By Leslie Crawford
Remember back when we were all tubes?
Sy Montgomery does. That was a simpler time, eons before the octopus and Homo sapiens went their separate evolutionary ways, and certainly long before that highly intelligent cephalopod, which appeared some 300 million years ago, ended up boiled, stewed and fried. "Our lineage goes back a half-billion years ago when everyone was a tube," says Montgomery, a naturalist and author of many books about animals. "That was when there were no eyes. Yet we have evolved almost identical eyes. I just love that."
Montgomery's enthusiasm and devotion to Earth's creatures—and the similarities we share with them — has inspired her readers to get to know the eight-tentacled and big-brained wonders in The Soul of the Octopus, and taken us to the ends of the Earth and back to our own backyards in such award-winning books as Spell of the Tiger and Birdology.
A real-life Dr. Dolittle, Montgomery says she's always related best to animals and — sometimes straining the patience of her bipedal family members — has long treated her home as a land-bound ark for orphaned animals. In scientifically precise but poetic prose, she writes that we share greater similarities than differences with the electric eel, the tarantula, the tree kangaroo and the snow leopard. Don't forget, she says, that we hail from the same genetic pool, or more likely, gurgling swamp. By paying attention to the commonalities we have with our fellow animals — our singular capacity for what Montgomery argues is a broad range of emotions and zeal for life — humans can transcend the "we-shall-rule-the-Earth" anthropocentric focus, she says, and see that we are all in this together.
"We are on the cusp of either destroying this sweet, green Earth — or revolutionizing the way we understand the rest of animate creation," Montgomery said. "It's an important time to be writing about the connections we share with our fellow creatures. It's a great time to be alive."
Leslie Crawford: Do you understand animals more than people?
Sy Montgomery: As a child, I grew up on an Army base and I did not have a single human friend. It allowed me the freedom to get to know other species. I vividly remember my 20s like it was yesterday. As a young person, I was often worried about whether or not I was reading other people correctly. And yet these are organisms that use the same English language. It's terrific to be in my 60s and know I can read animals. I have always read animals better than people.
What did you find surprising about humans as a child?
I was shocked to learn that people use their language to lie. Even little kids lie. Of course, animals will lie, too. An octopus will say, "I'm four or five sea snakes." What the octopus does is change each of its arms to look like a sea snake, which is very poisonous. Chimpanzees lie all the time. But the degree to which humans use language to lie shocked me. I've always dealt with animals in a very straightforward way. I wasn't ever trying to conceal things from them. Humans often want incorrect information about you and project incorrect things on you.
So much has changed about our understanding of animals since you started writing about them. When did you first realize that animals are sentient beings?
I think most of us realize as children that animals are sentient beings. But then, somehow, for so many people, this truth gets overwritten — by schools teaching old theories, by agribusiness that wants us to treat animals like products, by the pharmaceutical and medical industries who want to test products on animals as if they were little more than petri dishes. But thankfully, scientific and evolutionary evidence for animal sentience has grown too obvious to ignore.
What have you learned about animals and consciousness?
You don't want to project onto animals your wishes and desires. You have to respect your fellow animals. I don't want to roll in vomit, but a hyena would enjoy that. I don't want to kill everything I eat with my face, but that's what I'd do if I'm a great white shark. If I were eating a carcass, I would not be as happy about it as a scavenger. We have different lives but what we share is astonishingly deep, evolutionarily speaking.
When did you know you were an animal person?
Animals have always been my best friends and the source of my deepest joy. Before I was 2, I toddled into the hippo pen at the Frankfurt Zoo, seeking their company, and totally unafraid. When I learned to speak, one of my first announcements to my parents was that I was really a horse. The pediatrician reassured my mother I would outgrow this phase. He was right, because next I announced I was really a dog.
My father loved animals. Growing up, my mother had a dog named Flip who she adored. But I seem to have had an even greater attachment to animals than they did. My friend, the author Brenda Peterson, says that I must have been adopted at the local animal shelter.
How many animals do you currently live with?
Right now, the only animal who lives with us is a border collie named Thurber. I travel a lot: Thailand, Ecuador, Germany, Spain. I can't force my husband to have a house filled with animals. I had chickens but predators got almost all of them. Weasels got into the coop. They are so smart. Even though we buried wire beneath the floor, weasels need just a tiny opening to get through. You can never weasel-proof an old barn.
It sounds like you have some respect for weasels even though they killed your chickens?
They were there first. I learned my chickens were killed on Christmas morning when I brought a bowl of popcorn to them and saw this white creature with black eyes staring at me. You'd think I'd be angry. But the beauty and ferocity of this creature filled me with awe. At the same time that I mourned my beloved chickens, I admired the weasel.
You originally studied psychology. How do you go about thinking about what animals are thinking? Or is it a mistake for people to imagine animals are thinking in a way that we think?
I triple majored in college, and psychology was one of them. But thinking about animals wasn't really part of the coursework. I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that nonhuman animals share our motivations and much of our thought processes. We want the same things: food, safety, interesting work and, in the case of social animals, love. But we can't always apply human tastes to animals — otherwise fish would seek to escape from the water and hyenas wouldn't roll in vomit.
When did you stop eating meat and dairy and why do you think some people make the decision and others don’t?
I read Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer, in my 20s. Even though I loved meat, I haven't eaten it since. I can't wait to try the Impossible Burger!
In writing Sprig, I learned so much about pigs, including how smart they are. What do you love most about pigs?
They are so sensitive and emotional. And they're wise. They know what matters in life: warm sun, the touch of loving hands and great food.
Similarly, when I wrote Gwen, I found out how remarkable hens are with their own superpowers, including keen eyesight and a strong community that includes watching out for each other.
I agree with you. I love these aspects of their lives. I love how similar they are to us in so many ways, but I also love the otherness of these animals.
Speaking of “otherness,” in your book Soul of an Octopus, you came to know Athena, an octopus, as a friend. But can a person really know an octopus?
Until the day I met Athena in 2011, pretty much all of the creatures I got to know personally were vertebrates. We are so like fellow mammals, with whom we share 90 percent of our genetic material.
I didn't know if I would be able to bring what I understand about other animals to an invertebrate, but I was delighted to see it was true of the octopus. It was clear the octopus was just as curious about me as I was about her.
There are some animals who aren't interested in you. But when you have an octopus look you in the face and investigate you with her suckers with such an intensity, well, what that octopus taught me [about consciousness] blew me away. When Athena grabbed me, I correctly understood that she wasn't being aggressive, just curious.
How do you convince people to consider an octopus as something other than something to eat?
I tell them about my octopus friends, Octavia and Kali and Karma — specific individuals to whom they could relate.
I have realized that preaching to people about seeing animals as worthy of the same compassion and dignity as is owed humans doesn’t work. But if preaching isn’t effective, what do you think works to change hearts and minds — and stomachs?
Teach by example. It's the most powerful tool we have. Your love for pigs, told through your stories of Sprig and Gwen, is contagious because of your example. You show how much fun it is to let these animals enrich your life and make others want to be part of it. That's much more appealing than a lecture.
Are there one or two calls to action you would ask of people who want to improve the world for animals?
I would suggest that individuals find the action that best suits them. For me, when I was young, working 14 hours a day and making relatively little money, I had no extra time for volunteer work, and my tithes to animal causes amounted to far too little. But I could change my diet, so I did. For another person, an overnight change to vegetarianism or veganism might be too tough, but perhaps they could volunteer at a shelter.
I personally hate politics, though I vote and donate. But other people might throw themselves joyously into working toward electing candidates that support conservation and animal welfare legislation. Happily, we can all work with our individual strengths to make the change animals deserve.
What about everything we learn daily about climate change and the growing risk of mass extinctions?
Sometimes you don't want to read the headlines. It's so depressing. During the civil rights movement, I was too young to have anything to do with that. But now we can choose to be part of what is definitely a movement, one that recognizes that nonhuman animals think and know and feel the way we do. We know this based on cognitive and behavioral science. That change has happened within my lifetime, which is fantastic.
The fact that we live during a challenging time gives us an opportunity to be courageous. I'm thrilled to be able to apply my courage to such a worthy endeavor and with such worthy partners.
Leslie Crawford is the author of Sprig the Rescue Pig and Gwen the Rescue Hen. She lives in San Francisco with her two children, six hens and four foster pigeons. No partridges. Follow her on Twitter @lesliemcrawford.
- 60% of Earth's Wildlife Wiped Out Since 1970 ›
- 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From ... ›
- ‘My Octopus Teacher’ Stuns Audiences, Reinforces Power of Nature - EcoWatch ›
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Moment / Getty Images
Your body's immune system is the natural, front line defense to protect you against harmful pathogens and infections. You can boost the effectiveness of your immune system through diet and exercise, but did you know that certain multivitamins can aid your immune system and promote general wellness? Here are our recommendations of the top supplements to help boost your immune system.
What is the Immune System?
There are two main aspects to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is one you are born with, and it is the body's rapid response system. It works to attack antigens or invaders in the body. The adaptive or acquired immune system builds antibodies to protect your body from certain microbes, or germs, it encounters in the environment.
Did you know that your immune system keeps track of each germ it has ever defeated? This way, if your body encounters a germ it has fought in its immune system before, it can recognize and protect your body from it more effectively.
Your immune system's memory of the germs it encounters is stored in white blood cells. The white blood cells move through the blood and tissue in your body and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Fortunately, you can support and improve the effectiveness of your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Taking melatonin can help you get better sleep, which will in turn support immune health.
A daily vitamin subscription is a great way to promote overall wellness, which includes your immune system. Your skin also plays a role in your immune system, and you can take certain vitamins and supplements for dry skin to help it stay hydrated and healthy. Additionally, the microbiome found in your digestive system is important to proper immune function. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can both help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.
Our Top 5 Supplements to Boost Immune Health
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
- Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health - GEM Immunity Support
- Best Probiotic for Immune Health - Care/of Pocket Protector
- Best Gummies for Immune Health - Bulletproof Immune Gummies
- Best Immune Spray - Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
- Best for Vitamin C - NutraOne Immune One
- Best Zinc Supplement - Global Healing Liquid Zinc
- Best Herbal Option- Vital Plan Daily Herbal Supplement
Vitamins and Minerals that Support the Immune System
It's no secret that certain vitamins and supplements can aid your immune system to fight off potentially harmful infections. Here are some that stand out.
- Elderberry: There are around 30 different types of elder plants and trees globally. Sambucus nigra is the type that helps with healing and immune health. Elderberry consists of many vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C: Your body doesn't naturally produce Vitamin C. However, it has proven to have immense health benefits. Vitamin C helps the immune system's white blood cell production.
- Zinc: This supplement helps produce new immune system cells in your body.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to regulate the body's immune system.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant is fat-soluble and helps protect cells from harmful 'free radicals' which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells; this response can lead to illness.
- Reishi mushrooms: There are three molecules in reishi mushrooms that are responsible for their health effects: triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Studies have found that reishi mushrooms may be able to change the inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Best Overall: Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
These Nested Naturals Elderberry gummies include a vegan blend of vitamin C and Zinc to ensure thriving immune health. The blend of elderberry extract, vitamin C, and zinc can also provide wellness during travel and during the change of seasons.Why buy: We like these Elderberry gummies because they contain around 100 mg of elderberry extract per gummy, and are vegan, gluten-free, and go through a four-part lab testing process. They also taste great and contain less than a gram of sugar each.
Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health: GEM Immunity Support
GEM Immunity Essentials daily vitamin bites are an easy and delicious way to help boost your immune system. Each vitamin bite is made with real food ingredients including turmeric, pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chicory root, ginger root, stone fruit, oranges, and lemons.
Why buy: We love that these GEM vitamin chews provide a complete immune-boosting vitamin profile from natural, plant-based ingredients. GEM also offers a sustainable subscription model that sends you a reusable tin with your first order and refills in compostable pouches.
Best Probiotic for Immune Health: Care/of Pocket Protector
Care/of Pocket Protector is a travel-ready probiotic powder that allows you to boost your immune system anywhere, anytime. It contains 3 billion CFUs of good bacteria strains for your gut to help support proper immune system functioning.
Why buy: We like that this probiotic powder is designed for on-the-go immune support, and that it comes in a red berry flavor. This immune-boosting probiotic powder is also non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegetarian.
Best Gummies for Immune Health: Bulletproof Immune Gummies
If you don't like swallowing pills or powders, try these Bulletproof Immune Gummies instead. They contain key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry extract, and echinacea extract to support your immune system in a sugar-free Raspberry and Elderberry flavor.
Why buy: We like that these vitamin gummies for immune support contain high concentrations of vitamin C and zinc. They are also vegan and sugar-free, with only 5 calories per gummy, but taste great from natural flavors and stevia-leaf extract.
Best Immune Spray: Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
A unique way to boost your immune system, Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray harnesses the power of bee propolis extract. This is a substance bees make out of tree and plant resins to help protect their hive from germs and infections, and it contains over 300 different nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals.
Why buy: We like that this spray offers a fast and natural way to help enhance your immune system. You can also use it to soothe a sore throat. It's made from all-natural ingredients and is certified keto and paleo-friendly.
Best for Vitamin C: NutraOne ImmuneOne
5 Star Nutrition has an array of quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements. For immune health, we recommend the ImmuneOne supplement. It's formulated with vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea to help improve overall wellness, with the added benefit of supporting lung health.Why buy: ImmuneOne includes 1000 mg of vitamin C, as well as elderberry, Zinc, and vitamin A. We like that this supplement is made with natural ingredients like cinnamon, echinacea, and ginseng, without any artificial additives.
Best Zinc Supplement: Global Healing Liquid Zinc
Every cell in your body uses Zinc, and it's an effective mineral to boost your immune system. It also helps the digestive system, and even encourages cell growth. Zinc is also great for skin complexion, sexual health, and supporting normal blood sugar.
Why buy: Global Healing Plant-Based Zinc is vegan, certified USDA organic, gluten-free, and is not tested on animals. We like that this Zinc is plant based and all natural. The Zinc is extracted from organic guava leaves, and comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.
Best Herbal Option: Vital Plan Daily Herbal
The Daily Herbal blend by Vital Plan is a unique herbal supplement created by Dr. Bill Rawls. His formula "works at the cellular level to address the modern-day stress factors associated with accelerated aging." The blend includes medicinal mushrooms, as well as Rhodiola and Turmeric extract.Why buy: Daily Herbal includes five adaptogenic ingredients designed to support cell resilience, immune response, and microbiome balance. It can also boost energy and endurance because of the Rhodiola extract. The product is gluten and dairy free, and is also tested at a third-party lab for ingredient purity verification.
How to Choose an Immune Supplement or Multivitamin
There are a few key aspects to look out for when shopping for immune supplements. Below is a list of what to look for when shopping for a supplement to help boost your immune system.
What to Look For
When comparing different brands of immune supplements, look for these things before you buy.
Clinical Research: Many immune supplements will inform you if they're clinically researched formulas, or formulated by doctors.
Transparency: Some supplement brands list all of the vitamins and minerals they use in the formula of their supplement. It's important to know exactly what you're ingesting, and where it came from.
Lab Testing: To guarantee what you're consuming is pure, and safe, look too see if a brand had their product tested at a third-party lab.
Non-Artificial Ingredients: Immune supplements with natural, non-artificial ingredients that are plant-derived or organic are always a good choice. If the brand uses animal products, check to see that they are sourced ethically and sustainably.
How to Read Labels
When reading the label of your supplement, be sure to notice the serving size. Oftentimes, the recommended serving size for a supplement is larger than simply taking one capsule or multivitamin. Some labels will specify the best time of day to take the supplement as well. Also take note of the ingredient list, and how much of the recommended daily intake it fulfills for certain vitamins and nutrients
It's also important to double check that the supplement was tested in a third-party lab for safety and quality. Note if the supplement is non-GMO, vegan, or gluten free. Many supplements will also tell you if it is free from certain allergens like soy and dairy.
Safety & Side Effects
Ingesting the right oral immune boosting supplements may be beneficial to your overall health. However, there are a few minor side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of immune boosting supplements may include:
- Intense abdominal pain
Other, infrequent side effects may include:
- Pain in arms or legs
- Chest pain
- Abdominal bloating
Sometimes, when certain vitamins are ingested without food can cause stomach pain. Be sure to read the label to see if you should take an immune supplement with food and to be sure that you do not take more than the recommended amount. Most side effects from vitamin supplements are a result of taking too much at one time.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with prescription medications. If you take prescription medicines, or are undergoing prescribed treatment for a condition, consult with your doctor before taking any additional supplements.
There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.