Why do some people get lightly touched by a virus, yet others are off work ill for a week or more?
Why do viruses spread and affect people far more severely in the winter?
With the swine flu scare, and the seasonal increase in colds and flu’s none of us want to be debilitated by a nasty virus. There are many things you can do to improve your body’s innate immunity – that is – your ability to fight viruses, so you don’t succumb, or their effect is mild and short lived.
As a child and young person I remember getting constantly sick, gastro bugs (lots of puking!) cold and flu viruses, ear and throat infections. After changing my diet, healing my gut and taking a few (not many) supplements, and I either don’t catch anything or get a very light dose.
In this newsletter I look at proven ways to build a strong immune system.
Why do many people succumb to viruses in the winter? The Vitamin D connection
The belief to date has been that in winter we catch more colds because we are in closer contact with others, but think about it – we live and work in close contact all year round. So what is it about winter that makes us more susceptible?
Current research shows that Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin may be the reason. When was the last time you showed any skin to the sun? Chances are – unless you are taking a supplement or exposing a lot of skin for at least ½ hour to the sun (without sun-block) each week, your vitamin D levels are rapidly depleting. What about food? Seafood and supplements are the only foods that have any decent amount of vitamin D. If you are not getting regular sun exposure – current research shows you need to take a minimum of 1000iu Vitamin D3 per day. Most people need 2000iu – 5000iu per day to get anywhere near ideal vitamin D levels. Most multivitamins contain a fraction of this amount.
Vitamin D increases your ability to fight infections by increasing your body’s production of antimicrobial peptides which can destroy viruses, bacteria and fungi. In one study, doses of Vitamin D were given to 208 women over a period of three years. Half the women were given placebos. Those who were given vitamin D reported a 70% reduction in colds and flu. Read this article to find out how to measure your vitamin D levels and how to supplement to get the right levels. Vitamin D levels, how to know if you are deficient, and correcting the deficiency Zone Nutrition Shop Vitamin D supplements (Australia and New Zealand)
Build a strong immune system – one that does not succumb to infection.
Your body will run far better if you have the vitamins and minerals that provide building blocks for the cells needed to fight infections, and keep its systems running well. If you’ve ever had seen the difference between a plant in poor soil and one in rich soil, it is no different for humans. Our soils are deficient in many minerals critical for our immune system. Unless you eat food that is nutrient rich, or take supplements you may be deficient.
Selenium is highly deficient in NZ soils.
Selenium deficiency appears to enhance the virulence or progression of some viral infections. Deficiency decreases a powerful anti-oxidant made in our bodies called glutathione peroxidase. When oxidative stress is increased, this allows viruses to mutate and become more virulent.
Just 1 – 2 Brazil nuts a day will give you what you need. Supplements should contain Selenomethionine, an organic form of selenium that occurs naturally in foods, and is about 90% absorbed.
Zinc deficiency is likely unless particular foods are eaten or supplements taken. Adequate zinc intake is essential in maintaining the integrity of the immune system, and zinc-deficient individuals are known to experience increased susceptibility to a variety of infections. A recent meta-analysis found that zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of pneumonia and respiratory tract illnesses in young children.
Oysters have a large amount of zinc. Meat, seafood and nuts have smaller amounts. Some people notice a big improvement in immunity when they take a supplement, (a good multi will have enough zinc).
Copper is known to play an important role in the development and maintenance of immune system function. Copper deficiency results in abnormally low numbers of white blood cells called neutrophils. These are cells which fight invaders. Copper is found in shellfish, beef liver, seeds, nuts and mushrooms.
Vitamin A is known as the anti-infective vitamin, because it is required for normal functioning of the immune system. The skin and mucosal cells (cells that line the airways, digestive tract, and urinary tract) function as a barrier and form the body’s first line of defense against infection. Vitamin A is required to maintain the integrity and function of these cells. Vitamin A is necessary for growth of white blood cells, which play critical roles in the immune response. One study found children who are only mildly deficient in vitamin A have a higher incidence of respiratory disease and diarrhea than those who are not deficient.
Yellow vegetables and fruit such as carrots and pumpkin, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach contain beta carotene which is converted to vitamin A. Calf’s liver and codliver oil contain vitamin A. Vitamin A Sources
Low vitamin B6 intake has been associated with impaired immune function, especially in the elderly. One study found that the amount of vitamin B6 required to reverse immune system impairments in the elderly was 2.9 mg/day for men and 1.9 mg/day for women; these vitamin B6 requirements are higher than the current RDA, but this amount is found in a good multivite. It is also found in chicken, turkey, bananas and spinach.
What about Vitamin C?
In the past 30 years, numerous studies have examined the effect of vitamin C supplementation on the prevention and treatment of colds. The results showed that vitamin C supplementation in doses up to 2 g/day did not decrease the incidence of colds. However, in a subgroup of marathon runners, skiers and soldiers training in the Arctic, doses ranging from 250 mg/day to 1 g/day decreased the incidence of colds by 50%. Vitamin C can reduce the duration of colds; overall, studies show supplementation reduces the duration of colds by about 8% in adults and 14% in children. Most of the trials used a dose of 1 g/day.
Quercetin prevents viral illness in Athletes
Another substance called quercetin, an antioxidant (found in grapes, red onions and apples) is proving to be more powerful than vitamin C in preventing viral illness in people under extreme physical stress.
In a University study forty cyclists received 1,000 milligrams quercetin combined with vitamin C and niacin to aid absorption, or a placebo for five weeks. During the third week of the trial, the athletes rode a bicycle to the point of exhaustion three hours per day for three days. Athletes training at this level have high levels of oxidative stress, high stress hormone levels, and muscle damage.
Only 5 % of the group that received quercetin reported illness after being physically stressed, compared with 45% of the participants who received a placebo. The athletes taking the quercetin supplement also maintained their ability to react to an alertness test when exhausted, whereas those who took the placebo became measurably slower.
I find if I start to get early cold symptoms taking quercetin (500mg/day) is effective at warding it off.
Probiotics and a healthy gut increase immunity
Did you know that we have up to 2 kilos (90 trillion) bacteria living in our gut? Good or friendly bacteria aids digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as optimal function of the immune system. In addition these friendly bacteria help make vital nutrients including vitamins K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and folate.
A German study found that supplementing with a probiotic (healthy gut bacteria) plus vitamins and minerals for at least three months reduced the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections by 14%, and lessened their symptoms by 19%. Those taking the probiotic were sick for ½ the time, compared to those who did not take a supplement.
You can increase your healthy gut bacteria by taking a probiotic and also feeding these bacteria the right food. This includes soluble fibre like that found in vegetables. Refined carbohydrates and sugars on the other hand, encourage the growth of bad bacteria and fungus.
Another issue that affects many peoples health is leaky gut and gut irritation caused by some foods. Leaky gut – where there are gaps between the cells that line the gut – let particles of viruses, bacteria, fungal and food through. Your immune system will be compromised, so do take out all gut irritating foods. The worst by far is gluten found in wheat, rye and oats. However all grains, legumes and diary cause gut irritation. Cut these foods out for a month and see if this makes a difference to your health.
Increase immune boosting prostaglandin hormones with Omega 3
Prostaglandins or eicosanoids are hormones your body makes from the essential fats we eat. Many clients have reported big reductions in the number of colds and infections when they take high concentrate Omega 3, which promotes production of anti-inflammatory and immune boosting prostaglandins.
Garlic and Echinacea reduce colds
Both Garlic and Echinacea have reduced the occurrence of colds in studies.
In one study garlic or a placebo was given to 146 volunteers. Over a 90-day period during the winter when most colds occur, just 24 colds were recorded among those taking the supplement, compared to 65 amongst those taking the placebo. The study also found that those taking the supplement who did catch a cold were more likely to make a speedier recovery than those taking the placebo, and the chances of re-infection following a cold were significantly reduced.
Several clinical trials have shown that people who take echinacea as soon as they feel sick reduce the severity of their cold and have fewer symptoms than those who do not take the herb.
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extract has antiviral and antimicrobial properties – a supplement I find particularly effective is Nutralife Oliviral. Available widely in New Zealand and Australia
Regular Moderate Exercise Boosts Immunity
Research is finding a link between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system. One study showed those who walked briskly for 40 minutes a day had half as many sick days due to colds or sore throats as those who don’t exercise.
Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response and a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. During moderate exercise immune cells also circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses.
However, long intense workouts have the opposite effect. Intense exercise seems to cause a temporary decrease in immune system function. Research has found that during intense physical exertion, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity.
Lack of sleep and stress decrease immunity.
Lack of sleep and stress increase stress hormones and decrease your body’s ability to rally your immune system.
1. Eat a high nutrient diet, (avoid processed foods in packets) of course the paleo diet is exceptionally high in micro-nutrients, far higher than the average Kiwi diet. However our soils lack certain minerals so it may be useful to take a good quality multi vitamin, multi mineral and multi antioxidant daily, one that includes Zinc 10- 15mg, Beta-carotene 5000- 10,000IU, Selenium 50 – 100mcg, Copper 500 mcg.
2. Vitamin D3. Take at least 1000iu per day during the winter. Most people need to take 2000- 5000iu per day to get ideal levels. Ask your Doctor for a vitamin D test – if it shows deficiency a high dose Vit D3 will be prescribed.
3. Probiotics. Take a high strength probiotic daily
4. Omega 3. A daily dose of 1000 – 3000mg EPA + DHA from purified fish oil is required to keep omega 3 levels at ideal. Some people need much more.
5. Eat a high nutrient balanced diet: low fat protein including seafood, lots of colourful veggies and fruit, and good fats – olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
6. Get at 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night, and avoid or reduce stress (Magnesium Citrate will help give you a good sleep)
7. Moderate to high intensity exercise, 20 – 40 minutes per day
8. If you do long periods of intense exercise take an extra 500mg Quercetin per day.
9. Take garlic regularly; as a supplement or 1 clove per day in food, and Echinacea when you have a cold.
10. If you are prone to viral infections take 1 Oliviral a day to help prevention. Take 2 – 4 day when you have a cold.
(I find the combination of Quercetin and Oliviral extremely good at stopping a cold in its tracks)
You can purchase supplements from our shop
Zone Micronutrient support 47 vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including quercetin.
Source Naturals Vitamin D3
Omega 3, Zone Shop