Are Supplements A Good Way to Boost Your Immune System?

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Daniel Pavlik Sr DC

Apr 21, 2020

There are plenty of supplements on the market that are advertised as boosting your immune system health. Some of these contain vitamins such as vitamin C and other antioxidants, while others focus on minerals (particularly zinc). Still, others use probiotics to deliver their purported immune system boost. Can supplements help to supercharge your immune system?

Vitamins and minerals

Most immune-boosting supplement formulas focus on providing vitamins and minerals. It’s certainly true that if you don’t get enough of some crucial nutrients, your immune system will suffer. For young, healthy adults consuming a fairly balanced diet, this is seldom an issue — you’re almost guaranteed to be getting the vitamins and minerals you need from your normal food and drink. For this reason, many people dismiss the idea of taking vitamins or minerals for immune health. They point to modern diets with their plethora of fortified foods and the abundance of fruits and vegetables.

Things get a little less clear-cut when your health isn’t as good or if your diet is lacking. As we grow older, our digestive systems are sometimes less able to absorb all the nutrients in our food. This can create deficiencies, which in turn may mean that your immune system isn’t performing as well as it might. The same thing can happen in younger people with digestive issues.

Then there’s the fact that not all of us eat a healthy, balanced diet. When you’re overworked, stressed, or otherwise overloaded with the pressures of life, it’s very easy to skip meals or to reach for processed foods that are heavy on calories but light on nutrition. If you’re very active, performing heavy physical labor, or taking part in high-impact physical exercise, you might need more vitamins and minerals than the average person. All of this can create deficiencies which supplements might remedy.

Probiotics

Another approach to immune-boosting supplements is to use probiotic and prebiotic ingredients. Probiotics are live cultures of ‘friendly’ bacteria, while prebiotics are foods that help to support these positive microflorae by creating a healthier environment in your gut. Both probiotic and prebiotic supplements are intended to improve your gut microbiome, helping you resist both infections and autoimmune issues.

Probiotics are more likely to help improve your immune system if you’re already healthy and eating a balanced diet. A sturdy gut microbiome helps you to get the full benefit of the nutrients in your food, as well as protecting you from infections in the GI tract. Research is still ongoing, but it does seem that a healthy microbiome does indeed support immune function.

Do you need to boost your immune system?

In most cases, an immune system ‘boost’ isn’t even something you need. As long as we maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle, our immune systems generally take care of us without requiring intervention. If your immune system was to become more aggressive, it might start attacking your own body; this would result in autoimmune disorders such as arthritis or lupus.

Remember, too, that illness symptoms are often a sign that the immune system is working as it should. The discomfort you feel when you catch a cold isn’t down to the virus itself but your body’s immune response. The swollen mucus membranes, red eyes, and sneezing are all signs that your body is repelling the invader effectively. If you’re the sort of person who always seems to have worse symptoms than everyone else when you catch a cold, having a healthy immune system may be the culprit.

If you think you’re catching an unusual number of coughs, colds or other infections, speak to your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying condition that needs to be treated. If you’re planning to start taking a regular supplement, you should discuss this with a medical professional. Supplements may be inappropriate for people with certain conditions or who are taking some types of medication.

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