Herbal medicine has a lot to offer. It has fewer side effects than prescribed medication and, in some cases, can be just as effective. But there is danger in thinking that taking reishi mushrooms or adding elderberry to your daily smoothie is a panacea that will keep you in tip-top shape and prevent you from ever getting sick again.
Consult with your doctor, a specialist in herbal medicine, and a nutritionist before making herbal medicine a regular part of your routine. They can advise you on potential side effects to look out for and how you should NOT use herbal medicine or other natural supplements. They can also help you determine if you are reacting negatively to the supplements you are taking.
Myth: You Should Drink Enhanced Waters To Support Immunity
Athletes regularly consume sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, and water that has been enhanced with nutrients, because of how quickly they deplete the nutrients in their bodies through their intense workouts. Especially of concern is keeping their electrolytes in balance, because without enough electrolytes, they can go into cardiac arrest.
Nevertheless, sports drinks are not for everyone; they were designed specifically for athletes. Moreover, their purpose is not to boost immunity but to help athletes replenish their nutrient supplies so that they can continue working out. Believing that you should consume sports drinks and other enhanced waters to support immune health is simply not true.
Fact: Sports Drinks Have A Lot Of Added Sugar And Chemicals
Yes, sports drinks and other enhanced waters have nutrients added that could be beneficial to your immune system, like zinc and vitamin C. As we have already shown, good immune health requires more than a few isolated nutrients that are separate from their natural food source.
What outweighs the nutrients that are added to sports drinks is all of the sugar and chemicals that are also added. Take a look at the ingredients of your favorite enhanced water or sports drink, and you may be shocked at how much has been added. And all of those additions are harmful to your immune health. So drinking that Powerade, when you are not in a heavy workout, can do much more harm than good.
Myth: You Should Always Eat Fresh Fruits And Veggies Over Canned Or Frozen
This myth may be one of the most often touted and commonly believed that only in eating fresh fruits and vegetables can you get enough of the nutrients that you need. This myth neglects the many benefits of canned and frozen produce and the negative potential of fresh.
Unless you are growing the produce yourself or getting it from a local vendor, the fact is that the product may have been grown thousands of miles away and picked before it was ripe because it had to travel for days before reaching you. At that time, many of the nutrients can have already begun to break down.
Fact: Fresh Is Just One Way To Get Enough Fruits And Veggies
Produce that is canned or frozen is usually picked at the peak of freshness, rather than before it is ripe, and then quickly processed to preserve the flavor and the nutrients. As such, canned and frozen fruits and veggies can have more nutrients than fresh!
Not to mention that many people have trouble eating fresh produce because they have allergies or gastrointestinal problems. Produce that has been canned or frozen can cause fewer adverse side effects and be much better tolerated by people who have trouble with fresh produce.
What do people even anticipate when they talk about wanting to “boost” their immune system? Do they think that they want to give it a jump start to start working in the first place? Do they mean that they want to fine-tune it, or start recognizing the need to care for it?
The myth is that you can improve your body’s ability to fight off invaders, be they pathogens, toxins, or other nasties that can make you sick. You can’t. You can make sure that there is enough gas in the car so that it continues to do what it is already designed to do.
Fact: You Can Support Your Body’s Natural Abilities To Protect Itself
Unless you have an immune disorder, you were born with an immune system that can defend the body. Nevertheless, for it to work, there are certain things that it needs, like vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, probiotics, and adequate rest.
However, in maintaining a lifestyle that supports immune health, all you are doing is giving your body what it needs to do what it is supposed to do. You are not giving yourself any superhuman abilities to conduct amazing feats of immune hyperbole. You are just keeping the engine running the way that it is supposed to.
One of the health trends that emerged a few years ago was intermittent fasting or IF. The idea behind IF was that by going for several hours at a time without eating, you strengthen many of your body’s abilities because you do not always expend energy by digesting food. Muscles replenish themselves, infected cells get replaced by healthy cells, and brain fog clears.
One of the expected outcomes of IF was that immune systems would improve. T-cell (essential cells in your immune system) counts would increase the body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders. But that outcome simply did not materialize.
Fact: Immune Health Is Not An Outcome Of Gentle Fasting
There are many documented benefits to IF, but improved immune health is not one of them. The only instance of fasting in which immune health has been measured as a viable by-product is when people go for days without food.
While gentle fasting, or IF, can be feasible for many people and improve many aspects of their health, going for days without food should not be advocated. Many people cannot do so safely and will become sick as a result. If you want to begin an IF regimen, by all means, talk to your doctor about doing so. But don’t expect immune health to result from it.
Myth: Garlic Will Prevent You From Getting A Viral Infection
Garlic has long been touted for its immense health-boosting benefits, and rightly so. Eating garlic regularly can help lower your blood pressure and fight off bacterial infections. Plenty of people eat a bite of raw garlic whenever they feel themselves getting sick and swear that the garlic makes them feel better.
Despite how beneficial garlic is, it cannot prevent you from getting a viral infection. It cannot protect you from a virus, seeing viruses (such as the one that causes COVID-19) to travel through water and person-to-person contact and have nothing to do with what we eat. You can eat garlic and still get a virus.
Fact: Garlic Can Help You Fight A Bacterial Infection
Bacteria are different, and eating garlic can help prevent, or at least help to mitigate, a bacterial infection. If you get infected with a virus, then eating garlic is unlikely to make things worse. However, it is unlikely to be a magic bullet that will prevent you from getting sick.
Regularly consuming garlic as part of a varied diet and healthy lifestyle can help keep your immune system functioning optimally. Instead of eating a clove of it raw to keep you from getting COVID-19, follow social-distancing guidelines, wear a mask when you leave the house, and take inventory of your entire lifestyle.
Half of the fat in coconut oil comes from lauric acid, a type of fatty acid with antimicrobial and antifungal effects. So if you want to kill off any pathogens inside of you, you should consume lots of coconut oil, right? Wrong.
To reap any antimicrobial benefits of coconut oil, you would have to guzzle so much of it that your heart would stop. Moreover, honey, which also has some antibacterial properties, is also a concentrated form of sugar. Not that you should skip these foods altogether, but don’t believe for a minute that they will improve your immune system.
Coconut oil does have some health benefits, particularly regarding brain health. People with dementia have reported better outcomes in their memories when consuming coconut oil, but it is higher in saturated fat than butter. So while you can cook some food in coconut oil, you should limit how much you consume.
And honey, primarily if it is produced from local flowers, can reduce the effects of seasonal allergies. Nevertheless, don’t consume too much of it, because it is very high in sugar. Other healthy foods that supposedly boost immune health should not necessarily be avoided, but they should be consumed in moderation.
Myth: You Should Not Consume Dairy When You Are Sick
This myth claims that dairy increases mucus production, and excessive mucus can clog the airways and harbor pathogens. While there is some truth to this claim, it is more myth than fact. There is simply no evidence to corroborate it.
Singers, public speakers, and others who rely heavily on a well-functioning throat may avoid dairy before an important event. However, they do not do so because they are trying to improve their bodies’ immune responses. They are trying to prevent a mucus build-up in their throats so that their voices are clearer.
Fact: Dairy Provides Necessary Proteins For Recovering
Dairy can cause extra mucus to line the throat, but it also provides nutrients that can help recover from illness. Amino acids, found in proteins, are an important part of immune health, and dairy has high protein levels.
Many dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D is critical for just about everything that the body does, including supporting its immune response and aiding in the recovery from illness. But if your experience is that dairy weighs you down, then go on and avoid it.
When you start to feel the sniffles, your first impulse may be to pour yourself a glass of orange juice. However, you should be aware that orange juice is very high in sugar – it has more sugar, ounce for ounce, than soda – and doesn’t have the fiber that helps slow down the absorption of that sugar.
In other words, drinking orange juice can give you a sugar high, and sugar is the opposite of what you need to recover! The cells in your body can mistake sugar for vitamin C and accidentally bring the wrong molecule in. If all you can get down is a glass of juice, then sure, drink some juice. But don’t believe the myth that juice is beneficial.
Before oranges are juiced, they have fiber that helps slow down the absorption of sugar. So while you may be able to down three or four glasses of orange juice without noticing how much you have consumed, eating two or three oranges will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
Many nutrients are lost in the process of making fruit juice, not just the fiber. If you are a fan of juice and want to strengthen your body’s immune response, consider using a home juicer to juice your fruits, mixed with vegetables. Composting the leftover pulp and using it in a vegetable garden can boost your home-grown veggies’ nutrient content.
Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks are diuretics, meaning that they cause you to have to urinate. Some people claim that drinking coffee makes them urinate more than the amount that they drank, a problem that can lead to dehydration if one consumes excessive amounts of coffee.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid coffee and tea when you are sick (however, you should prevent artificially caffeinated drinks, like soda). Coffee-lovers and tea-drinkers can rest happily knowing that they do not have to forfeit their favorite beverage to feel better next time they get sick.
The antioxidants found in coffee and tea far outweigh the temporary side effect of having to urinate more frequently. Studies have shown that people who regularly consume coffee and tea (especially green tea) have improved cardiovascular health, lower rates of cancer, and better cognition (especially among Alzheimer’s patients) than those who do not.
Drinking coffee when you are under the weather is unlikely to make you feel better, beyond it being a comfort food that can provide an emotional boost. Furthermore, if you need extra sleep, you may want to reduce the caffeine. But ultimately, it will do more good than bad.
“9 Myths About Immune-Boosting Foods That Health Experts Want You to Stop Believing,” by Betty Gold. Real Simple. March 30, 2020.
“5 myths about boosting your immunity,” by Susie Burrell. MSN Health. May 29, 2020.
“The 5 biggest myths about immune system boosters,” by Jackie London. Weight Watchers Reimagined.