The COVID-19 pandemic gave most of us a vested interest in boosting our immunity. For nearly two years, social media has been rife with advice about folk remedies. Unfortunately, most of them are a waste of money and time. "There are a lot of products that tout immune boosting properties, but I don't think any of these have been medically proven to work," Dr. Krystina Woods, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai West, told The New York Times. Here are five "immunity boosters" that don't actually work, experts say. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
Zinc helps the immune system to function. As such, it's an ingredient in many supplements that claim to boost the immune system, and it's heavily touted on its own. Trouble is, most of us get all the zinc we need from food, and the evidence for zinc supplements as an immune booster is far from robust. Some studies have found that zinc supplements may shorten the length of a cold by about a day; others found no effect. If you've got a cold, flu or COVID, don't expect zinc to be a miracle cure.
These little purple berries have been used as a folk remedy for centuries, and now they've found their way into popular syrups and supplements for boosting the immune system. But the data on elderberry is mixed. While some studies have shown it may shorten the duration of the flu by four days, a 2020 study at the Cleveland Clinic found no difference in the severity or duration of flu symptoms between a group that took elderberry and one that took a placebo.
Many people look to extracts of this flowering herb for immune boosting, but it's more like rolling the dice. "Reviews of research have found limited evidence that some echinacea preparations may be useful for treating colds in adults, while other preparations did not seem to be helpful," says the National Center for Integrative and Complementary Medicine. "In addition, echinacea has not been shown to reduce the number of colds that adults catch." Some studies have found a modest benefit when taking echinacea for a cold; others have found no benefit.
The gut microbiome is a hot health topic right now, because naturally occurring "good" bacteria in our gut helps reinforce the immune system. Some people have started taking probiotic supplements in hope of an immunity boost. The science says they're no slam dunk. "Although a 2015 analysis of research indicated that probiotics might help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, the evidence is weak and the results have limitations," says the National Center for Integrative and Complementary Medicine.
Most Immune-Boosting Supplements, Actually
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, went on record last year as saying "most so-called immune-boosting supplements" do "nothing." The exceptions: Vitamin C and D, which are backed by "pretty good data."
So what does work? "If you don't smoke, you only drink in moderation, you get a good night's sleep, have a healthy diet, you exercise, and you do something to reduce stress, that's going to keep your immune system healthy, not any of these dietary supplements and herbs and other things," Fauci said. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.