The One Supplement I Always Take For My Immune System In The Winter
You want to give your immune system a little love and support this winter and spring, but where do you start? It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the options. I mean, vitamin C, elderberry, zinc, and probiotics are just a few of the many science-backed ways to boost your immune system. Where do you even begin?
As the health editor at mindbodygreen, I'm always learning about the best ways to support immune health naturally—and I've tested a lot of different supplements over the years. After all this trial, error, and experimentation, at the end of the day, there's one ingredient I try to incorporate throughout the winter for immune health: mushrooms.
Why mushrooms are the best thing that's ever happened to your immune system.
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to support so many aspects of health, including a healthy immune response. They are chock-full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that we need to stay healthy. In fact, according to Heather Moday, M.D., integrative immunologist and founder of the Moday Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine, "Some of the most powerful1 immune-boosting, antiviral, and anti-cancer substances are found in mushrooms."
Science suspects that the main active ingredients in mushrooms are the alpha-glucans and beta-glucans, which can affect the immune system in a number of positive ways. For example, the mushrooms in the Myco-Immune supplement I mention below have been shown to increase NK-cell activity, phagocytosis, and B- and T-lymphocytes—all measures of immune activity. Certain mushrooms have also been tested in the context of oncology1, and although we're away from it now, in the future it's possible that they'll be used to modulate the immune system as part of treatment.
Personally, I used to be someone who caught every cold and germ I was exposed to. I was sick in the winter, summer, and during the change of seasons, and my colds seemed to linger forever. And while I won't give mushrooms 100 percent of the credit—since I've made some other serious lifestyle changes like sleeping more, stressing less, and focusing on eating foods that boost the immune system—I do think that incorporating mushrooms into my daily routine has helped my immune system get back on its feet. I take them regularly in the winter and when the seasons change and especially when I feel a scratch in my throat or a sniffle coming on.
How to start taking mushrooms for your immune health.
The thing I love most about mushrooms is that there are so many ways to incorporate them into your routine—and very few of them involve a supplement capsule. You can find them in powders and liquid form that you can add to your oatmeal, smoothies, coffee, or golden milk. If you're freaked out by mushrooms and don't like the way they taste, don't worry; it's easy to find a product that is practically tasteless.
Dr. Moday recommends looking for reishi, shiitake, and, her personal favorite, maitake mushrooms (which have been shown to increase our immune cells' ability to engulf bacteria). Chaga is also a great choice: "It's used as an antiviral against the flu2 and has been shown to boost and rebalance the immune system3," says Will Cole, D.C., FNCP, functional medicine practitioner and mbg Collective member.
If you're overwhelmed by all the options and aren't sure where to start, turn to a trusted company that makes an immune-system-specific blend of mushrooms. Some of my favorites include Myco-Immune, $38, from Thorne; Fungi Perfecti's MycoShield® Cinnamon Spray, $19.95; and the Four Sigmatic Chaga Mushroom Elixir, $38.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.