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In the last few years, we’ve all started paying more attention to immunity and immune health. But within this conversation, there’s been extensive variability in what those topics actually mean. Many talk specifically about “boosting immunity,” the idea that we can quickly increase the strength of our entire immune system with simple interventions like vitamin C or elderberry. Though it’s great to prioritize immune health, “boosting” is probably not the best, nor the most science-backed framework for immune or general wellness.

How does the immune system work?

The immune system is an incredibly complex and amazingly powerful set of cells and signaling pathways that is present in nearly every organ and every inch of your body. You have immune cells in your skin, your brain, and in your lungs. And importantly, your immune system does a whole lot more than just defend you against microbes. For example, immune cells monitor and remove pre-cancerous cells. Immune signals modulate the function of our brain cells and may change our mood. Immunity may also be a major driver of the aging process itself! This means the state of our immune system matters for a whole lot more than just our resistance to germs—it influences every aspect of our health. 

So how can I boost my body’s immunity?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but because of the incredible complexity of immunity, the idea that we can simply “boost” it with a pill, tablet or powder is unrealistic. More importantly, each immune system is unique—Even the immune systems of twins will behave differently and have different needs for optimal health. Though it’s tempting to imagine that we can simply pull a lever and improve immune health with a booster dose of zinc or vitamin C, there’s very little scientific evidence that this actually works or has meaningful benefit.

If I can’t boost my immune system, what should I do instead?

When it comes to immune health for most people, it’s more effective to aim for long-term immune balance, rather than working towards a short-term fix. Prioritizing immune balance means working to build an immune system that is able to defend against dangerous bugs and remove our own damaged cells while not unnecessarily reacting to harmless environmental factors (like pollen allergies) or causing unnecessary damage to our own bodies (as in autoimmune disease).

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From the Organic Authority Files

Why is immune balance better than trying to boost the immune system?

Like a healthy diet, a strategy to enhance immune balance should ideally incorporate two components. First, getting a better sense of your current state of immune balance makes sense whenever possible. If you’re unsure of where to start, try this free quiz to get some insight into your current state—it asks questions about your allergies and any illnesses to get a sense of your immune strength. Next, consider a more holistic plan for optimizing immune balance. That may include changes to the timing of your meals, your nutrient intake (all hail the mighty broccoli!), and lifestyle changes, like spending more time in nature with people you love—yes, mental health affects the immune system more than you think.

5 Ways to Improve the Immune System Through Balance, Not Boosting

If improving immune balance is the goal, what’s the path to making it happen? 

woman hiking in field
Woman wearing orange holding a flower in front of torso
White bouquet, candle, and phone next to bed with white sheets.
Cocktails on marble countertop with bottle, garnishes, and cut grapefruit.
Person with hands on head under a waterfall.

Immunity Boosting is a Fad, But Balance is Forever

If you’ve been trying to boost your immune system in the last few years, you are far from alone, and it’s also important to congratulate yourself for taking initiative in improving your health. But just like a fad diet or detox that may initially seem great but not pan out in the long run, we need to appreciate that our state of immune balance can’t be easily hacked by a couple tablets or mouth spray. Instead, if we embrace the incredible complexity and power of our immune systems and take a more thoughtful approach to balancing immunity, we may be able to not just promote better immune health, but instead, generate sustainable whole-body wellness.

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163720302762
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00223-016-0212-9
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10875-010-9499-x
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_overall_health_508.pdf

 

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