Our immune system is kind of like internal armor – it is designed to protect us against harm from foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and free radicals. But sometimes if our armor is weakened, our immune system can become overwhelmed, and we can get sick. This article offers natural tips for supporting our immune system so we can stay as healthy as possible.
Preventing viruses or bacteria from entering the body/mucous membranes in the first place is the ideal. This would include smart strategies like frequently hand washing with soap*, avoiding touching your mouth, nose, or face; and if you are sick – to stay home and rest until you are well/not contagious – in order to prevent spreading it to others. Social distancing has been identified as another key step in the lowering the transmission of pandemic viruses – which means avoiding large gatherings, no hand shaking, and staying several feet away from people.
SUPPORT THE IMMUNE SYSTEM:
It may not always possible to completely avoid viruses and bacteria – some viruses can live on surface areas for days, and can be transmitted from seemingly “healthy” individuals: or you might find yourself in close quarters with sick people. So it is a good idea to support the immune system by avoiding foods and habits that make our immune system more vulnerable, and making sure we are getting enough of the key nutrients that support our immune system’s healthy response.
- AVOID SUGAR: If you have ever considered taking a break from sugar — now is the time to do it! Sugar lowers our white blood cell effectiveness, which could make our immune system more vulnerable to viruses, bacterial infections, and free radical damage. Chapter one of my book ‘The Perfect Metabolism Plan‘ is titled Break up with Sugar because the #1 step to get the metabolism into fat burning mode, and reach a healthy weight, is to eat for blood sugar stability. Read my part 1 of my article series for the Golden Door “ReBoot Your Metabolism at Any Age” to get 8 tips for balancing your bloodsugar. If you need more support in breaking up with your sugar habit, consider taking my course The Break up with Sugar Program.
- GET YOUR ZZZZs: Studies show that sleep deprivation can negatively affect the body’s ability to mount an effective immune response to infection. So it is a good idea to practice good sleep “hygeine” – which includes turning off electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted from iPhones and computers can interfere with melatonin production, and the content on our devices can also rev up our nervous system and make it hard to settle down to sleep.
- REDUCE STRESS: Stress can come in many forms – physical, emotional, psychological. When we are under stress, our immune system is not as capable of fighting off viruses and infections. So being mindful about ways that we can lower stress levels may just help us avoid getting sick during cold and flu season. I always say, if we don’t take a break occasionally, our body will force us to. Read Part 2 in my Golden Door series about Stress and the Metabolism. Find lots of tools for reducing our stress burden in my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan – chapter 7 is titled “Stop the Madness, Lower Stress – the Switch that Turns on Disease.”
- AVOID CIGARETTES & VAPING: Studies have found that both cigarette smoking and vaping can lower the body’s immune system response.
- LIMIT CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL: An occasional glass of wine with a meal is not likely an issue, but excessive drinking can reduce the immune system’s response and make someone more susceptible to severe complications developing from infections. Alcohol can also negatively affect the microbial balance of our digestive system, which plays a big role in our immune system.
KEY IMMUNITY NUTRIENTS:
There are certain nutrients that are known to support the immune system and may offer protection from many different viruses and bacteria from taking hold. See supporting research at the end of this article.
- VITAMIN D: Nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin” because the sun is our best source, vitamin D is essential to a healthy immune system. Without sufficient vitamin D, our immune system may struggle to mount an effective response to viruses, bacteria, and free radicals. During the winter months, our vitamin D levels can decline, especially those living in areas where the climate is cold and cloudy. Wearing sunscreen and working indoors for long hours can also lower our vitamin D levels even in the sunnier summer months. You don’t need to tan or burn to get vitamin D from the sun. About 20 minutes of sunshine daily for persons with light colored skin is often enough to boost vitamin D levels. Darker skinned individuals tend to need slightly more sunlight for get optimal vitamin D levels. While The Golden Door does get rainy and cloudy days too, on average, we are blessed to get 263 day of sunshine a year – a great opportunity to get a dose of vitamin D poolside or hiking. You can also get vitamin D from sardines, herring, salmon, beef liver, egg yolks (from free range chickens), and mushrooms grown in the sunlight. Optimal vitamin D is important for bone health, and even cancer prevention. Some experts estimate that up to 70% of breast cancers could be prevented by optimizing vitamin D levels. To determine if you need to supplement, your doctor can check your vitamin D levels. Ideally, vitamin D should be between 40-60 ng/dL. Some people may find that despite supplementing, their vitamin D levels stay flat. This could be due to a magnesium deficiency, as magnesium is required for the conversion of vitamin D3 into the active hormone form, so optimizing magnesium along with vitamin D is important. Magnesium glycinate, malate, or orotate are good forms to consider.
- VITAMIN C: The human body can not manufacture vitamin C, so we need to consume it in order to keep our vitamin C levels up. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps the body fight infection, it is also important for collagen production, neurotransmitter production, iron absorption,* and heart health. The term for severe vitamin c deficiency is scurvy. Good food sources of vitamin C include: papaya, lemon, orange, and other citrus fruits; strawberries and other berries; bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, leafy greens, parsley, and thyme. With over 130 acres of citrus trees, the Golden Door provides plentiful vitamin C rich foods during your stay. There are orange slices on your breakfast & lunch trays, in some salads, and in all fitness studios. Berries are often served as a palate cleanser, and each day in the mid-morning beautiful trays of veggies are available to guests along with the Golden Door’s famous potassium broth which contains vitamin C-rich tomatoes, celery and fennel. If you do choose to supplement, just know that vitamin C supplements can sometimes cause loose stools. To avoid this, don’t take on an empty stomach, or opt for liposomal vitamin C, which is a highly bioavailable form of vitamin C, and is the next best thing to IV vitamin C. During cold and flu season, I try to up my intake of vitamin C rich foods, and/or supplement 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily. At the first sign of illness (often sore throat), I will increase my vitamin C to 1,000 mg. of liposomal vitamin C taken 2-3 times a day. If supplementing, look for a non-GMO form of vitamin C, or choose a liposomal vitamin C. There are studies underway to look at intravenous vitamin C therapy for the treatment of pneumonia, sepsis, and even COVID-19. Note: Because vitamin C increases iron absorption, persons with hemochromatosis may want to avoid supplementing vitamin C, talk to your doctor.
- SELENIUM: A trace mineral, selenium simply does not get the recognition it deserves for the critical role it plays in fighting viruses. Studies have shown that selenium deficiency can make a host more prone to viral infection, viral mutation, as well as enabling the infection to become more virulent/severe. According to a study from Poland, optimal selenium levels may reduce the risk of cancer, and inhibit the progression of HIV to AIDs. Our soils are becoming increasingly depleted of minerals, and selenium is no exception. Because it is a trace minerals, selenium is measured in micrograms, not milligrams. But when it comes to selenium, more is definitely not better . We only need a little bit of selenium in order to meet our body’s needs, and since our body can not excrete excess selenium, it is possible to get too much (symptoms of excess selenium include garlic breath odor, metallic taste in mouth, nausea, vomiting, irritability). The best food source of selenium is the Brazil nut – just 2-5 a day can get you to your optimal levels of selenium. In fact, stick to 5 a day to avoid getting too much selenium. Also important for healthy thyroid function, persons with hypothyroid might find it gives their thyroid a little boost. However persons with Graves disease, hyperthyroid, or autoimmune thyroid should talk to their doctor before supplementing selenium. When supplementing, it is important to NOT take more then 200 micrograms daily. Avoid taking a selenium supplement on the days that you eat Brazil nuts.
- TURMERIC (CURCUMIN): A powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reducer – turmeric is sometimes nicknamed “Nature’s Advil.” A member of the ginger family, turmeric is a root with a deep yellow color. Turmeric root can be steeped into a tea, made into a creamy “golden milk” beverage, the spice is found in mustards, and can be added to curries, soups, and pretty much any dish. There are also turmeric (curcumin) supplements as well. Because of its pain and anti-inflammatory benefits, the Arthritis Foundation recommends supplementing 400-600 mg. of turmeric up to 3 times a day for arthritis relief. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has a powerful effect on the immune system – one study found that it prevented infections from pathogens including the influenza, hepatitis C, HIV, and also bacterial infections from Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pseudomonas. Other studies have found it to inhibit the Zika virus, chikungunya, HPV, and also may help protect against certain cancers – including of the breast, pancreas, prostate, lungs, and blood. Note: Turmeric may stimulate contractions, so it should be avoided during pregnancy. It also has blood-thinning properties, and therefore should also be avoided before surgery and by those already on blood thinning medications.
- ZINC: Zinc is a mineral that is very important to our immune system, hormones, and even our brain function (“no zinc, no think“). Studies have shown that zinc may shorten the duration of viral infections like the common cold. One study found that zinc impaired viral replication of RNA viruses including poliovirus, flu and coronaviruses. The best food source of zinc by far is oysters. Zinc is also found in beef, chicken, pork, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, hemp, and legumes. Zinc deficiency is common in the elderly, vegetarians, and persons with gastrointestinal issues. If left untreated, a zinc deficiency can not only lower immunity, but it can also lead to a loss of our sense of smell and taste, picky eating, growth issues in kids, and a poor appetite (good to check zinc levels when there is an eating disorder or anorexia). You can test zinc levels without a blood test, using a simple liquid zinc assay. Taking high doses of zinc over long periods can deplete our copper levels, so avoid taking high doses of zinc for an extended period of time (unless your doctor has recommended it, such as for copper overload or another reason). 30 mg. of zinc daily is a safe dose for on-going supplementation and prevention. That can be doubled at the first sign of a sore throat for 1-2 weeks.
- GLUTATHIONE: Sometimes referred to as the “master antioxidant,” glutathione is an amino acid that is important for the immune system, cellular repair, and detoxification. The human body can produce glutathione, and can also obtain it from sulfur-rich foods like garlic, onion, cruciferous vegetables, as well as meat and dairy. Certain supplements can boost glutathione levels, talk to your health practitioner with questions.
Please note: Viral and bacterial infections can develop into very serious, even life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia and sepsis in certain people (especially elderly and immunocompromised). Contact your doctor or hospital if you are concerned for yourself or a loved one in order to seek medical care.
*Avoid the antibacterial soaps with Tricolsan, which wipes out all bacteria (including the good bacteria), and may contribute to the creation of resistant strains of bacteria. Stick with plain soap, and make sure to wash for at least 20 seconds – getting under the nails, and around the thumb and fingers.
The content in this article is general in nature, and not to be construed as medical advice. Sara Vance is not a doctor and does not diagnose, prescribe, or treat symptoms, or disease. Those with a medical condition or taking prescription medications- should discuss any & all nutritional and supplement recommendations with their doctor before proceeding.