When you were a child, you might have eaten those (somehow delicious) Flintstones Vitamins. They were chalky and tangy, and they were probably good for you. This was probably your first exposure to dietary supplements–this case, in the form of a multivitamin.
We’re used to the idea of taking dietary supplements during certain times of our lives (for example, if you’re pregnant, you’ve probably taken prenatal vitamins). But what about in general? Should you be taking a dietary supplement daily? And can any of those supplements successfully boost your immune system?
At Progressive Health Primary Care we handle dietary supplements carefully. We don’t “race to the pills”. First, we test our patients for normal levels. Different patients require different levels of vitamins and minerals based on their age, health history, and other factors. Then, we talk through options to raise low levels. For example, for lactose intolerant patients who are low in calcium, we identify foods that check both boxes. If those foods raise levels to where we want them, our patient is happy and so are we.
Dietary supplements can have their place in a patient’s life, but the supplements industry os a multi-billion dollar industry whose main message is that “more is better”. We do not believe that’s the case.
What is a Dietary Supplement?
Your body requires a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to function properly. Most people are able to successfully absorb a sufficient amount of those vitamins and minerals through their everyday diet and daily activities. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will help with this!
But not everyone absorbs those vitamins and minerals equally. If you are lactose intolerant, for example, you may have trouble incorporating enough calcium into your diet. Likewise, if you have sensitive skin, absorbing vitamin D via sunlight can become challenging. There are all kinds of reasons why you might have trouble getting enough of this vitamin or that mineral. In these cases, individuals can take nutrients in pill form, allowing them to supplement their diets.
Many supplements are available over the counter, but you should still talk to your physician about which supplements you should be taking (if any).
Supplements for Your Immune System
Some supplements can help your body operate a little better–not because they somehow possess secret ingredients, but because your body is getting the raw materials it needs to function properly.
This is also true with your immune system, a complex network of various functions and responses within your body. Supplements for your immune system don’t necessarily fight off or mitigate disease on their own–they simply give your immune system the components needed to function at peak efficiency.
As we said above, we target normal levels for each patient based on their health history and current needs. We test for levels, work to find the cause of a deficiency, and then work with each patient to raise levels that need raising…sometimes naturally and sometimes with supplements. We also monitor patients to make sure levels don’t go too high.
Some of the supplements for your immune system might include:
- Vitamin D – Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, which is essential for well-functioning white blood cells.
- Zinc – Most people get enough Zinc in their diet, but deficiencies can and do happen. A supplement can help your immune system function better.
- Vitamin C – Without Vitamin C, your immune system will not function properly. Luckily, this vitamin is so common that most people are able to get enough without the need for additional supplements.
- Vitamin B6 – Most people get their B6 through green vegetables; but if you don’t get enough veggies, a B6 supplement can help support the biochemical reactions in your immune system.
- Folic Acid – A synthetic version of a chemical called folate, folic acid can help ensure your cells are functioning properly–including your immune system based cells.
- Iron – While iron may not seem all that important at first, it’s absolutely vital to your body’s ability to move oxygen via blood cells. When you have enough iron, your immune system functions better.
There are also many commonly used supplements that might be beneficial for your health, but do not necessarily have a direct impact on your immune system. Some of those common supplements could include:
- Omega Fatty Acids
- Herbal Supplements
These lists are not exhaustive. There are extensive supplement options on the market today. Some of the positive impacts of these supplements are borne out by peer reviewed research–others, less so. That’s why it’s essential to speak with your primary care physician if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements to boost your immune system.
Can Supplements Prevent or Treat COVID-19?
There is currently no evidence that any dietary supplements can effectively treat or prevent COVID-19 infections. Usually, an immune system that’s functioning properly is a general benefit against possible infection from disease.
But because scientists are still figuring out precisely how COVID works, who gets sick (and whether immune response has anything to do with how sick one becomes), there’s no evidence that immune boosting supplements help or hurt.
Do Dietary Supplements Keep You From Catching COVID-19?
There’s no evidence to suggest dietary supplements can prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, scientists have discovered what does work to prevent COVID spread:
- The COVID-19 vaccine
- Social distancing
Do Dietary Supplements Help You Avoid Developing Symptoms if You’re Infected?
No one is sure why some individuals will develop severe COVID-19 symptoms and others do not. However, there’s currently no evidence that dietary supplements (or even a fantastic immune system) will keep your infection asymptomatic or limit the severity of your disease symptoms.
Can Dietary Supplements Help Me Recover Faster if I Get COVID-19?
Currently, there just isn’t enough scientific and peer reviewed evidence to suggest that dietary supplements can help you recover more quickly from COVID-19.
Once you become infected with COVID-19, there’s no way to predict whether you will have a mild or severe case. While there are some post-infection therapies that have been studied and approved, there’s no peer-reviewed evidence that suggests dietary supplements lead to substantially better outcomes.
Dietary Supplements Are No Match for the Methods We Know Work
It’s essential that you protect yourself in ways we know work: vaccination, distancing, and masking.
The Direct Primary Care Advantage
Because there is so much information floating around the internet–and because dietary supplements are not heavily regulated–it can be challenging to know which supplements to take and which you can skip. Under a traditional care system, it might feel a little silly to schedule an appointment with your physician just to discuss whether you should increase your dosage of vitamin D supplements.
But because all of your visits and physician conversations are included with a direct primary care membership, there’s no downside to scheduling a visit (or call) simply to talk about dietary supplements and how they might benefit your immune system.
We’ll work with you to determine where you might have some mineral or vitamin deficiencies–and how you can address them with the right dietary supplements. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with your physician!