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Every day humans are exposed to a myriad of harmful organisms and environmental toxins. The bodily system responsible for defending you against these invaders is your Immune System. The most complex of all bodily systems, immunity comes from several difference organs and cells, each with its own special function, working co-operatively to protect you. Immunity can be broken down into several categories, each with its own distinction. Inborn immunity refers to the defences you are born with. They are dictated by your individual genetics. Acquired immunity develops over a lifetime, and is the result of exposure to millions of foreign substances, from toxic microorganisms, pathogens and vaccinations. Infection and disease can occur in the body for many different reasons, such as the virulence of the invading organism or its power to overcome the body’s defences, the dose or number of pathogens that enter the body at one time, the portal of entry for the pathogens, and the individual’s predisposition to infection. This last point is of extreme interest because there are several factors that can be positively impacted to enhance one’s immunity and improve your individual odds of overcoming infection rather than succumbing to it.
The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts
The immune system faces constant and relentless attack, and its ability to provide an adequate defence is reliant on every aspect of the system, including the thymus, thyroid, spleen, bone marrow, adrenal glands, lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and specialized white blood cells such as B cells, T cells, macrophage “scavenger” cells, and antibodies. When the goal is to restore and fortify immune function, no single magic-bullet approach will achieve optimal results. “The immune system is truly holistic, as evidenced by the close association of psychological, neurological, nutritional, environmental and endocrinologic factors with immune function.” (1)
Factors to Consider
Nutritional Status. “Nutrient deficiency is, without question, the most frequent cause of a depressed immune system.” (2) In fact, even marginal deficiency of one or multiple nutrients can significantly impair immune function. Numerous studies have indicated that a majority of people over 50 are marginally deficient in at least one nutrient (3), and that daily use of a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement can enhance immune function, even when no clinical deficiency exists. (4, 5)
Over-Fed and Under-Nourished. While nutritional deficiencies are commonplace, so too is being over-weight. Over-consumption of calories, particularly from fat and sugar, has a direct negative impact on immune function. Elevated blood triglycerides, cholesterol and free fatty acids inhibit the ability of white blood cells to divide and destroy unfriendly microorganisms. (6, 7) Likewise, as little as one teaspoon of sugar can have a negative action on white blood cell activity and impair immune function for up to eight hours after consumption. (8)
The Mind Matters. “Psychoneuroimmunology is a term used to describe the interactions between the emotional state, nervous system function, and the immune system.” (9, 10) A growing body of scientific research is demonstrating that a low mood has a direct and relative correlation on immune function. (11, 12) This means that the deeper your feelings of sadness and depression, the more significantly your immune function is depressed, creating vulnerability to disease. Although conventional medicine readily accepted the notion that low mood can contribute to low immunity, it was less willing to embrace the opposite idea. However, research is demonstrating that a positive, relaxed state of mind can have a positive impact on immune function. (13, 14)
You’ve heard the old saying before, “prevention is the best medicine”. There’s this saying persists – it’s true! Canadians spend so much time and money trying to treat the symptoms after the fact (with much futility), when small, consistent efforts each day can provide our immune system with the strength to prevent so many annoying illnesses such as cold and flu. Why try to patch the rust on your car when a little effort before every wet & salty season can prevent it?
Antibiotics are the mainstay of bacterial treatment. (15) The goal of these drugs is to kill invading bacteria without harming the host. When antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, they were incredibly effective in bacterial infection treatment. Over time, however, many antibiotics have lost effectiveness against common bacterial infections because of increasing drug resistance (16). Besides increased drug resistance, high-dose and prolonged antimicrobial therapy can eliminate helpful bacterial flora and predispose people to infection (17).
Conventional Treatment of the Common Cold
Most people with colds rely on over-the-counter remedies to treat symptoms. These products include decongestants, antihistamines, fever and pain reducers, and cough suppressants; however, “many cold medications provide far more ingredients than are needed to ease symptoms, may or may not be effective, and can have a host of undesirable side effects”. (18) Always read packaging information carefully to avoid drug interactions, as many over-the-counter formulations contain other ingredients in common. This has led to inadvertent acetaminophen overdoses, including fatalities (19).
Skip the Sugar. As little as one teaspoon of sugar can have a negative action on white blood cell activity and impair immune function for up to eight hours after consumption. (8) Avoid foods and beverages containing refined sugar, including fruit drinks and juices.
Limit Your Liquor. Human studies have demonstrated that consuming large amounts of alcohol decreases the motility of white blood cells and inhibits their ability to move into areas of infection. (20) The greater the amount of alcohol consumed, the more detrimental the impact on immune function, so moderation is key.
Multi Vitamin and Mineral. “Nutrient deficiency is, without question, the most frequent cause of a depressed immune system.” (2) In fact, even marginal deficiency of one or multiple nutrients can significantly impair immune function. Numerous studies have indicated that a majority of seniors are marginally deficient in at least one nutrient (3) and that daily use of a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement can enhance immune function, even when no clinical deficiency exists. (4, 5)
Lingzhi. Lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the greatest tonic herbs known to mankind. Lingzhi has been consumed since the dawn of Chinese civilization as an anti-aging herb, and for its various health-promoting and healing properties. It possesses over 400 active biomolecules. Lingzhi is a superior herb that may be taken for a long duration without side effects. Continuous consumption of lingzhi helps to improve functioning of the whole body, up-regulating the immune system, meaning the body is supported in doing the best job at protecting you against foreign invaders without artificially over-stimulating or exhausting your system.
Lingzhi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 4,000 years to treat liver disorders, hypertension, arthritis and other ailments. In modern times, the available data from human trials, together with evidence from animal studies, suggest that Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) may have some positive benefits for cancer patients, as well as patients with liver disease. Other promising uses include diabetes, heart disease, pain and hypertension. (21)
Probiotics. A randomised, parallel, double-blind placebo-controlled study was performed to investigate whether intake of a probiotic mixture could reduce the risk of common cold episodes, number of days with common cold symptoms, frequency and severity of symptoms, and cellular immune response in common cold infections. At the conclusion of the 12-week trial the study demonstrated that the incidence of acquiring one or more common cold episode was reduced from 67% in the control group to 55% in the probiotic group. Also, the number of days with common cold symptoms were significantly reduced from 8.6 days in the control group to 6.2 days. The total symptom score was reduced during the study period from a mean of 44.4 for the control group to 33.6 for the probiotic group. (22)
Ashwaganda. The reports of Ashwagandha benefits date back some 3,000 years. It has been used to treat inflammation, fevers, protect against infection or illness, boost the immune system, improve memory, and promote overall wellness. Ashwagandha, also called Indian Winter Cherry or Indian Ginseng, is a shrub that is native to India and has been used for thousands of years inAyurvedic medicine. The list of benefits of Ashwaganda is lengthy and includes:powerful antioxidant properties, strengthens the immune system, supports normal stress and anxiety levels, stops arthritis pain with natural steroids called lactones, helps to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels by nourishing and protecting the liver, and revs up production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Vitamin D. In a recent study on vitamin D and immunity, researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that compared vitamin D-3 supplementation with a placebo in school children. They found that the children taking the vitamin D supplementation had a 42% lower risk of catching the flu than the children taking the placebo. (23)
The immune system has many components, but the front line soldiers are called the T-cells. T-cells work by either attacking and destroying all cells carrying traces of a foreign pathogen, or by assisting the immune system in acquiring memory. These so-called helper cells send messages to the immune system, passing on knowledge about the pathogen so that the system can recognize and remember it at the next encounter and launch a more efficient and enhanced immune response. The first stage of the crucial activation of the T-cells involves vitamin D. “When a T-cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it has an immediate biochemical reaction and extends a signaling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it [searches] for vitamin D. This means that the T-cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease. If the T-cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilize”. (24) Without T-cell activation, the immune system is severely compromised.
Zwell Lifestyle Recommendations
Sleep Soundly & Stop Stressing. Healthy lifestyle choices can have a profound impact on the immune system, particularly natural killer cells, those responsible for killing off cancerous or infected cells. Sleeping soundly for a minimum of 7 hours per night encourages the body’s “parasympathetic nervous system” to take control, the “gear” in which the immune system functions best. During restful sleep, potent immune-enhancing compounds are released, and many immune functions are increased. (25) Experiencing stressful feelings encourages the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and corticosteroids. These hormones negatively impact the immune system by inhibiting the formation and function of white blood cells and causing the thymus gland to shrink. The greater the stress, the greater the immune suppression (26), so taking care to relax, decompress and rest regularly are important elements in maintaining strong immunity.
Exercise. Moving your body regularly can be a factor in maintaining a healthy and balanced body weight, an important element of strong immunity. Studies have shown that those who are overweight suffer from more infections than those of a healthy weight, as excess fats in the blood interfere with white blood cells’ ability to destroy bacteria. (6, 7)
CRON. “Nutrient deficiency is, without question, the most frequent cause of a depressed immune system.” (2) In fact, even marginal deficiency of one or multiple nutrients can significantly impair immune function. Consistently eating a variety of the most nutrient rich, whole foods available can help ensure optimal intake of nutrients, while keeping calorie intake balanced.
Connect. When the book Anatomy of Illness was first published in 1979, medical professionals scoffed at the notion that an upbeat mood could enhance immunity. In the decades since the book’s release, many studies have confirmed that laughter, along with a positive emotional and mental state, can truly enhance the immune system. (27) Sharing laughter with loved ones through the telling of jokes or funny stories or watching comedic movies is excellent medicine for strong immunity.
Safety Considerations / Contraindications
This information is meant for educational purposes and is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure disease. If you require medical attention, please seek a licensed health care provider.
Therapeutic use of natural food constituents (such as vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts) may potentiate the effects of prescription medications. Speak with a licensed health care practitioner about possible interactions.
These recommendations may not be suitable for children, pregnant or lactating women.
1) Murray, Michael, ND & Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Three Rivers Press, New York, NY 1998. Pg 148
2) Murray, Michael, ND & Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Three Rivers Press, New York, NY 1998. Pg 150
3) Tucker, K., “Micronutrient Status and Aging,” Nutr Rev 53 (1995): S9-15
4) J.D. Bogden, “Studies on Micronutrient Supplements and Immunity in Older People,” Nutr Rev 53 (1995) : S9-15
5) Pike, J., et al. “Effect of Vitamin & Trace Element Supplementation on Immune Indices in Healthy Elderly,” Internat J Vit Nutr Res 65 (1995): 117-20
6) C. Waddell et al. “Inhibition of Lymphoproliferation by Hyperlipoproteinemic Plasma,” J Clin Invest 58 )1976): 1950-4
7) L. Gianni et al. “Bile Acid-Induced Inhibition of Lymphoproliferative Response to Phytohemagglutinin and Pokeweed Mitogen: An In Vitro Study,” Gastroenterol 78 (1980): 231-5
8) Dr. Upcott, K., Beat Those Bugs Article August 2010
9) Murray, Michael, ND & Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Three Rivers Press, New York, NY 1998. Pg 149
10) L.T. Vollhardt, “Psychoneuroimmunology: A Literature Review,” Am J Orthopsychiatry 61 (1991) : 35 – 47
11) L.T. Vollhardt, “Psychoneuroimmunology: A Literature Review,” Am J Orthopsychiatry 61 (1991) : 35 – 47
12) R.W. Bartrop, et al. “Depressed Lymphocyte Function After Bereavement,” Lancet i (1977): 834-6
13) L.T. Vollhardt, “Psychoneuroimmunology: A Literature Review,” Am J Orthopsychiatry 61 (1991) : 35 – 47
14) Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., et al. “Psychoneuroimmunology: Can Psychological Interventions Modulate Immunity?” J Consult Clin Psychol 60 (1992): 569-75
15) Archer GL et al 2004
16) Barie PS 1998; Domin MA 1998
17) Carson CF et al 2003; Guarner F et al 2003
18) Smith MB et al 1993
19) Gunn VL et al 2001
20) Brayton, R., et al. “Effect of Alcohol and Various Diseases on Leukocyte Mobilization, Phagocytosis and Intracellular Bacterial Killing,” NEJM 282 (1970) : 123-8
21) Ulbricht C, Abrams TR, Bent S, Boon H, Costa D, Dacey C, Guilford J, Giese N, Grimes Serrano JM, Hackman DA, Scully L, Rusie E, Shaffer M, Varghese M, Vijarian N, Weissner W, Welch S, Wong D, Woods J. Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): Systematic Review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. 2010 Fall;8(4):148-159.
22) Berggren A, Lazou Ahrén I, Larsson N, Onning G. Randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled study using new probiotic lactobacilli for strengthening the body immune defence against viral infections. Eur J Nutr. 2010 Aug 28.
23) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2010
24) Geisler, Carsten, PhD, University of Copenhagen
25) Moldofsky, H. Et al. “The Relationship of Interleukin-1 and Immune Functions to Sleep in Humans”, Psychosomatic Medicine 48 (1986); 309-18
26) Irwin, M. Et al. “Reduction of Immune Function in Life Stress & Depression”, Biol Psych 27 (1990):22-30
27) Dillon, K. M., et al. “Positive Emotional States and Enhancement of the Immune System,” Intern J Psychiatry Med 15 (1986): 13 – 7