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BUILDING IMMUNITY FOR GREATER RESISTANCE TO VIRUSES
Article by Eliza Robinson, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist (BHSc)
Available for consult at Healthlands, MarketPlace Leichhardt, 02 9560 0621
Immune health is a topic people tend to pay more attention to as winter and peak flu-season approaches. With the growing concerns over the spread of Corona Virus, I have seen an increased vigilance among the community when it comes to improving their immune system.
The general advice from medical professionals to ensure adequate hygiene including hand washing, sanitizing, minimizing close contact with other people, and staying home if you are unwell is the best way to prevent the spread of viral infections. However, there are also several natural ways in which we can potentially improve immune function.
When it comes to boosting immunity, many people think of vitamin C first and foremost, but there are so many other nutrients involved in immune function that are equally important to optimize. The list below is not complete as nature has too much to offer to fit into one article, but it is a great starting point for those wanting to learn more about holistic and preventative immune health.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it can be stored in the body’s adipose (fat) tissue. The greatest source of vitamin D is the sun, and so naturally deficiency is common in winter when our exposure to sunlight is lower. Vitamin D is readily available in organ meats such as liver, however very few of us actually eat these foods in a modern, western cuisine. This can mean that during winter, supplementation is the most practical way to increase the body’s vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of viral infections, and this may be because some of our body’s immune cells have vitamin D receptors. Clinical studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of contracting influenza viruses, and also an increased risk of respiratory complications from the influenza virus. (Sundaram & Coleman 2012) Adequate vitamin D levels reduce the risk of infection and associated complications.
Zinc is a highly relevant immune nutrient, and has been shown to be efficacious in the treatment of a variety of infections. Zinc levels impact cell-mediated immunity, and a deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of infection, and infection-related complications. (Sandstead & Prasad 2010) In other words, having sufficient zinc levels means you are less likely to contract infectious diseases, and better equipped to recover from them quickly if you do happen to become infected.
There is a reason that vitamin C is in the majority of commercial nutritional immune formulas - it works. Unfortunately many studies on vitamin C are poorly designed and either do not use a high enough dose, or use a form that is poorly absorbed, and then conclude that vitamin C “does not work”. However one study has shown that in influenza-infected rats, vitamin C supplementation reduced the incidence of lung pathology. (Li, Maeda & Beck 2006) This is potentially significant as the development of secondary pneumonia and lung pathology from current strains of influenza is very concerning.
I often refer to iron as the forgotten immune nutrient. Many people are deficient in iron, and while supplementation should only be done under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner as it is possible to take too much iron and reach toxicity, iron deficiency can result in poor immune health. Iron is involved in the initial creation and differentiation of immune cells, so inadequate levels can result in a lowered general immune response. (Beard 2001)
Elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, is a wonderful herbal medicine with potent antiviral activity. One study found it to be particularly useful in reducing severity and duration of infection when used in the late stage of Influenza infection. (Torabian, Valtchev, Adil & Dehghani 2019)
Echinacea purpurea is a very popular immune-boosting herb that can either be used as a preventative measure to enhance immune activity before we fall ill, or for its anti-viral properties once we are infected. One study found a significant increase in antibody production in mice that were administered Echinacea during infection as opposed to those who received no treatment. (Freier et al, 2003)
Always speak to a qualified health professional before taking any herbal or nutritional supplements. The article above contains general information only and does not constitute medical advice.
For more information or to book a Naturopathic consultation with Eliza, please either visit her in-store at Healthlands, or contact her via the links at the top of the article.
Sundaram & Coleman 2012, ‘Vitamin D and Influenza’, Advances in Nutrition, vol. 3, no. 4, pp 517-525.
Li, Maeda & Beck 2006, ‘’Vitamin C Deficiency Increases the Lung Pathology of Influenza Virus-Infected Gulo -/- Mice’, The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 136, no. 10, pp 2611-2616
Sandstead & Prasad 2010, ‘Zinc Intake and Resistence to H1N1 Influenza’, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 100, no. 6, pp 970-971
Beard 2001, Iron Biology in Immune Function, Muscle Metabolism and Neuronal Functioning’, The Journal of Nutrition,vol. 131, no, 2, pp 568S-580S.
Torabian, Valtchev, Adil & Dehghani 2019, ‘Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Journal of Functional Foods’, vol. 54, pp 353-360.
Freier, Wright, Klein, Voll, Dabiri, Cosulich & George 2003, ‘Enhancement of the Humoral Immune Response by Echinacea purpurea in Female Swiss Mice’, Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, vol. 25, no. 4.