Senior Health

11/23/2020 | By Seniors Guide Staff

Many people have become conscious of the importance of boosting their immune systems lately. Both the global pandemic and the arrival of cold and flu season have contributed to this awareness. As a result, multivitamins and other supplements have taken center stage, some of them flying off pharmacy shelves at a record pace.

Some vitamins do play an essential role in immune function. Vitamin D, for instance, is produced naturally by spending time in the sun. Unfortunately, many people are not getting sufficient amounts of sunlight, especially in the northern areas where cold weather keeps them indoors.

But do multivitamins boost immune system? Are supplements the answer to getting those vitamins, such as vitamin D, that can provide immune system support? Here is what the experts say.

Be Wary of Supplements

If you are healthy, supplements usually provide few added benefits for your immune system. According to Reina Marino, a physician at Jefferson Health’s Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, “People who are undernourished or have vitamin deficiencies may be more susceptible to contracting infections. But even in those cases, taking higher-than-necessary amounts of vitamins will not necessarily make your immune system function better. If you are concerned you’re not getting enough nutrients, I would suggest focusing on having balanced meals and adding a basic daily multivitamin.”

Role of Vitamins in Immunity

Studies have shown that specific vitamins, minerals, and herbs can contribute to immune health. Some of the most common include:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, helping to protect against infections. Foods such as citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, and brussels sprouts are excellent vitamin C sources.

Vitamin D: Studies have indicated that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher risk of acute respiratory infections. “Although there is no current scientific data proving that vitamin D specifically protects against COVID-19,” Dr. Marino cautions, “a recent study found a possible association between low vitamin D levels, number of COVID-19 cases and deaths from COVID-19 in multiple European countries.” Foods high in vitamin D include salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified milk.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E boosts immunity, but most people should get sufficient amounts of it through leafy green vegetables, sunflower seeds, olive oil, nuts, fruit juices, and shrimp. A word of caution: High doses of vitamin E supplements can suppress blood clotting, increasing the risk of excess bleeding.

Zinc: While zinc is vital for immune health, studies have yet to show that it prevents COVID-19 or helps people get over it more quickly. You can get this mineral from lean red meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, dairy, and eggs.

Garlic: Garlic can boost the immune system when its cloves are crushed or chewed. It may help the body resist or destroy viruses while promoting a healthy gut and reducing cardiovascular disease risk. However, just as with vitamin E, too much garlic can thin your blood, which could be dangerous if you are about to have surgery.

Precautions Instead of Vitamins to Take During Pandemic

None of the studies conducted to date have shown that taking multivitamins for immune health will prevent COVID-19. As the virus continues its resurgence, the best way to reduce your risk of getting the coronavirus is to follow the recommended guidelines that have been in place from the beginning:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with a mix of lean meats, poultry, fish, grains, fruits, and lots of vegetables.
  • Get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night.
  • Keep your body in shape by exercising at least thirty minutes, no fewer than three days a week.
  • Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently and thoroughly.
  • Wear a mask and limit trips outside the home.

The Bottom Line

The advice you will find on multivitamins ranges from “they are a total waste of money” up to “multivitamins will boost your immune system and help you avoid COVID-19.” As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

If you are healthy and eat right, your immune system will be robust and will not need extra help from supplements. Conversely, if you have a poor diet and don’t take the best care of yourself, multivitamins could take up the slack in your nutritional needs.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff