Dietary supplements are widely available without a prescription. They are widely used. In 2020, sales of immunity supplements increased by 74% due to the corona pandemic (Trends 2021).
Two years later, the health crisis and inflation do not seem to dampen this growth. Is it really worth it for your immunity to take nutritional supplements in winter?
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is our natural ability to resist outside attacks. It is it set of mechanisms by which our body defends itself against intruders. Because the immune system is constantly confronted with microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites), it is put to great demand. There is a distinction between innate immunity and acquired immunity, where our immune system targets invaders that we have already encountered in the past.
It sounds tempting that you could strengthen your immune system, but there is no scientific proof yet for this possibility. There are many immune cells. Strengthening them seems complex because there are different families, which react differently depending on the “enemy” that has to be faced. Be aware that there is always a risk of a harmful effect. When overstimulated, the immune system can overreact to non-dangerous components. This is what happens with allergies. It can also attack parts of its own body, causing autoimmune diseases.
Should you take nutritional supplements in winter?
There are numerous nutritional supplements on the counter of many a pharmacy, parapharmacy, etc., the names of which suggest an effect on the immune system. That doesn’t mean they are useful. Taking dietary supplements is only and possibly justified in case of a proven deficiency and after medical advice.
We also know that now a nutrient taken separately does not have the same effect as when taken through whole foods. For example, consuming vitamin C in tablet form will never provide the same benefits as when taken with fruits and vegetables. That’s because the food provides other micronutrients and fiber in addition to the vitamin. It is this complementarity that gives the diet its protective character, as long as it stays close to what is recommended.
In addition to these vitamins and minerals, plants or bioactive substances have a certain function in our body, but do not seem to be essential for our health.
While some preparations have been found to alter certain components of immune function, there is to date there is no evidence that they effectively boost immunity in such a way that they give you better protection against infections and diseases. Demonstrating that a plant or any other substance can boost immunity is still a very complicated matter.
Dietary supplements can be useful in case of vitamin deficiency(s)
If the deficiency is very severe, dietary supplements may be helpful.
If there is no deficiency, dietary supplements will not help prevent disease. In the best case the excess is excreted in the urinein the worst case, the vitamins or minerals accumulate in the body, leading to health problems.
Winter fatigue, a consequence of a vitamin C deficiency?
Depending on the season or the circumstances, everyone can of course feel less fit than usual. For example, a long-term deficiency of vitamin C can lead to fatigue. In this case, a blood test should be done first.
If the fatigue is due to a lack of vitamin C, you should reabsorb these sources through your diet before thinking about dietary supplements. To reach the recommended dose of vitamin C (110 mg for adults), it is sufficient to eat a large orange.
Our guide tells you all about the vitamins and minerals you need, the foods they provide and the recommended amounts.
To the guide of vitamins and minerals
Vitamin D deficiency: the most common deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common deficiency. Vitamin D is mainly produced by the skin after exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Dietary supplements for vegan or vegetarian diets
Supplements may be required as part of a restrictive diet. For example, vegans or vegetarians who exclude all animal products must supplement with vitamin B12. Some people suffering from chronic diseases also need to supplement various vitamins and minerals, but always on medical advice. An iron supplement may also be helpful for women who may suffer from anemia due to heavy periods.
How can you strengthen/boost your immune system?
A balanced diet is sufficient to protect your immunity
Before rushing yourself to the pharmacy to buy nutritional supplements, start by putting more fruits and vegetables on the menu every day. By means of balanced and varied the to eat you can easily absorb enough vitamins and minerals. It is therefore not “difficult” to prevent shortages.
On the other hand, a little varied and unbalanced diet can lead to a shortage of vitamins and minerals. And a deficiency reduces your resistancebecause vitamins D, C, A, B6, B9, E, zinc, selenium, iron and copper all play an important role in your immunity.
A healthy life for a well-functioning immune system
- Exercise: Exercise increases the number of white blood cells in the blood. Those cells are involved in the immune response. According to several studies, people who regularly engage in moderate exercise (brisk walking, cycling, etc.) are less susceptible to winter respiratory infections than the rest of the population. And when they are affected, the infection takes less time. In the elderly, exercise would slow the natural weakening of the immune system with age, limiting the increased vulnerability to infections.
- Sleep: During deep sleep, the immune system produces antibodies. As a result, people who sleep sufficiently and deeply get sick less often.
- Stress: Hormones produced during stress (adrenaline, noradrenaline and glucocorticoids) can act directly on certain immune cells and disrupt their functioning. Therefore, work on an attitude that is as relaxed as possible and avoid recurring stressful situations as much as possible.
- Alcohol and smoking: Alcohol consumption has been shown to influence people’s general health, immune system (increased susceptibility to infections) and behavior (increased risk of unprotected sex or intravenous drug use). Daily alcohol consumption, even in moderate doses, makes the body more vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. Smoking increases the risk of infection. One of the first effects of smoking on immunity is to initiate a chronic inflammatory response in the lungs, which increases over the years, partly due to repeated exposure to smoke. Tar and nicotine have immunosuppressive effects on the innate immune response.
All about nutritional supplements
Discover our special file on food supplements and the immune system. Our nutritionists have analyzed the most commonly used nutritional supplements.
To the file on nutritional supplements and immunity