By now, you are probably starting to wonder if the industry will ever stop talking about immune functioning and supporting immune health. The truth is, we live is a new world now where having a healthy immune system is more critical than ever, and universally everyone now knows this due to recent events around the world. People want to stay healthy and thrive, and having a healthy immune system to help combat illness, whether COVID or another virus, is going to be a priority that won’t go away anytime soon. One trend that we will continue to see is prophylactic immune system support, or ways in which people who are healthy can stay that way by supporting their immune health to hopefully prevent them from getting sick in the first place. Let’s take a look at some trending natural ways in which people can help to protect their immune health and support their immune system functioning.
There is a significant amount of research to suggest that zinc is a crucial part of healthy immune function. Recent studies found that historically zinc deficiency was even responsible for early death as it made deficient individuals extremely susceptible to severe infection. Zinc is involved the cell-mediated immune response, specifically in the function of helper T cells. It is also involved with overall healthy human development, so its deficiency can also lead to an under-developed innate immune system. What’s more, zinc is an antioxidant that works to protect cells against serious damage from free radicals which can compromise cell membranes.
Zinc deficiency to such an extreme degree that it causes serious damage to the immune system and other bodily functions is an affliction that mainly affects developing countries. Nonetheless, it is a nutrient that everyone should be conscientious of consuming, especially when illness rates spike in the fall and winter as even mild zinc deficiency can result in decreased T-cell function, which can negatively impact the immune system.1
There are a variety of sources of zinc to consider. According to the National Institutes of Health, lobster, crab and oysters contain some of the highest dietary concentrations of zinc, along with beef and pork. If you do not eat meat or seafood, baked beans, fortified cereals, pumpkin seeds and cashews are also good sources of zinc.2 There are also a variety of supplements available that contain zinc.
Vitamin C is another micronutrient that affects both innate and adaptive parts of the immune system. This vitamin is known to be a powerful antioxidant, and defend cells from free radical damage. It helps to keep the integrity of cells intact, and severe vitamin C deficiency can result in the serious illness, scurvy, which can impair wound healing and make the body highly susceptible to serious infection. Vitamin C is also very important to the function of white blood cells as they accumulate large amounts of vitamin C and use it to defend against oxidative damage. As white blood cells are a crucial to destroying pathogens, their functionality is of the utmost importance to the immune system.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is much higher than many other vitamins and mild deficiency is very common in developed countries like the United States due to inadequate lifestyle choices and exposure to pollution. Fortunately, it is also abundant in many foods.3 According to Medline Plus, vitamin C can be found in fruits like cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruits, kiwis, mangoes, papaya and pineapple. It is also found in high amounts in cruciferous vegetables, bell peppers, squash and tomatoes. Other foods like cereals are often fortified with vitamin C, as well.4 Of course, there are also vitamin C supplement available. Some combine vitamin C with other immune-supporting ingredients, such as zinc. Frunutta makes a sublingual zinc plus vitamin C that is easy to take people it dissolves right under the tongue. Elderberry
Elderberry is a less researched supplement in terms of its immune benefits. It is thought to decrease recovery time from colds and other mild illnesses. It does this by boosting antibody proliferation and promoting general immune system activation.5 Elderberry can be used as a holistic treatment to mild colds and is not shown to have negative side effects. If you are looking for a safe alternative to traditional cold medicine to supplement your immunity boosting arsenal, elderberry can be a viable addition.6
Colloidal sliver is a lesser known supplement for immune support, but it is beginning to gain popularity. Colloidal silver supplements consist of small particles of silver suspended in a liquid.7 Strength and particle size are particularly important when determining the best colloidal silver for immune support. A true colloidal silver is achieved when the “size” of the silver colloid is 1-100 nanometers (smaller the better). Natural Path Silver Wings silver size optimally ranges between 0.6-3 nanometers making it safe and bioavailable. Safe size particle and a stable particle that does not clump. Silver Wings supplements are available in multiple strength, as measured by parts per million—50 PPM is best for maintenance, 250 PPM is moderate strength, good for keeping you healthy while traveling, and 500 PPM for extra strong immune support. Colloidal silver is also available in ionic and atomic forms. Atomic colloidal silver is often more stable because it is not missing one of its electrons. Ionic silver has one less electron than the atomic form and is processed with electricity, making it more unstable. Atomic silver is a safer and far more effective option.
It seems that, at least for the next year or so, colds, flus and viruses will not be a seasonal concern, but rather something that is on the minds of consumers on a daily basis. Having a variety of natural options for people to support their immune systems will be helpful to not only help with combating illness, but also with peace-of-mind in knowing that there are options out there to help people stay healthy. While not doubting the health benefits described above, we also must acknowledge the placebo effect and the health benefits that can be derived psychologically by knowing that one is taking something to protect or support their health.
1 Prasad AS. Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. Molecular Medicine, 2008. 14(5-6): 353-357. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/.
2 National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/.
3 Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 2017. 9(11): 1211.
4 Medline Plus. Vitamin C. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002404.htm.
5 Barak V, Halperin T, Kalickman I. (2001). The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines. European Cytokine Network. 12(2): 290-296. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11399518/.
6 Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. Journal of International Medical Research, 2004. 32(2): 132-140. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15080016/.
7 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2017. Colloidal Silver. Retrieved from: www.nccih.nih.gov/health/colloidal-silver.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.