How To Actually Boost Your Immune System During Cold & Flu Season: Airborne & Emergen-C Are Out, This Is In [Research]
What Actually Works and What’s Just BS?
If you’ve walked through the aisles of any health food store lately, you’ve no doubt seen the shelves upon shelves of supplements that promise to boost, tune, support or enhance your immune system. Every new-age health blog is starting their yearly deluge of articles explaining how drinking hot lemon water or knocking back a daily shot of wheatgrass juice will help you avoid getting sick as cold and flu season ramps up.
It’s tempting to buy into the marketing, but most of them are foiled by an inconvenient truth: they’re largely a waste of money (looking at you, Airborne, Zicam, Coldcalm and Emergen-C).
What the Evidence Says About Immune-Boosters
Many of the vitamins and minerals you’ll find in immune-boosting supplements do, in fact, play a vital role in the functioning of our immune system. Vitamin A, Vitamin C and zinc are all necessary for fighting off infections, but it’s also true that you’re almost assuredly getting an above-adequate amount of them from your diet. They’re all present in large quantities in fruits, vegetables and meats. If you have a normal diet, you don’t need supplemental vitamins or minerals, and super-dosing them won’t help.
You’ll also find echinacea, selenium, beta-carotene, green tea, bioflavonoids, garlic, and wheatgrass in immune-boosting supplements. Assuming you have a normal diet, studies have shown that all of these are unlikely to do anything other than give you expensive pee.
If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — maybe, for instance, you really hate vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin can be helpful. But the evidence says that taking megadoses of Vitamin C is not helping your immune function.
Here’s What Actually Does Work
So what can you do to reduce your risk of getting sick this winter (aside from the obvious ‘eat your fruits and vegetables’ tips)? Here’s what the science supports:
1. Take Vitamin D3: Taking a vitamin D3 supplement (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) can improve your resistance to common colds and infections by a whopping 700%, research has shown. In fact, the benefit of taking vitamin D3 is about equal to the protective effect of the injectable flu vaccine.
Especially for us Wisconsinites who don’t get sufficient natural sunlight during the winter, Vitamin D supplementation is vital. Studies suggest taking 1000IU Vitamin D3 per 50lbs of body weight per day.
2. Sleep 7-8 Hours Per Night: Studies have shown that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a virus compared to those who spend seven to eight hours a night asleep.
Sleep is necessary for the production of cytokines – proteins that regulate the body’s immune response and inflammation by sending cells to infected or distressed areas.
3. Wash Your Hands: It’s basic stuff, but it’s worth repeating – regular hand-washing has been shown to reduce your risk of cold and flu infection by 21%.
4. Don’t Skip Cardio: Regular aerobic exercise has huge immune benefits. And you don’t have to run a marathon, either – moderate activity is all you need. In one study from the American Journal of Medicine, people who walked for a half-hour every day for 1 year had half the number of colds as those who didn’t exercise.
5. Take Zinc At The First Sign of a Cold: Several studies have shown that zinc can reduce the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Be careful with dosing, though: no more than 40mg per day for adults.
The Bottom Line
There’s strong evidence that you can help out your immune system ward off infections this cold and flu season, but it’s not by wasting money on expensive ‘immune-boosting’ supplements. Getting moving, getting some vitamin D, getting quality sleep and keeping up with your chiropractic care are all proven ways to stay healthy.
Need a chiropractor in the Brookfield, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, or New Berlin Area? Call us at 262-345-4166 to make an appointment or use our online scheduling app – we’d love to help you get the most out of your body!