Do immune-boosting diets or supplements really exist? According to health experts, eating enough nutrients and adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for overall health and immune system function. Rather than “boosting” the immune system, perhaps a better goal would be to strengthen the immune system and keep well balanced.
Immune system function relies on essential nutrients. For example, vitamins like C and D, and minerals like selenium, zinc, and iron are particularly important for immune health. Among macronutrients, proteins play an essential role in immune health.
A healthy diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grain, legumes, healthy oils, lean meats, and fish. Ultra-processed foods are poor in essential nutrients, cause inflammation, and suppress the immune system.
Sleep is a time when the body recovers and rejuvenates. Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep alters the normal circadian rhythm and suppresses the immune system. Consistent sleep, however, strengthens the immune system, promoting a balanced innate and adaptive immunity.
Good quality sleep also promotes an efficient response to vaccines. The goal is to have 7 to 9 hours of interrupted sleep, in a completely dark environment and a comfortable room temperature.
The immune system is highly sensitive to stress, especially the chronic emotional kind. Stress suppresses the immune system through different mechanisms, including reducing natural killer cells and other immune cells needed to fight infection.
Chronic stress also increases cortisol, which hampers the immune response and leads to an increased risk of infections. Simple stress management techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can help manage stress.
Regular exercise supports the immune system and immune cells like T cells and natural killer cells that fight viral infections. Exercise also lowers inflammation that contributes to chronic illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes type 2, and Alzheimer’s disease.
While very intense exercises like marathon running can place too much stress on the immune system, low and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and weight training can support healthy immune function.
Vitamin C has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities, so it can reduce inflammation and cell damage associated with the immune response to infections. A review of studies from Harvard suggests vitamin C supports immune health. One study indicates supplementation with this nutrient decreases the incidence of infections affecting the respiratory tract. The typical daily dose for immune support ranges from 1 to 3 grams.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem worldwide, and is even more problematic during the colder season. Several well-designed studies emphasize the role of vitamin D for immune function.
Research found vitamin D supplements may decrease the odds of getting acute respiratory tract infection, and the benefits of this nutrient were seen in individuals of all ages. The typical daily dose of vitamin D for adults is between 1000 and 4000 IU.
Zinc plays an important role in hundreds of chemical reactions that occur in the body, and zinc deficiency decreases a person’s ability to mount an optimal response to infections. Research found that zinc supplements may reduce the risk of catching a respiratory viral infection, may shorten the duration of flu-like symptoms by roughly 2 days, and can speed up the recovery process.
It is important to avoid higher than recommended doses of zinc, because excess zinc can cause imbalances in copper and other minerals.
Staying social is more important than ever these days. If meeting in person is not possible, virtual video chats are the second-best option. Social isolation and loneliness can pose serious health risks, including supression of the immune system, poor digestion, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.
Older adults are at higher risk to experience loneliness and isolation, and as they are also a population at greater risk of serious illness, keeping social is especially important.
When consumed in excess, alcohol has documented suppressant effects on the immune system. Alcohol abuse is associated with a high risk of serious, even life-threatening infections. However, an occasional drink is fine for most adults, unless a doctor has recommended against drinking alcohol in any amount.
It is well known that individuals with comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are at higher risk for infections, immune suppression, and other complications.
Keeping chronic diseases under control can help reduce these risks. A healthy lifestyle along with medication and weight management as recommended by a doctor can help prevent these diseases from having a compounding effect on health.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.