Supplements for Immune Support: Separating the Research from the Hype

By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN

It’s January, which means it’s officially cold and flu season. When you’re trying to conceive or pregnant, you have to be extra conscious of what you’re putting in your body. Certain over-the-counter medicines may not be appropriate during this time; so it’s important do what you can to stay healthy. Hand washing, getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, and managing stress are all helpful ways to do that. What about supplements? There’s plenty of info online about miracle immune support supplements, but what does the research really show? Here’s a quick summary of some popular immune support supplements and the ins and outs of what you should know while trying to conceive or pregnant:

Vitamin D: Vitamin D supplementation may help prevent upper respiratory infections, though the evidence is mixed. Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system, so you definitely want to avoid vitamin D deficiency as this may impair immune system function. Vitamin D also may affect fertility, so it’s a good idea to have your vitamin D level tested, so you can supplement at an appropriate level. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be toxic at very high doses, so make sure to discuss an appropriate dose with your healthcare practitioner.

Vitamin C: While there is currently no evidence that taking vitamin C once a cold starts helps reduce severity, people who take vitamin C regularly tend to have colds that don’t last as long as people who don’t take vitamin C. Also people who take vitamin C regularly and are under lots of physical stress (marathon runners, skiers, etc.) had lower incidence of colds in one study. Vitamin C is generally well tolerated and safe to take while try to conceive or pregnant, though high doses of vitamin C may cause diarrhea. Vitamin C supplementation is not recommended in people with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones.

Zinc: Zinc deficiency makes it more likely that you’ll catch a cold or other infection, so ensuring adequate zinc intake is important. Make sure to avoid oversupplementing zinc. The daily upper limit is 40 mg. You should not take more than 40 mg daily except for short time periods as directed by a healthcare practitioner. Make sure to check all supplements for zinc content when determining your daily intake, as some prenatal vitamins have as much as 25 mg zinc.

Sources

  1. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Vitamin D: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-D#immunity

 

  1. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Vitamin C: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C#common-cold-treatment

 

  1. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Zinc: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc

 

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