Challenging times for immune health stimulated the reason for writing this article. While recent events have prompted most of us to take our immune health more seriously, there are others who face immune challenges on a daily and lifetime basis. While understanding the inner workings of your immune system is important, it also can be very confusing. The most challenging question is “what supplement or supplements meet my current needs?” This article will provide you with the needed tools to make an informed decision when making your next purchase.
The first thing we need to do is to discern what type of immune support we are trying to achieve. Which one of these are you?
- A person thinks they are “coming down with something”—they need something to stimulate their immune response.
- A person has a chronic immune weakness such as allergies, colds, flu, etc. —they need something for long-term support of their immune functionality.
- A person has an autoimmune or overactive immune response—they need something to modulate or even downregulate their immune function.
- A person has chronic inflammation such as joint pain, cardiovascular problems, etc.—they need something to support the body’s response to inflammation (inflammation is an initial response by the immune system to harm from things such as physical trauma, bacteria, virus, etc.)
Of these categories, the first two are what most are thinking about when a product is touted as an immune health product. You are either sick and need acute help to stimulate the immune system or look for long-term benefits to support the immune system and its functionality. The following are examples of both short and long-term nutraceutical ingredients for immune health. Keep in mind these are just a few of the numerous immune support ingredients with scientific substantiation.
The following are the top supplements that fit into these two categories:
- Vitamin C- acts by increasing key immune cells activity, function, mobility, and production.[i] [ii] [iii] In general, high doses of vitamin C need to be consumed daily to activate the immune system. Products containing small amounts of vitamin C i.e., under 1000mg per dose provide little to no benefit to a person seeking an immediate immune response.
- Echinacea- acts by activating many critical cells involved with a healthy immune response to infection.[iv] While echinacea often gets negative feedback, it is a good choice for someone seeking a quick way to rev up their immune system.
- Elderberry- has several effects, including antiviral and immunomodulating effects. Immunomodulating ingredients enhance the body’s immune response. This can be either stimulates or suppresses the immune system and may help the body fight abnormal cell production, infection, or other conditions. Elderberry has also shown it can inhibit the replication of several strains of influenza viruses A and B[v], inhibits H1N1 “swine” flu[vi]. One of the unique properties of Elderberry is it is a botanical extract that has both acute and long-term use benefits for immune health.
- Zinc- is essential for several types of immune cells functionality.[vii]. For acute use, zinc appears to be beneficial when used orally as a lozenge and taken frequently throughout the day[viii], not in one large dose that is swallowed whole.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Chaga, Maitake, Shitake, Cordyceps- these impact important immune cells which act to defend your body against foreign invaders (bacteria and viruses) as well as abnormal cell production.[ix] Of these chaga has been getting quite a bit of attention for its immune health properties.
- ImmunoLin: ImmunoLin® is the clinically proven immunoglobulin answer for long-term gut and immune health support. ImmunoLin® is the first in class concerning immunoglobulin therapy. Immunoglobulins are also known as antibodies and are made by the immune system in response to a foreign substance called an antigen. Common antigens include bacteria, viruses, funguses, animal dander, abnormal cells, and toxins. The job of an Immunoglobulin is to attach to antigens so the immune system can destroy them. When an immunoglobulin binds to the antigen, it prevents the antigen from finding its target and renders it inactive.
- 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan (Wellmune) or 1,3 Beta Glucan (BioGlena)- Beta-glucans help to increase the cells known to “eat” abnormally cells in the body, increase the communication between immune cells and support the release of compounds which help fight off unhealthy cells in the body i.e., viruses, bacteria and abnormal cells produced by the body.[x]
- Probiotics- the beneficial impact of probiotics is by different mechanisms. These mechanisms include the probiotics’ capacity to increase the intestinal barrier function, to prevent pathogenic (illness-causing) bacterial movement, and to modulate inflammation.[xi] Since it is estimated that 70% of immunity originates in the gut, having a healthy microbiome will play a positive role in immune support.
- Vitamin D- Numerous published clinical studies are confirming that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of infections[xii]. The National Institute of Health warned that low vitamin D levels are associated with frequent colds and influenza.[xiii] For vitamin D to be beneficial, it is advisable to get vitamin D testing done to ensure the proper amounts are consumed.
Immune Support: Outside the Box
While “outside the box” might be a little cliché, there is something to be said about thinking this way. One way we can think this way about immune health is to look at other areas which have a direct impact on our immune health and functionality. Stress and sleep are two great areas for us to focus on since most people have an issue with one or both. Look at what stress and sleep are doing to your immune system below.
Stress and its impact on the immune system
When we take a deeper look at the impact that stress has on the immune system, we learn that stress can have a positive effect on the immune system in the short term. Short-term stress enhances your immune response in very positive ways. Regretfully, Long-term stress suppresses or dysregulates both your immune responses.[xiv] It also causes a significant decrease in the numbers and percentages of key immune cells needed to fight off infection[xv].
Poor sleep and its impact on the immune system
Sleep has many links to weakened immune function and health. There is an association between short sleep duration and infection risk.[xvi] Just one night of total sleep deprivation can decrease key immune cell function.[xvii] At the same time, prolonged sleep curtailment and the accompanying stress response produce immunodeficiency.[xviii] Lack of sleep is directly linked to decreased immune cells), and overall immune cell activity.[xix]
Natural Health to the Stress and Sleep Rescue
Since many people worldwide have issues with chronic stress and/or sleep disturbances, it would be wise to incorporate dietary supplement ingredients into these immune products. There are many excellent ingredients for stress, such as affron® (Crocus sativus)[xx], Sensoril® (Withania somnifera)[xxi]–[xxii], and Zembrin® (Sceletium tortuosum)[xxiii] and SibeliusTM: Chamomile. Affron® studies show it significantly improves mood and stress in otherwise healthy people. Research with Sensori® shows it not only decreased daily stress but had a significant impact on decreasing cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol levels are linked to immune system suppression.[xxiv] A Zembrin® study showed its direct effect on the amygdala (the brain’s stress center) within 2-hours post-consumption, which provides benefits of decreasing stress and increasing calmness. While chamomile has long been looked at as a sleep aid, it also provides relief from stress feelings too. SibeliusTM: Chamomile is different from other chamomile products on the market due to its unique growing environment, it is Roman chamomile not German, and it has been clinically screened and tested showing using advanced and patented technology.
Dietary supplements and their impact on sleep
With regards to sleep, clinically proven ingredients such as Lactium® (Alpha-s1 Casein Hydrolysate)[xxv], affron® (Crocus sativus)[xxvi], and melatonin[xxvii] and Roman chamomile should be considered in formulating immune health with those who have sleep and immune health concerns. Studies with Lactium® show an impact on improved sleep quality and duration, while studies with affron® showed improvements in insomnia, sleep quality, and restorative sleep. Melatonin is an older supplement and has been shown to benefit sleep in these ways; jet lag, insomnia, and those who do shift work. As mentioned above, SibeliusTM: Chamomile is an excellent option to help with sleep. Studies with SibeliusTM: Chamomile showed it improved sleep quality, duration and helped reduce the number of times waking up at night.
Other Immune-Strengthening Strategies
Healthy living strategies you can do for your immune system include:
- Exercising regularly – Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables – Best immune support foods are: Red peppers, ginger, tea (no sugar) green, white or black are all good), dark chocolate (little to no milk and sugar), nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews), greens, citrus (not the juice but the fruit), berries, and broccoli.
- Eliminate Sugar – sugar decreases immune functionality and the production of immune cells
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting quality sleep – Set a schedule and routine for sleep and practice good sleep hygiene.
- Reducing stress – deep breathing, meditation, prayer, counseling, etc.
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation – 1 or fewer beverages per day
- Taking steps to prevent infection – hand washing, don’t touch your face or eyes, etc.
Keep in mind that the best manner to achieve healthy immune function is to practice good habits daily. The minute we let our guard down is when we expose ourselves to getting sick. Other than the tips above, keep in mind there are several great options to support your immune system and its function over extended periods of time. If you tend to have problems with daily stress or occasional sleep issues, consider adding ingredients from above to support your specific needs.
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[x] Stier, H., Ebbeskotte, V. & Gruenwald, J. Immune-modulatory effects of dietary Yeast Beta-1,3/1,6-D-glucan. Nutr J 13, 38 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-38
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[xiii] National Institutes of Health. Low Vitamin D Levels Associated with Colds and Flu. NIH website. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/low-vitamin-d-levels-associated-colds-flu. Published March 9, 2009. Accessed March 19, 2020
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[xix] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M, The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease, Physiological Reviews 99: 1325–1380, 2019
[xx] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Metse AP, Drummond PD. Effects of saffron on sleep quality in healthy adults with self-reported poor sleep: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020 Jun 15;16(6):937-947. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.8376.
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[xxiii] Reay J, Wetherell MA, Morton E, Lillis J, Badmaev V. Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin® ) ameliorates experimentally induced anxiety in healthy volunteers. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2020 Nov;35(6):1-7. doi: 10.1002/hup.2753.
[xxiv] Today’s Dietician website, https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml, Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy, Published November 2009, Accessed June 3 2020
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[xxvi] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Metse AP, Drummond PD. Effects of saffron on sleep quality in healthy adults with self-reported poor sleep: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020 Jun 15;16(6):937-947. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.8376.
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