DEC 15, 2020 4:44 PM PST

Immunity-Boosting: Is It Real?

WRITTEN BY: Heba El Wassef

The question everyone tries to find an answer to in the winter season is how can we improve our immunity to fight any infections associated with the cold season. Especially now since we are living in the times of a pandemic, the answer to that question has become more important than ever.

But can we boost our immunity? is there a particular food or supplement we can take to make our immune system more potent than it already is? the answer is not as direct as we think. There is still ongoing research on the effect of different factors on human immunity and whether any changes in our lifestyle can contribute to an immunity boost or not. What is known for sure is having a healthy lifestyle has its benefits on our immune system and our overall health.

A healthy lifestyle includes having a balanced diet containing all the needed nutrients for our body like vitamins, minerals, and any other needed nutrients. Our bodies need those nutrients to function properly. All the vital processes in our bodies need those nutrients, so a deficiency in them will affect those processes and our immune system's ability to fight diseases. The best way to ensure you don't develop a deficiency in those nutrients is by eating a balanced diet consisting of various fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, not by taking supplements. 

Some research says that the effect of vitamin and micronutrient supplements is only beneficial when there is a deficiency in them, which will affect your immunity since our immune system's processes requires vitamins like vitamin C, which supports barrier functions of the skin against pathogens, enhance the ability of phagocytosis which is the engulfment of microbes, and chemotaxis which is the movement of a microbe in response to a chemical stimulus so aid in the microbial killing.

You can also take supplements if you know that your diet is missing some of the essential nutrients or you don't eat enough of them, other than that there won't be many benefits to taking supplements as our bodies get rid of any excess micronutrients they don't need.

In the same context, some research mentions the benefits of certain foods like citrus fruits and pepper as they contain a lot of vitamin C; this is why we tend to eat much of them while having a cold. Still again they will not increase vitamin C levels in our bodies more than we need; we will benefit if we have a vitamin C deficiency or if we are exposed to stressors that might affect its level and our immunity. Nevertheless, it is always good to eat fruits as they will provide you with many essential nutrients.

Other well-known foods that people connect to immunity-boosting like ginger, garlic, spinach, nuts, turmeric, and green tea; they contain many micronutrients like vitamins, act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, so they provide health benefits. Still, they will not increase the levels of micronutrients beyond the levels our bodies need, and won't boost the immune system functions if it already is functioning properly. Still, since we are always exposed to different environmental stressors and don't always eat a balanced diet so by eating them, we are ensuring we don't develop any deficiencies and that our immune system functions well.

Other essential factors that will benefit our health, and ensure immunity are exercise, getting enough sleep and staying away from stress.

The bottom line is that boosting immunity is a bit tricky as you can ensure that your immune system is working properly as mentioned above. Still, you can not improve its function beyond the normal or increase any of the body's micronutrients beyond their normal levels.

Sources: Nutrients, Journal of Immunology Research, American Journal Of Lifestyle Medicine, Healthline, Harvard Health Publishing

About the Author
  • A master student in Biochemistry and Molecular biology with experience in Education and Research. I am passionate about scientific research and passing my knowledge to others to help them learn about the latest in science by teaching, writing and volunteering in scientific events.
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