I’m late to the party, and this time I’m ok with that.
This probably isn’t the first article you’ve read about immune health in the past 6 months. And, to be fair, it’s not the first one I’ve written! But I’ve waited a good, long while to tackle the topic of building immune resilience for one important reason: evidence.
I’ve been holding out on you…studying data, gathering research articles, learning from my peers, and watching with great anticipation as the science “catches up” with this pandemic.
Spoiler alert: it’s going to be YEARS before enough hard, reliable research is completed to say what the “best” strategy is for combating a viral outbreak like this one. But there are some things we do know, and these seemingly simple – but potentially critical – factors not only help keep you healthy, but also build immune resilience.
What is immune resilience?
It’s your body’s ability to absorb and recover from a challenge, especially when that challenge is an external invader. Immune resilience is not just about avoiding infection – which is what most preventative measures like hand-washing, social distancing, & mask-wearing rely on.
Immune resilience involves maintaining an immune response that can distinguish between friend and foe, and when it meets a foe, mounts an appropriate response – not too much, not too little. It also requires coordination of your body’s systems toward a strong yet adaptable immune system. Immune resilience means your body can take a lickin’ and keep on kickin’!
So, what lowers immune resilience?
Well, lots of things. A diet high in processed foods, unhealthy fats, and sugar. A sedentary lifestyle (hello, technology!). Chronically elevated inflammation from toxins in our water, skincare products, and cleaning supplies. STRESS (more on that later). Inadequate amounts of certain vitamins & minerals.
The. List. Goes. On.
In this brief article, I’d like to discuss a few specific resilience-builders that have strong and longstanding evidence, particularly when it comes to the immune response to viruses. This discussion is not medical advice, it’s not a treatment plan or cure for any specific virus, nor does it 100% guarantee protection from illness or harm. It’s information that you may use as you see fit.
Also, I’m not here to speak to conspiracy theories, accuracy of pandemic reporting, or emerging medical interventions for virus treatment or prevention. We’re gonna stick to the strong evidence, keep our focus on what is within our power to implement, and stay away from the drama.
Don’t let the simple elegance of these immune-resilience-boosting agents fool you…this is powerful stuff, and it does make a difference!
As a native Michigander with very fair (and burnable) skin, I am in a high-risk group when it comes to vitamin D deficiency. This simple but mighty nutrient is involved in almost every function of our body, and its effects are notable in building immune resilience. One soon-to-be published study found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with increased risk of COVID-19 infection, and it’s easy to see why.
This particular virus binds to an enzyme on our cells by the name of ACE-2, inactivating it. ACE-2 has strong beneficial effects in the body. Vitamin D is essential for normal ACE-2 activity, and may help prevent “ACE-2 exhaustion,” which has been theorized to account for some of the severity of this particular virus.
Vitamin D enhances healthy immune function, reduces viral replication, and is one of the safest vitamins to supplement – even for kids!
Zinc is a mineral more commonly associated with immune health, and is often deficient in older, more vulnerable populations. Zinc is well-known to be anti-viral because it blocks replication or “growth” of viruses. The tricky part is that Zinc only helps stop viruses if it’s inside the cell, not just floating around in our bloodstream. Thankfully, the next botanical agent on our list has your back!
This bioflavonoid is known to be a Zinc ionophore, meaning it enhances entry of zinc into the cell. That’s great news, given what we just learned about Zinc! Quercetin is found in many types of fruits and veggies – onions and apples being a few common ones.
Quercetin thins mucous, which is very useful for stuffed-up sinuses and congested lungs. It also calms histamine, which is the immune molecule that causes watery eyes, itching, and other allergy symptoms. When it comes to COVID-19, Quercetin is particularly important because it calms the pro-inflammatory molecules that contribute to the “cytokine storm” phenomenon – thought to be one of the more deadly aspects of this particular virus.
SPM – Specific Pro-resolving Mediators
This nutraceutical is a new kid on the block with lots of promise. SPM’s are naturally occurring in our bodies – women tend to make more of them – and they speed the healing process and prevent inflammation from taking hold in the body.
Utilizing a different mechanism for resolution of inflammation, SPM’s don’t just block inflammatory processes, but instead they resolve chronic or longstanding inflammation. They have none of the negative effects of traditional anti-inflammatories, and they also protect against cytokine storm by modulating the immune cells responsible.
SPM’s are being researched for all sorts of inflammatory conditions, and current research shows them to be actively protective for the lungs, with strong studies on folks with asthma.
Though not a vitamin, botanical, or nutraceutical, reduction of the body’s chronic stress response is crucial to immune resilience. Cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones, is ordinarily anti-inflammatory, but long-term elevations can lead to the immune system becoming “resistant,” and increase production of inflammatory molecules that compromise the body’s ability to fight infection.
There are many, many healthy strategies to help your body shift out of a high-stress state, even if your circumstances are packed with unavoidable stress triggers!
In the Resilienteers community library, you’ll find a mini-course all about connecting the dots between stress and the immune system. It’s one of many helpful tools that our members use to build whole-person resilience, including immune resilience! Click HERE to check it out.
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