Supporting a Healthy Immune Response: Some Fundamentals

Our previous article touched on the importance of balance for stress/inflammation…
I’ll reiterate some here, and then also throw in some top choices in immune supportive lifestyle habits and supplements you can consider incorporating into your self-protection plan.

So again, what is NOT being talked about enough, even by governing/medical authorities, with regards to immune health? …The BIG three – Stress, Inflammation, and Sugar! All three of those things can overlap and trigger one another, and all three of those things depress your immune system’s functioning!

Stress contributes to more stress – the sympathetic nervous system is there to protect us in the extreme “fight or flight” scenarios… it releases a hormone chemical cocktail into your system to trigger necessary survival reactions. Those chemicals temporarily tamp down the immune system and other “less immediately essential to survival” systems. Trouble is, in our modern culture, we tend to be perpetually stressed, so we just have the chemicals in our system almost constantly, without much chance to rest and recover and let the parasympathetic nervous system come in on the back end and do its job to help the body re-balance.

The more the stress response happens, the more on edge our bodies are essentially “trained” to be. Meaning you have to ACTIVELY take conscientious measures to nurture and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system response to kick in the “Calm down” chemicals, so to speak (and thus let your immune system get back to functioning more optimally again, as well as everything else).

Things that have been proven to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous response include: A good, long, uninterrupted sleep – i.e. “a proper nights sleep”. Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercise practices. Meditation. Spending time in nature. Doing creative/artistic things/projects. Playing with your pets and/or children (assuming they aren’t the main source of your stress).

Inflammation – many people are chronically inflamed and they may not even know it, because inflammation isn’t always just chronic pain (though that’s usually a good giveaway)… Some foods (sugar being one of the worst) trigger inflammatory response in the body, seasonal or chronic allergies are a form of a chronic inflammatory state, food allergies as well, auto-immune diseases, latent tooth and/or gum issues etc… Inflammation is a stress on the body, at least especially when it goes on for long periods of time. Keeping it under control, not just out right suppressing it, but trying to help encourage it back to a normal/healthy balance, is essential for Immune function as well as over all health.

Lifestyle practices that help reduce inflammation include: A diet high in (as in predominantly featuring) fruits and vegetables – most of them contain compounds which support healthy inflammation response. Reduce or consume NO sugars, or at least no “added” sugars. Get a proper nights sleep. Do gentle exercises regularly (if you work a desk job be sure to get up and walk around periodically throughout the day).
Herbs that help a lot with systemic inflammation modulation are Turmeric, Ginger, and Boswellia as the top three… though there are a whole host of others.

For general, baseline immune support

You can consider supporting your body from just the nutritional foundation angle, and/or you can choose to add herbs in to the mix, or go strictly herbal. The choice is mostly due to personal preference, though some health conditions may warrant leaning just one way or the other – for instance, herbs may be more likely to interact with prescription medications you might be on where as nutrients would be less likely. If there are any questions or concerns you should talk with your doctor, or I often suggested people speak with a compounding pharmacy as they will have more knowledge, and books on hand to consult, regarding your prescriptions, yet they also tend to be more familiar with and open minded to natural health supplements as well compared to your more basic chain pharmacies.

Nutritional Approach

1. Vitamin C – Timed release, or liposomal (i.e. fat soluble) forms will stay circulating in the body longer, and thus may increase absorption, while also reducing the likelihood of stomach cramps and diarrhea that can be caused from high doses of C.
While there is no proof it or anything else will prevent or treat Coronavirus, the Chinese have an ongoing study, started in February, where they are administering up to 12g intravenously to patients as a possible measure to reduce severity of illness and speed recovery time – but test results are not expected to be published until September.
That being said, Vitamin C it is a key nutrient in connective tissues in our organs (such as our lungs) and may help protect them from invading pathogens. Vitamin C also helps the body properly alert the white blood cells to protect the site of infection. Many animal studies over the years have demonstrated how vitamin C could help protect against bacteria and virus. Our bodies cannot produce vitamin C so it must be consumed from outside sources such as our foods and supplementation.

2. Vitamin D3 – This vitamin is often understated in its important roles of immune modulation. It works in the innate immune system and helping the body fight infectious agents. People with low Vitamin D3 levels are more susceptible to getting respiratory illnesses. At our latitude/longitude here in WNC approximately 20-30 minutes of full sun exposure on at least our face and arms (with no sunscreen on!) can give us a heaping dose of vitamin D3 through our skin – (Note: A bit longer exposure time is needed for people with darker skin tone as melanin blocks some of the sun rays). Otherwise consider supplementation.

3. Selenium and Iodine go hand in hand working in the body for thyroid health, but it has also been found that they help the body prevent and stop infections. People can be prone to deficiency in both of these minerals due to the fact that our soils don’t contain them as much as they once did, so even our produce grown in said soil is less nutritious. The thought is essentially that low Selenium contributes to more inflammation and oxidative stress, which makes hosts more susceptible to damage from virus and their mutations, which can contribute to the formation of new viral strains.
– This intriguing research paper from 2011 explores further links to viral epidemics and origins in populations of selenium deficiency:…/10.1007%2Fs12011-011-8977-1 )

4. Zinc – Has been demonstrated to help the body combat upper respiratory illness. It is possible to get “too much” zinc, so people need to be careful how much and how often they are administering this mineral, especially in children who need smaller doses than adults. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Zinc for an adult is 15mg. Taking 30 or even up to 50 milligrams for further immune benefits can be tolerated by some people in times of immune need – provided it is done for short duration – a week or two max before taking a break. Zinc in supplement forms, especially at higher dose levels, often upset people’s stomachs so it is best taken with food, or divided doses throughout the day instead of a large amount all at once.

Herbal Approach

1. Thyme – This herb is a personal favorite of mine for lung and respiratory support. It is also worth mentioning because it is cheap, easily grown, easily found in the grocery store, and is very strong in its support of healthy respiratory function. Normalizing mucous secretions and helping kill pathogens. Thyme Essential Oil – the highest concentration of the herb’s compounds, can be used to make all natural hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial cleaners. Thyme tinctures and other supplements taken internally help ease congestion and boost immune functions. You can even steep fresh or dried thyme leaves and drink it as a tea, or make a strong thyme broth, breathe in the vapors deeply while you sip.

2. Elderberry (As well as Elder Flower) – Of course we can’t get around mentioning this potent plant. Compounds in the fruit have been shown to help stop some flu viruses from replicating, shortening severity and duration. Elder flower are generally understated and not as easily come by in supplements, but possess compounds particularly beneficial to sinus and respiratory ailments. If you grow your own, or get any whole berries to make your own syrup just be careful to remove stems and seeds as they contain some mildly toxic compounds that give some people diarrhea. Also, people with auto-immune conditions need to be careful with this plant as it could potentially exacerbate an already hyper-active immune state causing them to feel worse instead of better.
Note: For any questions or concerns regarding sudden and currently circulating info about Elderberry contributing to “Cytokine Storm” reactions please see this educational video clip I made addressing the subject as it stands currently:

3. Oregano – This herb, used as a supplement, is most often found as “Oregano oil”, which is oregano extract concentrated into an oil base (typically an olive oil base is most common), this is different from Oregano Essential Oil.
Essential oils are highly concentrated and caustic substances which can be dangerous and even toxic if used in high and/or very frequent doses.
Oregano oil extracts (the kind using another carrier oil as a base) are meant to be taken internally for some duration as needed for the immune system. Compounds in this plant are known to assist in fighting bacteria, virus, and fungi. While the supplements are more concentrated for effect, it still is not a bad idea to consider cooking more with oregano at this time to get more into your system. You can try steeping it or making broths with it as recommended with the Thyme leaf.

This all just scratches the surface of possibilities out there of course.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been in practice for over 2,000 years and it hits on further complex herbal blend formulas of which I have admittedly less direct familiarity with in regards to some of their herbs, but my personal experience with Chinese formulas is they are frequently reliable to work, and they can work fast, so I recommend them as well, assuming they were formulated by a practitioner and/or company that knew what they were doing creating the formula.

So that is some of the top most reliable things I’ve found over these 20+ years of study and experience. I certainly hope it serves you well in your wellness journey.

Knowledge is Power: Easing Tension in a Time of Pandemic.

Mad Cow Disease, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, Ebola, Cornoavirus – in an age of global connection through the ease of jet setting, it is reasonable to be concerned by the speed and virulence at which bacteria, fungus, and virus can spread between populations. In the instance of all of the aforementioned diseases, (which have all been declared pandemic, or possible pandemics needing serious monitoring, just within my lifetime), the “scare” largely comes from the fact that they were all conditions which governing bodies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and/or the World Health Organization (WHO) didn’t have any foresight of or plan for. I don’t just mean travel restrictions and quarantine containment, I also mean biological defense in terms of vaccinations, antibiotics, understanding of natural immunity etc… because in all instances they were newly identified strains of disease – new enough to the human population that the spread of them was at first happening faster than the knowledge, understanding, and thus ability to “control” them was.

In the face of a highly unknown, but potentially very lethal agent, we are certainly right to take any/all precautions for our own health and the health of our loved ones. But I have to wonder how many people stop to think about the fact that these health agencies, medical professionals, and the news media always start their “precautions/preparedness” list off by telling people they need to be washing their hands with hot water and soap, and avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth (and should they touch their faces they should go right back to washing their hands). These two basic rules are proven to halt the spread of most illness causing bugs! So do we only pay close attention to this when there is a looming pandemic threat? Think about it, how mindful are you of these practices in your day-to-day life, regardless of whether it is “cold and flu season”, regardless of whether you’re feeling ill or have been around someone who was? I have a sneaking suspicion that these guidelines must be repeated over and over again because on average the easiest fall-back habit is to NOT be mindful of these practices.

P.S.A. – Hand sanitizer spray and gel are NOT a sufficient substitute! (Though they’re better than nothing.)

Did you know that there are many countries in the world where they do not even know about hand washing? They do not know it is important. They do not teach it to their children and communities. And/or they do not possess the resources of soap and clean water to be used for the practice with any consistent basis. Is it any wonder that many, if not all, of these pandemic threats we’ve faced over the past few decades have origins back to animals and/or economically disadvantaged communities with much less infrastructure or knowledge about hygiene for the sake of public health?

But, lest anyone use aforementioned considerations as an argument to justify xenophobia, consider the flip side of the cultural spectrum. Here we are (or assuming so for the likely readership of this blog) in a country where the majority of us do indeed have access to clean water and soap on a daily basis, we have education and trained medical staff and governing authorities who, on behalf of the benefit of the entire population, tell us repeatedly the importance of these simple but critical measures. Yet how many of us can say we really, consciously, consistently (i.e. regardless of pandemic threat scares) practice it? …What sort of excuse do we have really?

Of course while this hygiene practice may be at the top of the list of verified precautionary measures, there is still a huge elephant in this emergency room that we DO NOT talk about enough in our culture. That is the intimate trifecta link between Stress, Inflammation, and the Immune System! I believe the more that we can all understand the connection between these three process of the body, the more that said knowledge is power to maintain better health, even in the face of pandemic threat.

When the body is under any kind of mental, emotional, or physical stress – whether it be of positive origin (such as excitement and/or anticipation like an upcoming vacation, going skydiving, or welcoming a new baby into the family etc.), or be it negative (e.g. stressing over finances, career, relationship etc.) – our inherent wild mammalian bodies behave as they are biologically meant to, by pumping us full of stress hormone chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, in order to signal a “fight or flight” response. This is a survival mechanism, but while it is happening many other systems in the body have to take a back seat (including our immune system!) We did not originally come about in a world of constant media bombardment, long-distance travel and communication, air/water/soil pollution, engineered foods, fossil fuels etc, so when we are under such persistent, chronic stress, our body has little chance to recover and rebuild, and we begin to suffer long term health deficits as a byproduct to these stressors.

Stress and inflammation tend to be similar to a “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” sort of scenario. Stress triggers a rise in inflammation markers in the body, which contributes to more physiological breakdown – including of the immune system. But chronic inflammation causes the body to produce more stress-response hormones. It is a vicious cycle, but either way the immune system still takes a hit.

So lets recap – What all do we have likely working against us?
(Besides any irregularities in our hand-washing habits that is.)

  • Environmental stresses – Meaning exposure to persistent air, water, or soil pollutants. Upheaval and damage to your way of life as caused by extreme weather events. This category could also include the toll it takes on our body to be constantly so germ-phobic that we expose ourselves to noxious cleaning chemicals by spraying everything down with sanitizers constantly, or the over-prescription of antibiotics – both of which doesn’t allow us much of any chance to build up any natural immunity to anything in our environments.
    (Note: Environmental stress may be a big contributing factor as to why the Swine, Bird, SARS, and now Corona viruses – all predominantly respiratory illness – came from China initially; which is a highly dense populace that has far less stringent environmental controls on their air quality. That is to say, with poor air quality comes less healthy immune/respiratory function, and with dense population comes more ability to spread illness, so voila! the makings of a perfect storm for pandemic to get a foothold.)
  • Societal stresses – meaning the pressures of politics, cultural or religious expectations, educational demands (finals, thesis writing, getting good grades etc), career demands, finances, gender expectations, racial conflicts, or contrasting opinions on “behavioral norms”.
  • Familial stresses – meaning strained relationships with spouse, siblings, parents, or children. Keeping food on the table and a roof over your family’s head. Worrying about caring for everyone else and sacrificing your own health in the process.
  • Physical/Emotional/Mental stresses – being any injury to the body, dealing with and trying to overcome any trauma, over-working the body (even if the intention is positive – such as going to the gym – you can still over do it of you’re not careful), bottling up issues and not getting help for them, or even something as simple as not getting a regular good night’s rest.

All of this is to say that if immune strength and protection from super-bugs is what we are worried about being prepared for, then there is clearly a vast range of immune impacting concerns to be taken into consideration. It is not that doing a relaxing meditation to unwind from stress is magically going to protect you from a pandemic, but NOT making efforts for stress reduction and inflammation response control in your life does contribute to a gambling roll of the dice for your immune system, should you be faced with any germs. So consider nurturing a lifestyle habit of less hypersensitivity, less reactivity, less outright fear, and instead seek calm, peace, and objectivity.

The other biological immune booster we need to be aware of is the health of our gut. 70% of the cells that make up our immune system are in the lining of our digestive tract, which means most of our ability to build immunity and have a healthy immune response, starts with gut health balance. What is this mainly referring to? Well, bacteria mostly. What an amazing accomplishment of nature, that our body functions by way of using “good” (beneficial, symbiotic) bacteria to ward off and help fight the “bad” (pathogenic, pandemic) ones we may get exposed to! Of course, even though most of these beneficial probiotics live in our digestive system there are also some beneficial bacteria found in the lungs, the sinuses, the mouth, and on the skin – in other words the “bad” bacteria we get exposed to have to fight to travel through multiple entry points of our system, encountering many road blocks along the way, just to get settled in and begin a full-on infectious invasion. The stronger those road blocks are the less likely the germs will stand a chance of taking hold. Have you ever come down with the flu and wondered why someone else in your household did not? Even news of this Coronavirus is saying that some people are carriers for it but never know they have it because they get no symptoms, while some people only get a mild head cold, while others get an extreme manifestation to the point of it being life threatening! It is not something unique, special, or odd about the Coronavirus, (or any other pathogen), rather it is about the unique response to said pathogen by each individual’s immune strength and physiology.

Recall all of that talk about stress and inflammation linking to immune function? Well, the imbalance of healthy gut bacteria (called dysbiosis) contributes to inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, which is a physical stress on the body. Or, someone who is under stress may be more likely to not take care of themselves – eating less healthy foods, not sleeping well, having no time to exercise etc… – which makes gut imbalance a possible side effect.

Several studies by microbiologists are finding that by examining the contrasts of the digestive system microbiome between urban and rural dwellers, even across various countries and continents, all point to some repeatedly interesting findings. In many cases the rural dwellers tended to be exposed less to chemically treated water, highly processed foods, and antibiotics than the urban dwellers. If they consumed more whole-foods based diets they inadvertently were consuming more prebiotic fibers which helped to boost the strength of the probiotic colonizing bacteria in their guts. Additionally, the rural dwellers had higher exposure to a wide variety of bacteria from the soil, water, and air around them, which could actually be beneficial in helping their body build more natural immunity (i.e. immune strength). Consequently, findings show that the rural dwellers had lower over-all instances of chronic illness and of “Western diseases” that affected the urban dwellers.
*(For further reading on some of these studies see links at the end of this post.)

Of course with everything the best balance of truth is usually somewhere in the middle. You don’t want your kids to be smeared with cow dung and eating daily doses of dirt per say, but neither would it be ideal to chemically sanitize their microbiotta and immune systems into oblivion either.

So, with the hand washing and hygiene control measures being the #1 line of defense in stopping spread of pathogens, it stands by the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. But all the hand washing, or practically drowning yourself in elderberry syrup or Tamiflu, will only go so far if you’re constantly stressed, sacrificing your total health and well being and quality of life, crashing your immune system, living in fear of pandemics. It is ok to be cautious, but maybe try cautiously optimistic? Don’t just wait for the CDC to tell you so – Remember, that any and every day is a good day to take care of your health!

*For further interesting reading on some microbiome studies check these out:

Book: “Farmacology”, by Dr. Daphne Miller

Popular Science Article: “Farmer’s May Cultivate Better Gut Microbes than City Dwellers”

Clinical Microbiology Article (From South Dakota State University): “Rural and Urban Schism: Its more than Economical… its Ecological”

PBS, Nove Science Article: “Searching for a ‘Healthy’ Microbiome”

National Institute of Health (NIH) Article: “The Intestinal Microbiome in Early Life: Health and Disease”

Frontiers in Microbiology PubMed Article: “Diet and Development of the Human Intestinal Microbiome”

Ohio State University Article: “Keeping Livestock in the Yard just might Help your Baby’s Immune System”