The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that help your body fight infections, diseases and illnesses. It recognizes and protects foreign invaders that can make you sick.
When your immune system is working properly, it is able to stop or fight off germs or foreign cells that can harm you. So it only makes sense to want to know how to keep your immune system working at peak capacity.
But is there anything you can do to boost your immune system, or is immune system boosting just a concept created to market wellness products such as foods, beverages and packaged dietary supplements?
The claim about boosting your immune system
You’ve probably seen advertisements for products such as dietary supplements that claim their ingredients will boost your immune system. In a context where many respiratory viruses (colds, flu, etc.) are spreading at the same time, it can be tempting to believe these types of claims, especially if the promise is that you will not get sick or that you will recover faster. The concept of stimulating or strengthening the immune system is problematic because it promotes the idea that immunity is like a muscle that can be strengthened and trained with supplements.
Scientific research on immune system health
The belief that one can boost the immune system is one of the main reasons people use dietary supplements, according to research, but some marketing claims can be misleading.
The immune system is a very complex and tightly regulated system, so it is difficult for any particular dietary supplement or food to have a significant effect in “boosting” the immune system. An overactive immune system should not be a goal.
Your immune system is made up of many different parts, each playing a role in defending the body against harmful invaders that can make you sick or cause harm. The main parts of the immune system are:
white blood cells
the lymph nodes
Tonsils and adenoids
Skin and mucous membranes
stomach and intestines
If you want this system to work well, you don’t necessarily need to “stimulate” it. And there really isn’t any evidence that certain actions or certain nutrients can boost the immune system. It’s best to use the term “nourish the immune system,” which better aligns with what we currently know about the impact of nutrition and healthy habits on different body systems, including immunity.
Follow these tips to support the functioning of the immune system:
Eat a balanced diet that provides the nutrients your body needs to function.
Practice regular physical activity
Maintain a healthy weight
get enough sleep (at least seven hours a night for adults)
Avoid or quit smoking
Avoid or limit alcohol
Find ways to manage stress
The Best Nutrients for Immunity
There are a few micro and macronutrients that can support immune health.
Zinc is a nutrient in the body that helps the immune system and metabolism work. If you get enough zinc in your diet, you usually don’t need a supplement. But some research suggests that zinc supplements can be used to prevent or reduce symptoms of various health conditions, including colds and pneumonia.
Vitamin D, which the body gets from food and direct exposure to sunlight, also plays a role in the functioning of the immune system.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as healthy fats, are found in certain plants and fatty fish and are essential for helping cells in the body function properly. Omega-3s may also be helpful in supporting immune health.
Sleep, or lack of sleep, can also impact immune function. Lack of sleep has been shown to lead to a decrease in key immune cells and an increase in inflammation, leading to an increased risk of infection. Research confirms this notion. So if you’re not getting enough, quality sleep, improving your sleep habits can help your immune system work better.
The final word on whether you can boost your immune system
Healthy habits for your body and mind, along with certain nutrients, help your immune system do its job, but they don’t necessarily strengthen it, and that’s not a bad thing.
The goal is to give your body the fuel it needs to maintain immune system function by meeting nutritional needs. She points out that supplements are especially useful in cases of vitamin deficiency, because the body rejects excess vitamins and minerals. Proven Foods: Consider a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats and oils, will be your best bet for keeping your immune system healthy.