Immunity (not Apocalypse) Now!
Modern medicine in general is well equipped to deal with pathogenic bacteria. A wide array of antibiotics exist that can kill and even target specific types of bacteria. While they can have side effects, they are in general life saving.
Viruses on the other hand, are a different story. Thankfully, vaccines exist that are very effective at prevention for various types of pathogenic viruses. However, the anti-viral medicines that exist for treatment are still limited in their scope and effectiveness.
This is because of the nature of a virus. A bacteria is a fully functioning cellular unit, capable of its own reproduction and corresponding numerous working parts. Many drugs exist that can target those various parts of the cell to kill it.
A virus on the other hand, is not a true cellular organism. You can think of it more like strands of protected DNA or RNA in a capsule that work like a poison to disrupt another organisms cellular functions in order to make more copies of itself (the virus).
So when a virus enters the body it goes inside of a cell and once it is inside the cell the body generates an immune system response with antibodies that mark the infected cell to let other cells (such as natural killer cells) know there is a virus in that cell. Your body then attacks those infected cells (very simply speaking).
So to fight viruses you need healthy amounts of antibodies, natural killer cells, and also cytokines like IL-2 (IL-2 helps bring NK cells to the infected cell).
Nutritional support for viruses therefore is meant to support the body’s ability to decrease viral expression and replication. Below are some of my top recommendations for supplements and foods that can help.
Antioxidants like Liposomal Glutathione: many people can be carriers of a virus like the flu virus even with a high viral load but have no symptoms. So if you feel sick it could be an indicator of a lack of antioxidants to quench the damage done by the free radicals released by the immune system to damage the virus. So it’s important to keep the antioxidant level up in your body. My primary go-to antioxidant is now glutathione. Supplement forms now exist as liposomal glutathione that allow for enhanced absorption. Preliminary studies are showing this supplement can increase glutathione levels in the body and enhance the immune system by increasing lymphocytes (the cells of the immune branch that deal with viruses).
There are also many ways to increase the natural production of glutathione in your body. Check out my past blog post here. Other important antioxidants include alpha lipoic acid, selenium, vitamin C, CoQ10, etc. Some of the best food sources of antioxidants include berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
Sleep: is very important for prevention of viruses like the flu and also the lessening of symptoms. Studies show people with a lack of sleep have elevated stress hormones and lowered immunity and increased susceptibility to viruses, as well as decreased immune supporting hormones such as Growth Hormone and DHEA.
Zinc: boosts the immune system via regulation of immune cells like lymphocytes (that fight viruses) and leukocytes. It is also crucial for normal development of natural killer cells. A zinc deficiency can inhibit cytokine production and lymphocyte development as well as IgG (antibody) production. Also macrophages (typically the first line of defense) are adversely affected by zinc deficiency. A good food source of zinc is beans, which also have various properties and fibers that boost immunity in additional ways via improving gut health.
Vitamin D: innate immunity is very important for dealing with organisms we haven’t encountered or have not been vaccinated against. There are special receptors for antigens on immune cells that are constantly seeking out strains of amino acids foreign to our body but common to bacteria and viruses. These receptors are dependent on our vitamin D status. A study of 19,000 people showed that those with the lowest vitamin D levels had a 40% greater chance of upper respiratory tract infections like colds and flus.
Vitamin A: levels decline dramatically during a bacterial or viral infection, and supplementation is advised when having an acute infection: 100-300,000 units of vitamin A per day for 5-7 days can be effective for flu, URTIs, and other infections. Vitamin A also boosts natural killer cells. Note this is dosing for preformed retinol palmitate. Dosing for beta-carotene is a little different. Also very important to note that in pregnancy you want to keep dosing under 5000 IUs, and high dose vitamin A supplementation is only for short term (5-7 days mentioned above).
Probiotics and Arabinogalactan: the immune system is deeply connected to the gut. 70% of our entire body’s lymphatic system is in the digestive tract (GALT: gut associated lymphatic tissue). So any inflammation in the gut or infections could take up 70% of the immune system and you’re left with just 30%. Thus taking a good probiotic can improve immune function. Arabinogalactan powder is another favorite of mine, and shows very strong potential at boosting immunity, such as against viruses like the flu.
Electrolytes and glucose: During a fever the body's energy needed comes from sugar, and the body often gets this sugar (glucose) from protein breakdown via gluconeogenesis from muscle and the gut lining (so you lose your appetite). This response will also produce more acid breakdown compounds. The body needs to buffer these acids with electrolytes like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which it takes from the muscles. As you start losing these electrolytes the muscles don’t work right. So if you have a fever, be sure to drink plenty of electrolytes and glucose.