Immune System 101 - The basics of boosting your immune system

Immunity and immune-boosting supplements are all the rage right now.

We’re here to give you a bit of knowledge and perspective on some of the buzzwords you’re hearing today as well as shed some light on which supplements may benefit immune function

Let’s get started!

Immune System 101

The immune system is a complex host defense system composed of various types of proteins, cells, tissues, and organs.

Its primary objective -- being ever vigilant for foreign invaders looking to wreak all kinds of havoc within your body.

When these microscopic bad boys are identified, the immune system kicks into gear, mounting a complex attack on the invaders.

The “largest” member of your immune system is your skin.

Not only does it serve as the covering for your muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, and bones, it also provides a physical barrier between your delicate insides and the environmental ne'er-do wells that wish to invade and infect you.

Furthermore, the skin also contains elements of the innate and adaptive immune systems that allow it to actively combat infections. 

In light of the current situation, a heightened awareness has been placed on immune function as well as what supplements can be taken to “boost” immune function.

Let’s look at a few of the most notable ones on the market.


Top 3 Immune Boosting Supplements

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many foods, including as oranges or strawberries.

It is involved in the production of collagen, carnitine, and various neurotransmitters (including dopamine and serotonin).

Vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism, but its most notable role is that of an antioxidant, where it helps combat the damaging effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.

Additionally, Vitamin C may also help regenerate other antioxidants in the body, such as vitamin E, and assists in the absorption of nonheme (plant-derived) iron.

As you might expect, this versatile vitamin also plays an important role in immune function.

Research notes that a single dose of vitamin C may be helpful in protecting against oxidative stress in the lungs.[1]

Additional research indicates that supplementing with vitamin C in dosages ranging from 500-2000mg / day may reduce the severity of respiratory symptoms of the common cold following short-term heavy physical stress.[2,3]


Zinc is an essential trace mineral involved in 300+ reactions in the body. It is found in every fluid, tissue, and organ of the body.

Zinc also happens to be the second most abundant trace mineral in the body, second to only iron. As you can guess, zinc plays a vital role in hundreds of biological processes.

Rich sources of zinc in the diet include oysters, beef (chuck steak), pork chop, eggs, and hemp seeds.

Zinc is required to activate lymphocytes (T cells), which help control and regulate immune responses. T-cells are also involved in the “attack” on malignant cells.

Deficiencies in zinc can severely stunt functioning of the immune system.

Fortunately, studies note that zinc supplementation may help address some of the shortcomings of dietary zinc intake, particularly regarding immune function.

Research notes that supplementation with 9-24mg of zinc may help reduce the duration of symptoms of the common cold in adults.

Researchers put forth the theory that zinc may help reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms by directly inhibiting rhinovirus binding and replication in the nasal mucosa. 

A 2013 Cochrane review on zinc supplementation also found that[4]:

“Zinc administered within 24 hours of onset of symptoms reduces the duration of common cold symptoms in healthy people but some caution is needed due to the heterogeneity of the data. As the zinc lozenges formulation has been widely studied and there is a significant reduction in the duration of cold at a dose of ≥ 75 mg/day, for those considering using zinc it would be best to use it at this dose throughout the cold.”

Animal research also notes that zinc supplementation may help reduce airway inflammation; however, more human studies are needed before it can be said with any degree of certainty that zinc supplementation is an effective option for decreasing asthma and allergy symptoms.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that serves primarily as an important building block, along with the amino acids glycine and glutamine in the synthesis of glutathione.

Glutathione is regarded as one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body, particularly in regards to immune health. 

As such, maintaining sufficient levels of glutathione is critical to the health of the respiratory and immune systems as well as the liver (which is especially noteworthy for those of you that may enjoy imbibing occasionally).

Essentially, by shoring up glutathione levels, the body is better equipped to combat free radicals and support the detoxification of heavy metals and other harmful substances (toxins).

Additionally, by supporting glutathione production, n-acetyl cysteine may help reduce the severity and frequency of coughing, wheezing, and respiratory attacks.[5]

Supplementation with NAC has also been noted to help relieve symptoms of COPD and bronchitis as well as possibly improve other lung and respiratory tract conditions like asthma and pulmonary fibrosis. It also may help relieve symptoms of nasal and sinus congestion brought on by allergies or infections.[6]

It’s also worth noting that this powerful amino acid has also been noted in research to boost nitric oxide (NO) production, supporting improved blood flow, nutrient delivery, and cardiovascular health.[7]


  1. Hemilä H. The effect of vitamin C on bronchoconstriction and respiratory symptoms caused by exercise: a review and statistical analysis. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2014;10(1):58. Published 2014 Nov 27. doi:10.1186/1710-1492-10-58
  2. Hemilä H. Vitamin C and common cold incidence: a review of studies with subjects under heavy physical stress. Int J Sports Med. 1996;17:379–383. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-972864
  3. Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;1:CD000980.
  4. Singh, M., & Das, R. R. (2013). Zinc for the common cold. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6), CD001364.
  5. Stey, C., Steurer, J., Bachmann, S., Medici, T. C., & Tramer, M. R. (2000). The effect of oral N-acetylcysteine in chronic bronchitis: a quantitative systematic review. European Respiratory Journal, 16(2), 253 LP – 262. Retrieved from
  6. Tirouvanziam R, Conrad CK, Bottiglieri T, Herzenberg LA, Moss RB, Herzenberg LA. High-dose oral N-acetylcysteine, a glutathione prodrug, modulates inflammation in cystic fibrosis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006;103(12):4628‐4633. doi:10.1073/pnas.0511304103
  7. de Andrade KQ, Moura FA, dos Santos JM, de Araújo OR, de Farias Santos JC, Goulart MO. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Hepatic Diseases: Therapeutic Possibilities of N-Acetylcysteine. Int J Mol Sci. 2015;16(12):30269‐30308. Published 2015 Dec 18. doi:10.3390/ijms161226225

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