Would you please explain, what's the difference between these words (if there's any)? Eg. in the sentence:

Probiotics promote the body's natural defenses.

Probiotics promote the immune system.

Which one is better / more common?

Thank you

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    I'm sure the human body has lot's of "natural defences" besides the immune system. But this is just advertising flim-flam, so accuracy is hardly relevant. To be honest, I'm not convinced this is a proper use of the verb promote, either. – FumbleFingers Mar 22 '17 at 15:56
  • Whether it matches historical use of promote or not, it is boilerplate (extremely common) usage now, especially in vague health claims on supplements. – Adam Mar 22 '17 at 17:14
  • @Adam: I can only read the construction in context for 2 of the 11 written instances of promote the immune system, and one of those is actually a reference to promoting the immune system's health (which I have no quarrel with). But I hear what you say - even though I can't help suspecting part of the motivation for using promote in such contexts is that it obscures the meaning just sufficiently that they might avoid being sued for making unsubstantiated claims about supposed medical benefits. – FumbleFingers Mar 22 '17 at 18:00
  • @FumbleFingers Re: "part of the motivation....." Absolutely. In fact, the FDA explicitly stares that "that statements using the word promote can be appropriate when the statements do not suggest disease prevention or treatment or use for a serious health condition that consumers cannot evaluate" (Food and Drug Administration, 21 CFR Part 101 [Docket No. 98N-0044]) See also bullet C4 fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/… – Adam Mar 22 '17 at 18:11
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    @Adam: Sure - the usage exists. But the mere fact that it rattled my cage suggests it might not be a good idea to actually promote it. I'm not sure exactly what "equivalent text" could substitute for promote in OP's example (perhaps because of the deliberate obfuscation), but deciding what things can or can't be "promoted" looks like a veritable minefield to me (and probably no two people would agree on exactly the same list of such things). – FumbleFingers Mar 22 '17 at 18:48

Really, there is no difference, and both sentences say the same thing. "Immune system" is more formal, and more scientific, so if you were to write it in a scientific paper, you would be making a specific claim that probiotics do something to help the human immune system.

"Natural defenses" sounds like something you'd read on the side of a bottle from a health food store. In many cases, they may stick to vague terms to avoid laws against false advertising.

In my personal use I would probably stick to "immune system", but I would only write about probiotics if I had well-researched claims that I could then make to explain myself.

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