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Immune System Boosters: Magical Or Mythical?

It seems like we’ll do just about anything to avoid getting sick—from pouring water into our noses to drinking vinegar. But do any of these efforts really boost the immune system?

Immunologist and allergist Tara Carr, MD, with Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, weighed in on the best ways to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.

Question: How does your immune system work?

“Your immune system is made up of cells that help fight infection, prevent infection, and help the body to heal,” said Dr. Carr. “The immune system is constantly surveying your body for problems, and at the first sign of an infection, some of those immune cells rapidly multiply and release chemicals to fight the infection.”

Question: Can vitamin supplements actually boost your immune system?

“Over the counter vitamin supplements provide large doses of vitamin C and other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While these supplements may be a useful way to replace dietary limitations, there is limited data supporting the use of these to prevent a cold,” shared Dr. Carr.

Here’s some good news: taking zinc supplements may help limit or reduce cold symptoms. However, none of these remedies will cure a cold or prevent all the symptoms.

Question: How does a neti pot help?

While they’re not boosting your immune system, saline irrigations like neti pots, can be effective in preventing sinus-related issues like sinus infections and allergies.

Question: Will drinking vinegar boost your immune system?

Like the other methods, drinking vinegar won’t help the immune system, but there is some support for vinegar helping those with diabetes. Otherwise, there isn’t evidence to support vinegar as a way to lower infections.

Question: Is there anything you can do to avoid getting sick?

Turns out what your parents always told you is true, “The immune system functions best in a body that is healthy and well cared for,” said Dr. Carr.

Here are Dr. Carr’s tips for staying healthy:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid stress
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Limit exposure to people who are sick

And if a cold strikes, the tried-and-true remedies work best:

  • Lots of sleep
  • Plenty of water
  • Take over the counter medications for fever, pain, cough or congestion

Already fighting the cold or flu?

Take the right meds 

Source: Johnston, C. S., & Gaas, C. A. (2006). Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect. Medscape General Medicine, 8(2), 61.
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