Boosting your immune system – we’ve all tried to do it with vitamins, supplements – but do they really work?
In any given grocery store aisle, you’ll find an endless array of products claiming to boost your immune system.
Then, there’s this article from Curiosity, claiming that the concept of “boosting” your immunity makes very little scientific sense.
So, which is it?
To Verify, we dug up research from Harvard Medical School, Guangzhou University in China, and talked to Dr. Cedric Spak, infectious disease specialist at Baylor Scott & White.
Let’s start by clearing up what the immune system really is -- and what it's not.
“It is not one kind of cell, not one kind of hormone, it is many things,” Spak said.
Basically, the immune system tags everything it comes in contact with -- identifying it as either self or invader.
“That could be infection, could be allergy, could be cancer,” Spak added.
The immune system’s main job is to keep everything in your body stable. In the last 20 years, scientists have learned a lot about the immune system.
“The first 24 months of life can define the immune system for your entire life,” Spak explained. “Something else that we've learned is that the previous nine months before your life during gestation, so during pregnancy, the mother's health and what the mother does can actually impact the immune system."
Does that mean that our immune systems are the same as they were when we were two years old?
“That’s a good question,” Spak said. “As you age, your immune system changes in a variety of ways to accommodate the challenges of your age."
This article from Harvard points to all the common sense stuff that will help you to maintain a strong immune system: a healthy diet, exercise, managing your weight, routine screenings, and vaccinations.
“These things will all impact how the immune system will work,” Spak explained.
Several studies, including one from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine make it very clear that certain triggers are bad for the immune system: heavy alcohol, stressful life events and using tobacco.
“Interestingly, we don't know if vaping does the same thing,” Spak said. “We're starting to think it does.”
So back to our Verify question: Can you really “boost” your immune system?
“It’s hard to show,” Spak said. “It's really hard to prove.”
When it comes to science-based evidence, as a whole, no -- you can’t boost your immune system.
“Zinc has probably been shown to be most beneficial,” Spak added. “But when the clinical trials were done, the outcomes were modest.”
As for all that stuff on the shelves, it turns out -- you could just save your money.
“When it comes to products that are over the counter supplements, there's essentially zero regulation on what they say," Spak said.
If you’re sick, doctors suggest getting plenty of fluids and resting. When you sleep, the immune system is archiving information that it has already collected.