Do “immune-boosting” supplements really exist?

Support your immune system the smart way

Hi, Joe here. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media promoting countless pills, powders and potions that claim to “boost” the body’s immune system to either prevent catching coronavirus, or help it fight it off faster.

It didn’t surprise me one jot that every single one of the posts came from people or companies wholly unqualified to make such claims, and whose sole motivation was to play upon our fear to part as many people as possible like you and me with our hard-earned cash.

Fact Vs Fiction
There’s so much mis-information and bad fitness advice out there, some of which is actively damaging to your health rather than helpful, and we started New Body Plan (and launched the New Body Plan podcast) to provide you with the latest and best exercise, eating and lifestyle advice to help you look, feel and perform at your best. Every single tip we offer has been tried-and-tested by us – or experts we trust and respect – so we know it works, and we’d never recommend anything we didn’t ourselves approve.

So that’s why I’ve written this post: to separate the fact from the fiction about certain supplements and their alleged health properties, so you can make the best-informed decisions about how you spend your money and what you put in your body. I’d like to thank the British Nutrition Foundation for its assistance with the research, analysis and insight below.

What is the “immune system”?
Your body has many “systems” and each one has a particular and specialist job: there’s your circulatory (or cardiovascular) system; digestive system; and central nervous system, to name but three.

Your immune system is a complex network of cells and chemical compounds charged with defending your body against infections, and for it to work at its best requires you to be fit and active, to eat a balanced and healthy diet, get enough high-quality sleep, minimise stress levels, limit alcohol intake – in short, taking care of yourself, both physical and mentally.

Can certain foods or supplements prevent coronavirus?
No, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you – most likely for their own financial gain. Eating a well-balanced diet containing a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables, is important for supporting the optimal functioning of the immune system.

And while many nutrients we need to consume from our daily diet have a significant influence and role in our body’s ability to identify and fight infections, there is no one individual nutrient, food or supplement that will “boost the immune system” or prevent highly infections viruses, such as COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Are some nutrients more important than others for a healthy immune system?
Certain nutrients, especially vitamin C and zinc, are widely touted as your essential “first-line of defence” against infections and illness, and while there’s some evidence vitamin C may reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, that’s caused by a completely different type of virus to COVID-19. And while there’s been some research into the effect of zinc supplements on the common cold, we simply don’t know that supplementation has any protective benefit against coronavirus.

Therefore, there’s not one or individual standout “superstars” of the team that deserves special focus or attention, and each of the essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) has a different part to play in a fully functioning immune system. That means it’s vital to remember that a healthy and strong immune system is actually a team sport. Here’s the rest of your immune-supporting squad of nutrients, and the best foods to eat to increase your intake of them so you can look, feel and perform as well as possible.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays an important role in supporting T Cells, which are a type of white blood cell that help identify pathogens (such as viruses or infectious bacteria). It’s found in many types of foods including liver, whole milk, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables, which contain beta carotenes that your body converts to vitamin A.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 helps produce new immune cells, helps process antibodies and helps immune cells communicate. It’s found in poultry and fish, fortified breakfast cereals, egg yolks, yeast extract, soya beans, sesame seeds and some fruit and vegetables, including bananas, avocados and green peppers. Vitamin B6 is a key component, alongside zinc and magnesium, in T-Drive, one of the core products in the New Body Plan Transformation Range of sports nutrition products. Get 2-for-1 on T-Drive today!

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is important for producing new immune cells and is found in animal products such as meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs, as well as fortified breakfast cereals. This, along with iron, is one of the key nutrients most often lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet, so if you follow these dietary approaches a B12 supplement is well worth considering.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps immune cells attack pathogens, clears away old immune cells from the site of infection, and helps maintain healthy skin, our external barrier to infection. Citrus fruits, green vegetables, peppers and tomatoes are all good sources of vitamin C.

Copper
Copper helps protect and fuel immune cells and can be found bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, rice, quinoa, meat, fish and shellfish, pulses, avocado, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D
A vitamin D deficiency is associated with a reduced immune response, and because our main source of this vitamin is from our skin’s exposure to sunlight, there’s a good chance many of us have sub-optimal levels. It is found in only a small number of foods, mainly oily fish, eggs and fortified bread and breakfast cereals, so taking a daily vitamin D supplement can be a smart move. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient, so your body can better absorb it when it’s taken with some dietary fats, such as eggs, avocado or whole milk. Get 2-for-1 on Vit-D3 today!

Folate
Folate plays an important role in producing new immune cells and is found in green vegetables, pulses, oranges, berries, nuts and seeds, cheese, bread and fortified cereals.

Iron
Iron helps maintain the good health of immune cells, and many foods contain this important nutrient. It’s worth noting that heme-iron, which comes from meat sources such as offal, red meat and fish, is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in plant-based sources. Fortified foods are another good source.

Selenium
Selenium is vital for producing new immune cells and can help to strengthen your response to infection. It’s found in nuts and seeds, particularly Brazil nuts, cashews and sunflower seeds, as well as eggs, offal, poultry, fish and shellfish.

Zinc
Zinc helps produce new immune cells, helps develops “natural killer cells” that help to fight off viruses, and supports communication between immune cells. You can consume it from many sources, ranging from meat and poultry, to cheese and wholegrains. Zinc is a key component, alongside vitamin B6 and magnesium, in T-Drive, one of the core products in the New Body Plan Transformation Range of sports nutrition products. Get 2-for-1 on T-Drive today!

We’re here to help!
If you’ve got any questions about this subject, or any health and fitness questions in general, just drop me a line at coach@newbodyplan.co.uk. Me and the team will be in touch again soon with more tips and advice on how you can stay fit, healthy and happy at home – so until then, stay safe.


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