Get The Facts On The Immune System

woman sneezing into a tissue

Is it safe to use natural health-care products to boost our immunity? After all, they are “natural.”

Can taking echinacea prevent me from catching a cold?

Can taking vitamin C, zinc or selenium supplements boost my immunity?

Is it safe to use natural health-care products to boost our immunity? After all, they are “natural.”

Natural health-care products include herbs (echinacea, ginseng) and supplements (vitamins and minerals, protein bars). You can find them in health food stores and pharmacies and you don’t need a prescription.

Keep in mind that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.” There is still a risk of overdoses and serious side effects, such as allergic reactions. Natural health-care products can also have negative interactions with other prescription medications, over- the-counter drugs or foods.

To see if Health Canada has reviewed a natural health-care product for safety, quality and health claims, look for one of the following on the label:

  • Drug Identification Number (DIN)
  • Natural Product Number (NPN)
  • Drug Identification Number – Homeopathic Medicine (DIN-HM)

But remember: Just because Health Canada has reviewed a product does not that it is right for you. Always talk to your doctor about any natural health-care products that you or your child are taking or thinking about starting. Together, you can come up with a plan that is safe and effective.

Find out more:

Canadian Paediatric Society, Natural health-care products and children

Health Canada, Natural health-care products

Health Canada, Drugs and Health Products – Questions from Consumers

Can taking echinacea prevent me from catching a cold?

Echinacea is an herb. It has traditionally been used to help ease cold symptoms such as a sore throat, but taking it will not prevent you from getting a cold. Washing your hands often is one of the best ways to limit the chances of picking up the cold virus.

Echinacea comes in different forms, such as fresh or dried root, powder, extract, tablet, capsule, drops or tea. Depending on the part of the plant used, there are different names, benefits, directions for use, safe dose amounts and precautions. Read instructions carefully before taking echinacea and discuss any questions with your doctor.

Echinacea supplements are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Find out more:

Health Canada, Echinacea Root

Health Canada, Echinacea angustifolia

Can taking vitamin C, zinc or selenium supplements boost my immunity?

Almost all nutrients help the immune system in one way or another. Some research suggests that vitamin C, zinc and selenium may make your immune system stronger. For most people, however, there is no good evidence that taking more of these nutrients than what you can get from a healthy diet will improve your immune system.

It’s best to check with your doctor before taking any supplements. Both zinc and selenium can be toxic in high doses, and taking more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day can have side effects like diarrhea.

The easiest way to get these nutrients is by following Canada’s Food Guide. Follow these tasty tips for including good sources of vitamin C, zinc and selenium in your diet:

Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, and because it is an antioxidant, it also may help to prevent disease. Try these delicious ideas:

  • Add sliced strawberries and grapefruit segments to green salads
  • Toss broccoli into homemade soups
  • Add green peppers to pasta sauces
  • Pack canned mandarin oranges in your lunch

Zinc is important for a healthy immune system and proper growth. Try these tips:

  • Never tried oysters? Now you have a good reason!
  • Use lean meats, fish or poultry to make a tasty stew
  • Add legumes, such as kidney beans and lentils, to soups, chilis, sauces and rice-based dishes
  • Enjoy peanut butter spread thinly on whole-grain crackers

Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to keep you healthy.  Try these appetizing ideas:

  • Add seafood (shrimp, crabmeat, mussels, oysters) to soups, pasta sauces and stir-fries
  • Enjoy whole-grain cereal for breakfast or add some wheat germ to oatmeal
  • Add leftover meats to soups
  • Have a handful of Brazil nuts for an afternoon snack

Find out more:

Unlock Food, Vitamins and Minerals FAQs

Last Update – August 20, 2020

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