Among the million other questions on your mind in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic might be whether that “ immune system booster” you've seen in ads and headlines can really help protect you from getting sick. TL;DR: 👇
Here’s why not—and what you should do instead.immune system works, the idea of giving it a quick boost doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, Dr. Knoedler says. To put it a little more bluntly, “No, it’s not possible” to rapidly boost your immune system, Mark H. Kaplan , Ph.D., chair of the department of microbiology and immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, tells SELF. “That's the short answer.” Here’s the slightly longer answer on why there is no magic immune system booster, and what you need to know about how to best support your immune system. How the immune system actually works Quick recap: Your body’s defense system can be broken down into two main parts: innate and adaptive. The innate immune system is the first line of defense—a series of barriers that prevents any intruders from getting into the body in the first place, Dr. Knoedler explains. It includes things like your skin, mucous, and cough reflex. The adaptive immune system is more specific, Dr. Knoedler explains, using specialized cells to mount targeted attacks on invaders that do get in. It also develops “memory cells” that remember those pathogens so it can fight them off more quickly and effectively the next time they encounter them. A lot of how your immune system responds to pathogens today depends on what happened in the past. While the basics of a functional immune system are universal, the strengths and vulnerabilities of any one individual’s immune system naturally vary depending on factors out of your control, Nicolai Van Oers , Ph.D., associate professor in the department of immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, tells SELF. Some of this variation is genetic, Van Oers explains, while a lot of it is influenced by what kinds of viruses and bacteria you are exposed to during your life (naturally and via vaccination), and therefore the memory cells your adaptive system has created. That’s why some people are just better at fighting off certain kinds of viral or bacterial infections than others. Why “immunity boosting” doesn’t make sense So while a lot of your immune system is based on predetermined factors, is there any way to affect how it’s operating today? We’ll get to what does work in a minute, but it’s important to be clear on what definitely doesn’t work—just from a basic, theoretical point of view. For starters, your immune system isn’t one single thing that we can pump up on demand—it’s a highly evolved, complicated system. “Our immune system is amazing,” Dr. Knoedler says, and it really knows what it’s doing. “There are so many types of cells involved,” Dr. Knoedler continues. “That’s one of the things that is hard [to make sense of] with immune boosters. What is it specifically supposed to boost? It’s an entire system, it’s not one cell.” Advertisement The word “boosted” also falsely implies that we might want to multiply the number of immune cells we have, Dr. Knoedler says. “We don’t want more immune cells. We just want the ones we have to be able to function normally and carry out their primary roles,” Dr. Knoedler says. And the idea that we would want to supercharge our immune response doesn’t make sense given that overactive immune responses can cause excessive amounts of inflammation that make people feel terribly ill, Kaplan points out. So, “What you really want is a competent immune response,” Kaplan says. OK, so semantics aside, is there anything that’s proven to make your immune system more competent? Better at its job? The truth is there is a serious lack of data behind most things you see being touted as immune boosters. “A lot of these ads for supplements and superchargers and quick fixes...these things have never been tested in clinical trials,” Kaplan says. (The Read more: SELF
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