In the face of a global health pandemic, it’s more important than ever to have a strong immune system. There’s an endless supply of supplements, juices and other products out in the market labeled as “immune boosting,” but is it even possible to boost your immunity or is it all just a marketing ploy?
In general, the immune system does an incredible job of protecting us against disease, but sometimes it fails, and we get sick. The idea of boosting your immune health is an enticing one and there are many that argue for dietary changes, vitamins and supplements, or other lifestyle changes as the panacea for creating the perfect immune system. As alluring as those ideas might be, the ability to perfectly tune your immune system is elusive for many reasons.
There is still so much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies of immune responses. There are no scientifically proven direct links between various lifestyle changes and enhanced immune function. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body, whether they are immune cells or others, is not necessarily a good thing. There are many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to different microbes, so knowing which cells you should “boost” and to what number is extremely complicated. It’s not something that can be done with some celery juice and a vitamin supplement. Scientists don’t even know the answer for sure. What is known, is that the body is continually generating immune cells. It produces more lymphocytes (white blood cells that are also one of the body’s main types of immune cells) than it can possibly use. The extra cells naturally remove themselves through the process of cell death called apoptosis – some before they see any action, others after the battle is won. There is no definitive answer on how many cells or what the best mix of cells in the immune system is in order to function at optimal level.
One study of immune response in 210 healthy twins between the ages of 8–82, determined that while genetics play a role, the strength of our immune system is mainly determined by noninheritable factors. This means that the germs we are exposed throughout our lives, as well as individual lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep, diet and exercise, all play an important role in the strength of our body’s defense system.
Researchers continue to explore the effects of these lifestyle factors on the immune response. Healthy living strategies are always recommended as your first line of defense in giving your immune system the upper hand in the fight against invading germs. Every party of your body, not just your immune system, functions better when it’s bolstered by healthy living strategies such as these tried and true basics:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a colorful diet rich in fruits and veggies
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- If you drink alcohol, only do so in moderation
- Get enough sleep
- Wash your hands frequently
- Try to minimize stress
- Have a good laugh. Laughter isn’t just a quick pick me up. It has longer lasting effects as well. Laughter has the ability to reduce your stress levels and as a result can potentially help you fight off illness.
According to Nicole Drepaniotis, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN, Nutrition Education Coordinator for Mather Hospital’s Bariatric Center of Excellence, “Focus on what you can control – your nutrition! Good nutrition is a key factor to help maintain a healthy immune system. Try to eat protein rich foods from lean animal and plant sources, colorful fruits and vegetables that provide necessary antioxidants, and foods that contain probiotics and are high in fiber. Eat well and stay healthy!”
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or one food that’s guaranteed to boost your immune system and protect you from getting sick. The best any of us can do is try and take care of ourselves and give our immune system its best fighting chance of doing its job.