10 Essential Nutrients for Immune Health
Flavonoids – a type of phytochemical – compound in plants, namely fruits and vegetables, that have health promoting effects. Antioxidant, having anti-inflammatory activity, improve immune system function, can inhibit viral activity
Foods – spinach, cabbage, olives, broccoli, kale, onions. Red and purple fruits, apples, citrus.
Spices – dill, fennel, garlic, parsley, oregano, chili, turmeric, tea (green, white, oolong)
Quercitin – a specific type of a flavonoid. Anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant· Food: Leafy green vegetables, broccoli, red onions, peppers, apples, grapes, black tea, green tea, red wine, elderberries
Glutathione – most powerful antioxidant in the body
· reduces the progression to illness after infection and reduces severity and duration of symptoms
· important for detoxification, protection from damage caused by viruses, and a well-functioning immune system. Helps to decrease reactivity to food sensitivities
· Decreases as we age and depleted by stress (poor diet, lack of sleep, smoking, high sugar intake, environmental toxins)
· Food: colorful fruits and vegetables. Avocado, onions, garlic, broccoli, kale, cabbage and bok choy.
· Supplementation – Best given as a liposomal form or given as an IV. I don’t’ use certain forms because of very poor absorption (degraded in the gut). If no liposomal option, use NAC.
Vitamin A – protects the lining of the respiratory tracts to prevent infections, enhances immune function and might be able to treat an infection.
Food: Beef liver, cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, black-eyed peas, spinach, broccoli
Supplementation is also an option, 10,000 IU daily, currently only suggesting conservative dosing
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an important nutrient for immune health, specifically for white blood cells to fight infections. Builds up in the white blood cells and makes them stronger at killing viruses. Used to prevent and to treat infections. It also enhances iron absorption, and adequate iron can help protect against vulnerability to infection.
Food: Guava, kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, papaya, broccoli, tomato, kale, grapefruit, persimmon, spinach, pineapple
Vitamin D – Vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of acute respiratory tract infections and can actually help to prevent infections. Vitamin D status should determine dosing so that optimal levels are maintained for the individual, which means testing is ideal but rarely done. Increases defensins, so that when a virus lands on us, it is killed directly
Supplementation: Most people do not have optimal levels of Vitamin D, especially in the winter. Vitamin D is not found in sufficient amounts in most foods, sunlight is important especially if vitamin D levels are low.
Vitamin E – Deficiencies can alter immune responses and contribute to increased viral levels in the body.
Food: Sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, butternut squash, kiwi, broccoli, olive oil, trout, shrimp
Selenium – antioxidant and helps with glutathione production. Increases the immune system’s ability to defend against infection. Deficiency can alter the immune response and increase the ability of a virus to make you sick. Easily obtained from foods.
Food: One brazil nut can provide the daily dose of selenium. Also tuna, shellfish, eggs, sunflower seeds, and shiitake mushrooms are good sources.
Zinc – Zinc may improve the chance of avoiding respiratory tract infections in the elderly and those who are zinc deficient.
Food: Oysters, beef, crab, and lobster, and in smaller amounts in chicken, cheese, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, cashews, and almonds
Melatonin – Immunomodulatory and anti-viral properties
Generally given as a supplement. Suppressed from acute and chronic stress response
5 Specific Foods to Include Daily to Support Your Immune System
Coconut oil – Generally considered anti-viral, lauric acid and the derivative monolaurin may prevent the virus from sticking in tissues.
Food: Unrefined coconut oils contain the most lauric acid (virgin and extra virgin, unfiltered), full fat coconut milk. Refined coconut oils and MCT oils contain very little.
Protein – Adequate protein is critical for immune function.
Food: Taurine, carnosine, serine, and creatine from animal foods like beef and lamb may promote an immunological defense against infections by viruses through enhancing the functions of immune cells.
Supplementation: These amino acids are absent from plant foods, so those who avoid meat may need supplementation as may the elderly and those with digestive conditions, who are particularly at risk for protein malnutrition. Whey protein can also promote immune health by the action of naturally present compounds such as lactoferrin, which has antioxidant and antiviral properties, and might help to alleviate symptom severity or complications from viral infections.
Fermented or Probiotic Rich Foods – Support gut health and modulate immune response
Garlic – Powerful food that can prevent infection and increase immunity. Fresh, aged, or as a supplement are all good sources
Green Tea – 4 or 5 cups daily or 1 cup of matcha green tea, as a supplement 225 mg per day
Supplementation Strategies to Support Immune Health
Choose supplements that contain nutrients with immune modulating and anti-viral properties
Not all may be indicated for you, best to consult with a naturopathic doctor who understands your health history and individual needs
How I determine what to prescribe and how to dose depends on many factors and is dependent on:
· My patients desired health outcome
· Their exposure risks
· lifestyle factors and habits
· pre-existing conditions (like autoimmune, conditions of inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes)
· potential for malabsorption and micronutrient deficiency (concern for those with digestive issues or conditions, those with autoimmune, elderly, already in a depleted health condition)
· sleep patterns (those with insomnia, give more support)
· stress levels (those with heightened stress response, many stressors, give more support)
I lean towards prescribing higher dosing and using multiple agents when there are many of the above factors at play.
· Vitamin C 3,000 to 6,000 mg per day.
o Optimally given as a liposomal forms as has less of an effect in the GI tract (higher you go orally, absorption can decrease). Absorb more with liposomes so can dose lowero If non liposomal, use buffered vitamin C, because less likely to cause GI sensitivityo Given in IV in very high dosages to build up stores fastero Best when taken dailyo Helps to prevent infection and shortens duration of colds and flus
· Quercitin – 250 mg to 1,000 mg twice per day
o If phytosome form, can give less because higher absorption
· Vitamin D – 3,000 IU per day
o One of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting immune functiono Liquid (emulsified in an oil) or gel capo Generally deficient, must supplemento Dose higher if deficient
· Zinc – 30 mg per day, preferably zinc glycinate or citrate
· Melatonin – 1.5 to 6 mg at night
· Herbal Medicines – Andrographis, astragalus, elderberry, goldenseal, oregon grape root, echinacea, oil of oregano, curcumin, green tea, resveratrol. Dosing varies widely
o Curcumin 500 to 1000 g if it’s the absorption enhanced form (ie. Meriva, phytosomes, liposomal)o Green tea – 4 or 5 cups daily or 1 cup of matcha green tea, as a supplement 225 mg per dayo Elderberry – anti viral, most effective in prevention of and in early stages of infection with respiratory viruses, so best taken daily. 250 to 500 mg per day of a standardized extract of at least 14% anthocyanodins/ Ideally we would use the flower or the bark vs the berries
o I prefer to give as liquid liposomal form and dose under the tongue. 200 to 400 mg per day. Liposomes protect the molecule from degradation and increase absorption. A good quality liposome starts to get absorbed as soon as it hits your mouth, want as much absorbed before it hits the intestines (degradation)o Also given IVo NAC (N Acetyl cysteine), glutathione precursor 600 to 900 mg twice per day
· Other immune modulating compounds
o Beta glucans, monolaurin, arabinogalactinso Medicinal mushroom extracts like reishi, shitake, maitake cordyceps, chaga
· Whey protein
· Probiotics – improve gut health and regulate the immune system. Can decrease occurrence of respiratory tract infection. Focus on mixed strains
· Greens and reds powder – high antioxidants, concentrated source of fruits and vegetables
Supplementation Strategies to Balance Your Stress Response and Nervous System
· Calming amino acids – 5HTP, GABA, L theanine, phosphatidylserine, taurine
· Calming herbs – passionflower, valerian root, skullcap, lemon balm, chamomile
· Balancing herbs for the adrenals – ashwaganda, rhodiola, eleuthro
10 Key Diet and Lifestyle Strategies for Optimal Immune Function
The body has the innate ability to heal and to protect us from illness or reduce the severity of the illness if we give it the right environment.
The universe has given you an opportunity to start to enjoy the things you probably previously told yourself you didn’t have time for. Many of us have made a habit of letting our circumstances (being too busy, too stressed, not motivated enough etc.) dictate our health and wellbeing.
Are you going to make this time count or are you going to come out the other side of this wondering what happened to all your “free” time?
When regular programming (or whatever our next version of normal is) starts up again are you going to be proud of the choices you made or will you still be finding reasons to blame the circumstances for your lack of commitment?
If you’ve been telling yourself the “when” “then” story (“when” X happens, “then” I will …), WHEN is NOW.
If you want to feel better and transform your life this means you must be willing to take 100% responsibility for your physical and emotional well-being.
We are living in a world where so many are terrified of getting sick, yet these same people are 100% committed to the behaviours and habits that create poor health, pandemic or not.
From the thoughts you think, to the food you eat, YOU are choosing to create health or illness. Autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. aren’t going away when we flatten the curve.
When you BECOME the person who makes their relationship with their physical and emotional health a priority, you’ll also become the person who creates a life filled with joy, well-being, prosperity and success. We all have the opportunity to upgrade our health and wellbeing in every moment, with each decision.
Here are some of the ways we get to take control over our health and wellbeing, support our immune system and become more resilient.
Eat a nutrient dense diet – Eat a healthy diet including lots of colorful vegetables & berries (frozen options are fine). A good goal is 10 servings per day. Many of those who suffer most from various types of infections do not have adequate nutrient status, impairing their body’s innate ability to fight infections.
Support gut health with probiotic supplements, fermented foods, and bone broth
Use herbs and spices liberally – Given the potential of various compounds (phytochemicals) in herbs and other medicinal plants to protect the body from viruses, incorporate as many varieties of herbs and spices as you can into your cooking. Add garlic, onions, ginger, and turmeric root to as many of your recipes as you can.
Drink plenty of filtered water. Hydration is essential to strong immune function
Cut out sugars to support immune system function – Eating sugar can suppress the action of white blood cells for hours after ingestion.
Get adequate sleep, exercise, and rest. Plan to get a minimum of 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Stay in a good routine and be consistent with your sleep schedule. Move your body daily. Exercise helps our immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, and decreasing stress hormones. If you’re already feeling stressed, keep your workouts to 30 mins or less. Rest when your body is telling you not to keep pushing harder. Plan a walk or bike ride or yoga on the days you really need to just take it easy
Find ways to connect with loved ones – Share time with your favorite people, whether virtually or in person with those in your circle of trust. When we feel loved, relaxed, and happy, we produce mood boosting hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and relaxin, which also have a strengthening effect on the immune system. Social isolation can increase fear and feelings of loneliness, acting as immunosuppressants. Consider forming accountability pods with friends who will support you and help keep you accountable to your health and wellness habits
Practice self-care, use mindfulness strategies, and focus on stress reduction Like It’s Your Job. Stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, weaken immune function and suppress your white blood cells. Focus on improving your mindset and getting your nervous system and stress response into a balanced place. Calming the mind and body, practicing acceptance and gratitude, will help to get our bodies out of fight/flight/freeze is our number one priority right now. If you have not yet started a meditative practice, now is the time.
Do something every day that brings you joy and happiness and makes you feel good. Your mental and emotional state is the #1 thing you have control over and it is now your top priority.
Practice Your Daily Anchor Actions – These are behaviors specific to you, that when you do them, they make you feel good, and give you energy instead of draining you. Pick 3 or 4 things, and make sure if you do nothing else but sit on your couch watching Tiger King or trying to teach and entertain your kids 24/7, that you get these in.
For me, my anchor habits are:
– my morning workout, whether it’s 20 mins or 60 mins, I just FEEL BETTER when I move my body, get my heart pumping, muscles burning, and get my sweat on
– my morning cup of matcha green tea
– my morning mindfulness session which includes a mix of meditation, journaling, breath work, listening to an inspirational audio from a thought leader I trust
– leisure walking, for me, the length doesn’t’ matter, just getting out into the fresh air and moving my body FEELS GOOD
– reading books on mindset, personal development and mastery, manifestation and spiritual teachings, and of course books on health and wellness
Your Anchor Actions will be unique to you. Maybe they’ll be around your nutrition habits, or your kids or partner, getting a certain amount of sleep or maybe it has to do with talking to friends or listening to podcasts.
What inputs do you need so that you can show up resourceful, grounded, positive, and energized for yourself and your family? Changing your energy and your internal state is how you will change your life and your perspective on your current circumstances.
Manage how much time you spend on social media and watching the news. These sources use fear to draw you in and we really need to do everything we possibly can to keep our brains in a resourceful state.
I admit, I’m a highly sensitive person and I’m in the health field to alleviate and prevent the suffering of others because I can’t stand to see people in pain if I can help.
But whether you’re highly sensitive or not, as a human being, you’re vulnerable to the negative emotions like fear that can be triggered by sensationalized broadcasts.
Don’t go borrowing trouble and start scrolling your social feeds or jumping onto the news channels looking for more evidence to support staying in a state of fear and panic.
I’m not advising that you put your head in the sand, however. Quite the opposite. Please be informed & follow the public health rules to keep safe & healthy.
If you’re wanting to have daily updates to stay informed, instead of the news, consider these official public health sources for updates:
When we are informed (but not looking for trouble), aware (but not overwhelmed), concerned (but not panicked) and empathetic (but not hardened) citizens, we can be compassionate towards ourselves and others.