vitamin and mineral supplements on display at Guido's Fresh Marketplace

Look for myriad immune-boosting supplements, from A to Z, in the wellness aisle at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington and Pittsfield. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — Breezy days and cool nights mean fall is in the air. With back-to-school (and work!) just around the corner, put the waning days of summer to use boosting your body’s natural immunity. Already ingesting echinacea and elderberry? Kudos to you! If not, rest assured: ‘Tis the season to prepare for the onslaught of cold and flu that winter inevitably brings.

Enter Bonnie Bell and Lisa Zeleny, the dynamic duo behind all things wellness related at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace (who manage the Great Barrington and Pittsfield wellness departments respectively). Here, they team up to talk about immune-boosting strategies that — begun now, in the form of diet, supplements and superfoods — will pack a powerful punch once the snow flies.

Back to basics

The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that protects the body against invaders. “Boosting white blood cells — that take action by maneuvering through the body and blood, in search of unfamiliar bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi — may help improve the immune system,” explains Zeleny.

“For parents, it’s important to begin these routines before school starts, so you get some sort of immunity built in for you and your family prior to exposure,” Bell, who worked for years in a kindergarten classroom, recommends. She underscores the simple things: mask up (to stop the spread of COVID and other germs swirling around, especially in communal settings like school), wash your hands often (with soap and water when available, or hand sanitizer in a pinch), and get proper sleep.

“It’s important to get your family in the habit of rest,” Bell adds, especially after a fun-filled summer. Come fall, the human body is prone to becoming contracted. “As we turn inward, and focus, we want to give our body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy,” Bell suggests. Here’s how.

A woman wearing a face mask scours the well-stocked wellness aisles at Guido's Fresh Marketplace

Need a leg up on fighting what ails you before you're feeling down and out? Wellness associates like Luana Dias David (pictured here in Pittsfield) take stocking their shelves, with supplements for savvy shoppers, very seriously. 

From A to Z

ASTRAGALUS: The anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of astragalus root have long been lauded to protect and support the immune system. Regular use has been purported to keep colds and upper respiratory infections at bay.

VITAMIN C: Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps the body repair damage from free radicals and is necessary for the growth and repair of all body tissue. Zeleny points customers toward buffered Vitamin C which tends to be a bit more gentle on the digestive tract, especially in high doses.

VITAMIN D: When building immunity, Vitamin D is key. It’s considered one of the body’s earliest defenders and, especially in the northeast where sun exposure is not enough, supplementation to the tune of 1,000-4,000 IU per day is suggested (depending on your baseline).

ELDERBERRY: Elderberry, most commonly found in the form of syrup, helps battle destructive bacteria. It has been scientifically proven to lessen cold and flu symptoms by as much as 3-5 days when used regularly before the onset of symptoms.

MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS: Reishi mushrooms in particular, taken in powdered form, have been shown to provide nutritional support on a cellular level. Their use enhances immunity by boosting white blood cells that help fight infection.

OREGANO OIL: The strong antioxidant properties in oregano oil are known to have powerful antiviral and antibacterial effects.

PROBIOTICS: Did you know that 70% of the body’s immunity resides in the digestive tract? Building gut flora through probiotics (good bacteria that keep you healthy) helps build immunity from the inside out. Fermented foods — such as kombucha, kimchi and even yogurt — are good probiotic sources.

ZINC: When it comes to minerals that can help boost the immune system, zinc is a great place to start. Especially in the form of lozenges, zinc coats the throat and sinuses against anything foreign entering the body (and can reduce cold and flu symptoms by a day or more).

Why now?

“We take our cue from the seasons — not the retail market calendar — which is why building immunity starts now,” explain Bell and Zeleny who follow Mother Nature’s best rule of thumb: Start building your line of defense against winter colds and flu the season before you need it. In fact, wait until winter and you’ll have missed the most effective window for building immunity.

Planning to start supplementation as a first step toward boosting your immunity this fall? “It’s a good idea to slowly introduce [each supplement] — one at a time — to get your body used to it,” suggests Zeleny, pointing to a staged introduction as key in identifying any potential side effects (such as an upset stomach with Vitamin C, for instance). Introducing multiple supplements at once will make it nearly impossible to know which (if any) is causing adverse symptoms.

Most importantly, always consult your doctor before making any changes to your supplement routine. “Especially if you are taking any prescription medications, or have any underlying conditions including high or low blood pressure,” Zeleny advises. Bell takes it one step further;

“If you have an autoimmune disorder, it’s very important that you check with your doctor before adding certain supplements, to ensure they are not interacting with — or over stimulating — the immune system.”

Tips and tricks

When in doubt, remember to eat the rainbow. “Food is medicine,” says Bell, who recommends eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. “Aim for every color of the rainbow — heavy on the greens — every day,” she says, adding that favorites like broccoli and strawberries can provide the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C — no supplement needed.

A pair of human arms full of fresh produce in all the colors of the rainbow

When in doubt, remember to eat the rainbow. A diet rich in fresh, seasonal produce is the first step toward boosting your body's immune system this season. Come winter, you'll be glad you did!

Restoring the immune system can start with simple good habits: adequate sleep, fresh air and plenty of water are easy places to start. Got an air diffuser at home? Experiment with essential oils known for antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities (from peppermint and tea tree to lemongrass and eucalyptus). And change your toothbrush! At least once a month, and sooner if you have been sick.

The waning days of summer are prime time to prepare for what’s to come. “The season is about to change, we can all feel the shift coming on,” admits Zeleny. Don’t wait until the temperatures drop and you are sick: Build your immunity — starting with healthy diet and lifestyle routines — today. What are you waiting for?

Visit guidosfreshmarketplace.com or stop by one of two convenient locations: 1020 South St. in Pittsfield, 413-442-9912 or 760 South Main St. in Great Barrington, 413-528-9255.

Hannah Van Sickle can be reached at hvansickle@berkshireeagle.com