Ask Dr. Walt – Episode #3 – How to boost your immune system

The Writer’s Studio 04 – My Interview with Best-Selling Author Jerry B. Jenkins and his Super Agent Alex Field
May 5, 2023
Living a Balanced Life (Podcast)
May 10, 2023
Show all

Ask Dr. Walt – Episode #3 – How to boost your immune system

I’ll discuss and break down what to consider when using supplements to try and protect your immune system. Don’t be one of most folks who are wasting hard-earned dollars on unsafe or ineffective supplements. You can click below to watch a video of the show, or I’ve put the show transcript at the end of the blog if you’d prefer that.

From 2021-2022, I was honored to host a TV show on LiftableTV, “Ask Dr. Walt.” Today, I’m releasing Episode #3, HOW TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM. I hope you’ll enjoy it.


You can learn more about this topic in my best-selling book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy or Fit over 50: Make Simple Choices for a Healthier, Happier You.



DISCLAIMER: The Ask Dr. Walt show is designed for entertainment purposes to give information on various medical conditions, treatments, and procedures for your personal knowledge and to help you be a more informed consumer of medical and health services.


How to Boost Your Immune System


With COVID, HIV, influenza, and the threat of countless other potential viral onslaughts, epidemics, or pandemics, dietary supplements are being pushed as immune-system boosters and lifesavers. Do any work? Are they a waste of money? What should you consider? Today, I’m going to tell you on this edition of “Ask Dr. Walt.”


Hi, everyone. I’m family physician Dr. Walt Larimore and I’m delighted you are taking the time today to join me to chat about the truth on how to boost your immune system.

By one recent count, more than 1,000 supplements are on the U.S. market claiming to have a positive effect on immunity.

The advertising for immune system supplements must be working because one of the top reasons that people take dietary supplements is for “immune health,” “immune support,” or to boost “immune response.” This represented almost forty million Americans in 2018.

Unfortunately, most of these folks may be wasting hard-earned dollars. I’ll explain why, but first, let’s review some basics.

Each of our bodies must contend with a never-ending onslaught of potentially dangerous microorganisms (germs). The system that guards us utilizes a wide variety of defenses that are collectively called the immune system.

Likely you’ve heard of diseases that result in immune deficiency – the best known of which is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

People with immune deficiency are susceptible to many different infectious microorganisms that most healthy persons can fight off.

Of course, healthy people get sick from time to time when infections manage to slip by or bust through our defenses – while others find themselves frequently coming down with illnesses like colds.

Often people in these categories want to find treatments that can strengthen their immune system or the immune system of their children. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

Let’s turn to some experts for an explanation:

The Natural and Alternative Treatments Encyclopedia says:

“Many natural products are said to boost general immunity. However, while we can scientifically study the effect of a single treatment on a single illness, there is no way we can even know that a treatment strengthens the immune system in general.”

The Natural and Alternative Treatments Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia adds:

“Does such a treatment exist? No one really knows, although claims abound.”

The Natural and Alternative Treatments Encyclopedia

Harvard Health tells us:

“The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons.

·       The immune system is precisely that – a system, not a single entity.

·       To function well, it requires balance and harmony. . . .

·       Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity.

·       But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically.”

The Harvard Health Letter

Harriet H. Hall, MD, an editor for the Science-Based Medicine Blog is more explicit:

·       “Walk into any health foods store. Browse the Internet. You will find a multitude of diet supplements advertised to ‘boost your immune system,’ or ‘support immune function.’

·       “Do they work? Will they keep you healthier or reduce your chances of catching infectious diseases?

·       “Their claims are not supported by science.”

Harriet H. Hall, MD

Editor, Science-Based Medicine Blog

·       “For normal people whose nutrition is adequate, no high-quality clinical study has ever shown that any intervention led to any meaningful improvement in immune function or to any decrease in the rate of disease.”

Harriet H. Hall, MD

Editor, Science-Based Medicine Blog

Actually, critics of immune boosters abound in the scientific community. For example, Ed Zimney, MD, a former FDA Medical Officer says:

·       “There are no effective immune system booster products.

·       “I know that the Internet is awash in products claiming to enhance the immune system, but there’s simply no scientific evidence that they work. . . .

·       “All the millions that people spend on these products does nothing more than fill the coffers of the unscrupulous companies peddling them –

·       “How these people even sleep at night is beyond me!”

Ed Zimney, MD

Former FDA Medical Officer

Then there’s Marvin M. Lipman, MD, the chief medical adviser to Consumer Reports, who wrote:

·       “The proof of any purported immune booster is whether it can increase your resistance to infections. . . .

·       “No dietary supplement or alternative remedy has so far been shown to do so.”

Marvin M. Lipman, MD

Chief Medical Adviser

Consumer Reports

Let’s look at just a couple of others. David Nieman, a doctor of pharmacology and a researcher in immunology says:

·       “You can’t boost the immune system by adding nutrients. . . .

·       “Most immune system claims are ‘misleading.’

·       “You can’t strengthen the immune system by adding extra vitamins or minerals unless the person has a severe deficiency.”

David Nieman, DrPH

Researcher in Immunology

Director of the Human Performance Laboratory

Appalachian State University

HIV/AIDS is one of the worst immune deficiency diseases. Like I wrote in my book, “The Natural Medicines Handbook”:

·       “The people who do have HIV/AIDS can attest to just how hard it is to enhance their immune systems.

·       “But after 35 years of research, the only proven way to enhance the immune system of a person with AIDS is with antiviral medication.

·       “If any of these so-called immune system boosters really worked, they would have immediately been used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

·       “But they don’t work for HIV/AIDS and therefore they are not used.”

Walt Larimore, MD

The Natural Medicines Handbook: 

The Truth about the Most Effective 

Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements 

for Common Conditions

Researchers in Brazil looked across the internet:

In 2019, Brazilian researchers evaluated the top 185 web pages from a Google search on “boost immunity” in terms of the specific “boosters” mentioned and reported that of the 37 approaches to boost immunity recorded, the top ones were:

·       diet                 77% of the webpages

·       fruit                 69%

·       vitamins         67%

·       antioxidants   52%

·       probiotics       51%

·       minerals         50%

·       vitamin C       49%

Websites selling immune boosters have extremely low levels of medical accuracy – only clocking in at an average of nine percent accuracy. So, buyer beware!

Even trusted alternative medicine physician Andrew Weil’s website was recently ordered to stop claiming that its products could help prevent swine flu and colds.

Here are just a few other actions the Federal Government had to make against the more egregious false claims:

·       CVS/Pharmacy paid nearly $2.8 million in consumer refunds to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges of unsubstantiated advertising of the AirShield “Immune Boosting” Supplement.
·       Emergen-C settled a false advertising lawsuit agreeing “to pay $6.45 million to settle a class action lawsuit which charged the company made false claims that the vitamin C supplement could boost immunity.”
·       The maker of the popular Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, “an effervescent tablet marketed as a cold prevention and treatment remedy, agreed to pay up to $30 million to settle FTC charges that it did not have adequate evidence to support its advertising claims.”

·       According to the FTC, “There is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims . . . that Airborne® tablets can prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness, or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness, or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices, or schools.”

·       Even the trusted Dannon Company “had to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company engaged in false advertising by touting the health benefits of yogurt products . . . setting up a $35 million fund for reimbursing consumers.

·       “Labels that once claimed, ‘A positive effect on your digestive tract’s immune system’ instead are to say the yogurt will ‘interact’ with that system.”

As result of these actions, advertisers and supplement makers are changing their tact and increasingly saying there is plenty of evidence in animals and humans that their product has been shown to “boost immune response.”

They are not lying to you. They are just being deceptive.

Let me explain. There’s research showing some dietary supplements can improve this or that component of the immune system. For example, by increasing an infection-fighting antibody or infection-fighting white blood cells.

But the key point is that there is not only no improvement of the immune system as a whole, but even more importantly, no research has shown any positive clinical outcomes such as less influenza or fewer colds.

In other words, as my friend, family physician David Rakel, MD, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, explains:

“Herbs and nutrients can help increase the numbers of chemicals and cells in the immune system, but it doesn’t always translate to improved immune function.”

David Rakel, MD

Director of Integrative Medicine

University of Wisconsin at Madison

Harvard Medical School adds:

“Although some preparations have been found to alter some components of immune function, thus far, there is no evidence that they actually bolster immunity to the point where you are better protected against infection and disease.”

Harvard Medical School Health Letter

So, after decades of world-wide research, and especially during the global battle against COVID, what do researchers tell us is absolutely been proven to boost your immunity and prevent disease, hospitalization, long-term effects of some infectious disease, and death?

A drumroll please! The best evidence-based approach to boost immunity is vaccination.

I love what Mark Crislip, MD, an infectious disease specialist and chief infectious diseases at Legacy Health Hospital System in Portland, OR, and host of the QuackCast podcast, writes:

·       “Take the immune system. Please.

·       “It is not a bicep that can be made stronger with a little exercise.

·       “It is a complex network of cells and proteins.

·       “There is no validity to the concept, the myth, of boosting your immune system.

·       “Metaphor time: Think of the body as a … machine, like a car … You can be properly tuned and maintained, the fluids and gas topped off, the air in the tires at the proper pressure. It will run optimally.

·       “You can’t over tune the car or fill the tank past capacity.

·       “There is an optimum you can’t go beyond.”

Mark Crislip, MD

Chief Infectious Diseases

Legacy Health Hospital System

Portland, OR

So, besides vaccinations, what do we do to help out our immune system? Here’s what I and many researchers recommend:

“Instead of concentrating on ‘boosting’ the immune system, a more useful approach might be to think about ‘balancing’ the immune system.”

Walt Larimore, MD

The Natural Medicines Handbook

In other words, think of a healthy immune system as one that sits in balance. Think of a scale running from “underactive” to “overactive.”

HIV results in an underactive immune system which is a bad thing.

But an overactive immune system may even be worse. As a family physician, I see these conditions on an almost daily basis.

Inflammatory or Autoimmune Diseases from an overactive immune system:
·       Allergies and asthma

·       Rheumatoid arthritis

·       Multiple sclerosis

·       Inflammatory bowel diseases

          • Crohn’s disease
          • Ulcerative colitis

·       Inflammatory skin diseases

          • Psoriasis

These are caused by a hyperactive immune system and are called “autoimmune disorders” because the overactive immune system, instead of reacting to foreign infection, is reacting to the body’s own tissues.

The treatment for these problems is to try to ratchet down the overactive immune system.

Even the devastating and very dangerous viral zoonotic infections – we call them zoonotic because they spread from animals to humans – like the novel Coronaviruses.

Novel Coronavirus Infections
·       Epidemic: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS‐CoV) in 2002.

·       Epidemic: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS‐CoV) in 2012.

·       Pandemic: COVID-19 (now called SARS-CoV-2).

In each case, researchers quickly learned the severity of the disease was associated with an immune response out of control or an overreaction of the immune system called “a cytokine storm” resulting in countless deaths – all from immune systems running on overdrive.

So, if supplements can’t help us boost or balance our immune systems, what can?

Harvard Health observes:

·       “Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans.

·       “In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.”

Harvard Health Letter

Here’s what I wrote in my book, The Natural Medicines Handbook,

·       “Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle.

·       “Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy.

·       “Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.”

Walt Larimore, MD

The Natural Medicines Handbook

So, what strategies do the researchers think work best.

What best balances your immune system?

·       Get all of the recommended vaccinations for your age.

·       Don’t smoke or stop smoking.

·       Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

·       Exercise regularly.

·       Maintain a healthy weight.

·       If you drink alcohol, drink only limited amounts.

·       Get adequate sleep.

·       Minimize stress.

·       Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.

Walt Larimore, MD

The Natural Medicines Handbook

To these, Consumer Reports, adds:

Consumer Reports adds:

·       Cultivate life’s ‘wow’ moments.

·       Indulge in a massage.

·       Nurture friendships.

·       Ease stress.

·       Visit a park.

What’s the bottom line on immune boosting? What best balances or boosts your immune system besides vaccines?

What best balances or boosts your immune system besides vaccines?

·       There’s no pill or supplement that does the trick.

·       What keeps your immune system healthy?

·       The common-sense things you should be doing on a daily basis:

          • Eating a well-balanced diet,
          • sleeping,
          • exercising, and
          • de-stressing yourself.

Walt Larimore, MD

The Natural Medicines Handbook

We have time for of a couple of questions. What’s our first one?

Q) I’ve seen ads selling a supplement to take before getting the COVID vaccine to reduce allergic reactions and to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine. Would that be wise?

A) There is no scientific data that I’m aware of showing that taking any vitamin, mineral, supplement, or probiotic prior to any vaccination will prevent an allergic reaction or will improve the immune response to the vaccine.

However, research conducted with other types of vaccines has shown that stress, depression, lack of social support, and lack of sleep can impair the immune system’s response to vaccines. Other lifestyle habits that can have a negative impact include lack of exercise, poor overall nutrition, and smoking.

Some experts recommend engaging in vigorous exercise and avoiding alcohol the day before getting a vaccine. Get a good night’s sleep before the vaccination. These behaviors may help your immune system operate at peak performance and improve your response to the vaccine.

However, one caution. Don’t exercise strenuously or take a hot shower for two hours before and after a vaccination. The reason? Exercise and vigorous showers can rarely trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Q) Do any supplements help with the COVID-19? Do supplements like vitamin D, zinc, vitamin C, or herbals work?

A) I wish that they did. Tons of supplements and natural or other alternative treatments are being promoted to prevent or treat COVID-19. None have been proven to work, but some may have potential benefit. One of the most trusted websites on supplements is They have grouped supplements for COVID in the following categories:

·       Supplements that may help with coronavirus if you’re not getting enough

          • Vitamin C
          • Vitamin D
          • Zinc, and
          • Possibly potassium

·       Supplements that may possibly help reduce symptoms of coronavirus

·       Supplements and products unlikely to help with coronavirus

·       Supplements and products unlikely to help with coronavirus and could be dangerous

          • Apple cider vinegar
          • CBD
          • Colloidal silver and
          • Essential oils

If you are planning to try any of these supplements, ConsumerLab has tested and reviewed many of these products and it may be worthwhile to check ConsumerLab’s Top Picks in each category — based on best quality, appropriateness of strength and dosing, and value.

Of course, the most important thing you can do to avoid COVID infection is by following the latest recommendations of the CDC and World Health Organization regarding social distancing, wearing a mask when needed, and other precautions. In addition, I strongly recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine if recommended by your physician.

My goodness how the time has flown. If you’re interested in reading more about the information from today’s program, you might want to consider picking up my book, The Natural Medicines Handbook: The Truth about the Most Effective Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements for Common Conditions, at my website,

I need to say goodbye for now, but I hope you’ll drop in next week when I’ll tell you the four keys to becoming highly healthy – and it’s NOT just physical health, my friends.

But until we’re next together, to quote the Apostle John, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2023. This blog provides healthcare tips and advice you can trust about a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.


  1. Richard Budensiek says:

    Thanks, Walt. Always appreciate your balanced approach to serve as a reliable source of information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.