Support Your Immune System
When we are ill the symptoms we experience are often produced by the immune system in response to an infection or an injury. They are part of the body’s healing process and are best not suppressed. Let’s look at why the immune system produces the symptoms it does:
Mucous – mucous is produced by glands in the mouth, nose, throat, stomach, intestines and vagina. It creates a protective barrier between the body and the outside world; it also serves as a lubricant and a way of trapping foreign bodies and removing them from the body. In normal circumstances we hardly notice mucous. However, with some illnesses mucous production is ramped up and the mucous may become thicker and change colour. Mucous helps remove bacteria and viruses and prevents them getting further into the body.
As mucous is 90% water it’s important to drink plenty of fluids when you have a cold. This stops the mucous becoming thick, so it can be more easily expelled from the body.
Coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose are all ways the body uses to get rid of mucous from the body once it has done its job of catching germs.
Fever – producing a high temperature is your body’s way of creating an environment in which germs cannot survive and reproduce. The immune system produces pyrogens which trick the hypothalamus (which acts as the body’s thermostat) into feeling the body is cold. The brain responds by cranking up the thermostat. Blood is directed to the body’s core while the surface may remain cold, hence the chills that may accompany a fever. The heat stimulates the activity of white blood cells and the production of disease fighting antibodies.
Inflammation – inflammation is an essential part of your body’s healing process. When the body is injured or senses an invading organism, such as a virus, bacteria or toxin, the immune system is activated. Inflammatory chemicals are sent to the place of injury or infection. The first responders provoke an inflammatory response to trap the offending agents, to fence off the area to prevent the infection from spreading, and to start to heal the injured tissue. Signs of inflammation include pain, swelling and redness; these all indicate that the immune system is active in an area. Inflammation can be acute or chronic:
- Acute inflammation – this is an immediate response to sudden damage, such as cutting your finger. To heal the cut, your body sends inflammatory cells to the injury which starts the healing process. Symptoms of acute inflammation include redness, soreness, swelling and heat.
- Chronic inflammation – if the body continues sending inflammatory cells even when the danger has passed inflammation becomes chronic. Symptoms of chronic inflammation include chronic pain, fatigue, fever, joint pain and skin problems. Chronic inflammation is one of the underlying mechanisms behind many diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.
Certain lifestyle factors may contribute to chronic inflammation including drinking alcohol in excess, having a high BMI, eating low nutrient or challenging foods, over or under exercising, stress and smoking.
Supplement Your Immune System
When we are ill the requirements for many nutrients increases. Higher intake of nutrients may also help prevent illness in the first place. Taking supplements, alongside eating a healthy diet, is a good insurance policy against infection and illness. Here are a few supplements that can support the immune system:
Tom Oliver’s Multi-Vitamin and Mineral - a wealth of data suggests that vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E, folate, zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, copper and the omega-3 fatty acids play important and complementary roles in supporting the immune system. Inadequate intake and status of these nutrients are widespread, leading to a decrease in resistance to infections (1,2). Taking a multi-nutrient supplement helps to ensure a base line level of nutrition to support a healthy diet. Tom Oliver’s range includes specialist multi-nutrients for men and women.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Supplementation with vitamin C appears to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. For prevention 200-1000 mg/day is recommended. Treatment of established infections requires higher doses as metabolic demands increase (3,4). Please note that high doses of vitamin C may cause loose bowels. If this happens reduce the dose.
Vitamin D – Although vitamin D can be made in the body through the action of sunlight on the skin most people living in temperate zones are deficient. This is especially true in the winter when there are not sufficient rays from the sun for vitamin D to be produced in the body. Vitamin D regulates the immune system in a number of ways; it stimulates antimicrobial proteins; reduces inflammation; and enhances autophagy which helps to combat pathogens including viral infections (5,6). Vitamin D3 is the most active form of vitamin D. Taking vitamin D3 alongside vitamin K2 enhances the beneficial effects. Tom Oliver's Vitamin D3 includes K2.
Curcumin – curcumin has long been used to enhance the immune system with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (7,8). The benefits of curcumin are enhanced when it is combined with piperine from black pepper. Tom Oliver's Curcumin formula includes both curcumin and piperine for maximum benefits.
Probiotics – a significant proportion of our immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract. Maintaining a healthy digestive tract with a diverse range of beneficial micro-organisms is crucial for immune health. Some probiotics also have antibiotic properties acting against pathogens (9)
Selenium - has shown special effects on cellular immunity and resistance to viral infections (10).
Zinc – zinc plays an important role in the immune system and in specific immune responses to bacteria, parasites, and viruses (11).
Dietary and Lifestyle Tips for Staying Well
Supplementation can only do so much. It’s also important to eat well and live well.
Eat well – include lots of vegetables, and include protein and fibre with each meal. Avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks. Tom Oliver’s protein powders can be used to increase your protein intake.
Eat Polyphenols - polyphenols protect the body in multiple ways, including supporting the immune system (12). They are found in many plant foods including apples, grapes, chocolate, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, squash, beetroot, broccoli, kale, garlic and red onions.
Spice it Up - herbs and spices are powerhouses of nutrients and phytochemicals. Many have immune supportive and infection fighting properties.
Hydrate – being sufficiently hydrated is important for many aspects of health. Drink warm water, herbal teas, ginger tea or lemon water throughout the day.
Exercise – but not too much! Regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for the immune system and improves mood. However, excessive exercise can suppress the immune response and leave you more susceptible to illness and with a reduced ability to heal from injuries.
Learn to Manage Stress – stress has a negative impact on many aspects of health including the immune system. We can’t always control what happens to us but we have a choice about how we react to it. Learning to rethink our perception of what is happening can be helpful, as can relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi and meditation.
Sleep – getting sufficient, good quality sleep is vital for immune health. Much healing and repair of the body takes place during sleep. A tired body will be more susceptible to bugs and less able to fight them once they’ve invaded.
- Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Calder P et al. Medicine. Nutrients. 2020
- Br J Nutr. 2020 Aug 20;1-7. Nutritional status of micronutrients as a possible and modifiable risk factor for COVID-19: a UK perspective. Richardson DP
- 2017 Nov 3;9(11).Vitamin C and Immune Function. Carr AC, Maggini S.
- J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Dec;14(10):1291-8. Vitamin C: is supplementation necessary for optimal health? Deruelle F, Baron B.
- JBMR Plus. 2020 Aug 22. Vitamin D and immune regulation: antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory. Bishop E et al.
- Drug Des Devel Ther. 2020 Aug 21;14:3429-3434. A Single Large Dose of Vitamin D Could be Used as a Means of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Prevention and Treatment. Liu G et al.
- Adv Exp Med Biol. 2021;1291:15-39. Turmeric and Curcumin: From Traditional to Modern Medicine. Akaberi M et al.
- J Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;27(1):19-35. Epub 2007 Jan 9. "Spicing up" of the immune system by curcumin. Jagetia GC et al.
- Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins. 2018 Mar;10(1):11-21. Probiotics and the Gut Immune System: Indirect Regulation. La Fata G et al.
- Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2019;19(8):1100-1115. The Role of the Status of Selected Micronutrients in Shaping the Immune Function. Elmadfa I, Meyer A.
- Annu Rev Nutr. 2021 Oct 11;41:133-175. Dietary and Physiological Effects of Zinc on the Immune System. Wessels I et al.
- J Immunol Res. a2018 Apr 12;2018:1264074. Regulation of Immune Function by Polyphenols. Ding S et al.
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