With a backdrop of a raging COVID-19 pandemic, it is hardly surprising that there has been an increased interest in immunity-boosting shots, sometimes referred to as wellness shots.
What are immunity-boosting shots?
These are typically small concentrated juices that are meant to be consumed in one sip, hence the term “shot”. They contain plant-based ingredients packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are meant to boost the function your immune system, your body’s defense mechanism against infections.
The proposed benefits of these shots vary depending on the particular blend. However, some of the commonly-cited benefits include:
- Lower your chance of getting the common cold or flu as well as other infections
- Reduce the duration of the illness
- Improve overall inflammation
- Antioxidant benefits
- Reduce fatigue and improve overall energy levels
- Improve digestion and reduce bloating
- Increase your metabolism and thus promote weight loss
While there isn’t a whole lot of research to back up those claims, some of the ingredients used commonly in wellness shots have been studied and have proven their worth.
What to look for in your wellness shot?
We have rounded up the top ingredients commonly found in wellness shots and we examined how they may affect your immune system.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is what we all reach for at the first hint of a sore throat or a runny nose, and for good reason. Studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation ease the duration and severity of the common cold. It can also lower your chances of falling ill in the first place1.
Most immunity booster shots on the market contain vitamin C.
Food sources highest in vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, and broccoli (nih.gov).
- Vitamin D
The ‘sunshine vitamin’ touted beneficial for numerous ailments, from bone health to respiratory illnesses to cancer and everything in between.
Vitamin D is mostly made available to us from sunlight exposure with food sources contributing to a lesser degree.
Top foods containing vitamin D: trout, salmon, mushrooms, fortified milk, soy (nih.gov).
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to several diseases related to immune system dysfunction, including infections. However, there is no evidence that vitamin D supplements are effective in treating those same conditions2. Keep in mind though that individuals deficient in vitamin D may reap some benefits not seen in the general population.
A word to the wise: vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it can accumulate to toxic levels in body fat. Make sure you are aware of your vitamin D levels and only take vitamin D supplements at the direction of your health care provider.
Contains the active ingredient curcumin, a compound used in ancient cultures for its culinary benefits as well as its medicinal functions.
Curcumin fights against inflammation and has anti-microbial properties3.
A word to the wise: use black pepper along with turmeric to help your body absorb turmeric better.
Don’t know how to incorporate turmeric in your diet? Try a golden latte, a delicious drink of warm milk and turmeric that would make the perfect night cap on a cold night.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is necessary for the normal functioning of numerous human body functions.
It plays an important part in the health of our immune system. Zinc can lower your chances of getting sick with a cold and it can help you recover faster when taken within 24 hours of symptom development4.
It is widely available in a variety of over-the-counter medications, lozenges, and supplements as a treatment against the common cold.
Foods high in zinc: whole grains, milk products, oysters, red meat, poultry, baked beans, chickpeas, and nuts. Also, many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc (nih.gov).
Ginger has been used for centuries as a food condiment and as a therapeutic agent for a number of health conditions.
There is good evidence that it helps with nausea, bloating, and other gastrointestinal ailments5.
Other claims of boosting immunity have not been validated.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
ACV is probably the second trendiest drink on social media to have with water on an empty stomach (after warm water with lemon).
ACV appears to improve blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, as well as possibly help with weight loss6,7. However, please do take these claims with a grain of salt. The research done in this area is scant and well-designed studies are few and far in between.
ACV seems to have anti-microbial properties, although there is no compelling evidence that it boosts the function of your immune system.
Also a common ingredient found in wellness shots and nutritional supplements.
It is the young leaves of the wheat plant and contains chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Wheatgrass is promoted to be of benefit for a plethora of medical conditions, from its use as a weight loss aid to lowering cholesterol to treating cancer. While all of this seems promising, there is hardly any large and high-quality studies on humans to substantiate those claims8.
So the bottom line is that I wouldn’t go out of my way to include wheatgrass in my diet for the time being.
If you have celiac disease or are gluten-intolerant, make sure to check with your doctor before consuming wheatgrass.
Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ that live in your gut and that not only prevent ‘bad bacteria’ from growing, but also exert their influence on the different organ systems in your body.
This is an area of growing interest, and research into the connection between the gut microbiome and various conditions is on the uptrend.
While the interplay between the gut microbiome and the immune system is an area of active research, there is some promising data that probiotics can be beneficial against respiratory infections. They lower your risk of getting a respiratory infection, help you recover faster if you do get one, and decrease the need for antibiotics9. This needs to be confirmed with bigger and better studies in the future before formal recommendations can be made.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods, such as yogurt. They are also widely available in the form of supplements.
A word of caution: people with a compromised/weakened immune system or other serious underlying conditions should limit their intake of probiotics (nih.gov).
Echinacea is a commonly used herb for the treatment of the common cold and flu.
Although there is a signal that it boosts your immune system function, there isn’t enough studies done in humans to ascertain this claim10.
Moreover, it can cause allergic reactions and other side effects.
Just like with other supplements, we recommend that you talk to your physician before consuming Echinacea in any of its forms.
Will immunity-boosting shots protect you against COVID-19 infection?
The short answer is no. The long answer is it’s complicated.
Immune boosters will not directly protect you from getting infected with COVID-19. That being said, making sure your immune system is in tip-top shape is key to fighting off bacteria and viruses. And getting enough vitamins and minerals by way of a healthy and wholesome diet is one way to do it.
For example, we know that having adequate vitamin C levels is vital for the health of the immune system1, however oral vitamin C supplements have not been shown to specifically lower the risk of getting infected with COVID-1911.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to worse outcomes with COVID-19 infections12. But there is no evidence as of yet that taking vitamin D supplements over and above the recommended daily intake will provide any benefit in that regard.
What else can you do to boost your immune function?
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against the billions of pathogens that try to invade your body on the regular. It is a complex system with multiples lines of defense.
A well-rounded diet of whole foods will provide you with the necessary nutrients that your immune system needs to run smoothly. You may need supplements if you are found to have deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals. Your lifestyle can also play a role. For example, if you don’t get enough exposure to sunlight, you may need vitamin D supplement. If you are vegan, a vitamin B12 supplement may be necessary. And as always, consult with your doctor before starting any supplements.
Exercise is unequivocally linked to better immunity. Individuals who engage in regular, moderate-intensity exercise are less likely to succumb to infections, especially respiratory illnesses. The flip side of the coin is that intense exercise, such marathon running, can actually be stressful on your body and increase your risk of infections13.
Sleep keeps showing up in studies as the one constant that is related to all things health-related, from better heart health to lower cancer risk. And your immune system is no exception. Getting enough good quality sleep not only lowers your risk of getting sick but also helps your recover faster if you do fall ill.
It comes as no surprise that stress can negatively impact your ability to fight infections. Being in a state of constant stress leads to consistently high cortisol levels (this is your ‘stress hormone’), which in turn dampens your immune system function.
Improving the health of your immune system is a tad more nuanced that just ‘doing shots’. It takes a multi-faceted holistic approach to attain that goal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will wellness shots provide me with my daily requirements of vitamins and minerals?
No. Wellness shots are not a one-stop shop. The doses of vitamins and minerals contained in wellness shots is typically small and not meant to replace your food sources or your vitamin supplements.
Can wellness shots be used as a replacement for one of the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables?
No. You are always better off consuming your nutrients from whole foods. Plant-based foods have a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that cannot possibly bottled into a single shot. Plus, your body will absorb those better when they come from food sources.
Can I have too many immunity booster shots?
Absolutely. Too much of a good thing.
Some ingredients can become toxic at high doses. Others may interact with your prescription medications and make them less effective.
- Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1211. Published 2017 Nov 3. doi:10.3390/nu9111211
- Charoenngam N, Holick MF. Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):2097. Published 2020 Jul 15. doi:10.3390/nu12072097
- Rajkumari S, Sanatombi K. Nutritional value, phytochemical composition, and biological activities of edible Curcuma species: A review. Int J Food Prop. 2017;20(sup3):S2668-S2687. doi:10.1080/10942912.2017.1387556
- Hulisz D. Efficacy of Zinc Against Common Cold Viruses: An Overview. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2004;44(5):594-603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1331/1544-3188.8.131.524
- Anh NH, Kim SJ, Long NP, et al. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):157. Published 2020 Jan 6. doi:10.3390/nu12010157
- Khezri SS, Saidpour A, Hosseinzadeh N, Amiri Z. Beneficial effects of Apple Cider Vinegar on weight management, Visceral Adiposity Index and lipid profile in overweight or obese subjects receiving restricted calorie diet: A randomized clinical trial. J Funct Foods. 2018;43:95-102. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2018.02.003
- Shishehbor F, Mansoori A, Shirani F. Vinegar consumption can attenuate postprandial glucose and insulin responses; a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2017;127:1-9. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.diabres.2017.01.021
- Bar-Sela G, Cohen M, Ben-Arye E, Epelbaum R. The Medical Use of Wheatgrass: Review of the Gap Between Basic and Clinical Applications. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2015;15(12):1002-1010. doi:10.2174/138955751512150731112836
- Hao Q, Dong BR, Wu T. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;(2). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub3
- Karsch-Völk M, Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;2(2):CD000530. Published 2014 Feb 20. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3
- Cerullo G, Negro M, Parimbelli M, et al. The Long History of Vitamin C: From Prevention of the Common Cold to Potential Aid in the Treatment of COVID-19. Front Immunol. 2020;11:2636. Published 2020 Oct 28. doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.574029
- Bilezikian, J., Bikle, D., Hewison, M., Lazaretti-Castro, M., Formenti, A., Gupta, A., Madhavan, M., Nair, N., Babalyan, V., Hutchings, N., Napoli, N., Accili, D., Binkley, N., Landry, D., & Giustina, A. (2020). MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Vitamin D and COVID-19, European Journal of Endocrinology, 183(5), R133-R147. Retrieved Feb 16, 2021, from https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/183/5/EJE-20-0665.xml
- Jones AW, Davison G. Exercise, Immunity, and Illness. Muscle and Exercise Physiology. 2019;317-344. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-814593-7.00015-3