We live in the era of the hive mind, and recently, an important conversation has been centered around using the word “boost” in relation to immune system supplements.
It is true that some immune systems are sub-optimal due to slow or weakened responses (and could indeed benefit from increased activity). The problem is that other immune systems are sub-optimal because they are already overactive.
The word “boost” can conjure scary thoughts of intensifying an already overactive immune system. Overactive immune systems are associated with damaging inflammation and some autoimmune diseases.
It may be stating the obvious, but the intention behind an immune support supplement is not to induce an overactive immune response. When we use the word “boost” or the term “immune boost”, what we are referring to is a product that supports your immune health. Immune boosting products should promote a swift and balanced response to true microbial threats.
How does the immune system work?
Literal dissertations are written on this topic daily, so here is a very simplified version:
Your body has 3 lines of defense against intruders. Physical and chemical barriers, innate resistance factors, and acquired resistance factors. These three lines of defense make up your immune system.
Some of these factors are inherited and you are born with them (or without them). This is your innate immune system. Some of the factors you build over time as your body is exposed to different microorganisms, pathogens, and/or vaccines. This is your acquired immune system.
The Innate Immune System
Your innate immune system includes all physical and chemical barriers built to keep dirt and “germs” (viruses, bacteria, and other pathogenic microorganisms) out of the body. These barriers include structures like skin, hair, tears, and mucous membranes.
Your innate immune system triggers a fever at times of infection, as a high body temperature inhibits bacterial growth and increases tissue repair rates.
Your innate immune system is also responsible for inflammation. When an infection or injury occurs, the innate immune system calls more blood flow and heat to the site. With more white blood cells, infecting pathogens will be cleared faster, and again, tissue repair is faster in higher body temperature. For these reasons, some inflammation is actually a really good thing.
Your innate immune system includes some non-specific, active resistance provided by immune cells. Any foreign microbe that encounters a phagocyte within the body will be engulfed and broken down with digestive enzymes.
The Acquired Immune System
Some digested parts of a foreign microbe are proteins called “antigens” (or antibody-generating substances). This activates T cells whose job is to shut down any cell in your body that has been infected, as well as other microbes containing that antigen. T cells then stimulate the production of memory B cells and antibodies. These cells are sent to the site on invasion, and thanks to antibodies, they know exactly which microbes to look for and kill before they have a chance to multiply or cause further damage.
Your body retains these antibodies (like a memory of invasion) and so is much faster and stronger in its attack if exposed to that pathogen again in the future. This is the reason you don’t often suffer from the same virus twice. The first invasion causes infection and damage within the body, but a second exposure triggers a quick and effective shut down by immune cells thanks to antibody recognition.
Vaccines help to build your acquired immune system and are designed so that you can skip the first infection altogether. Although they are designed in a number of ways, they are all meant to stimulate the production of antibodies for a particular pathogen within your body. The contents of the vaccine clear your system quickly and what remains are your natural antibodies, just like you would make if you had experienced the infection before.
A Healthy Immune System
A healthy immune system works quickly and effectively to fight invaders whether it’s your first exposure to a pathogen or not. A fever can be a healthy response to infection. Swelling can be a healthy response to an injury.
Problems with the immune system can occur whether your immune system works too slowly or too intensely. Some people make antibodies against food or environmental proteins that don’t actually pose a threat to the body. This is the system behind allergic reactions.
Other people make antibodies against proteins within their own body. This causes immune cells to target and attack otherwise healthy cells within the body. This is an autoimmune disease.
People can have weakened immune systems for a number of reasons. A weak immune system may not recognize intruders quickly enough, allowing them to multiply and spread widely throughout the body. A weak immune system may recognize invaders, but not have enough powerful immune cells or chemical enzymes to fight the invading pathogens. Generally speaking, a weak immune system will allow the pathogen to cause more damage and more severe symptoms than it would in an individual with a strong immune system.
However, an immune system can overreact too. Too much swelling and inflammation can be dangerous and painful. A too-high fever can also cause damage and become life-threatening. Antibodies for non-threatening proteins can cause unnecessary destruction within the body.
Therefore, a healthy immune system is not just “strong”, it is fast, balanced, and well-equipped.
What are “immune boosters”, anyway?
The best immune boosters don’t just turn up the volume on your immune responses; they provide substrates for immune cells and enzymes, support healthy immune function, and modulate immune responses that go haywire.
When we say “immune boost”, as we do in the name of our Acute Immune Boost formula, we are talking about nutrition that supports a fast, balanced, and adequate immune response.
For example, zinc is an immune-boosting nutrient. It has been proposed that inadequate zinc levels may be the most common cause of secondary immunodeficiency in humans . Zinc can inhibit replication of the rhinovirus (which causes the common cold) and has been demonstrated to speed up recovery by approximately 33% .
Vitamin A is also an immune-boosting nutrient. Vitamin A deficiency impairs innate immunity by preventing normal regeneration of mucosal barriers damaged by infection, and by diminishing the function of immune cells such as neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells .
N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) has a protective effect over the strength of the immune system, especially in the aging population, and may aid in shortening the duration of respiratory tract/bronchial infections [3,4]. When excess mucus formation occurs, NAC may help to thin mucus for easier expectoration (a.k.a. coughing it up, we know…gross).
In terms of medicinal herbs, elderberry extract (with its long history in traditional medicines) is also an immune-boosting ingredient. Elderberries have been scientifically linked to a significant reduction in the duration and severity of colds and flu-like symptoms, and are associated with a lesser likelihood of developing a cold after air travel [5,6]. Elderberries contain a variety of nutrients ranging from various vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B9, C, and E), trace elements (such as Cu, Zn, and Fe), minerals (such as K, Ca, and Mg), and phytochemicals (such as carotenoids, phytosterols, and polyphenols).
Do I need an immune boost?
Of course, this answer is personal to you. However, there is a global, highly contagious viral threat present. On top of it, there is a particularly nasty cold and flu season this year. Our immune systems were exposed to very few antigens during social distancing, and are now bombarded with pathogens we don’t have antibodies for as we stop wearing masks and start spending time in close contact with people outside of our pods.
So that’s what we’re all facing. Now consider your nutritional status.
Do you take a multivitamin supplement daily? Does it contain powerful doses of immune-supportive ingredients like those described above? Only you know the nutritional value of your diet and supplement regimen, and whether you think there are any gaps that could affect your immune health.
How much time are you spending in the sun? Vitamin D has been in the spotlight throughout the last year as its central role in immune health has finally gained recognition. More than 40% of Americans are vitamin D deficient, but that number is closer to 80% among Black and Latinx populations (one of many reasons being the parallel between the length of time in the sun required to make vitamin D and increased levels of melanin) [7,8].
Elderly and immunocompromised people (of any race) are more likely to be both vitamin D deficient and suffer more severely from acute respiratory disease . As an immune modulator, vitamin D supports a healthy response to viral infection .
Is Acute Immune Boost a good choice for me?
If you are looking for a pure, high-quality formula containing research-backed, immune-supportive nutrition, Acute Immune Boost may be an appropriate choice. Depending on your nutritional status and selected dose, this formula can be taken over the long term to promote your natural immunities, or for a short period to bolster your immune system when viral exposure is more likely. Talk to your doctor about which options are the best fit for your body.
- Maggini, S., S. Beveridge, and M. Suter. “A combination of high-dose vitamin C plus zinc for the common cold.” Journal of International Medical Research 40.1 (2012): 28-42.
- Armas, Laura AG, Bruce W. Hollis, and Robert P. Heaney. “Vitamin D2 is much less effective than vitamin D3 in humans.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 89.11 (2004): 5387-5391.
- Arranz, Lorena, et al. “The glutathione precursor N-acetylcysteine improves immune function in postmenopausal women.” Free radical biology & medicine 45.9 (2008): 1252-1262.
- San-Miguel, B., et al. “N-acetyl-cysteine protects liver from apoptotic death in an animal model of fulminant hepatic failure.” Apoptosis 11.11 (2006): 1945-1957.
- Tiralongo, Evelin, Shirley S. Wee, and Rodney A. Lea. “Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Nutrients 8.4 (2016): 182.
- Krawitz, Christian, et al. “Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 11.1 (2011): 16.
- Runestad, Todd. “Congress lauds vitamin D for COVID-19”. Natural Products Insider. Feb 25, 2021. https://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/ingredients/congress-lauds-vitamin-d-covid-19?utm_source=Bibblio&utm_campaign=Related
- Naeem, Zahid. “Vitamin d deficiency-an ignored epidemic.” International journal of health sciences 4.1 (2010): V.
- Martineau, Adrian R., and Nita G. Forouhi. “Vitamin D for COVID-19: a case to answer?.” The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology 8.9 (2020): 735-736.