Neither Vitamin C nor zinc nor any food boosts immunity; only exercise does
Since the coronavirus pandemic struck, recovery in most cases has largely been reliant on the human body’s natural defence, the immune system. As the numbers of Covid-19 cases rise every day, people are switching to so-called ‘immunity boosters’. Many products rich in zinc and Vitamin C are being consumed routinely and excessively by people to fight the pandemic.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support claims that such ‘immunity boosters’ enhance immunity. Immunology experts say there is no way for healthy adults to improve their immunity through foods or products. According to a famous immunologist at CSIR, Ram Vishwakarma, “Immunity is a much abused word that people do not fully understand. The immune system is very complex. These claims about boosting immunity are irrational and unscientific.”
An extremely “boosted” immune system, in the context of no scientific definition for ‘boosting’, can be problematic. In severe Covid-19 cases, the body launches an aggressive immune response resulting in the release of a large amount of pro-inflammatory proteins. This is known as a cytokine storm and is one of the common causes of death in Covid-19 patients. A cytokine storm occurs when the body’s immune system goes into an overdrive, killing healthy cells and causing organ failures. Several research studies suggest that the cytokine storm causes lung injury and multi-organ failure.
The root of one of the biggest misconceptions, which is that consuming more vitamins than required helps the immune system, was the speculative and incorrect theories put forth by pioneering chemist Linus Pauling. It has been proven since, time and again, that mega-doses of Vitamin C or of any kind of vitamin are not effective on the body at all. Another misconception doing the rounds is that zinc tablets can play a role in mitigating Covid-19. However, this isn’t backed by evidence either.
In light of the pandemic, it is not just foods but also products that have sprouted in the market that claim to boost immunity. This isn’t new either. Back in 1918, when the Spanish Flu was raging, companies jumped in on the opportunity to hail themselves as immunity boosting. However, no products were ever proven to be effective in improving immune responses.
There are indeed processes that do affect our immune cells and improve their responses. The best one of them, perhaps, is exercise. Exercise or intense physical activity results in cellular damage and induces an immune response, which floods sites of damage with immune cells. Many studies have shown that moderate exercise of less than 60 minutes can improve the circulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, natural killer cells, T cells and B cells.
Thus there currently exists no evidence of any consumable foods or topical use of products being able to induce an improvement in immune function. The only scientifically proven way to boost immunity, the immune system, and an immune response is through vaccinations.
The writer is a student of Zoology at Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]