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Ask a Dietitian: What's the Best Way to Boost Your Immune System?

The topic of immunity has been at the front of a lot of people's minds lately. A quick Google search will yield millions of results on how you can "boost" your immune system, with some recommending supplements and quick tricks that haven't been scientifically proven to work.

We're here to debunk some of the myths that are out there and provide some clarity on the topic of how to ensure your immune system is as strong as possible.

The immune system: a recap

The immune system is the body's first line of defence against foreign substances. Its main role is to protect the body from harmful pathogens that can make us sick, which is a big job, so it's working hard around the clock (even when we are not).

The immune system is made up of organs, cells and tissues that work together to identify and fight off pathogens it deems dangerous. Everyone has two sub-systems of the immune system: the innate immune system, which uses nonspecific defence mechanisms, and the adaptive immune system, which uses specific defence mechanisms.

The innate immune sub-system is a general defence against harmful pathogens that enter the body. The adaptive immune sub-system makes antibodies to fight specific germs that the body has previously encountered, and this is also sometimes known as an "acquired" or "learned" immune response. When the immune system identifies a dangerous substance, both of these sub-systems work closely together in the fight against it.

How to "boost" your immune system: debunking a myth

The idea of boosting your immune system might sound logical and useful, but the ways by which people recommend boosting one's immune system have not been proven effective. Why? The immune system is just that—a system. It's not a single organ that can be optimised. It is an incredibly complex system, and there is still much about it that research has yet to discover, especially given that immune functions and responses can vary from person to person.

"Boosting" your immune system can also have negative results: anyone with an auto-immune disease can probably vouch for this! An overactive immune system tends to get carried away and start attacking healthy organs and tissues as well as dangerous substances, which can then lead to organ and tissue failure.

Unfortunately, companies within the supplement industry have exploited consumer reception to the concept of immune boosting and convinced some people that simply swallowing a tablet can make your immune system stronger or better. We are here to tell you that there is currently no evidence that consuming more than the recommended nutrients in the form of supplements will benefit our immune system. Instead, you can support your immune health by living a healthier lifestyle.

How to support your immune system: a sustainable solution

There are some simple lifestyle habits that can help your body and immune system to function optimally, giving them the best possible chance to be able to fight off any dangerous foreign substances effectively. These include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Meeting nutrient requirements through a healthy, balanced diet (it's all about diversity!)
  • Adequate sleep – aim for between seven and nine hours each night
  • General hygiene
  • Minimising stress where possible

We haven't listed any supplements here because a healthy diet that meets your nutrient requirements should be enough for most people to support a healthy functioning immune system, but if you have any questions please meet with with an accredited dietitian or qualified health professional for more information about the nutrients involved in immune health.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian.

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

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