QUESTION: “Hi, I have been listening to Optimal Health Daily since the beginning of January while doing my cardio workouts… they are great. Thanks. I recently listened to the “Science Vs.” podcast episode about Immune boosting. Is immune boosting a bust?”
DR. NEAL: Hi Todd, thank you for your question. I’m so glad you found the podcast and find it helpful!
The bottom line with immune boosting is that it’s not a bust.
Alright – show’s over! That was quick.
Hmm? I should explain? Okay, if you say so…
Some Background on “Immune Boosting”
I am actually familiar with the “Science Vs.” podcast and listened to the episode about immune boosting just so I can accurately respond to your question.
So, let me give some context.
On that podcast, they were discussing whether certain vitamin and mineral supplements would help prevent someone from getting Covid or recovering from it. So, when we say “immune boosting” – we’re talking about making our immune systems become better at fighting off harmful microbes.
Since Covid is so new, we simply don’t have enough research to know which nutrients would prevent someone from becoming infected or reduce the long-term effects of the Covid. Instead, much of the conversation about immune boosting and supplements had to rely on previously published studies looking at how to prevent the common cold and the flu that goes around every year.
And, unfortunately, most studies found that supplementing with vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D don’t seem to help prevent us from getting sick… with one major exception.
If someone is not getting enough vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D in their diets (or, in the case of vitamin D, not getting enough sunlight) then yes, their immune system may suffer. This is because their body is deficient in key nutrients that help with supporting immune health.
But if someone is getting enough of these nutrients each day, then taking extra probably won’t boost their immune system.
Should I Supplement… Just to be Safe?
Now, the next question is: could it hurt to supplement with these, just in case? You know, as a back-up. In the case of vitamin C and vitamin D, taking extra as a supplement probably won’t hurt you.
No need to buy some of the “megadose” vitamins you might see sold. Taking extra zinc can present more of a problem. Zinc is a mineral, not a vitamin.
And with many minerals, it’s easy to reach toxic levels when we supplement with them. So, when it comes to zinc, I usually don’t recommend supplementing with it.
Before You Supplement
Now, I do have to mention some disclaimers: first, if you decide to supplement, please speak to your doctor or a dietitian. This is because taking extra vitamin C and vitamin D isn’t for everybody and can interfere with some medications.
Next, if you and your healthcare provider says it’s ok for you to take supplements, be sure you purchase a supplement that’s free of impurities. About 30% of supplements sold in the marketplace contain illegal or banned substances.
One way to avoid this is to look at the packaging the supplement comes in. If, right on the box or bottle, you see a USP symbol or an NSF symbol, that’s a good sign. It means the supplement was tested by an independent lab to make sure it’s relatively free of impurities and the supplement is delivering on the dose it’s promising.
Another way to double-check is to search for the supplement on ConsumerLab.com. ConsumerLab is an independent 3rd party company that randomly tests for the purity and quality of supplements sold.
They’ll tell you if the supplement met their quality standards. But know that ConsumerLab does charge a fee to access their database.
So, Is Immune Boosting A Myth?
But this doesn’t mean immune boosting is a myth. There is quite a bit of truth to the idea of making the immune system stronger.
For example, when we’re talking about lifestyle habits, we know that exercise makes our immune system stronger. Now, there may be a point where too much exercise actually makes the immune system weaker.
But most of us don’t exercise to that point. Basically, exercise makes our immune cells more active and ready to fight off dangerous microbes.
That’s a perfect definition of immune-boosting.
Another example of a lifestyle habit that may help: eating enough dietary fiber each day. For adult women, the recommendation is to get about 25 grams of dietary fiber from whole foods each day. For adult men, the recommendation is 35 grams of dietary fiber each day. This is because dietary fiber helps promote the health of our gut microbiome. What does that have to do with the immune system? Well, it’s estimated that about 70% of our immune cells can be found in the gut.
So, a healthy gut may mean a healthy immune system. Reducing our intake of highly processed foods may also support the health of our gut microbiome. This in return, may serve as an immune booster.
Let’s not forget about getting enough sleep! Aiming for a minimum of 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night can help keep the immune system functioning optimally.
In fact, some studies have found that the immune system may be 70% less effective after a bad night’s sleep.
The Bottom Line
So, Todd, hopefully I’ve convinced you that immune boosting is not a bust. Rather, there’s quite a bit of truth to it.