Myth: Boosting your immune system with herbs and medicines is just what you need to keep you flu-free and healthy.
Reality: Your immune system would go intro overdrive and you would experience cold-like symptoms if it could truly be “boosted!”
What does it mean to “boost” your immune system? This is a phrase we hear all the time, but it may not mean what you think it means… Because you can’t really “boost” your immune system. Read on to discover why it’s a misconception that boosting your immune system would help you avoid sickness, and why it would be a terrible thing if you really could heighten the effects of your body’s defenses against illness.
First, the Immune System Does More Than Keep You Well
Our bodies self-regulate to maintain a perfect balance, or homeostasis. The immune system defends the body from foreign, invading organisms promoting protective immunity. This system is composed of several different cells that have very specific functions to protect us from disease. Additionally, there are two complementary facets to the immune system, which are innate and acquired immunity.Innate immunity is the body’s natural response to invading illnesses, bacteria and other foreign agents; acquired immunity is at play when the body builds up a tolerance to the infection.
It would be impossible to know how to “boost” each different type of cell and with what mechanism. Scientists are still trying to determine if certain practices have a positive effect on our immune system. Why? Because there is a lot of marketing out there geared toward “boosting” the immune system, and the health-conscious public has become obsessed with this idea over the years. Every product from Airborne to Hall’s Vitamin C drops claim to enhance your body’s ability to fight infection or combat the common cold. But let’s play this out; what happens when your immune system really does go into overdrive the way the health industry would have you think it does after using one of its products.
This is Your Immune System on Overdrive
So, that innate immune system we were just discussing is the body’s instant reaction to a foreign agent, like the cold virus. If the innate immune system were to be “boosted,” you’d experience some pretty awful side effects: runny nose, a high fever, a cough and lots of phlegm.
“But, that’s getting sick!” you say. Not really. That is your body’s response to the cold virus. In its own way, the innate immune system is trying to eject those germs and microbes from your body through the expectoration (coughing) of fluids and heating your body to a temperature too high for them to stay. What those products are really doing is suppressing the effects of the immune system so you don’t experience a runny nose and cough, etc. They aren’t doing anything to get rid of the virus or infection.
Still want to “boost” your immune system now? Yeah, not so much.
Your Diet’s Role in Creating a Healthy Immune System
There are factors and behaviors that contribute to general good health, which may help our bodies defend us against illness, although they might not be as exciting as buying a medicine to help “cure” you.
A balanced diet, especially one rich in antioxidants, helps promote health. It has been well documented that malnutrition increases the risk of infections. This is true even more in the elderly and young people. Consuming a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables promotes health because it provides essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This may be hard to do on a daily basis, but supplementing with a multivitamin may help close those nutrient gaps in our diets. Remember, however, that more is not always better, so don’t overuse any supplement. Our bodies will only use what it needs; the rest is either stored or eliminated. And some of the micronutrients (vitamin A for example) have toxicity levels if ingested in great amounts.
Speaking of diet, a huge part of our immune system lives in our gut. Yes, there are beneficial bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract that helps fight against outside organisms. We need to take care of these bacteria by consuming wholesome, rich fiber, fruits and vegetables to prevent from weakening this line of defense. Taking a probiotic may help maintain the good bacteria in our gut, however when we take antibiotics both the bad and the good bacteria may be affected
Another factor or behavior that can prevent us from getting sick is the simple act of washing our hands regularly. This will prevent bacteria from building up on our hands, which then gets inside our bodies and compromises our health.
The immune system also interacts with the endocrine system, which controls hormone regulation, and we now know that environmental events (like stress) can impact the immune system. Chronic stressors can also take a toll on how our bodies manage infections, so limiting unnecessary stress in your life is helpful even to your physical wellbeing.
So you see, “boosting” in this case has nothing to do with taking increased amounts of powders and pills. Our own body regulates each system like a magnificent machine. By living an overall healthy lifestyle we can promote optimal performance of all our systems and decrease the prevalence of illness.