Inclusion – Supplements, compounds, and the foods that contain them
Now that you’ve removed the foods causing some degree of immune system suppression, we can look at foods and supplements that support the immune system. I’m going to outline the specific compounds known to increase or support immunity, and then foods that contain them and supplemental doses.
Astragalus has been shown to stimulate and activate T-cells.6
When most people think of vitamin D, they think of calcium and bones. Well, vitamin D goes way beyond those functions. It is in control of over 1000 genes in the body, modulating everything from mood to energy to – yes – the immune system.
Alot of immune cells have the vitamin D receptor on them (B, T, and antigen presenting cells) for vitamin D to exert it’s effects. Low vitamin D levels have been strongly correlated to increased susceptibility to infection and increased incidence of autoimmunity.7
If you don’t get a lot of sunlight on your bare skin during the day (and even if you do, to be safe), 2000 IU/day is a good number to supplement with.
Vitamin A is crucial to so many aspects of immune system function. Research has shown that our immune systems need a constant supply of vitamin A incoming to perform many functions.
It plays a big role in the creation, maturation, and function of all innate immune system cells. Deficiency has been shown to cause lower numbers and dysfunction of macrophages and neutrophils.
It plays a big role in the adaptive immune system as well – vitamin A regulates bone marrow homeostasis in a positive way. T-cells from the adaptive immune system originate in the bone marrow, and vitamin A deficiency has been shown to lead to defects in all t-cell mediated immune responses, including t-regulatory cells (cells that police the immune system and make sure it’s not attacking your own body).8
I would recommend getting vitamin A mostly from animal sources, since it’s already in it’s active form of retinol. Whereas plant sources contain a form that has to be converted to retinol, and many individuals have genetic polymorphisms preventing them from converting plant vitamin A to retinol.
Sources of (retinol) vitamin A include: Liver (beef and lamb), mackerel, salmon, tuna, goat cheese, aged cheddar, Camembert, eggs, and butter.
Sources of pro-vitamin A (precursor) include: Sweet potato, carrots, winter squash, kale, collards, turnip greens, red bell peppers.
Vitamin C has been shown to bolster the immune system in many aspects. It supports the barrier function of all epithelial (skin, all surface tissues basically) barriers against pathogens and increases anti-oxidant activity.
It builds up in both macrophages and neutrophils of the innate immune system, enhancing their ability to scavenge pathogens and neutralize them.
It also aids in clearing out used up and near-dead neutrophils (innate immune cells), keeping the immune system “clean” and in better shape in general.
It has been shown to increase proliferation of both B and T cells, and has been used successfully to treat respiratory and systemic infections.14
Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, canteloupe, mangos, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green and red peppers, spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens. However, higher supplemental doses are recommended for increasing immunity.
Supplemental doses of vitamin C range largely – from 1000mg (1g)/day, up to 10,000mg (10g)/day. The half life of vitamin C in the body is 30 minutes, so during times of high infectivity (cold or flu season), I have personally had great success with dosing 2000mg of vitamin C 3 to 4 times daily. I haven’t been sick – not even as much as a cold – in about 7 years.
Zinc is also huge for the immune system. Zinc is crucial to the development of all innate immune cells.
It plays a large role in immune memory of the adaptive immune system by regulating the activation of T lymphocytes, Th1 cytokine production, and recruits helper B cells.
It also plays a large role in B lymphocyte development and antibody production (particularly IgG).15
Zinc has also been shown to prevent viruses from proliferating within cells.
Zinc is high in foods such as oysters, red meat, crab, mussels, chickpeas, lentils, and beans in general.
Supplemental zinc – A good brand of supplemental zinc is Jarrow Zinc Balance. However, I think you should also have Zinc Acetate Lozenges on hand as well. Zinc Balance should be the daily supplement. At first sign of a “scratchy” throat or feeling any sickness like that, let zinc acetate dissolve in your mouth over the course of an hour.
Chlorella has been shown to increase salivary IgA a significant amount compared to placebo; suggesting a significantly enhanced mucosal immune response.9
A good supplemental dose of chlorella (make sure you get a product thats organic with a cracked cell wall) is 6-10 tablets/day.
Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)
Two names for the same thing, eleuthero has been shown to stimulate both T-cells of the adaptive immune system and natural killer cells of the innate immune system.10
Doses of standardized extracts used in studies have ranged from 1.2g – 4g. 2g/day would be a good sweet spot.
Reishi mushroom extract (Ganoderma lucidum) has been shown to strongly influence the proliferation of both T-cells and natural killer cells, and has strong anti-cancer activity.11
Doses used in research to show effects have ranged from 1 – 5.4g of standardized extract. A good middle ground to ensure you’re getting effects would be 3g of a standardized extract/day.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy Basil has been shown to increased proliferation of T lymphocytes and T cytokines.12
Studies with Elderberry extract has shown a lot of positive results – from mechanistic studies to in vivo (human studies). It, like zinc, appears to prevent viruses from replicating within cells by blocking important viral glycoproteins.
It modulates the immune system by stimulating cytokines.
It has been specifically shown to minimize the effects of influenza infection, and has a modest effect in the pre-infection phase, but a very robust effect in the post infection phase.18
Nigella Sativa increases innate immune system activity – It increases macrophage killing potential and phagocytic activity. In other words, it increases the ability of macrophages to suck up pathogens and neutralize them.13
The dosage used in studies was 2g of a standardized extract/day.
Garlic extract, specifically stabilized allicin at 180mg, has been shown to be very anti-microbial, specifically against bacterial infection in studies.
Mechanistically, it has been shown to stimulate macrophages by activating them and increasing their phagocytic activity, lymphocytes, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, and eosinophils. It modulates cytokine production and immunoglobulin secretion.16
As stated earlier, efficacious doses in studies were 180mg of stabilized allicin/day. If using a regular garlic extract, 3-5g a day is appropriate.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC is the precursor to the body’s master anti-oxidant – glutathione. NAC supplementation has been shown to improve all aspects of lymphocyte and neutrophil function, as well as modulate cytokine levels in a positive manner.17
Doseages used in studies were 600mg NAC/day.