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When you’re feeling under the weather, the immune system is the real MVP. And with coronavirus cases continuing in the midst of cold and flu season, illness-preventing health hacks have never been more top of mind.
Everyone has tried-and-true tricks to avoid getting sick, from loading up on effervescent vitamin C tablets to dousing everything with antibacterial spray. But here’s an unsurprising news flash: You can’t boost your immunity overnight, or even in a matter of days. The good news: medical experts we spoke to agree that there are ways to strengthen your immune system, but (sorry, biohackers) it won’t come in the form of a quick-fix pill or vitamin-packed concoction.
Vaccines remain among the best ways to prevent illness, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, a New York-based allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “Nothing in medicine works that fast,” she tells Rolling Stone. “[Ultimately], a healthy lifestyle the best way to have a good immune system,” she adds.
It’s worth mentioning that you should always consult your physician or other board-certified medical professional if you’re experiencing chronic pain, debilitating allergies, and other health issues.
Can Supplements Improve Your Immune System?
A quick glance at the aisles of vitamins and wellness supplements and you might be convinced that “there’s always a quick fix, [like] taking mega doses of certain supplements,” says Parikh. While vitamins C and D and daily multivitamins can help, other supplements aren’t approved by the FDA, nor is there “any good evidence that any of those things work. People [often] get a false sense of security,” she says, noting that some supplements might have a “strong placebo effect.”
Dr. John P. Cooke, MD, PhD, Department Chair of Cardiovascular Sciences at Houston Medical Research Institute, says there “is not a lot of data to support claims of improving immunity.” He says that while taking a daily vitamin can be good, “People who take supplements also tend to get their exercise [and] they tend to live a healthier lifestyle, so it’s hard to separate the benefits of the supplements from the other things they do. That’s why there have to be randomized studies.”
“The FDA doesn’t provide much guidance for supplements,” adds Cooke, a cardiovascular doctor and former professor at Stanford and Harvard Universities. “The regulations are not as rigorous as they are for drugs, which have to go through [strict] testing.”
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, both experts point out that there’s plenty of data that supports the effectiveness of taking zinc, multivitamins, and vitamins C and D supplements.
How Does the Immune System Work?
The immune system is made possible by white blood cells, which fight diseases and infection. “You can’t have immunity without endothelium, which is the maestro of the circulation system [and] a very important tissue,” Cooke says. “It’s the portal for circulating white blood vessels; when it gets dysfunctional, it acts less like Teflon and more like Velcro, and things begin to stick and cause inflammation.”
“Allergies and asthma are overreactions of your immune system [and] both go hand-in-hand. Often, the two are mistaken for one another,” says Parikh. If you suffer from severe allergies, “make sure you’re seeing a board-certified allergist [because] people are often misdiagnosed.”
The microbiome also plays a large role in immunity. It’s home to “good bacteria that helps regulate [issues such as] asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune problems where the immune system is overactive,” Parikh adds. With the exception of the coronavirus, there can be such a thing as being “too clean,” especially in Western countries. Antibacterial sanitizers can’t differentiate between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria, resulting in some everyday environments being over-sanitized. (It goes without saying that this doesn’t apply to medical and surgical rooms where a sterile setting is necessary.)
How to “Boost” Your Immune System Naturally
Following “old-fashioned” advice like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are the simplest ways to “boost” immunity, says Parikh. “Environmental factors [are the most common] cause of allergic reactions,” which including poor air quality, eating certain foods, or taking certain medications, to name a few. Some of those are also the easiest to control, so try using a HEPA air purifier or cutting back on food that triggers reactions, she adds.
Keeping the endothelium healthy is also key in supporting the immune system, says Cooke, who’s also a science advisory board member with HumanN. He suggests a fitness routine that includes walking briskly for 30 minutes per day, five days a week. “As heart doctors, we tend to give drugs to [help] lower cholesterol and [keep] blood sugar in a [healthy] range. The other thing we ask our patients to make lifestyle changes. There’s direct evidence that daily exercise can improve endothelium function,” he says.
Following a Mediterranean diet “seems to be the best for the heart and blood vessels, [according] to large clinical trials,” says Cooke. Foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fats are all important for maintaining a healthy heart and diet.
He recommends loading up on fruits and veggies that are naturally high in nitrites, “a mineral that’s used by the body to make nitric oxide, which helps keep the cardiovascular system healthy.” (Fun fact: Its discovery led to the Nobel Prize for three scientists in 1998). If there’s one supplement that scientifically proven to work, it’s “those that enhance nitric oxide production,” he adds.
Best Ways to Support Immune System Function
If you’re looking for ways to support your immunity, we’ve rounded up ten products inspired by the recommendations of the medical professionals above. (We’ll reiterate that you should always consult your MD if you have severe health problems.) From high-tech gadgets to everyday essentials, keep reading for our top suggestions for naturally boosting your immune system.
1. Bissell Air320 Smart Air Purifier
Bissell is already a trusted name when it comes to vacuums and carpet cleaners, and its home cleaning lineup also includes this smart air purifier. It’s designed for rooms as large as 1,000 square feet, and features a three-stage filtration system with a fabric pre-filter, an activated carbon filter, and a HEPA filter, so it captures 99.97% of pollen, dust, smoke, pet dander, hair, odors, and other microscopic airborne particles measuring 0.3 microns or smaller.
The device also monitors the indoor air quality and automatically adjusts to the best fan speed (there are five total) and has a night mode that keeps it quiet. We also like the intuitive controls on the front panel and the fact that you can see the air quality readings. Plus, the stylish Scandinavian modern-inspired design doesn’t hurt, either.
2. Ritual Essential Men’s 18+ Multivitamins
When you can’t get your daily servings of fruits and veggies, a daily multivitamin should suffice in filling the gaps in your diet, says Parikh. “If you’re otherwise healthy and have access to food [and] you eat relatively reasonably, there usually isn’t a need for increased doses [of minerals and vitamins].”
We’re fans of vitamin brand Ritual, which has expanded its offerings to men and children (it debuted in 2016 with women’s products). The delayed-release vegan capsules contain only the essential ingredients — think zinc, magnesium, omega-3 DHA, folate, and vitamins A, B12, D, and E, to name a few — with no synthetic fillers or artificial colors. We like the mint flavor that helps the vitamins go down easy. Also available for women and kids.
3. Vitamix Professional Series 750 Blender
While juicing is a good way to drink up your recommended greens, blending them into a smoothie is a much better option. It’s the next best thing to eating your fruits and vegetables, which is why we like the Vitamix Pro 750, which blends up the whole food so that you’re still getting the fiber and micronutrients that some supplements don’t have.
The high-end blender has five pre-programmed settings, speed controls, and a pulse feature, allowing you to mix up smoothies, soups, purées, and frozen desserts just the way you want. Powerful “aircraft-grade” stainless steel blades ensure that your blends are consistent, and the unit also has a handy self-cleaning feature that takes 30 to 60 seconds (just add warm water and a drop of dish soap). It has a capacity of 64 ounces and is compact enough to fit beneath most kitchen cabinets, and it won’t take up too much counter space.
4. Hoka One One Clifton Edge Running Shoes
Hoka One One’s Clifton Edge shoes are lightweight and comfortable, making them ideal for daily walks and runs. We like the bounce-like cushioning and stability that the full-compression EVA midsole offers during running and workouts, and the design encourages the foot’s natural position. They’re finished with a “high abrasion” rubber sole and a breathable mesh upper that keeps you light on your feet while keeping you steady.
5. Spade & Co. Health Smartwatch 2
This versatile fitness watch packs a ton of features: It can track your steps, sleep and blood oxygen level, along with a built-in heart rate monitor. You can also use it to set fitness goals and review your stats, and all of the features are accessible on the watch face itself.
This smartwatch pairs easily with both iOS and Android devices, and sends you text alerts, phone call alerts and app notifications all from your wrist. Choose from a chic “black aluminum” or “gold stainless steel” colorway.
6. Retrospec Power Tower
If you can’t get to the gym, this space-saving fitness station by Retrospec makes it easy to get your heart pumping with a full-body workout at home. The 250-pound capacity tower is equipped with pull-up and push-up bars for building muscle in your shoulders, arms, back, and chest; a vertical knee raise station for working your core and legs; and a dip station for working on triceps and the upper body.
It measures 58.5 inches wide by 46.5 inches deep by 83 inches tall, so it’s great for studios and apartments.
7. Muse S Headband
Regular meditation has a host of health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and boosting creativity. And for those who like to combine ancient practices with modern technology, high-tech company Muse’s newest S headband offers the best of both worlds. It uses the brand’s award-winning biofeedback technology to track brain activity, breathing, body movement, and heart rate so you can track all of your stats.
We like the variety of mind, heart, body, breath, and guided meditations on Muse’s free app (compatible with iOS 11 and Android 5 and up), such as the new “Go-To-Sleep Journeys” that guide you through whimsical-yet-restful scenes. You can also set weekly goals and challenges to build a more rewarding practice, and you can also upgrade to a one-year subscription ($13 monthly or $94 annually) and get access to over 500 meditations led by experts and new content each month.
On top of all that, the headband itself is made of super-soft and breathable fabric, so it’s comfortable enough to wear to bed. We were surprised to wake up with it still firmly in place during testing, which made it easier to kickstart our day with a morning meditation.
8. HumanN BeetElite Endurance Superfood Nitric Oxide Activator
Whether you’re an active athlete or you want to support your heart health, this vegan and non-GMO beet powder is clinically proven to aid in post-workout recovery and promote nitric oxide production. The brand says it sources “beets that are rich in dietary nitrates and nitrites [and] each earthy beet that goes into a batch of BeetElite is rigorously tested according to precise specifications that optimal dietary nitrate and nitrite content you want to produce Nitric Oxide for improved energy, stamina, and endurance.”
9. Lumineux Oral Essentials Clean & Fresh Breath Kit
Immunity via toothpaste? Not quite — but these non-toxic mouth care essentials are clinically proven to be microbiome-safe, meaning they won’t kill the good bacteria like other antibacterial mouthwashes commonly found on store shelves. We like that this set comes with a bamboo toothbrush, plus two bottles of mouthwash and two tubes of toothpaste.
Developed by Beverly Hills-based dentist Dr. Kouroush Maddahi, the Made Safe-certified brand uses clinically-proven Dead Sea salt to prevent gum disease. A decade-long study conducted by Lumineux CSO and former Hessam Nowzari (previously chairman of USC’s Advanced Periodontics Department) found that the hero ingredient was effective at “neutralizing the [disease-causing] toxins of bacteria” in the mouth without killing the microorganisms themselves, says the company. Other natural ingredients include xylitol, aloe vera, and French essential oils to help keep the breath fresh, reduce teeth sensitivity, relieve dry mouth, and remove stains.
10. Whole30 Fast & Easy Cookbook by Melissa Hartwig Urban
We can speak from experience that the Whole 30 can help create healthier eating habits, especially if you’re looking to determine which foods are causing inflammation, bloating, or allergic reactions. The “30-day dietary experiment” calls for eliminating alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes (think most beans), real and artificial sugars, and soy (sorry, no tofu here), and many – including us – prefer to use it as a way to “reset” every few months rather than as a rigid diet.
As that “no” list suggests, it’s not easy, especially if you’re already vegan or vegetarian as the program relies on animal proteins. (There are ways to adjust that aren’t totally “compliant,” but still offer the same health benefits.) We like cooking up dishes and sides from founder Melissa Hartwig Urban’s New York Times-bestselling Whole30 Fast & Easy cookbook, which contains 150 recipes ranging from breakfast frittatas and quick roasted veggies to delicious tomato-coconut curry.