The time to strengthen the immune system is now – before seasonal symptoms strike.
When building the immune system, you start like you would any project – with the foundation.
Foundational materials for a healthy immune system include select vitamins, herbs, minerals, and hormonal influences that stimulate and balance the immune system.
Micronutrients and hormones play a part in nearly every process in the body, and yet are easily deficient due to diet, stress, and lack of time outdoors amongst dirt and sunlight.
With so much segmented information out there about what compounds are the most effective for the immune system, I have created a short-list of some of my favorite strategies to support baseline immunity.
1.) Zinc – The Gatekeeper of the Immune System
Zinc’s importance for immune activity is also well-regarded. Many stores carry zinc lozenges and supplements – and its use is widely regarded for seasonal immune health.
Zinc has been referred to as “the gatekeeper of the immune system”. It functions as a messenger and trigger for many important immune, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities (1).
Zinc signals most of the pathways necessary for a healthy immune response (2; 3). It also supports mucosal health, which include the mouth, nose, respiratory tract, and gut. It also plays roles in the normal production of stomach acid – and is involved in taste perception.
Stomach acid is another important protective feature of the gastrointestinal tract against unwanted bacteria – the acidity activated pepsin – which helps fully chop down foods so that they’re less reactive in later stages of digestion.
As we age, our ability to produce acid and activate pepsin decreases – increasing risk of nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, and infection.
Too much zinc may have one feeling nauseous or perhaps irritate the gut – and so be mindful of all sources of zinc taken supplementally as 5mg here and 10mg there can add up! Symptom experience may also be a sign that your zinc:copper ratio has been disrupted.
Zinc intake competes with copper function in the body. Maintaining a healthy zinc to copper ratio is essential when optimizing zinc levels in the body. The most common rule of thumb to optimize balance is for every 15mg of zinc, one should look to take 1mg of copper.
When I chose a form of zinc to carry, I decided on Zinc Copper Balance by Doctor Alex Supplements which provides 15mg of zinc and 1mg of copper, along with a few cofactors for best absorption and utilization.
At 15mg, it gives wiggle room for some zinc intake found in other supplement combinations. I generally stay around 30mg/day of zinc, but can increase 45mg in times of stress or not feeling up to par. Check amounts in other supplements and confirm your strategy with a natural health provider to avoid potential problems. For Zinc Copper Balance, this is 1 capsule, one to three times per day.
You don’t want to wait until you’re already sick to have adequate zinc levels, as we learned above that zinc is necessary to trigger immune responses.
Another common way I will use zinc is through the supplemental compound called Zinc Carnosine – which I use Integrative Therapeutics most commonly. Zinc carnosine has targeted antioxidant and mucosal support properties that support mucosal health of the gut and lung, but also supports zinc levels.
At 75mg, it provides some 17mg of zinc. Zinc Carnosine is best taken twice a day, and I balance out the ~34mg of zinc with Copper Glycinate by Pure Encapsulations which contains 2mg of copper.
I supplement with zinc in the 15mg-50mg range, with my choice being to use Zinc Copper Balance 1-3x/day OR Zinc Carnosine + Copper Glycinate in gut healing protocols. If already taking zinc-containing supplements – be sure to add a copper supplement and aim for the ratio of 15mg zinc to 1mg copper.
For an option outside of my personal line of supplements, check out Zinc Chelate by Integrative Therapeutics or Reacted Zinc by Ortho Molecular, and add a copper supplement in line with intake.
2.) Vitamin C – the Godfather of Natural Immune Strategies
The tried and true effects of Vitamin C for immune health have been recognized for decades.
First, vitamin C is not something that humans can make on our own – we need outside sources from our diet. Second, it’s not something that builds up a reserve – you need regular supply to support day-to-day uses of Vitamin C. These needs increase during times of stress or immune challenge.
During infection, vitamin C needs can increase substantially (4; 5)
Here are a few of the mechanisms of why Vitamin C has been such a reliable immune support:
- Supports the stress response – physical and mental stress burn through a lot of vitamin C. This is because vitamin C is a “cofactor” (the “grease”) needed to make the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.
If someone is making a lot of stress hormone, whether due to sickness or driving hard mentally, they need to replenish stores of Vitamin C. Without the added grease, stress will grind harder on the body. Vitamin C is part of stress support and recovery.
- Vitamin C is necessary for collagen formation. One of the functions of the immune system is to facilitate repair – and collagen is the backbone to many structures in the body. If someone’s skin or hair looks weary due to stress – you can tell they’re burning through their daily vitamin C stores. Yes, stress can make you age faster – and vitamin C depletion is one reason why.
- Support Mucosal Tissue: Mucosal tissue lines many areas of the body such as the eyes, nasal passageways, lungs, and gut. It houses (and sustains) the trillions of gut bacteria that work with our physiology to support and train our immune system. It also is a physical barrier that outside agents must get through to find entry inside the body.
Vitamin C supports and speeds mucosal healing – helping to prevent and recover from insults to the important mucosal defense systems from food, stress, and toxins.
- Acts as an antioxidant and immune modulator – During stress or outside insult – a lot of “ricocheting bullets” known as free radicals are released that may damage healthy tissues not under attack.
Vitamin C can mop up some of this stress – helping the body mount a full response to damage, a threat, or an invader.
Vitamin C is also known to help upregulate or modulate a number of specific immune responses – helping our internal army work better against threats. When I use Vitamin C, numerous options are available, yet I commonly turn to Vitamin C 1000mg with Rosehips by Nature’s Way for its cost per dose. For powerful support and boosted absorption, use Liposomal Vitamin C by QuickSilver Scientific. Despite higher costs of liposomal products, the technology tends to boost absorption of ingredients by 2x or more.
3.) L-Glutamine for Immune Fuel and Recovery
L-glutamine is considered the most “conditionally essential” amino acid building block of the body.
It is a normally abundant amino acid, yet the first to become deficient when under stress or immune challenge…
- Glutamine fuels and strengthens a variety of immune cells (6)
- It also plays an important role in critical pathways of long-term or “trained” immunity (7).
Through direct and indirect mechanisms as a fuel for lymphocytes and cells that line the intestine, the amino acid also supports a normal balance of gut microbes (8).
- Supplementing with glutamine while sick can help minimize muscle loss – it also can help one recover from hard workouts that can put a dip on normal immune system function and create a need for muscle recovery from the physical stress. I often supplement a smoothie or protein shake with 5-10g of glutamine – particularly after a workout, and definitely if I’m not feeling up to par.
While 5-10g taken 1-2 times per day can help weather occasional dips in levels. Intake as high as 10-15g 3x/day (45 total grams/day) may be needed to fully support mucosal health and immune activity during a recovery protocol. It’s not out of the question to take glutamine at 30-45g per day in divided doses.
Note: In a small subset of individuals, too much glutamine intake may lead to some glutamate production and contribute to feeling anxious. So I like to work up L-glutamine by 5mg at a time with clients in case they are sensitive in this way.
Glutamine also supports glycine synthesis – glycine is a relaxing neurotransmitter and amino acid that helps put the “brakes” on overexcitement and supports GABA activity – another calming neurotransmitter. So, that’s where it the experience of anxiety can be counterintuitive with high intakes. Ultimately, start low and work up intake until you know how you respond to higher levels.
If anxious symptoms or racing mind occur, one can reduce their intake to a tolerable level, or also balance out with L-glycine supplementation. I’ll use Glycine capsules by Douglas Labs or Glycine Powder by Vital Nutrients to support calming and help balance glutamates from foods or that may be triggered in some people from high glutamine intake.
Collagen-rich bone broth contains both heavy glutamine and glycine residues and can be a nice nutrient-rich way to support immune activity and recovery.
So if you make chicken soup, make it from a high-quality bone broth that doesn’t contain added “natural flavor”, “yeast extract”, or “monosodium glutamate”. Kettle and Fire produces a number of broths that are organic, grass-fed/free-range, full of glutamine and collagen peptides, and free of flavor enhancers.
If broth is not your thing, I use Whole Body Collagen by Designs for Health on its own and frequently add it to smoothies. Bonus note: if collagen makes you feel anxious, irritable, or depressed – it’s because the amino acid profile of collagen lacks L-tryptophan and you may be prone to deficiency, try again but this time add L-Tryptophan.
I like L-glutamine powder by Progressive Labs as the most cost-efficient way to get to high levels of glutamine intake when supporting gut and immune health. For lower dose protocols, I’ll use L-glutamine powder by Pure Encapsulations. Start low and work your way up to higher servings and if feeling anxious, back down and/or add L-glycine supplementation.
Any time you take a high dose of a single amino acid you may drive levels of other amino acids lower (like collagen peptides and tryptophan)- so it can also help to take a broad-spectrum amino acid supplement either through a complete protein powder like ProteinXym by US Enzymes or a Complete Amino Acid supplement to promote overall protein balance in the body.
4.) Natural Antioxidants for the Immune System – Act as Frontline Defense, Sources of Fuel Rations, and Mop-Ready Janitors in the Trenches of Battle
When the body is under stress, injury, or infection – metabolic “ricocheting bullets” known as free radicals are released. These can be absorbed by natural antioxidant systems in the body as well as phytonutrients like flavonoids and polyphenols.
These are important frontline roles for antioxidants as they reduce collateral damage when our system is under attack.
They also act as fuel for good bacteria in the gut – in return, our gut bacteria turn them into valuable compounds like short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites that fuel our immune responses and maintain immune readiness long-term.
There are many types of flavonoids and polyphenols, yet some common sources rise to the top.
I like curcumin, resveratrol, pomegranate, citrus bioflavonoids, and green tea extract (EGCG) as some of the more popular and most researched. They’re combined in Daily Phyto Balance and PhytoFlora Microbiome Support by Doctor Alex Supplements.
Alpha Lipoic Acid helps other antioxidants work better and has antioxidant properties itself. Our most popular is the range of doses offered by Pure Encapsulations like Alpha Lipoic Acid 200mg.
Many phytonutrients that go beyond the scope of this article can help absorb these rogue electrons throughout the body – mitigating damage to our own tissues and helping normal cells function properly.
First, a healthy gut microbiome helps process food compounds but also produces natural antioxidants in return. For instance, Bacillus indicus, a spore probiotic found in Megaspore produces natural carotenoids that may have prebiotic effects later in the gut in addition to their antioxidant properties.
While a less common concern, a high intake of antioxidants in the absence of need is not preferred, as antioxidants without electrons to mop up can become pro-oxidants themselves.
I like the everyday immune support balance of herbs and polyphenols found in MegaMune by Microbiome Labs.
It’s also important to support the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K which have critical roles in immune function and should be taken together for the best benefit. I combine them in Vitamin A D K Complete by Doctor Alex Supplements in a one-per-day supplement to meet daily needs.
While K is less known for immune activity, A and D are essential and given their own sections in line with their supreme importance for immunity.
5.) Vitamin A – the Unsung Immune Hero
Vitamin A is recognized to support immunity, mucosal health, eyesight, and bone health to name a few areas. Most consume vitamin A from plant sources of Beta-carotene. Individuals carrying “slow” copies of the BCMO1 gene (makes the beta,beta-carotene 15,15’-monooxygenase enzyme that converts beta-carotene to retinol) have trouble converting plant sources of vitamin A precursors to the active Vitamin A (retinol) used by the body.
Preformed vitamin A known as “retinol” or “retinyl esters” can be found in animal products like egg yolks, meat, and is especially high in liver products. Diets low in these foods, vegan or plant based diets can lead to vitamin A deficiency – particularly in those who carry BCMO1 gene variations. The retinol form is required for normal vitamin A function in the body.
Up to 45% of the general population has a genetic vulnerability to vitamin A deficiency (9)! While intake of beta-carotene in the diet can be high, it is of little consequence if an individual is unable to convert it to vitamin A adequately.
Given the importance of vitamin A function, and moreover, that “healthy” individuals with genetic vulnerabilities can still be subject to deficiency, I feel this is one of the most noteworthy stats in all of nutrition and one of the easiest and most affordable issues to “correct”.
Individuals following a vegan diet can also proactively take a synthetic pre-formed vitamin A supplement that is not derived from animal sources.
I use Vitamin A D K Complete by Doctor Alex Supplements which contains optimal forms and intake levels these powerful fat-soluble vitamins that work together in the body.
Note on Vitamin E:
Vitamin E is also a fat-soluble vitamin, yet is not included in the A D K formula. Vitamin E actually comprises 8 or more compounds that have overlapping yet exclusive properties. Each compound is referred to as an “isomer”. It is preferred to supplement in a mixed tocopherol, mixed isomer, or mixed tocotrienol blend and not the d-alpha tocopherol form found in most supplements.
Vitamin E is otherwise more plentiful in non-processed foods than the other fat-soluble vitamins. The small amount used as a stabilizer in many formulas may not be as much of a concern as direct supplementation.
Too much intake of supplemental sources outside of their natural sources is not always preferred, particularly alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor), and even too much omega-3-rich fish oil outside of levels needed for sufficiency. I use Annatto 150, Annatto 300, or Annatto-GG by Designs for Health for Vitamin E, Micellized Vitamin A Drops for vitamin A, and Omega Complete – EPA, DHA, and DPA Support.
Vitamin E has been correlated with protection against cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, and more, but some studies show negative effects. It turns out that some of the negative correlations may be due to d-alpha tocopherol and how it interacts with an individual’s genetics. The tocotrienols may also be preferred over the tocopherol forms.
Some genetic differences seem to be correlated with whether d-alpha tocopherol is helpful or harmful (example: prostate cancer risk in men can be increased by d-alpha tocopherol in some, and protective in others) – yet this guesswork is avoided by using sourcing above.
Someone looking for vegan sources would take Micellized Vitamin A Drops, D3 Vegan Liquid, and Megaquinone K2-7 to support A, D, and K needs which are even more vital if following a plant-based eating plan.
Note on Vitamin A Toxicity Concerns:
Vitamin A toxicity can be a concern for men and women, particularly warned about during pregnancy.
Vitamin A is stored in the liver, and excess may lead to the liver running out of storage capacity and start to cause damage to the liver and can potentially contribute to problems for a developing fetus.
On the same train of thought, vitamin A is also important for the growth and development of bone, brain tissue, and more and so individuals want to ensure adequate sufficiency in the first place – especially if carrying BCMO1 gene variations (from 23andMe.com or GenebyGene.com analysis followed with analysis from Livewello.com or Promethase.com).
Keep intake preferably to 5000 IU per day and do not exceed 10,000 IU in a single day which is the upper limit at the time of this writing. If pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, or have a history of liver issues, check with your doctor before taking a vitamin A supplement. Remember that beta-carotene can have separate concerns with high intake, and not all individuals are able to convert beta-carotene to active Vitamin A.
Be mindful of other dietary and supplemental sources of vitamin A and vitamin A precursors in the diet. Vitamin A works in line with Vitamin D and K, other fat-soluble compounds in the body and you’re less likely to run into issues when you take them all together, and the products mentioned above are designed to provide 5,000 IU per serving with a max recommendation of 10,000 IU unless a high dose is recommended and monitored by a health professional.
6.) Vitamin D – The Immune Referee that is not even a Vitamin…
Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is an anti-inflammatory hormone not just involved with calcium absorption – but with immune regulation.
D3 acts like a referee keeping different immune components in balance. It is an essential “vitamin” for immune system balance and function. It also promotes gut barrier integrity and helps trigger specific immune responses in the body.
Plant-based vitamin D is known as ergocalciferol or Vitamin D2 – sometimes this is the form used for injections or prescriptions in the medical world as it can also be synthetically produced (yielding higher profit margins).
The body must also convert D2 to D3 to be used and this conversion is naturally inefficient – and some are even slower at making this conversion due to genetic variation,.
D3 supplementation or sun exposure at peak wavelengths of the day between 10 am-3 pm is best. To see the optimal time and duration to get sun based on your skin tone and geographic location – use the Dminder App.
I use Vitamin D3 125mcg (5000 IU) by Doctor Alex Supplements or Vitamin A D K Complete. For an outside brand, look to D3 5000 by Pure Encapsulations, or D3 1000 IU by the same company. Have your vitamin D levels monitored with any intake over 2000 IU/day.
Check out The Vitamin D3 and K2 Connection for more details on how these nutrients work together, and general guidelines on how much to take.
Some individuals genetically need high dose D3 to saturate the vitamin D receptors to get normal activity.
Others may have general absorption issues in the gut and benefit from a liposomal vitamin D or Micellized Vitamin D3 supplement.
Ideal storage levels of D3 fall in the 50-70ng/mL range. Request that your doctor include a 25-OH vitamin D test with your normal bloodwork.
Your doctor may not bring it up to you as an issue if it’s over 20ng/mL which is often the medical level for deficiency – yet natural practitioners like to see levels in the 40-80ng/mL range and ideally in that 50-70ng/mL window.
Levels of 25-OH vitamin D will reflect the last 2-3 months of intake, so you can take a snapshot as frequently as every 2-3 months when trying to evaluate levels.
7.) Sleep and Melatonin – Master Rechargers of the Immune System
Melatonin is not just a sleep hormone – but an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant hormone with nerve-protective qualities. It is often deficient because of widespread stress, caffeine intake, alcohol intake, inadequate sunlight, or B-vitamin and tryptophan imbalances.
Melatonin helps support immunity by stimulating the production of immune cells including T-helper cells – important for maintaining immune balance and tolerance (10).
Melatonin is normally found in intakes from 1-3mg, although 5-10mg exists for some protocols. For routine or daily use, I use 0.3mg capsules found in HerbatoninPRO by Symphony Natural Health as it helps me sleep without causing vivid dreams, causing morning grogginess, or making me dependent on it for subsequent nights of sleep. The plant-based form is also absorbed in a more delayed fashion so the effects do not peak and fall as hard as other melatonin products – and may also contribute to better tolerance and outcomes.
Natural support for melatonin levels includes morning and afternoon sunlight that triggers serotonin production – which then degrades into precursors for melatonin synthesis that build-up at night in preparation for sleep. Good protein intake with an array of amino acids also supports the raw materials for melatonin production. I might use Amino Acid Complete by Klaire Labs for such support. Blue light exposure after dark is notorious for disrupting normal rhythms as it tricks the brain that it is daylight.
As you might suspect, many are in need of some melatonin support!
8.) Glutathione – The Master Antioxidant and Immune Balancer
Glutathione is the master antioxidant made naturally by the body – and is one of the most important protective molecules for normal physiology. Chronic inflammation, infection, poor nutrition, and genetic tendencies trigger a need for more glutathione in the body.
To maximize glutathione status, one may look to reduce toxic exposures in their diet, relationships, and environment, but also support nutritionally with compounds such as with N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), and L-glycine.
N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) – Has a real kNACk for boosting glutathione
L-cysteine is an amino acid that is required most for the natural production of glutathione. When making glutathione, your body will run out of L-cysteine first. NAC provides dietary cysteine – but also has a number of wonderful functions for the body, immune system, and brain, while also supporting glutathione production.
See my overview of NAC benefits for a more complete discussion of the many immune benefits of N-acetylcysteine.
When supplementing with NAC – I use my own NAC 500mg – N-Acetyl Cysteine by Doctor Alex Supplements. For an alternative brand option, the best cost per dose that I carry is NAC from Integrative Therapeutics.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) – Alpha dog for multiplying immune support efforts…
Alpha-Lipoic acid is a powerful supplement that is an antioxidant, supports blood sugar balance, nervous system health, supports activity of other antioxidant compounds, and also helps the body recycle its existing stores of gluathione.
Glycine – a Glutathione Precursor with Detoxification and Calming Properties
Glycine is often deficient in modern diets due to high glutamate residues in food, but also because we’re not eating the entirety of the animal when it comes to collagen peptides and bone broth.
Glycine can be directly converted into glutathione by the body. Like cysteine, it is a rate-limiting compound essential to the body’s ability to make our master antioxidant (11).
It also is responsible for “glycine conjugation” – a key phase II detoxification pathway of the body.
Glycine is helpful for relaxation, detoxification, as well as collagen production (hair, skin, nails, joint health). I take Whole Body Collagen by Designs for Health to supply collagen peptides and glycine. I commonly add collagen peptides to smoothies, post-workout drinks, and to help support amino acid balance following meat consumption which is high in methionine.
For a strict glycine supplement option, use Glycine by Douglas Labs.
High methionine intake is associated with aging and this can be balanced to a degree with glycine consumption. Normally, human diets will maintain better ratios when eating all parts of the animal including connective tissues and bone broth (high glycine content).
If just eating the muscle, methionine ratios can be too high and promote unhealthy aging. Outside of these alternative products, you can supplement with collagen or glycine to balance methionine intake and generally be sure to eat lots of vegetables with your animal protein.
The good news is you’ll be supporting glutathione production, detoxification, and soothing GABA activity as well.
9.) Systemic Enzymes – Digesters of Immune and Microbial Junk
When we think of enzymes, most of the time we think about the digestion of food. Yet, when food is not around for enzymes to work on – they can work systemically to eat up damaged proteins, old immune cells, cell debris, and more that find their way in the blood and body. This makes digestive enzymes, especially proteases, incredibly versatile (and underutilized).
So in addition to the physical clearing of old, damaged, or unwanted cells and debris, enzymes can help to thin mucus secretions.
Thinning is beneficial because mucus that is less thick functions better and is easier to clear and regenerate. Mucus is home to bacteria and also serves as a physical blockade against unwanted invaders. Keeping it refreshed and clear can help trigger repair processes as well.
Proteolytic enzymes may also help to disrupt any microbial biofilm.
Biofilm is often a mucus-like often protein-rich matrix that bacteria produce to hide them from immune activity – that also acts as a home where they can share fuel and communicate messages swiftly to the rest of the colony.
Protected by biofilm, microbes can make us sick, toxic, and fatigued over long periods of time. Enzymes have the ability to eat at proteins or unique starches on the surface of the biofilm – the digestion disrupts the stability of the biofilm, and the microbes are revealed out of hiding and molecularly visible to other aspects of our immune system.
In this way, enzymes can lead to “die-off” when microbes break open cell membranes or cell walls and their contents spill into the body – sometimes including toxins and unwanted proteins, which can make us feel sick.
Enzymes can also help with the clearance of die-off debris in the same way. They can both cause die-off and help one recover from it, by disrupting biofilm and microbial surfaces, yet also digesting the material released afterward.
Mucus is associated with stuffed sinus and nasal passageways, but mucus lines the lungs, and the digestive tract too. “Mucolytic benefits” go deeper than helping with a stuffy nose – notably by maintaining a healthy mucosal environment where trillions of healthy bacteria can live and prosper.
Nattokinase for instance can also help digest nasal polyps – growths of scar tissue in the nasal passages from chronic sinusitis that then also attracts attachment of bacteria and viruses, while physically blocking airways. Nasal polyps make it difficult to breathe and clear mucus. By naturally digesting some of this scar tissue, less surface area is available for unwanted microbial attachment, and the airways are clearer.
When combined with mucus thinning properties of enzymes and N-acetylcysteine – major improvements can be seen in breathing ease and reduced risk of future infection.
Being able to breathe clearly and deeply engages the diaphragm and parasympathetic nervous system – which is a good practice to rest and recover as well, helping to keep the immune system and battle-ready for the next outside invader.
One of the best benefits of meditation comes back to deep and slow breathing that triggers physical relaxation.
The ability of enzymes to eat up fibrous material also helps thin early clots in the blood such as the case with lumbrokinase and serrapeptase – and also help someone recover from muscle activity by helping to clear away damaged tissue so that repair processes can initiate faster – such as papain, bromelain, as well as proteases and serrapeptase.
Individuals with pro-clotting tendencies may benefit from a trial of systemic enzymes prior to going to medical options. Some professionals are comfortable doing both together in a monitored environment and such practice may be useful to reduce or avoid medical intervention and possible side effects of prescription therapy.
When leveraging the systemic benefit of enzymes, you want to take them at least 2 hours after a meal and 30 minutes prior to another meal. Taking them in these windows optimizes their ability to work systemically and not only on food in your digestive tract.
For catch-all proteolytic activity, I use Enzyme Defense Pro by Enzyme Science, Fibrenza by HCP Formulas, or Seazym by US Enzymes.
When it comes to blood quality support, I like LumbroXym by US Enzymes and for nasal scarring/polyps and respiratory-specific support – NattokinasePRO by Enzyme Science.
For candida die-off and support, I use Candida Control by Enzyme Science.
For muscle and joint inflammation and healing support after physical injury, I go with Myomend by Enzyme Defense Pro.
The benefits of these formulas overlap and differ in the concentration of the types of enzymes used. Be mindful to check with your doctor if you have a clotting disorder, are considering surgery of any kind, or are taking blood-thinning medication as there are potential contraindications. Health professionals will differ in their comfort recommending some of these strategies concurrently.
10.) Other Important Factors for Immune Health:
Herbs for Immune System – Baskets of Goodies that Immune Cells Love
Outside of the foundational principles here are some common vitamins and herbs for the immune system worth your attention.
I put herbs in a class of their own because they can certainly help prevent immune issues and coax immune balance – yet may not need to be turned to if you address the other areas above adequately. I see many as welcome luxuries that can do your system a lot of good even when you’re not sick.
Glucoraphanin/sulforaphane from broccoli, ginger, aged garlic, echinacea, astralagus, olive leaf, pomegranate, green tea extract (EGCG), monolaurin, oregano oil, andrographis, and a number of medicinal mushrooms like those found in Mycommunity by Host Defense.
You’ll find various formulas where these elements are mixed and matched for synergy. Many overlap antioxidant properties with gut balance and liver support. Daily Phyto Balance by Doctor Alex Supplements combines some of the most researched herbal extracts known to the industry.
While some herbs like echinacea you do not want to take for long periods of time, many others can help keep your system sharp year-round or seasonally as you desire. MegaMune by Microbiome Labs for instance can be taken daily, whereas MegaViron is designed to be taken more assertively over a 14-day stretch when facing an immediate challenge.
Cannabinoid System Balance – Your Internal Immune Buds
Cannabinoid balance through substances like PEA aside from recreational use of CBD and other cannabis products can be supportive. The cannabinoid system is a powerful system that helps with stress, inflammation, and immune health.
I like a unique protocol using high dose palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidylcholine over a period of 3 months to rebuild stores of raw materials that help our internal cannabinoid system work better independent of direct cannabis use where rules and availability can differ state by state or can be cost-prohibitive due to high taxation.
These options are combined in a one-month supply bundle called the HPA Stress Reset Bundle.
One of my favorite phosphatidylserine sources is TestosterZone by Progressive Labs. The product is safely used for men and women and it’s name can be misleading as to its wide uses – but we know that stress support improves immune activity and hormone activity. The body isn’t concerned about fighting a chronic infection or reproducing when it’s under immediate attack or stressed!
It also adds a pomegranate extract which we know supports the gut and immune health independently.
For a lower dose option, use Phosphatidylserine by Integrative Therapeutics. When in stock, I really like Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidylcholine Powder by InterPlexus as a combination powdered product.
Your body uses these substances to create natural cannabinoid compounds.
It is my theory, that with acute or chronic stress, you simply run out of these raw materials and you can have severe ability to manage pain, stress, and trauma even when you’ve been through worse in the past.
Using cannabis helps in the short term because someone is feeding cannabinoid receptor activity where their internal system is not working or out of balance. The short-term benefit is powerful but can lead to a sort of psychological dependence because you still lack the physical, internal means of dealing with new stresses. Someone may lose motivation to seek out the solutions to the toxic relationships, career, or other types of environments they have found themselves in.
I think many could instead use a stint of replenishing PEA, phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidylcholine levels almost like a yearly mental reboot similar to someone taking on a detox program in January to cut holiday weight and re-establish health goals.
I’ve reviewed many of these benefits in my article: Introducing Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) – An Herbal Extract that Modulates Pain and Mood Receptors to Support Inflammation and a Balanced Stress Response
You can also take lower intake levels to maintain the changes and help your body maintain resilience against immune-suppressing stress. I turn to this protocol with clients who have histories of emotional or physical trauma, or other PTSD-like circumstances and have had great anecdotal results for those who follow through with the support over a 3-month period.
Breastfeeding and Infant Development – Jumper Cables for Lifelong Immune Health
Breastfeeding provides numerous immune factors that confer immediate protection but triggers immune training in the infant, colostrum, lactoferrin, monolaurin/lauric acid, probiotics, prebiotics, and antibodies. I’ve reviewed many of the natural factors found in breastmilk here.
Infant teething can be a means of exploring the environment – allowing the immune system to sample from the outside environment and help train the body to recognize “friend versus foe”.
Kids that grow up on farms, with pets, or lots of brothers and sisters have stronger immune systems on average and experience lower rates of autoimmune symptoms later in life.
Of course, my favorite aspect of immunity to talk about is the gut microbiome. The gut is where 70% of all immune cells in the body reside – and the health of the gut is central to the health of the immune system.
Colostrum supplements are popular but can expose to low levels of dairy allergens. I like serum-derived immunoglobulins that come from beef but are safe for those with whey or casein issues. The go-to supplement for capsules is MegaIgG2000 and you can supplement or use a powdered source more affordably for more dose and double the servings with IgG-Boost 2500 Immunoglobulin Powder.
IgG supplementation boosts IgG levels at the gut where many toxins that they neutralize are produced. IgG is very useful for those with immune or leaky gut issues – and can help one deal with die-off when following anti-microbial protocols.
Of course, breastmilk also contains probiotic and prebiotic compounds that help shape the infant gut and immune system. And, probiotic and prebiotic strategies remain the hub of functional medicine approaches to gut and immune health. We’re learning that the same strategies affect mood and brain health – lung health, and more.
Exposure to Microbes, Foods, Dirt, and More! Weight-Training for Strong Immunity
Remember Rocky IV when Sylvestor Stallone prepares for battle using only the natural elements around him. You see him carrying logs, chopping wood, and throwing boulders around all in the bitter cold to prepare for battle against the menacing Ivan Drago.Our immune system works like a dynamic barcode scanner at the grocery store. It’s scanning codes from proteins and compounds it interacts with constantly from food, people, surfaces, and the air we breathe – deciding what ends up in the grocery bag or thrown away – and adding new codes in its system when it comes across a new type of fruit or vegetable that it’s never scanned before.
Likewise, your immune system doesn’t need fancy equipment to get world-class results either!
The immune system trains its components similar to us going to the gym and lifting weights in different ways to grow stronger. Exposures to bugs in small doses, while our immune system is healthy (and supplied with zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, and more), allow us to build blueprint memory cells more efficiently. These cells then help us fight against future exposures and similar microbes.
In fact exposure to extremes of heat and cold with sauna and cold therapy also help boost heat stress proteins, balance the nervous system, and boost immune activity too.
Sometimes you just have to get outside and get dirty!
Dirt contains microbes that are commensal to our gut – particularly in the Bacillus genus like those found in SporeBoost IG and Megasporebiotic. Getting out into nature is important for sunlight, eyesight, physical movement, and keeping our immune system happy.
Hiding the immune system from new things means that it never gets a chance to learn it in its system and can put us at risk for wider threats and get confused more often than it should.
Food is information and we want as much diverse information as we can so our internal catalogs are robust and better able to respond to future unknowns.
So while the 10 strategies above are powerful vitamin, herb, and lifestyle strategies for immune system health, there’s a bonus strategy that is actually my favorite and arguably the most powerful strategy of them all…
It’s so important, that it needed its own article to really demonstrate why it’s so powerful. It’s so powerful that the body decided to put 70% of all its immune cells in this area.
It’s supporting a healthy gut – with the primary aim to support and maintain a diverse gut microbiome.
In the next installment, we’ll discover how a healthy gut microbiome maintains a resilient immune system and cross-talks with the brain, lungs, joints, and more. You won’t want to miss it!
- Exploring Natural Support Options for Inflammation and Seasonal Immunity
- The Megasporebiotic Recurrent C. diff Study – Benerfits for Immunity, Inflammation, and Leaky Gut
- The 7 Core Strategies to Heal the Gut Lining and Manage Leaky Gut Naturally
- Dr. Rinehart’s Probiotic Blueprint – Avoid Common Probiotic Pitfalls
- Short-Chain Fatty Acids – Benefits for Gut Health, Immunity, and Beyond
- New Discoveries on the Benefits of N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) – From Antioxidant Support to Mental Health and More
- How to Improve the Balance of Friendly Microbes in the Mouth and Why a Healthy Oral Microbiome is Essential for Gut Health, Inflammation, and Whole Body Wellness