“The secret to a long life, full of happiness, is good health.” – Unknown
When asked in a Harvard Medical School survey in 2013, more than 1/3 of the 1,579 Americans asked said that they took supplements “to boost immunity.”
Is it For Real?
While science is still struggling to define the idea of “boosting immunity,” most of us seem to have an instinctive understanding of it. We agree that “strong immunity” can help us live in good health and fight off diseases. As we age, this becomes increasingly difficult. According to the Harvard Medical School, “Researchers believe that the aging process somehow leads to a reduction of immune response capability, which in turn contributes to more infections, more inflammatory diseases, and more cancer.”
Why Does Immunity Need “Boosting”?
As we age, the same everyday factors like stress, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, and the overuse of prescription medication begin to catch up with us. Before we know it, we have the perfect storm brewing. Researchers are yet to identify the single “smoking gun;” everything from reduction of T-cell function (immune system cells) to immune cell death is being investigated as the cause of low immunity.
Holistic systems of medicine that are thousand of years old from China and India postulate that living in overly sanitized environments, such as the U.S., leads to immune compromise. Immune systems out of balance may explain the higher incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases in the west.
What Can We Do?
The simple things we can do to keep our immunity strong remain timeless; eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, drink in moderation, do not smoke, get regular exercise, and get preventive checkups regularly as appropriate for your age.
Do We Need Supplements?
The food we eat simply does not have the nutrients it used to have. Widespread use of chemicals in agriculture has robbed the soil of necessary micronutrients. Many developed nations are discovering that people suffer from “micronutrient malnutrition” due to this soil depletion and other factors.
We face the brunt of this even more severely as we age. According to the World Health Organization, “Micronutrient deficiencies are often common in elderly people due to a number of factors, such as their reduced food intake and a lack of variety in the foods they eat.”
In fact, “Micronutrient Malnutrition” is one of the key avenues of research into how aging may compromise immune function.
Supplementing vital nutrients—such as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes—must always be done with medical supervision, especially in the elderly. And when done right, the difference this can make to boost immunity and overall health can be remarkable!
So Many Choices: What to Pick?
The divine dozen!
A Good Multivitamin
In his book, “The Supplement Pyramid,” Dr. Michael Smith puts a high-quality multi-vitamin at the absolute “foundation” of good health. A twice-a-day supplement with high-quality ingredients, taken with major meals, can help augment nutrition from your food in a very big way. Get a good product, with the least fillers, at a good price. The old saying holds true that “the most expensive supplement is the one that does you no good.” What seems to work for many: 1 tablet, twice a day. Here’s what a multivitamin should ideally contain.
A vitamin whose 15 seconds in the sun has lasted for years now… and rightly so! Vitamin D, as measured in most standard blood tests, is a “pre-hormone,” which means that it is converted into a hormone and interacts with several other hormones in the body to ensure your great health and immunity. Some cutting-edge doctors like to dose this vitamin at 50,000 IU per day during acute flu attacks, but most agree that 60,000 IU per week is a safe dose for a majority of people. What seems to work for many: 60,000 IU per week
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We’ve all heard of fish oil and how the Japanese seem to be in excelled heart health because of it. Well that’s not all that omega-3 fatty acids are good for. They work by lowering inflammation in your body. Low-grade, long-term inflammation—i.e, a body that is always on high alert—is an immune system out of balance. Get these good fats in to keep out depression, as well as lower cardiac risk and increase cognitive function. What seems to work for many: 3 g a day
90% of the 100 trillion cells in our body belong to other microscopic creatures. They live everywhere—especially in our gut—and govern our immune reactions. That means if they are the right friendly kind, that’s 90% of the immunity battle won! Look for products with 10–20 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) per capsule, and 6–7 strains (types) of bacteria in them. What seems to work for many: 1 capsule, 20 billion CFU a day.
The vitamin that formed the core of 2-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling. He attributed his longevity to vitamin C (he lived in great health to the age of 93). This humble vitamin lays claim to being useful across the spectrum of human health—from shortening the duration of the common cold episodes to helping to prevent and even retard cancer – a true immune booster. Doses as high as 10 grams a day have been used safely, though 1–2 grams is seen to produce safe benefits with minimal side effects (runny tummy). What seems to work for many: 1 g a day.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Plants that grow under extremely stressful conditions (harsh weather, sunlight, extreme temperatures, etc.) are forced to evolve survival mechanisms. They become extraordinarily skilled at tolerating stress and become champion immune boosters. Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb from the Indian Himalayas, is known to lower anxiety, stress, and harmful chemicals in the blood. It’s an immune system modulator that’s been used for centuries. What seems to work for many: 300–500g 3 times a day.
A mineral with a strong connection to our immune health, zinc levels can decline in the human body with age. “Immunosenescence” is the term doctors use to describe gradual decline of the immune system with age. Supplementing with zinc can help to combat this. At the first sign of a scratchy throat, many folks still reach for those zinc pills, and it seems to work like a charm! What seems to work for many: 50 mg a day. A word of caution: Long-term use of zinc at this dose can lead to copper loss from the body, so take a break from it every now and then.
This potent antioxidant can help turn up immune function in people with compromised immune systems. At around 200 mcg, taken along with 400 IU of vitamin E complex, it packs a 1–2 punch that can improve thyroid function, a very important determinant of overall health. What seems to work for many: 200 mcg with 400 IU of vitamin E complex. Diabetics should check with their doctor before dosing selenium.
Another Eastern herb, used for hundreds of years, astragalus is a potent activator of T cells in the immune system. A go-to herb in Chinese medicine for colds and upper respiratory tract infections, it is well worthy of inclusion in our top dozen. What seems to work for many: 1 g a day.
Coenzyme Q10 helps every cell in the body with energy production, and it also protects cells from oxidative stress. It mops up free radicals and prevents damage, helping the immune system function more smoothly. Your heart will thank you big time for this vitamin-like substance, since it is the primary fuel for heart muscle! What seems to work for many: 200 mg a day.
Found naturally in things like baker’s yeast and shiitake mushrooms, beta glucans have been used traditionally in Japan and other eastern countries to boost immune activity—namely through stimulating white blood cells. Upper respiratory infections respond well to beta glucans, and they are known to even make antibiotic drugs more effective, thereby lowering the dose you need. What seems to work for many: 200 mg of Beta 1,3/1,6 D-Glucan.
The first milk from a cow after she births is a fantastic immune booster, full of probiotics and immune factors that help humans. It works to seal our “leaky gut,” a condition that can otherwise let large food particles enter the bloodstream and cause immune havoc. It also neutralizes viruses by attracting them to itself and rendering them inert. What seems to work for many: 1,500–3,000 mg.
So that’s the immune-boosting dozen we use. Let us know if you’ve found others that work better for you. Remember: It’s a growing, evolving science; no one size fits all. Happy immune health!