Updated: Dec 15, 2021
by Thrive Wellness Naturopath and Nutritionist Lawrence Tredrea.
The immune system is constantly supporting us by fighting against viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, as well as modulating inflammation. Unfortunately, with the pollution and stress that comes along with Hong Kong living, it’s important to take care of your immune system. Besides the foundation of a healthy diet, quality sleep, sunshine, stress management and regular exercise, here are some key nutrients and herbs that help ensure your immune system can function optimally.
Zinc is an essential element and is crucial for the maintenance of the immune system, with zinc being needed for over 300 enzymatic reactions. Unfortunately Zinc deficiency is common, affecting up to a quarter of the population in developing countries. Zinc has been found to reduce the symptom severity, duration and frequency of the common cold. Zinc also helps to support inflammation that occurs with viral infections which is essential to help the body and immune system communicate for better symptom outcomes. The thymus gland which is a part of the immune system and helps to ensure white blood cells are mature and functioning optimally requires zinc to function proper, hence its importance for the immune system.
Vitamin C is a water soluble antioxidant and supports the immune system with its antioxidant properties and its role in collagen synthesis required for stabilization of epithelial barriers. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the white blood cells such as leucocytes, neutrophils and monocytes. Vitamin C is rapidly used by these cells during infections to deal with the oxidative stress that occurs as well as helping to modulate the inflammatory response. Vitamin C has also been shown to help lower histamine which may make it useful for conditions such as eczema, asthma and hay fever.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of a wide range of adverse health outcomes. The respiratory system expresses many vitamin D receptors which enable it to play an important role in how the lungs recognize and respond to pathogens/infections. Vitamin D is specifically needed for most of the immune functions in both the innate and adaptive systems. Simplified, the innate immune system is essentially a group of function that everyone’s immune system is capable of, whereas as the adaptive is a set of immune cells that learn and respond to depending on what an individual person is exposed to. Studies have also shown that autoimmune conditions such as Hashimotos are correlated to vitamin D deficiency, with symptoms decreasing with vitamin D supplement intervention.
There is a saying by Hippocrates that “all disease starts in the gut”. With a large proportion of the western population not consuming enough fruits and vegetables, it is one factor that negatively impacts overall health due to the impact on the microbiome (all the microbes that live in you digestive system). It is estimated that over 40 trillion bacteria inhabit the colon of adults, with Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes being the two main bacteria in the human intestinal tract (accounting for over 90% of all microorganisms). Probiotics are microorganisms that may be beneficial to health when consumed, with Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus strains being some of the more common types being utilized by health professionals. Probiotics have an impact on the intestinal tract by regulating gut mucosal immunity, regulating potentially harmful pathogens, producing metabolites (such as short-chain fatty acids and bile acids), support the function of the colon cells, strengthening the intestinal barrier, modulating intestinal inflammation and enhancing antigen-specific immune responses.
Throughout history, mushrooms have been used for their dietary fibers, nutritional value and therapeutic uses. Modern medicine research has identified several metabolites from mushroom polysaccharides (such as beta-glucans) now known to have the immune-modulatory functions on both innate and adaptive immune systems. Some of these mushrooms include reishi, maitake, turkey tail, lions mane and even the common button mushroom. In fact, research shows that daily dietary consumption of white button mushrooms is able to increase IgA (helps to modulation the immune system and inflammation in the gut) by 50% after 1 week of consumption and the enhancement lasts for 1 week after stopping.
References Read S, et. al, 2019, ‘The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity’, Adv Nutr.
Haase H & Rink L, 2009, ‘The immune system and the impact of zinc during aging’, Immun Ageing.
Maggini S, et. al, 2010, ‘Essential Role of Vitamin C and Zinc in Child Immunity and Health’, The Journal of International Medical Research
Lucas R, et. al, 2014, ‘Vitamin D and immunity’, F1000Prime Reports
Hansdottir S & Monick M, 2013, ‘Vitamin D Effects on Lung Immunity and Respiratory Diseases’, NIH
Zhao R, et al. 2021, ‘Immunomodulatory Function of Vitamin D and Its Role in Autoimmune Thyroid Disease’, Front. Immunol.
Zhang C, et. Al, 2019, ‘Interactions between Intestinal Microflora/Probiotics and the Immune System’, BioMed Research International
Chakraborty N, et. al, 2021, ‘Mushroom Polysaccharides: a Potent Immune-Modulator’, BIR
Jeong C, et. al, 2012, ‘Dietary intake of Agaricus bisporus white button mushroom accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers’, Nutrition.