With the temperature dropping and the sun hibernating, there’s no denying that winter is finally here—and with the season comes increased stress and strain on your immune system. Yep, it’s not just your imagination that you tend to get sick more often during the cold-weather months. While colds can strike at any time, they are more common in the fall and winter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu activity also peaks between the months of December and February.
While all this news may tempt you to hide inside under a blanket until April, that’s hardly a realistic approach to thwart illness. Instead, wash your hands more frequently and avoid hanging out with friends who are sick. And consider giving your body an extra boost by adding a handful of winter vitamins and supplements to your daily regimen. By taking just a few extra pills each morning, you could be saving yourself literal headaches in the future.
Here are five winter vitamins (and supplements) you should take this season:
This is a group of water-soluble vitamins known collectively as vitamin B-complex. They include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). Though they each have different functions, they all aid in cell metabolism.
“B-vitamins completely kick your immune system up a few notches and may add to the overall wellbeing of your body,” says Angie Kuhn, MS, RDN, the director of nutrition and research for Persona Nutrition. “They may soothe the brain, increase nervous system health, boost cellular renewal, improve mood, protect the body from sickness, and promote a healthy happiness that helps to deter the winter blues.”
The recommended daily amount differs for each, so check with your physician or pharmacist.
2. Vitamin C
This water-soluble vitamin, also known as ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that helps protect your body from free radicals. It also has a long-standing reputation as an immune system ally (though studies differ on its efficacy). Since the body does not produce vitamin C, it’s imperative to get it either through diet (such as broccoli, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, and strawberries) or supplements.
“Vitamin C has amazing anti-viral properties and has been shown to assist in decreasing viral infections and may improve immunity,” says Kuhn. “There’s an extra bonus if it contains bioflavonoids, which have been shown to improve the action of vitamin C and all of its benefits.”
The recommended daily amount of vitamin C for men is 90 mg and for women is 75 mg.
3. Vitamin D
This fat-soluble vitamin has historically been favored for the role it plays in strengthening bones, as it helps the body absorb calcium. But more recent studies have also linked vitamin D with our immune response, meaning a deficiency could lead to increased susceptibility to infection. We typically get our daily vitamin D requirements from two sources—our diet and the sun—says Dr. Lingtak-Neander Chan, Pharm.D., professor and associate chair in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Washington in Seattle. (The latter occurs when UVB rays from sunshine activate our skin tissue to produce vitamin D.)
“In wintertime, especially for those of us who live in northern climates, the amount of UVB coming through the atmosphere is so low,” says Dr. Chan. “That’s when taking extra supplies—supplemental vitamin D or increasing the dietary vitamin D intake—would be helpful.”
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D for adults between the ages of 19 and 70 is 600 IU with a target of Vitamin D (25(OH)D) levels at least 30 ng/mL.
This essential mineral helps the body’s immune system fight off viruses and bacteria—making it a real MVP during the cold season.
“Zinc has been shown in studies to be effective in preventing and reducing cold symptoms,” says registered dietitian LeeAnn Weintraub. “It helps prevent viruses from adhering to cell walls in the nasal passage and is involved in antibody production, an important immune system process.” If you aren’t already taking zinc and you feel like you’re getting sick, Weintraub says to start taking zinc supplements right away to “feel better sooner.” She adds that zinc lozenges seem to be a particularly effective method of zinc supplementation.
The recommended daily amount of zinc for men is 11 mg and for women is 8 mg.
5. Probiotic supplements
These are live microorganisms (or “good bacteria”) that work to help improve your gut flora.
“Probiotic supplements, which are known to enhance immunity and digestive health, are beneficial to take during wintertime,” says Weintraub. “Since this is cold and flu season, there’s no better time to focus on strengthening the immune system with friendly bacteria. Probiotics can help replenish the gut with beneficial bacteria and help support digestive harmony in folks who are run down or dealing with tummy troubles.”
What is the best supplement?
One more thing to note: The safety and effectiveness of vitamins are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so before stocking up at the store, you should look for at least one of two endorsements, says Dr. Chan:
- United States Pharmacopeia (USP): This non-profit organization independently tests and reports on supplements. “They analyze the product and then certify the consistency of the product, according to the label,” says Dr. Chan. “If you look for a product with USP certification, at least you have more of a guarantee that you’re getting what you intend to purchase.”
- Consumer Reports: The product-testing publication also periodically does its own independent testing of supplements and reports the results.
Dosage differs for each, so check with your physician or pharmacist—and always mention any supplements you take when filling a prescription.