To be honest; we’ve all been duped, at least at one point or another, into buying expensive supplements that we thought would cure all of our ailments. Maybe you found yourself rubbing an extra aisle when you noticed the first sniffs.
However, the problem with supplements is that they are not regulated by the FDA until they hit the shelves, and technically anyone can fill capsules with almost anything and sell them. Scary, right? Of course, not all supplements are harmful, as many companies are doing more and more to ensure the safety of their products for consumers through accurate labeling and third-party testing.
However, supplements should not replace a balanced diet. They should be used exactly as their name suggests supplement to a healthy diet (e.g. in cases where you cannot get enough of your nutrition). With a balanced diet, you get the necessary vitamins and minerals to support a strong immune system.
In this article, you’ll learn which four supplements you should avoid and which foods you should start eating more of to support immune health.
Why your immune health is important
Our body’s immune system is equipped to recognize potential harmful invaders and fight them off. Think of your immune system as your body’s inner superhero, if our immune system is healthy, it has an easier time fighting off viruses, bacteria, or anything else that tries to make us sick, explains Chelsea LeBlanc, RDN, LD, a nutritionist in Nashville, TN, and owner. Chelsea LeBlanc Nutrition.
However, if your inner superhero is compromised, it may not be able to provide protection. Your immune system plays a role in more areas than you may have realized, much more than just protecting you from colds, flus, and viruses, explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, media nutritionist and author of BetterThanDieting.com. Read it before you eat it – it takes you from the label to the table. A healthy immune system can also help you recover faster from illness and reduce inflammation. It’s also believed that your immune system plays a role in longevity and disease prevention, he says.
A healthy diet, adequate sleep, stress management, and regular exercise are key ways you can support your immune health, leading to four supplements you shouldn’t take for immune health.
4 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take for Immune Health
Oil of oregano
If you’ve ever picked up an immunity shot at your local juice shop, you might be surprised to see oil of oregano as an ingredient. Yes, that oregano we all sprinkle on pizza and pasta. Oregano oil is extracted from its leaves and is available in liquid and capsule form. According to an article published in 2020 Metabolites, oregano oil has been used medicinally for years to treat countless ailments. It is also used as a natural food preservative for its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, according to a 2019 article. International Journal of Nutrition.
However, there are no trials in humans to see if it is really effective in supporting health. A meta-analysis published in 2020 Phytotherapy research primarily animal studies showed that oregano oil was effective in reducing some inflammatory markers. However, other studies such as the 2020 study Journal of Virology, showed no effect against the flu. Sprinkle a dried or fresh herb on your food instead of taking supplements.
Colloidal silver is a liquid consisting of small silver particles that is advertised as a cure for inflammation and wounds. However, health experts and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) warn against giving up on their claims. Kristen Carli, MS, RD, owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, states: There are many false claims about the health benefits of ingesting colloidal silver, especially that it has antimicrobial properties. There is insufficient evidence to support these claims.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that colloidal silver is not safe and has not been proven effective or used for preventive measures. Carli adds that I would caution anyone against taking colloidal silver because it can be harmful in high doses and can have negative interactions with many medications.
One of the most popular ingredients you may see in cold and flu products is echinacea. Echinacea is available in almost any form – syrup, powder, throat lozenge, tea bag, capsule, and gum, so it’s so tempting to add one of these products to your cart when your immune system can boost it.
Echinacea is derived from a plant and has been touted for its infection-fighting powers, according to the NCCIH. However, Taub-Dix explains: Some people trust echinacea, but studies have shown mixed results as to whether it can be trusted. In addition, echinacea may interfere with certain health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases.
A meta-analysis of 29 studies published in 2019 Complementary medicine therapies found no significant benefit when echinacea was used to prevent or treat upper respiratory tract infections. So that’s another one to skip and save for your hard-working dollar.
Moderate to intense exercise can help improve immune system function. Still, if you’re tempted to take a booster shot, like a pre-workout, before you walk out the door, LeBlanc advises using it cautiously towards the end of the day. “Many of them contain caffeine, which might energize your workout, but too much can affect sleep, leaving you restless and awake at bedtime.
LeBlanc goes on to explain that quality sleep is critical to immune system health. It allows your body to rest, repair and fight disease. Most adults need 7-9 hours a night, so if you’re having trouble sleeping when using a pre-workout supplement, look for one that doesn’t contain caffeine. Lack of sleep can disrupt the immune system and increase the risk of not only infections but also metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tips for healthy eating to improve immune health
So instead of eating a fistful of pills when you feel sick coming on, focus on loading up on nutrient dense foods. According to LeBlanc, rich nutrients, such as foods rich in vitamins C and D, zinc and antioxidants, act as front-line defenders and help your body fight disease. Vitamin C can be found in oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, peppers and broccoli. Vitamin D can be found in foods such as salmon, egg yolks, yogurt and fortified milk. And lentils, chickpeas, yogurt and cashews are good sources of zinc.
Taub-Dix fits, you can never go wrong with adding fruits and vegetables to your diet. Fruits and vegetables are full of immune-supporting nutrients and can be considered a main course, not just a side dish. For a veggie filling, try our Sheet-Pan Ratatouille, Veggistrone or Eat-the-Rainbow Chopped Salad recipes. Smoothies are also a great way to add vegetables and fruits, like the Mango & Kale Smoothie, which contains kale, mango, and bananas. Or start embracing fruit for its natural sweetness and try these healthy dessert options packed with immune-supporting nutrients: Pineapple Nice Cream, Baked Peaches, or Brown Sugar Grilled Grapefruit.
The key is not to wait until you have the flu or feel like starting to add these foods or supplements to your diet. Adding these foods to your daily diet regularly, Taub-Dix adds, is a habit that can help you get stronger and stay stronger throughout the year.
While it’s tempting to stock up on immune-boosting supplements, especially during cold and flu season, remember to focus on incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet and avoid over-supplementing. Also, it’s important to always be careful when choosing supplements, and you should make sure you choose a reliable brand and check with your doctor before taking them. With a sufficient amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and protein, you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to fight the immune response.
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