With that in mind, let’s take a look at some oft-touted immune boosters and what the experts have to say about their efficacy. And, as always, consult with your doctor before deciding to take any supplements.
Which “immune boosters” actually work?
Van Oers says that acupuncture may be able to reduce inflammation — with a caveat: “This is… very individual-specific, and may not work in many people.”
This seems to be the consensus among experts. “If acupuncture helps to reduce your anxiety levels, helps you sleep, etc., then there is a likely immune benefit,” says Jarosh. “It’s more about addressing something that may have been preventing the immune system from fully functioning, as opposed to boosting the immune system beyond what it would otherwise be capable of.”
Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist based in New York City agrees that acupuncture can be beneficial in terms of stress reduction, explaining that “small studies have suggested it can be helpful in alleviating stress and anxiety which can have a positive effect on the immune system.”
“Elderberry is [a] supplement I get asked about quite often,” Jarosh says. “There is some research indicating that elderberry might help shorten [the] duration of influenza and sinusitis. But again, nothing conclusive.”
Sonpal says that any potential benefit from elderberries is all about the antioxidants. “Elderberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that directly boost the immune system,” he explains. “Epidemiological research has found links between antioxidant-rich diets and a reduced incidence of cancer.”
If you do choose to incorporate elderberry in your diet, talk to your doctor first and then proceed with caution and look closely at the supplement: avoid uncooked elderberry, as it can cause stomach upset.
Sonpal says that garlic could be another option for your diet, particularly aged garlic extract, which some studies found to contain heightened antioxidant properties. “Research is more clear in terms of garlic’s boosting of the immune system,” he says. “Scientists have also found compounds within garlic that increase the immune response in white cells which helps them combat viruses and symptoms of sickness.”
According to Jarosh, “there are some studies that indicate that garlic may be able to stimulate or support aspects of our immune system.” So feel free to use that as justification for using twice as many cloves in your favorite recipes.
According to Sonpal, probiotics are live bacteria that help diversify our gut microbiome and help the immune system regulate inflammation. “The more diverse our bacteria colonies are in our gut the better we tend to feel,” he says.