3. Current Methods to Boost Your Immune System

Popular Immune-Boosting Supplements & Vitamins

A common misconception is that immune-boosting supplements are always healthy and that you can never have enough vitamins. As a trained pharmacist, I know this is not true. Take the two most common immune support supplements: Emergen-C and Airborne. Both products feature vitamin C as the main ingredient and contain very high doses, with one serving containing 1,000 milligrams (mg), or 1,667% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA). When you are fighting a virus, it may seem the higher the amount of vitamins, the better. The truth, however, is that long-term use of high amounts of vitamin C is linked to an increased risk of both kidney stones and renal failure. Although both products list vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that may promote health, I believe since they are not dosed properly and consist of synthetic chemicals, added sugar or artificial sweeteners, they may actually do more harm than good when used for long-term.

Antioxidants and Immune Suppression

When a foreign substance, such as a virus or cancer, is detected by your immune system, a delicate process occurs. First, white blood cells release free radicals to destroy infected or damaged cells. Think of these white blood cells as bleach, a toxic and corrosive substance. Like bleach, these free radicals cause oxidation and destroy everything in their path, including the healthy tissue surrounding the infected tissue. In a healthy immune response, antioxidants then neutralize and control this damage by decreasing oxidative damage and protecting the surrounding healthy tissue, keeping the immune response in check.

Antioxidants are helpful and vital but only in the correct amounts. For example, the most common antioxidant, vitamin C, is an essential micronutrient used by the immune system. It also works by stimulating the formation of B-cells and T-cells. But I believe taking too many antioxidants, such as the excessive levels of vitamin C in most immune-boosting supplements, will neutralize too many free radicals. Without enough free radicals to fight infection or cancer, the immune response is less effective and the risk of infection and cancer increases.

Numerous clinical studies support the finding that antioxidant supplementation increases the risk of developing cancer or can lead to the metastasis of existing cancer. Long term use of high doses of beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, was linked to a 28% higher risk of lung cancer in smokers. In 2011, researchers reported taking Vitamin E supplements was linked to a 17% increased risk of prostate cancer. Recently, a study published in the December 2019 Journal of Clinical Oncology, and funded by the National Cancer Institute, reported that taking antioxidant supplements before and during chemotherapy increases the risk of breast cancer and death.

The reason for this increased cancer risk of antioxidant supplements is unknown. However, I believe there is a simple reason: high doses of antioxidants suppress the immune system's ability to use free radicals necessary to destroy cancer cells. Drugs that suppress the immune system also increase the risk of infection and cancer. Long-term use of corticosteroids, such as prednisone, used to quickly suppress inflammation are commonly known to increase risk of infection and certain cancers. Cyclosporine, an immune-suppressing drug that prevents the immune system from attacking transplanted organs, increases the risk of infections and cancer. The immunomodulators Enbrel (etanercept) and methotrexate, both used to treat common autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, also increases infection and cancer risk. Hydroxychloroquine, the promising treatment for COVID-19, works by decreasing the activity of the immune system and is primarily used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Recently, in a large, retracted study, it was shown to increase the mortality rate in COVID-19 patients compared to placebo. These studies all show that excessively suppressing the immune system, either through taking high doses of antioxidant supplements or immunosuppressive drugs, will increase the risk of infection and cancer.

By choosing to eat antioxidant-rich whole foods in the appropriate amounts, rather than take improperly dosed supplements, you can better control your antioxidant levels to keep your immune system balanced and reduce the risk of a weak immune system due to excessively high amounts. It is much harder to consume toxic amounts of antioxidants when you are eating whole foods. For example, you would need to eat over ten oranges to equal one dose of Emergen-C! As an added benefit, whole foods are free of artificial ingredients, added sugar, and other dangerous ingredients to help your body work better overall.

Immunity Boosters

Immune boosters, also known as immunostimulants, are substances that restore or increase the activity of your immune system to protect you from infection. One of the best way to increase immunity is to be inoculated with a vaccine that causes your body to make antibodies against a specific virus or bacterium. Deficiencies in nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, used by the immune system weakens it, so taking them as supplements will boost the immune system.

There are many sources of immune boosters. Vitamin C and zinc are the most popular nutrients used as immune boosters to fight colds and flu. Herbs, the most popular being echinacea, are believed to increase the number of white blood cells to shorten the duration of colds and respiratory infections. Certain species of mushrooms, such as reishi and shiitake, are also known to stimulate the immune system. Recently, researchers have found that even the bacteria in your gut plays an essential part in your immunity, causing probiotics to be promoted as immune boosters.


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