Immune System Boosters and Busts
Can supplements boost your immune system?
The next time you think about buying an “immunity boosting” supplement, consider this. If they worked the way many are being marketed, it would be disastrous for your health. There are three important reasons why.
Your immune system isn't a single thing. It's a complex system made up of cells, organs and tissues. Antibodies, bone marrow, your digestive system, lymphatic system, spleen, thymus and white blood cells are all part of the immune system. Each of those things work together to find and destroy pathogens like bacteria and viruses.
Immune Booster Problem #1
The immune system works by doing things like raising your temperature to fight an infection. Cavities in your nose produce mucus and fluid to kill and wash away germs. The first and most obvious negative effect of artificially boosting your immune system would be walking around with a constantly runny nose and fever. But it gets worse.
Immune Booster Problem #2
Boost specific parts of your immune system and you're faced with a second set of problems. An overactive immune system can cause any one of over 100 autoimmune disorders like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
- Type 1 diabetes happens when the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. That leads to damaged blood vessels, organs, eyes and nerves.
- With rheumatoid arthritis your immune system attacks the joints. It causes redness, soreness and joint stiffness.
- Multiple sclerosis is caused when your immune system damages the protective coating that surrounds nerve cells in your central nervous system. As the condition worsens, the speed of messages from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body slow down. That results in balance issues, numbness and severe weakness.
Immune Booster Problem #3
Survive the first two problems, and there's a third that appears. A few immune boosters have been shown to provide short-term help, but over time proved deadly. Athletes sometimes engage in “blood doping” where they take infusions of blood to enhance their performance. It provides a temporary boost, but it also dramatically increases the risk of stroke.
If supplements did boost your immune system, most would do a lot more harm than good. Your goal should be to keep your immune system functioning normally. So, how do you do that? Instead of boosting your immune system, could supplements be used to maintain a healthy balance?
In most cases, no. It's true that our bodies need certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. Things like vitamin A, C and zinc are all required. The key is how we get those vitamins into our bodies and how much we need.
Linus Pauling was one of the few people in the world to be awarded two Nobel prizes. He is considered one of the 20 most important scientists in history. His ideas helped save thousands of lives. But even a genius can be wrong. He was a big believer in something called megavitamin therapy. That's where you give people extremely large doses of vitamins to keep them healthy.
Over the decades, clinical trials proved megavitamin therapy was wrong. Not only did it not help, but people who took large doses of vitamins ended up dying sooner than those who AVOIDED taking vitamin supplements. Even multivitamins with “average daily doses” in them were found to be more dangerous than taking nothing at all.
Regular readers of my column know that supplements are NOT tested like drugs. When a supplement company releases a new product, no government agency checks to make sure it works first. Dosages are not verified. Ingredients are not confirmed. Claims on the label are left entirely up to the supplement company.
Supplement companies are NOT regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are NOT regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government only steps in once they start hearing complaints of injury or death.
Everything we've ever told you about staying healthy, applies to your immune system. If you want a strong immune system you should quit smoking, severely restrict or eliminate alcohol, eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
Your goal is not to boost your immune system, but keep it functioning normally.
And if you want immunity to certain diseases? Get vaccinated. Vaccines are the only known method of teaching your immune system how to fight diseases it hasn't yet encountered.
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