How to Build and Support Long-Term Immune Health
Posted Jan 13, 2021
We know that stress has a significant debilitating effect on immunity. The better we minimize and adapt to stress, the more our immune systems will be ready to respond. In an article I wrote on ways healthcare practitioners can prepare and treat their patents regarding the pandemic, I reported that previous research with viruses had shown that the lower the cortisol (the adrenal ‘stress hormone’) level of the patient when they contracted the virus, the more severe its effects, the longer the sickness lasted and the longer full recovery took.
In research on cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Virus, the more severe the episode, the lower the cortisol levels. And in those still recovering a year later, cortisol levels were still low. So an important key in keeping the immune system at its peak of vigilance is to keep the adrenal glands well supported.
Other ways to help support immunity include keeping the intestinal tract healthy. That means using probiotics, having enough fiber in your diet, minimizing sugar and alcohol, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, chewing food thoroughly, relaxing during meals, and using digestive aids when needed to fully digest your food. Over 50% of immune system lymph glands are located within 2 inches (5 cm) of the intestinal tract. The more the immune system has to deal with issues like intestinal dysbiosis, the less power it has to fight pathogens.
Nutrients important to immune function
Antioxidants can be obtained through highly colored fruits and vegetables as well as supplementation.
Zinc is one of the most critical things you can take to increase immunity. Zinc has almost 300 biochemical functions in the body, many of which are related to immune health. One concern I have about vegans during this crisis is their lack of zinc intake. All assimilable sources of zinc come from animal foods. The zinc in vegetables is tightly bound to the fiber and cannot be released without a large amount of heating. So although pumpkin seeds contain one of the highest levels of zinc of any food, that zinc is mostly unavailable unless the pumpkin seeds are first roasted. Even then the phytic acid that binds the zinc to the fiber must be degraded before the zinc is released. In the digestive tract, the intestinal environment must be in an acid state for zinc to be absorbed. Most vegetables are alkaline in nature, making it difficult to absorb zinc if is it freed from the vegetable fiber.
Vitamin C with bioflavonoids has so many functions for health and resistance to pathogens, immune system activity while infected, and tissue repair during the recovery phase. The adrenal glands use more vitamin C than any other organ or tissue. During the added stress of an infection, the adrenals need much more vitamin C in addition to the increased general demand for vitamin C during infections. So taking a large amount of vitamin C is of great overall benefit.
Vitamin D has been overlooked as a key facilitator of many immune reactions in the body. During cold and flu season, be sure to get at least 20 minutes of sun daily, or consider taking a supplement.
Vitamin A is key to minimizing damage to the alveoli of the lungs and post infection scarring when the lungs are endangered or infected. Vitamin A works with zinc and vitamin C to support immunity and they all work with cortisol the most powerful anti-inflammatory in the body to help fight the infection. Consult your healthcare practitioner before taking supplements.
The importance of hygiene to maintain wellbeing
The precautions now recommended for the current pandemic are simply the rules that should have been in place whenever sickness is in the community. If someone is not feeling well, they should wear a mask to prevent infecting others; they should repeatedly wipe down their work stations, countertops, door knobs, faucets, computers, cell phones and remotes. They should wash their hands anytime they touch their face to prevent spreading their germs and should self-isolate and keep distance from others as much as possible to avoid contact.
The responsibility of not spreading an infection has been something that Western culture has not embraced nearly as much as Asian culture. On visits to Japan, I regularly saw people wearing masks in public. When a group of school children asked to interview me, I in turn asked the ones wearing masks why they were wearing masks. Without exception, they said they had a cold and did not want to infect their classmates and others. We need to take much more personal responsibility for our roles in protecting the people around us, as well as ourselves.
I am hoping that by the next flu we have learned to practice self-quarantine and personal hygiene and to take immune-supporting dietary supplements. As the usual flu season approaches, it may help to increase intake of vitamins C, A and D, as well as zinc and consciously keep stress low. Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements. If this pandemic has taught us anything, I hope it teaches us to anticipate contagious diseases, take personal responsibility to limit its spread and protect ourselves from exposure.