in those more susceptible such as the elderly and children is a sensible protection strategy, especially when you consider that zinc is vital for growth and development also. It is important to note here, that zinc is depleted by PPIs – proton pump inhibitors, often prescribed by doctors for mild digestive disorders and/or reflux. By reducing stomach acid, we are reducing the body’s ability to assimilate and absorb zinc from dietary intake.

The body is not able to store zinc so well, so it’s crucial that your daily diet supplies plenty of this immune boosting mineral. You’ll find high levels of zinc in meat, chickpeas & lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

Did you know the commonly prescribed PPIs such as omeprazole severely deplete and inhibit the absorption of zinc!


Extracts of elderberry have received much attention recently for their potential natural anti-viral activity. Studies have found elderberry extracts to be beneficial for reducing symptoms of influenza and the common cold. Elderberry is a rich source of powerful compounds called anthocyanins and it is considered that the possible anti-viral activity are due to the high anthocyanin content of elderberries. It is important to note that this little berry is indigenous in the UK and can be found in hedgerows all around the country.

Did you know this is a great one to support healthy resolution of viruses such as shingles, flu and norovirus!



The gut microbiome has a vital role to play in an individual’s immune health, it is thought that up to 80% if an individual’s immunity is seated here, therefore it is not surprising that The best place to start for the prevention of infections is actually to boost our levels of good bugs!

Here are a couple of significant research highlights to share with you:

-        When researchers gave young children probiotics with a little vitamin C every day, they found that the children got fewer upper respiratory tract infections such as coughs and colds and therefore needed less time off school and recovered more quickly than their peers if they did fall ill.  Additional research revealed Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG was effective in reducing the number, severity and duration of respiratory tract infections in children.


-        In a 2007 a study carried out on children with acute gastroenteritis were administered Saccharomyces boulardii (250 mg twice daily for 7 days) which resulted in significant increases in CD8 lymphocytes, serum immunoglobulin A and decreases in C-reactive protein levels, suggesting that S. boulardii treatment enhances the immune response.

-        Research has found time and time again that immune dysfunction, which can cause autoimmune disease, clinical depression and obesity, may be a result of a failure to communicate between gut bacteria and other immune cells. In one such research paper by Dr Natalia Shulzhenko, author of the report in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, she states we typically understand that the role of the human gut is to simply carry out digestion, but research teaches us that gut bacteria carries out a significant role in our immune system.

In my 12 years of clinical experience, most of my clients that come for nutritional therapy support, have signs of dysbiosis / unhealthy microbial balance in their gut, therefore probiotic therapy can be the single-handed way of supporting their whole body systems including innate and reactive immunity.

Please feel free to message me if you'd like to discuss how nutritional therapy could support your health and keep your immune-system primed this winter

Lucy x


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