Do Those “Immunity Booster” Shots Actually Do Anything or Are They Snake Oil?
We’ve all seen them in health food stores and juice bars: “Immunity booster” shots that claim to help bolster your immune system. This winter in particular, the temptation to ward off any possible sickness with a potion from your favorite smoothie joint sounds incredibly tempting… but do these immunity boosters actually do anything for you?
The answer: yes and no, but we can help you find the good ones. The real answer depends on the ingredients. Immunity booster shots contain a pretty wide range of ingredients, from fruit extracts to herb oils, so it depends on the brand you choose or the juice shop you frequent. Some immunity boosters really are better for you than others, and some are good for you in different ways and have their own value for your immune system. Let’s break it down.
What’s in an immunity booster shot, anyway?
Sumiya Sulthana, MSc, says that juice shots are generally pretty healthy, as they allow for rapid absorption of micronutrients. And although eating an apple is better for you than drinking apple juice — the fiber is good for you! — there are some nutrient-rich plants you wouldn’t necessarily want to take a bite out of.
“Most people don’t enjoy consuming certain foods, like ginger, in their whole form,” says Sulthana. The same goes for a few other popular immunity booster ingredients, like lemon, turmeric, and wheatgrass. Because of this, Sulthana recommends juicing and drinking them to obtain their nutrition in a way that’s considerably more pleasant (just imagine trying to snack your way through a tray of wheatgrass).
Look for shots containing certain ingredients…
Some immunity juice ingredients are more valuable than others. Turmeric and ginger, for instance, have been used in cold-fighting tonics for thousands of years — and with good reason. The health benefits of these plants can be attributed to their many beneficial bioactive compounds. Turmeric has been shown in multiple studies to enhance antibody response, and ginger to influence immune response.
Many of turmeric’s benefits can be attributed to the bioactive compound curcumin, the same part of the plant that gives turmeric its distinctive, bright yellow-orange color. Similarly, ginger contains a compound called gingerol. “Gingerol helps boost your metabolism and can settle a morning time upset stomach,” says Joseph Kennedy, PharmD. One brand to keep an eye out for: Vive Organic’s boosters, since their whole line of immunity boosters contain gingerol.
In addition to well-studied immunity-boosting superstars like turmeric and ginger, studies have found that several other plant extracts can also help support the body’s immune system. Look for immunity booster shots containing the following ingredients:
- Aloe vera
- Black cumin
- Bitter kola
- Bitter melon
- Chili (which you might see listed as cayenne)
- Wild basil
These have all been demonstrated to at least potentially aid your body’s ability to ward off viruses.
…as well as probiotics and prebiotics
Immunity booster shots usually contain fruit, vegetable, and herb extracts that are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes. So whether or not it actually boosts our immune system, a wellness shot or immunity booster can be a great way to get a bunch of nutrients into our diets in a single shot — especially for those of us who don’t always have the time to eat a super healthy, well-rounded diet.
Clara Lawson, RDN, notes that while these juice shots are fine for you, juice shouldn’t take the place of all your fruits and vegetables for the day because juices are missing fiber, which is important for your gut, brain, and immune system. “Juicing fruits and vegetables removes most of the fiber of the foods, which is needed for promoting a healthy microbiome and immunity,” Lawson says.
Read next: 7 Healthy Habits to Boost Your Immune System
While they don’t have fiber, some juice shots and other wellness beverages do add prebiotics and probiotics, which are also good for your gut health. For example, Kor’s Gut Check juice shot contains both probiotics and immune-boosting ingredients, including aloe vera, apple, coconut, and ginger. Tulua’s Probiotic Shots, which contain ingredients like pineapple, ginger, and turmeric, are another good option. Although these aren’t branded as immunity boosters, shots with ingredients like these have the ability to potentially boost your immune system and improve your digestive health.
But according to Kennedy, most beneficial immunity boosters will have prebiotics, since probiotics can be damaged by stomach acid. “They help improve your microbial diversity by acting as a primary fuel source for the probiotics found within the body’s microbiome,” he says. “They also support immunity by promoting ideal digestion.”
Read next: Immunity-Boosting Garlic Soup
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