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Essential Supplements for a Healthy Immune System

Coughing, runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever, tiredness -- does any of this sound familiar? I've compiled my favourite supplements to support your immune system.
Nov 21, 2018 | Joy McCarthy

Coughing, runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever, tiredness, too many sick days off work – does any of this sound familiar? There's nothing worse than getting a cold or flu, especially if it happens more than three times per year, or you get bit by another bug as soon as you're over the stomach flu. This is why I've written this post today so you can get the help you need to boost your immune system!

I've talked about lifestyle strategies for preventing a cold or flu before and I've also shared recommendations for keeping your child's immune system strong so that if they do end up with a cold or flu, it's less severe and they can get better faster. So in this post, I'm going to focus specifically on supplements. 

Before we get to my list of supplements, I first want to explain more about the immune system because whether you realize it or not, you're under attack all the time! Your body is constantly fighting off bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus to keep you well. I'm sure you know this to be true, especially if you've got a snotty cubicle neighbour or sneezing child! 

What is the immune system?

The immune system is a powerful army of cells, proteins, tissues and organs that are constantly working to keep you healthy.

Your immune system is complex and fascinating. Through a series of steps called the immune response, the immune system attacks foreign invaders and destroys them. The amazing thing about your immune system is that it's constantly adapting.

An interesting example of this adaptation is why you can only get chickenpox once. Your body makes antibodies against the chickenpox virus so that the next time your body comes into contact with the virus, the antibodies are there to do their job. You now have lifetime immunity, thanks to your immune system doing its job! 


If you're a parent, I have good news for you. While it may seem like your child is getting sick all too often, the good news is that each bout of sickness is educating and developing a healthy immune system for them.

The bigger worry would be if your child NEVER got sick. I remember when I was a kid, parents would have "chickenpox parties" and literally bring their child to a party with other children who had chickenpox so they could just get it over with. 

Let's take a look at some of the complex and fascinating ways your immune system protects you from getting sick. These are some of the physical and physiological barriers protecting you from bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites:

  • Skin microbiome: The skin is covered by a diverse set of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses. In fact, it's estimated that you have 1 billion microbes per square centimetre of skin. The type of microbes that live on your skin help determine the health of your skin and they modulate the immune system. This is a big part of the reason I wrote a chapter in my Eczema Healing Guide on the microbiome. 
  • Skin: The outer layer, called the stratum corneum, prevents entry of bacteria and viruses, provided there are no skin abrasions, cuts or conditions weakening this barrier like eczema.
  • Sweat: When sweat is secreted, it actually leaves a slightly oily residue on the skin that is very protective.
  • Ear wax: Traps dust and kills bacteria. This is why using Q-tips to clean out your earwax is not recommended! I stopped doing this about 10 years ago and actually have less ear wax.
  • Mucous membranes: Secretions from the body contain substances that inhibit the growth of micro-organisms and also trap microbes.
  • Nasal hair: They filter out microbes and dust particles.
  • Stomach pH: Kills pathogenic bacteria. This is one of the reasons why you can eat the same item as your friend who gets food poisoning and you do not – because you have a healthy amount of stomach acid. Many people suffer from low stomach acid , contrary to popular belief. 
  • Gut microbiome: 70-80% of your immune tissue resides in your gut, which is home to 100 trillion microbes that influence the immune system (more on this in a bit).

Beyond these physical and physiological barriers, you have several types of white blood cells including neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes and monocytes that are the invisible part of your immune system working behind the scenes. 

Supporting the immune system is important and vital in reducing colds, the flu and even cancer.

However, if you do not eliminate factors that lower the immune system, you're fighting an uphill battle. All the supplements, elixirs and magical potions in the world won't work until you make a healthy lifestyle a priority. 

Now let's talk about natural health supplements, but please remember there is no one magic pill that can immediately get rid of your cold or restore a suppressed immune system. As stated by Dr. Michael Murray N.D. "the immune system is truly holistic, as evidenced by the close association of psychological, neurological, nutritional, environmental and hormonal factors with immune function. This means the body must be looked at as a "whole".

Taking this a step further, this is why even our mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on the function of our immune system. Negative emotions suppress the immune function.

If you want to research more about this then search "psychoneuroimmunology".

Here are 5 supplements for a strong, robust immune system.

Please note, this is not medical advice and does not override any advice you've been given by a medical doctor or your natural healthcare practitioner. Please speak to your MD or natural healthcare practitioner before taking any supplement and for dosage recommendations. 


Given the importance of the gut microbes for immunity, it makes sense to take a probiotic. Bacteria educate our immune system from the moment we are born. When newborns travel through the birth canal in a vaginal birth, babies swallow massive amounts of microbes which help to colonize their gut and shape their immune system.

 Women who breastfeed will pass along microbes that are associated with a decreased risk of allergies and other problems of the immune system. However, if you're reading this thinking "well, I wasn't breastfed and I was born via C-section", don't worry, there is much you can do to support your microbiome like eating fermented foods regularly. 

A diverse gut flora teaches the immune system to differentiate between friend and foe (bad bacteria, viruses etc) and prevent the gut from absorbing foreign invaders into the blood stream. Having the right set of gut microbes boosts the activity of immune cells in the gut. This is why having a strong immune system reduces the common cold and flu and therefore it is absolutely essential to have a healthy gut microbiome to achieve this. 


Have to take an antibiotic? Please avoid it unless it's absolutely necessary as it will wipe out up to a third of your gut microbes, making you more susceptible to colds, flu, oral thrush, yeast infections and so on. 

Since you have a multitude of different strains of bacteria in your gut, your probiotic should reflect the same. Unfortunately, yogurt just doesn't have enough probiotics to make a significant difference. That's why I personally use Genuine Health's probiotics daily. There are many benefits even beyond supporting the immune system such as reducing constipation and supporting the microbiome of a pregnant mama.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an extremely supportive nutrient to boost the immune system and when we are ill, it helps the immune system identify and destroy bacteria and viruses. It prevents viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections, and turns on key peptides in the immune system to trigger a strong antimicrobial response.

A three year trial of taking 800IU of vitamin D per day showed a reduction in colds and flu by up to 70%.

It's estimated 1 billion people worldwide across all ethnicities and age groups have a vitamin D deficiency. This statistic is from 2012, meaning that number has likely increased. This is a scary reality given how many roles vitamin D has in our body. I always recommend you get your Vitamin D levels checked. In Ontario where I live, the cost is $36 but it's worth it to establish a baseline. I've written a whole blog about Vitamin D if you want to learn what the best food sources are and what else it's good for in the body. 

There are a lot of great vitamin D choices out there and it's a very inexpensive supplement. I would personally avoid cheap tablets as they often have unnecessary fillers and you'll get better absorption using an oil capsule or a liquid; vitamin D is fat soluble after all, so it makes sense to take it in an oil. I personally love the taste of the Genestra Vitamin D. Right now we are giving Vienna these orange flavoured chewables because she likes the taste of them. She won't do the oil otherwise we'd all be on the same supplement.


I love Elderberry Force by New Chapter! In fact, I'm megadosing on it right now. I woke up with a sore throat the other day and it hasn't manifested into anything serious, so fingers crossed I've nipped it in the bud! I think I've told pretty much everyone about it because it's saved me a multitude of times with Vienna bringing home many flu bugs from preschool.

The amazing thing about elderberries is that they contain naturally occuring chemical compounds called anthocyanins which stimulate the immune system. Supplementation of elderberry has been showm to reduce the duration and symptoms of a cold and flu. The flavonoids in elderberry have been found to bind to certain influenza viruses and mitagate the symptoms. Not all elderberry supplements are created equal! 

Speak to your natural healthcare practitioner if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Elderberry Force is my preference because the extraction process maintains the integrity of all the healing benefits of the elderberry. It also happens to be sourced from the best elderberry in the world, Austria!

St. Francis Deep Immune

Deep Immune by St. Francis has been around for over 20 years. It's a tried and true natural health product and with all the junk out there, it's nice to find something that's legit. It works by boosting your body's own natural defenses and it's clinically proven to prevent the common cold and flu. I take it all throughout cold and flu season, not just when I feel like I'm getting sick. It's a blend of certified organic herbs including astragalus, reishi mushroom and schisandra to name a few. These herbs are regenerating, immune-supportive and modulating.

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who swear by this product. St. Francis has a "kids" formula that we give to Vienna when I can sneak it in a smoothie. I bumped into a mom just the other day who uses it for her daughter and she said her daughter has avoided all cold and flus this season because of it. She swears this stuff! You can get it in capsule or tincture form but I believe the tincture is more effective. Not to be used if pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Genuine Health Gut Superfoods (prebiotics)

Gut health is one of the most important aspects of a healthy immune system in both children and adults alike. You likely know this to be true if you've ever had to take a course of antibiotics only to end up with more health issues once the course of drugs is done. Even if you've never had to take antibiobitcs (does this person actually exist? haha), supporting gut health is key but you already know that based on my previous point above! 

Genuine Health's Gut Superfoods is something I take nearly every day - it's a regular in the McJordan home! I love it because it's made with 22 fully fermented plant-based organic superfoods and prebiotics to nourish a healthy gut ecology for total body health. Prebiotics are as important as probiotics. They are literally the food for the probiotics to flourish! I've created lots of recipes with this amazing product too, such as my Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and my Pumpkin Spice Cookies. 

You'll be happy to know this is safe for kids too. I put it in my daughter's smoothie. More often than not, she'll only drink half or 3/4 of her smoothie but I know she's getting some of it!

Finally, there are many other notable nutrients for a healthy immune system including mushrooms, vitamins A, C, E, B-complex and minerals such as zinc and selenium; all the thousands of phytonutrients (plant chemicals that give foods their colour and taste) that exist in nature to enhance our immune system. So in summary eat lots of colourful foods!

I hope you found this post useful and helpful. Before I finish, please note that I really encourage you to focus on whole foods first, like bone broth, fruits & vegetables and tea and then supplements. What I mean by that is if you're eating a poor diet and simply taking everything I recommend here, it won't help. Just like Dr. Michael Murray states, it's a truly holistic (wholesome) approach. 

Wishing you a cold and flu-free happy holiday season my friends!

Joy xo

Ps. If you want to learn my thoughts on the flu vaccine and get more in depth into ways you can support your immune system, check out this online sebinar where I review the available evidence. Then you can make an informed decision if it makes sense for you. The key thing to remember about the flu vaccine is that it may not actually protect you from getting the flu (which means it may not protect others) and it doesn't make you any healthier. 


Please speak to your MD or natural healthcare practitioner before taking any supplement and for dosage recommendations because every person is unique and there may be contraindications with some of these supplements if you take prescription medications. 

Alex | BigBlueWaves   •   November 25, 2018

Well done, Joy! Enjoyed every bit of this post. I also opt for vitamin D and probiotics for boosting the immune system. Echinacea is another powerful herb that increases the number and activity of white blood cells and helps us fight bacterial and viral infections. Both herb and root tinctures can come in handy during the flu season. Thanks a lot for mentioning flu shot — people should weigh out the benefits and risks carefully before making a decision. According to VAERS, the flu shot is responsible for the most adverse reactions. Thanks a lot and keep it up!

Joy McCarthy   •   November 25, 2018
ALEX | BIGBLUEWAVES   •   November 30, 2018

Isabelle   •   November 27, 2018

Awesome article! Do you take the St-Francis deep immune once or twice a day? Thanks!

Joy McCarthy   •   November 28, 2018

Dawn   •   November 28, 2018

I have to disagree with you on vaccines. The anti-vax movement have caused a lot of diseases that were under control or almost extinct in North America are coming back because of this movement. I had chicken pox when I was little because there was no vaccine for it and I remember having scabs from top to bottom including on my scalp. Because of that I am at risk of getting shingles. I have had one shingles vaccine and there is newer one that I want as well. If I had a child I would never put them through a chicken pox party to expose them. Same with measles and mumps. Measles can dumb down your immune system and make you more susceptible to other diseases. I will always get the flu shot, especially at my age as a serious case of the flu can develop into pneumonia. And when I am of age I will get the pneumonia vaccine. Vaccines are the reason polio has been virtually wiped out in North America. My mother remembers the fear they lived with and not being able to go outside or play with their friends.

Joy McCarthy   •   November 28, 2018

Dawn   •   November 28, 2018

I am very passionate. I am from an age when they would line you up in school to give you your booster shots en elementary school. Everyone just did it as it was free. I survived chicken pox too and my mother survived shingles. But I think we would have been happy to not have gotten them. I don't know why they changed measles, mumps and rubella into one shot and maybe that does affect kids differently than it did when I was a child. I don't believe it causes autism, but perhaps they should be spread out like they used to. I think there is a lot to be said for herd immunity. There are many pockets with outbreaks in the US and Canada due to non-immunization. Or maybe I'm wrong and this is what will cause the Zombie Apocalypse! Thanks for hearing my views.

Joy McCarthy   •   November 28, 2018

Kim   •   November 28, 2018

Hi Joy, I have a tincture of Sambucus Intrinsic (elderberry). Do you take this supplement only during the onset of a cold or flu, or is it taken as a preventative measure? How often do you take it during the onset of an illness?

Joy McCarthy   •   November 28, 2018

Christine   •   November 28, 2018

Joy do you take the Elderberry Force regularly every day through cold

Joy McCarthy   •   November 28, 2018

Carol   •   December 24, 2018

I’ve been giving my children st Francis for kids daily this winter - is that okay, or best to space it out? Same with the elderberry force for myself - I’ve been taking it daily, but seeing your comments, maybe I should limit it as well ? Thanks, Carol

Joy McCarthy   •   December 26, 2018

Carol   •   December 26, 2018

Very true! I try to stock up on elderberry when it’s on sale :) In terms of St Francis immune for adults and their breastfeeding warning - Olive is 2 and nursing just occasionally. I would assume at this stage it would be okay. My trick with daily st Francis for kids is to mix it with a spoonful of apple sauce in the morning and give it to them first thing as the “morning vitamin”. Which vitamin d and fish oil brand do you give Vienna? (Sorry if you’ve already mentioned it in another post, and thank you for taking the time to respond while you’re on holidays! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas)

Joy McCarthy   •   December 26, 2018

Nathalie S.   •   January 3, 2019

Hi Joy I just purchased the Clean Collagen from Genuine Health unflavoured. Looking forward to try this. When is the best time to take it? Morning ? Or Evening?

Joy McCarthy   •   January 4, 2019

Nerissa L.   •   February 3, 2019

Hi Joy, I take new chapter vitamins, and omega 3. My question is with addition of your suggestions how to boost immmunity, do you take all your supplements all at the same time? In the morning? Hope you understand my question LOL ;)

Joy McCarthy   •   February 4, 2019

Chrissy   •   May 21, 2019

Hi Joy! Which kind of probiotic do you recommend? There are so many different ones just in the Genuine Health brand. There’s a 15 billion, a 50 billion, one specifically for women etc...I’m not sure which is best. Thank you so much.

Joy McCarthy   •   May 21, 2019

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