(MONTREAL) With the meteoric spread of the Omicron variant, this is a question that many people are likely to ask themselves who will wake up one morning with a itching in their throat, a little fever and an annoying cough: could I do something to boost my immune system and get rid of the virus faster?
The short answer: no, apart from reaping the dividends of healthy lifestyles that will have been adopted a long time ago rather than the very day of the onset of symptoms.
“The evidence that supplements (available in pharmacies or on the internet) can stimulate the immune system to protect us, whether it is from cancer or whether it is infections including COVID, I think it is not very convincing, for be very honest, ”said Dr. André Veillette, who is an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute.
All the more so, he recalls, that the immune response is not monolithic and rather consists of several components. It is therefore questionable which phase of the immune response, for example, these supplements propose to stimulate.
Professor Caroline Richard, a specialist in the link between diet and the immune system at the University of Alberta, agrees, recalling that “overall diet probably has more effect than supplements (or only) a nutrient ”.
“Of course, it’s not very sexy for people who are looking for simple solutions,” she admitted. The immune system, she continues, uses all the vitamins and minerals in our diet to be effective.
The nutrients whose beneficial effect for the immune system is best documented in the scientific literature are omega-3 from marine sources (therefore those which come from fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel). The anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3s is well documented, and reducing inflammation then allows the immune system to work at full steam.
Otherwise, the beneficial effects of vitamin or mineral supplements will be seen primarily in populations with suboptimal diets, said Ms. Richard.
“If people are deficient in a vitamin, so if in general they do not consume enough in their diet and then we supplement with this vitamin, often we can see beneficial effects, she explained. . On the other hand, most people, and especially in North America, are not really deficient in vitamins and minerals. “
The health of the immune system is therefore the same as health in general: eating well, sleeping well, doing physical activity, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation are all success factors. .
And even if it is never too late to do well, it is useless (or almost) to adopt these good habits when the symptoms appear, warns Ms. Richard, who says very well that she realizes that “it is not not what people want to hear ”.
“We have to consume (omega-3) chronically because omega-3 will be incorporated into the cell membrane of all our cells, she explained. It takes a little while, so it’s not overnight, if you start taking omega-3s, that you will see the effects directly. “
Water soluble nutrients (like vitamins) can have a more instant effect in the body, while fat soluble nutrients must be consumed daily to generate benefits, she said.
If you have a balanced diet, it is not obvious that you need supplements, “but it’s a big market and it brings in billions of dollars,” said Dr. Veillette.
“I have members of my family who take vitamins, I do not clash with them when they tell me that, but I can not wait for them to move on to another subject,” he concluded. laughing.