The following contains health information. Please consult your physician or myself before following any recommendations described.
We should all be encouraged that our immune systems fight off millions of germs daily. Our skin forms a natural barrier against many invading bacteria and viruses. The microbes that get into our mouths will be attacked by our saliva and if they get past our saliva, will have trouble surviving in the acidic environment of our stomachs. Even our annoying nose hairs trap and remove germs attempting to enter our respiratory system. While these are some of our body’s natural designs that keep our internal environment free of harmful pathogens, the greatest weapon to keep out harmful invaders is with a healthy immune system.
As a general statement, the best way to maintain a healthy immune system is by maintaining a healthy body. The more fit you are and the better you eat, the healthier your immune system will be. Those who perform aerobic exercise at 80 percent maximum heart rate five times weekly for 30 minutes are much less likely to experience upper respiratory infections (this includes the common cold and flu but COVID-19 has not yet been studied). Interestingly, those who exercise at 90 percent maximum heart rate for more than 60 minutes are more susceptible to infections, perhaps because of the increased stress on the body. Moderation and consistency are key.
It is very tempting to obtain shelf stable foods that provide high caloric content. I experienced this in the supermarket during a recent mad rush; the shelves were cleaned out of all pasta and chips. The grocery stocker had shared that the Fritos delivery had taken place just an hour earlier. The problem with these foods is they tend to have many additives that interfere with immune function. Also, pasta tends to have high gluten content. Many people are gluten sensitive and some don’t even know they have this sensitivity. When your body takes in foods that cause sensitivities, it distracts the immune system from its primary task of fighting off pathogens.
Another food that weakens the immune system is sugar. Sugar impairs white blood cell function. White blood cells are important fighters for our immune system. When an invader is suspected, the white blood cells move in to surround and engulf those invaders. When sugar impairs these cells, our ability to fight invaders is weakened. A longer term effect of sugar intake is increased visceral fat. This leads to systemic inflammation that further impairs the immune system. Furthermore, sugar has negative effects on the gut flora. Those are the bacteria in our gut that play a vital role in the health of our brain and our immune system. On the other hand, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide a wealth of antioxidants and phytonutrients that also provide healthy sweetness.
It is also recommended to avoid dairy products. For many people, dairy is highly allergenic. For some, this is because of sensitivity to many dairy proteins and for others, difficulty tolerating lactose. Any allergens that distract one’s immune system impair the body’s ability to fight actual pathogens. Similarly, alcohol needs to be processed by your liver, which is another distraction to the immune system.
When you are under stress, your cortisol level increases. A natural steroid, cortisol can suppress your immune system. With relaxation techniques such as meditation, you can reduce your cortisol levels and enable your immune system to work better.
You can also reduce your stress and boost your immune system with fresh air and sunshine. In addition to the cardiac benefits, walking outside provides you with much cleaner air than you can get indoors. Before antibiotics, sunshine provided at solariums was actually a treatment for tuberculosis and other infections. Those who get exposure to sunshine get sick less. Multiple studies have shown that sun exposure protects against upper respiratory infections and improves general health.
The body produces hormones that help support the immune system. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is produced by the adrenal gland, which helps modulate the immune system and regulates inflammation. The immune benefits of DHEA have been demonstrated in FDA-approved studies that show its efficacy in treating autoimmune diseases. To avoid androgenic events, women should start at 5 mg daily and gradually increase to 25 mg/day. Men can start at 50 mg/day and increase to up to 100 mg/day.
Melatonin is thought of as a sleep aid supplement but it is a very important hormone for brain health, your immune system and your overall health. Melatonin is metabolized to glutathione. This is one of the most powerful antioxidant supplements but it can’t be taken orally because it is not well absorbed in the digestive tract. Taking melatonin is a great way to give your body the immune boosting benefit of glutathione. Start with 3-5 mg at bedtime and gradually increase to 15-20 mg.
While thought of as a supplement, Vitamin D is actually a hormone produced in the skin that has a vital role to maintain good health. Multiple studies have demonstrated that low vitamin D levels correlate with many illnesses including heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases. The higher the level of vitamin D, the lower the risk of upper respiratory infections. I recommend taking 5000-10000 units daily, to get your blood levels up to 80-100 ng/ml.
Regarding supplements, vitamin C is a great one to take during winter flu season in general with 1000-2000 mg/day, but if you start to get upper respiratory symptoms, increase to 3000-5000 mg/day. You will benefit from its antioxidant effects with strong support of the immune system. Another key supplement is zinc, which helps optimize immune function. Similar to vitamin C, zinc is recommended at a baseline dose that is increased if you start experiencing upper respiratory symptoms. Start with 30mg/day, increasing to 80-100 mg/day with onset of symptoms. Other supplements that could strengthen your immune system include N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), selenium, probiotics and colloidal silver.
Mushroom extracts have been shown to enhance the immune system. Mushrooms are believed to mediate their immune effects through polysaccharides called alpha glucans, which have been shown to promote both innate and adaptive immune function. One of the most studied mushroom products is cordyceps, which is used by athletes to enhance performance and which also has beneficial immune effects. Some other mushrooms that enhance the immune system include edible shitaake and oyster mushrooms and the less tasty turkey tail, reishi and fu ling mushrooms. I recommend AHCC and Immune Support by NutriDyn, which provide these in abundance.
There are numerous herbal remedies that enhance the immune system. In addition to strengthening the immune system by neutralizing free radical damage, olive leaf extract is antimicrobial and improves energy. Olivirex by Nutridyn is a great source of olive leaf in addition to multiple other botanicals. Cistus incanus is another herbal with potent antimicrobial properties. As a tea, cistus has nearly three times the anti0oxidant potency as green tea. Cistus is also available as an essential oil that can be applied topically or diffused in water to provide an immune boosting mist.
Another group of essential oils that can boost your immune system are those with bioactive plant fractions (BPF). These provide support for your immune system (BPF Body) and directly for your lungs (BPF Air+). With the NutriDyn oils, you get the natural extracts without the fillers used with most essential oils. This gives your immune system and lungs direct access to natural herbal remedies.
In sum, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise, good diet and abundant sunshine, you can optimize your health and strengthen your immune system. You can improve your health even further with judicious use of supplements and herbal remedies. Stay healthy and strong. We are all in this together.
Dr. Slaten is a wellness physician specializing in regenerative pain treatments and lifestyle counseling. He is certified in advanced bioidentical hormone replacement. To get a 10% discount on some of the Nutridyn products described, visit www.drslaten.nutridyn.com and go to the Dr. Slaten Immune Builder section. When you enter your name to log in, the discount will be available. Please contact me at for a free phone consult during the quarantine (201) 882-1500 or if you have any questions regarding these products.