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get me through this cold & flu season


Now more than ever, people are asking how to support their immune systems. There are many simple ways we can do this including lifestyle, nutrition, supplements and botanicals. In this post I am going to run over some research on ways to boost our immune system.



Lifestyle:

Wash hands regularly!

  • For at LEAST 20 seconds each time - find some sort of tune to sing to pass the time faster


Drink plenty of water

  • Our body consists of ~ 60% water – it is essential for all of our bodies functions


Get enough sleep

  • Whenever I am coming down with a cold I can immediately tell because my body does everything it can to get me to sleep more


Keep your body active and moving through exercise

  • This stimulates blood flow, detoxification and healing processes in our body

  • Studies have indicated that moderate exercise (in comparison to inactivity) can reduce the number of sick days.

  • Keep in mind though, that too heavy of exercise can leave our body and immune system exhausted which can allow microbes to take advantage



Nutrition

  • Increase your consumption of veggies and fruits (more info below)

  • Limit your consumption of sugar – bad bacteria feed on sugar

  • Fun fact – your body can begin craving things dependent on your microbiome...bad bacteria love sweets

  • Limit alcohol.. sorry! It tends to suppress our immune system


Specific nutrients:

Vitamin C

  • A powerful antioxidant that plays a huge role in our immune defence mechanisms

  • Some of our immune cells (neutrophils, macrophages, etc) even use it to kill off microbes

  • If Vitamin C is low it predisposes us to a higher susceptibility to infections which is why we need to keep it high, especially in times like this

  • We are unable to make this vitamin ourselves and so we rely on our food and supplements to achieve an adequate amount

  • Food sources: broccoli, kale, cauliflower, yellow peppers, brussels sprouts, kiwi, oranges

  • Caution: if you take too much in supplemental form you will know as a result of it irritating your bowels


Vitamin D

  • This vitamin plays a role in what we like to call immune homeostasis. Homeostasis means keeping things stable

  • Vitamin D receptors, which allow Vitamin D to work, are actually located on our immune cells which means it must be pretty darn important

  • Studies have also shown that those with lower levels of Vitamin D have increased infection rates

  • As humans we can get this vitamin in two ways: sunshine or food/supplements

  • Food sources: cod, salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, soybeans, tofu


Vitamin E

  • Another powerful antioxidant. So powerful that immune cells keep this vitamin in their cell membranes to protect them from damage

  • Vitamin E is needed for normal function of our immune system and it can also amp our immune system when needed by increasing the number of immune cells as well as enhancing their function

  • Studies have shown that higher levels of vitamin E protect us from infection, specifically the elderly

  • Food sources: vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, soybean), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts), sunflower seeds, soybeans, spinach, broccoli, kiwi


Zinc

  • Zinc is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in our body – many of which take place within our immune system

  • Zinc also has effects on the formation and function of our immune cells which allows us to fight infections and heal faster. More simply put: more zinc = more immune cells, less zinc = less immune cells.

  • Food sources: oysters (a crazy high amount), crab, lobster, chicken, beef, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds and fish


Other supplements:


Probiotics

  • Having a strong, healthy microbiome is crucial in fighting off infection

  • Probiotics provide us with healthy bacteria so that we can fight against bad bacteria

  • These healthy bacteria also modulate our immune response and strengthen our immune system

  • They have also been shown to protect us from viral infections including the common cold


NAC

  • N-acetyl cysteine is the precursor to our Queen antioxidant : Glutathione

  • It can be used for many many things, but one main reason is to break down mucous and congestion in the body

  • NAC and glutathione are crucial in our body’s defence mechanism and protect us from toxic agents of all kinds

  • Supplemental NAC reduced the frequently of influenza like episodes in multiple studies

  • NAC is so powerful that I could write a whole post on it’s uses… maybe one day in the near future


Quercetin

  • A flavonoid from plants that has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activity

  • Quercetin modulates inflammatory pathways that are detrimental to our bodies

  • This flavonoid is also highly anti-viral against many different types of viruses including the influenza viruses

  • Food sources: onions, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, kale, asparagus, capers, apples, berries, citrus, nuts and seeds

  • It is also present in many herbs including Camellia sinensis : green and black tea ~ which leads us into the next section: Botanicals


Botanicals


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

  • For one, it tastes amazing, however it is also very helpful in active infections that are associated with fever, congestion, runny nose and headaches

  • It is also packed with Vitamin C and other antioxidants

  • Elderberry extract has been studied against influenza viruses and it can reduce symptoms and speed up recovery

  • This herb can be toxic if not taken properly so make sure to follow instructions provided


Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

  • An immune system tonic that will help us in times of stress. It is called an immune tonic because it can both stimulate and dampen our immune response depending on what we need. It strengthens our barriers to infection, increases our immune system response when needed and can also dampen our immune response to prevent inflammation and pain

  • The caffeic acids are antimicrobial, the polysaccharides are immune stimulating and antiviral, the alkamides inhibit our inflammatory pathways

  • It has been used to treat upper and lower respiratory infections


Garlic (Allium sativum)

  • We all know it has a very potent smell, and this smell is associated with the compound allicin that allows it to be highly antimicrobial against bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites

  • Interesting fact: the compound alliin gets converted to allicin upon crushing of a garlic glove.. and within seconds is a potent antimicrobial

  • This is an easy one to add into your diet – a clove a day keeps the doctor away?


Medicinal Mushrooms

  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is known as the “mushroom of immortality” – which goes to show how powerful it can be. It favourably modulates our immune system and can even increase our white blood cells so we can better fight off infections. This mushroom also has anti-viral proteins due to its polysaccharide compounds

  • Cordyceps sinesnsis, also known as caterpillar fungus (weird I know) also has antiviral activity and can modulate or stimulate the immune system when needed

  • Turkey Tail Mushroom (Coriolus versicolour) has a specific polysaccharide that has been shown to stimulate the immune system and help in our defence mechanism by enhancing macrophage activity

  • Other medicinal mushrooms include: Turkey tail (Trametes versicolour), Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) and Chaga mushrooms (Inontus obliquus)

  • These mushrooms are so powerful they are being studied in cancer therapy

  • My favourite way to get these mushrooms in: mushroom hot chocolate or mushroom coffee, which can be found at many health food stores


Oregano (Origanum vulgare) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

  • Both herbs are HIGHLY antimicrobial against viruses and bacteria

  • Oregano is a potent antimicrobial that also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

  • Thyme can be used for infections of our respiratory tracks specifically those that leave us with a cough

  • Start cooking with these herbs to get more benefits than just the flavour



I hope I have provided you with enough information on ways to boost our immune system.


Please remember this post is purely educational and to contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your health :)


Let's get through this cold and flu season together xo



Sources:

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  • Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine, 59(6), 881-886.

  • Babu, P. D., & Subhasree, R. S. (2008). The sacred mushroom “Reishi”-a review. American-Eurasian Journal of Botany, 1(3), 107-110.

  • Baeke, F., Takiishi, T., Korf, H., Gysemans, C., & Mathieu, C. (2010). Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Current opinion in pharmacology, 10(4), 482-496.

  • Block, K. I., & Mead, M. N. (2003). Immune system effects of echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review. Integrative cancer therapies, 2(3), 247-267.

  • Büechi, S., Vögelin, R., von Eiff, M. M., Ramos, M., & Melzer, J. (2005). Open trial to assess aspects of safety and efficacy of a combined herbal cough syrup with ivy and thyme. Complementary Medicine Research, 12(6), 328-332.

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  • De Flora, S., Grassi, C., & Carati, L. (1997). Attenuation of influenza-like symptomatology and improvement of cell-mediated immunity with long-term N-acetylcysteine treatment. European Respiratory Journal, 10(7), 1535-1541.

  • Fraternale, A., Paoletti, M. F., Casabianca, A., Oiry, J., Clayette, P., Vogel, J. U., ... & Millo, E. (2006). Antiviral and immunomodulatory properties of new pro-glutathione (GSH) molecules. Current medicinal chemistry, 13(15), 1749-1755.

  • Guggenheim, A. G., Wright, K. M., & Zwickey, H. L. (2014). Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: application to integrative oncology. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, 13(1), 32.

  • Grimble, R. F. (2006). The effects of sulfur amino acid intake on immune function in humans. The Journal of nutrition, 136(6), 1660S-1665S.

  • Harris, J. C., Cottrell, S., Plummer, S., & Lloyd, D. (2001). Antimicrobial properties of Allium sativum (garlic). Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 57(3), 282-286.

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  • Kemmerich, B., Eberhardt, R., & Stammer, H. (2006). Efficacy and tolerability of a fluid extract combination of thyme herb and ivy leaves and matched placebo in adults suffering from acute bronchitis with productive cough. Arzneimittelforschung, 56(09), 652-660.

  • Kinoshita, E., Hayashi, K., Katayama, H., Hayashi, T., & Obata, A. (2012). Anti-influenza virus effects of elderberry juice and its fractions. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 120112.

  • Lee, G. Y., & Han, S. N. (2018). The role of vitamin E in immunity. Nutrients, 10(11), 1614.

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