Can the right diet bolster my body’s defenses?

"If you get migraines regularly then drinking green tea will make your migraines worse. I found this out the hard way. "

Vitamin-Mineral Potions and Pills

As with many label claims, Airborne’s current one begins with a kernel of truth: vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium—nutrients in the supplement—are among the vitamins and minerals that our immune systems need to function efficiently. According to a 2002 report in the British Journal of Nutrition, deficiencies of any of these nutrients (or of vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, copper or iron) can depress immunity. But the key word is deficiency; most of us—save for smokers, pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly—meet our needs for these nutrients with the foods we eat. If you fall into any of those higher-risk categories, talk with your doctor before taking a supplement.

And more isn’t better. Excess amounts of many nutrients are potentially harmful, and it’s all too easy for even a bright, well-educated person like Ben to go overboard. Just one tablet of Airborne contains 1,667 percent of the daily recommended value (DRV) for vitamin C. After doing the math, I was stunned to discover that when he popped five Airborne tablets in a day—two more than the label recommends—he was getting two and a half times the established safe upper limit for vitamin C (excesses can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and kidney stones). He also came dangerously close to the upper limit for vitamin A, raising his risk of toxicity.

Glacéau’s Vitaminwater “Defense,” a drink with a label that claims it is “specially formulated with nutrients required for optimal functioning of the immune system,” doesn’t deliver the mega-high doses of nutrients that Airborne does. (A 20-ounce bottle of the water contains 150 percent of the DRV of vitamin C and 25 percent for four B vitamins and zinc.) But at 125 calories per bottle, I’d rather skip it.

A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement might come in handy this time of year, but I wouldn’t risk your health or waste your money on anything beyond that. So what does work?

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