Doctor's Note: Can you boost your immune system?
A doctor explains how our immune systems work and what we can do to help them function normally. by Dr Sara Kayat
In the current climate, health is on everyone's minds and we are all thinking "How can I avoid catching the coronavirus?"
We are washing our hands incessantly, standing two metres away from each other and running a mile when someone coughs.
But many of my patients are asking me whether there is a way to boost their immune systems to help protect them.
The short answer is no. No amount of kale or flaxseed will stop you from catching this contagious and serious viral infection. Hand washing, social distancing and self-isolation remain the only current ways we have to actively prevent it.
Our immune systems do not have an on and off switch that a supplement will flip.
Instead, the immune system relies on a complex integration of various cells, organs, proteins and tissues which work together to recognise and neutralise pathogens.
Furthermore, the immune system is not designed to be "boosted", and if it were able to work in overdrive it could actually result in us becoming more unwell by damaging our healthy cells and tissue as well, which is what can happen in "autoimmune" conditions.
However, there are numerous nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are required to support the normal functioning of your immune system.
Most of these nutrients, except for vitamin D, can be sourced easily from a well-rounded, healthy diet. While we are aware that malnutrition can impair immune function, providing you have an adequate intake, any product suggesting its pill will "boost" your immunity is likely to be misleading.
It may laud the evidence to support that supplement as one of the factors in the functioning of the immune system, but it is unlikely, in isolation, to be able to do very much for you.