There’s this old tale of four thieves back in the 15th century.
They may have been grave robbers, maybe house robbers – the story changes depending on where you read it. The gist of the story is this: the thieves traveled all over the place robbing people, as professional thieves do, and…
They never got sick.
They seemed to have bulletproof immune systems. Turns out that they had a habit of putting specific herbs and spices into their bodies that stabilized and supported their bodies’ natural immunological responses.
These included cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, eucalyptus, and more. You can actually find different essential oil blends called “thieves” essential oils, made by a few different companies. The oils are designed to make your immune system work better, enhance the activity of your white blood cells, and increase the strength of your lymphatic fluid and circulation.
This is just one example of how traditional, old or ancient medicine can help us in our uphill battle against an ever-adapting microcosm of bacteria and viruses that come at us from every direction. On the bus, in the airport, the subway, the car, or just your kids coming home from school, these attacks can come from any quarter. So your immune system is pretty important, to put it mildly, but, the immune system isn’t as simple as it’s made out to be. You can’t just pop some vitamin C and become invincible.
Immune System Basics
The immune system is made up of six different components that help fight off pathogens.
The lymphatic system: A network of organs, nodes, vessels, and tissue that transport lymph fluid throughout the body. Lymph fluid contains infection-fighting white blood cells and the organs and nodes are where toxins, waste, and other unwanted debris are filtered.
The respiratory system: A series of organs that take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Airways are covered with a mucus layer that traps pathogens and other particles before they can reach the lungs. Tiny hair-like, muscular projections called cilia propel the mucus layer.
Skin: The skin is the human body’s largest organ that serves as a barrier to the external environment. The skin immune system contains an estimated 20 billion T cells (a type of white blood cell that turns on or off the immune response or attacks and destroys harmful material) that control skin microbes and educates the immune system as a whole.
Lymphocytes: Small white blood cells (WBCs) that seek and destroy pathogens and orchestrate an immune response. The two types of lymphocytes are B-cells, which make antibodies that attack bacteria and other toxins, and T-cells, which help destroy infected or cancerous cells. Killer T-cells are a subgroup of T-cells that kill cells that are infected with viruses and other pathogens or are otherwise damaged. Helper T-cells help determine which immune responses the body makes to a particular pathogen.
Spleen: The spleen stores white blood cells and platelets, filters blood and recycles old red blood cells. It also helps fight certain kinds of bacteria.
Gut: The gut harbors many different bacteria and other organisms that make up what’s called the gut microbiome. Good bacteria help to control harmful colonies of bad bacteria, helps fight pathogens by producing antimicrobial substances, and affect the pH of the gut environment to provide a chemical barrier against harmful microbes. Gut flora also regulates inflammation and activates immune functions.
Creating a bulletproof immune system, then, is really a whole body endeavor. You can fortify these defenses every day with various strategies, but to maximize this effect, you must also limit the number of invaders you come into contact with. For example, carcinogens from the environment, food, and hygiene products can compromise the immune system’s mechanisms and possibly give birth to new pathogens that will later harm the body, and inflammation caused by ingestion of unhealthy fats, stress, and lack of recovery can also weaken the gut, leading to more toxins spilling into your bloodstream.
Your Immune System and Your Gut
It’s easy to forget that your gut is actually your first line of defense against anything harmful that you may swallow. Because your intestines are really just one long tube running through your body, anything inside your gut is technically outside of your body, including undigested food and your gut microbiome. The only thing separating this external environment from your bloodstream is a thin intestinal lining one cell thick. Therefore, having a robust, healthy and balanced gut microbiome is critically important for your health because this bacteria helps you digest and absorb nutrients, produces vitamins, and fends off and kills harmful pathogens.
Your intestines actually contain about seventy percent of your immune cells. With so many ailments such as autoimmune disease, mental health disorders and obesity being linked to immune dysfunction and unbalanced gut flora, scientists are beginning to think the gut flora imbalances cause a breakdown in communication between your gut flora and your immune system that disrupts homeostasis. This means that most diseases linked to chronic inflammation – diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, to name a few – may begin with an unbalanced and dysfunction gut microbiome.
So naturally, one of the first steps towards building a healthy immune system is eating high-quality, nutrient-rich food that feeds both you and your good gut bacteria and removing gut assailants. Foods that are harmful to your gut and feed bad bacteria include processed sugar, starches, trans fats, inflammatory omega-6 fats from many common vegetable oils, and any foods that may trigger an immune response, with these commonly being gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, nuts, and nightshades. Antibiotics and other drugs also disrupt gut function.
A whole foods diet with plenty of anti-inflammatory foods will keep your good bacteria happy. Some additional foods and supplements that will help quell inflammation and heal the gut lining include things like bone broth, particularly broth made from knuckle, patella, femur, or feet bones, which contain the highest concentrations of white and red stem-cell marrow and collagen, glutamine, colostrum (a product of mammalian “first milk”), omega-3 fish oils, and probiotics.
Optimal gut function is the first step in building an unstoppable immune system, but from there you can implement other strategies to protect you from sickness.
This article will reveal four strategies for strengthening your immune system and a few of the best ways to stop a cold or flu in its tracks in the event that you do get sick.
Four Ways To Build A Strong Immune System
First things first: to get the supplements you ingest or inhale to get where they need to go, you have to get your circulation going. And not just your blood circulation – your lymphatic circulation. When lymph flow improves, more toxins are cleared out of the system, and the immune-boosting oils and minerals you use will get where they need to go.
What is lymph?
The primary functions of the lymphatic system include: aiding the immune system, removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells, absorbing fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system and delivering them to cells around the body, and removing excess fluid and waste products from interstitial spaces between the cells. Similar to the vascular and arterial systems that pump blood, the lymphatic system has its own circulatory system. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and to reach the cells, it has to leave the blood vessels and flow into the tissue. It then becomes interstitial fluid, and once it’s delivered its cargo of oxygen and nutrients, it leaves the cell and removes waste products. 90% of the fluid returns to the circulatory system as blood; the remaining 10% remains in the tissues as lymph. The lymph travels in its own vessels from the interstitial spaces back into the subclavian veins.
Since lymphatic circulation is stimulated by muscular movement, you may already know that lymphatic function is supported by a healthy dose of exercise. What you may not have known is that lymph responds very well to G-forces. That’s why in many circles, people recommend the use of trampolines or vibration therapy devices to boost immune system health.
A simple means of doing this (recommended by a Navy SEAL commander who does it for five minutes every morning) is to plant your feet about shoulder width apart, or slightly wider, bring your hands down by your side, and just start shaking your body. It sounds silly, but by bouncing up and down and shaking your body for one to five minutes, faster and faster as you go, keeping your fingers loose, slamming your heels just slightly into the ground as you shake, you move lymphatic fluid in a way that you don’t if you’re just lifting weights or practicing yoga. Whether you want to call it shaking or wiggling or something else, it’s basically self-induced full-body vibration. There’s something about that up and down movement of the body, and the resulting G-forces, that allows for good lymphatic circulation.
2) Vitamin D
Sufficient vitamin D levels are critical for bone strength, heart health, cancer prevention and many more vital bodily functions. Vitamin D deficiency is all too common, with this study reporting 57% of U.S. adults and 36% of healthy adolescents having insufficient levels. Deficiencies stem from a lack of sun exposure, not enough dietary intake from foods like salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks and organ meats, and fat malabsorption since vitamin D is fat soluble.
Vitamin D affects the innate immune system by turning on key peptides that are involved in potent anti-microbial activity as part of the innate antimicrobial response. These actions that allow you to fight off harmful pathogens before they develop into a full-blown infection are dependent on sufficient vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease and systemic lupus erythematosus. Vitamin D facilitates the induction of regulatory T cells, which differentiate between harmful cells and your own cells, keeping your immune system from attacking your own body. This decreases the production of inflammatory cytokines and increases the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
A simple blood test will determine your vitamin D3 levels, which should be around 60-90 ng/mL. When supplementing vitamin D3, it is important to also consume vitamin K2. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium and vitamin K2 to distribute the calcium to your bones instead of your arteries. Vitamins E and A also work synergistically with Vitamin D and should be at sufficient levels.
Mushrooms are a nutrition powerhouse, providing B vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, antioxidants and beta-glucans and other bioactive molecules that fight harmful bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Many mushrooms are immunomodulators that stimulate the immune system’s defense mechanisms.
One study found that daily consumption of 5-10 grams of Shiitake mushrooms for four weeks improved immunity and lowered inflammation. Shiitake mushrooms also exert antitumor activity and when used in conjunction with chemotherapy have been shown to prolong survival time, restore immunological parameters and improve quality of life.
Maitake mushrooms are also powerful immunomodulators that stimulate the immune system’s defense reaction through enhanced cytokine production, phagocytosis, and NK cell activity.
Cordyceps also exhibit antitumor effects and immunomodulating effects. They help to regulate innate and adaptive immunity by both potentiating and suppressing the immune system beneficially.
Colostrum is a form of milk produced by mammals in the late stages of pregnancy and a few days after birth, serving as a mammal’s first food. It delivers high concentrations of nutrients, antibodies, and establishes the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Colostrum can be taken in supplement form to support optimal immunity, GI function, athletic recovery, and connective tissue health.
Colostrum is made up of an enormous variety of macro and microconstituents such as cytokines, immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, growth factors, proline rich polypeptides (PRPs) and growth-promoting hormones.
These components play important biological roles that are vital to proper health and immune function, including:
Cytokines: Part of your systemic immune system. These hormones keep communication between immune cells active (no communication means low immunity, frequent sickness, and susceptibility to illness!)
Growth Factors: (IGF-I, IGF-II, EGF) As the name implies, growth factors assist with maintenance and growth of certain body tissues, including muscle and the gastrointestinal lining.
Lactoferrin: Lactoferrin assists with iron absorption and is a crucial part of your immune defense system.
Growth Hormone: Growth Hormone (GH) works individually as well as together with the other growth factors in colostrum to aid in growth and function of gastrointestinal tissues, muscle and more.
Immunoglobulins: (IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, IgM) Immunoglobulins are small proteins that are used by your immune system to seek out and destroy foreign antigens (invaders).
Proline Rich Polypeptides: PRPs are important immune system regulators that encourage the growth of white blood cells and may restore the balance of cellular immune functions. PRPs may defend against oxidative stress and support brain health.
Lactoferrin in colostrum is highly beneficial, playing an important role in regulating autoimmune responses, activating immune system responses, having strong antioxidant effects, and aiding the body’s detoxification process.
Colostrum has even been shown to improve athletic performance by reducing gut permeability caused by heavy exercise, improving measures of performance, and supporting lean mass maintenance.
In addition, colostrum contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids, all of which play a crucial role in total body wellness.
Kion Colostrum comes in convenient capsules (rather than a powder) and is produced by grass-fed goat’s milk. Because goat milk closely resembles human milk, goat colostrum is effective in humans and less allergenic than cow milk. Kion Colostrum is free from antibiotics, growth hormones, gluten, pesticides and preservatives and is non-GMO.
Try out this one-two combo today to support both immune system function and gut health!
3 Effective Supplements For Combating Colds & The Flu
All of the above strategies will keep your immune system in top shape year-round, but when you do get sick, here are three potent tools for stopping it in its tracks.
Another herb, similar to the thieves oil blend, is echinacea. It not only helps with your immune system but it also increases red blood cell count, which is especially good news for athletes and gym-enthusiasts.
Echinacea is a member of the daisy family, and medications are produced from its leaves, flower, and root. It’s used to treat everything from the common cold, the flu, and other upper respiratory infections, to urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, HIV/AIDS, tonsillitis, streptococcus infections, typhoid, malaria, and warts. It’s also been applied on boils, abscesses, ulcers, burns, eczema, bee stings and sun-related skin damage. Talk about a Swiss army plant.
What makes echinacea so effective?
Before diving into the particulars of echinacea, you have to understand some of the minutiae of your body’s immunological responses. You probably know that your body, in addition to red blood cells, also produces white blood cells (WBCs). WBCs, in medical terminology, are called leukocytes, and their job is to basically fight off infection, kill invaders, and destroy cancerous cells. There are five classes of leukocytes: neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are divided into two sub-classes: B-cells and T-cells. Monocytes are larger than other leukocytes, and, once in the bloodstream, mature into macrophages, which migrate to and reside into various tissues, particularly the liver, lymph nodes, and lungs. Here, they engage in phagocytosis, which means they eat and destroy particulates and invading organisms.
Enter echinacea. A series of experiments demonstrated that extracts from Echinacea purpurea (its taxonomical name) stimulate immunomodulatory activity, including macrophage activation. The studies show that phagocytic activity is echinacea-responsive. They also reported changes in both the numbers and activities of the T- and B-cells (lymphocytes). B-cells transform into plasma cells, which secrete antibodies, and T-cells are involved in cell-mediated immune responses, which isn’t dependent on the presence of antibodies. The macrophages and lymphocytes work together, as macrophages present antigens to the B-cells, which then produce the appropriate antibodies.
Another study focused on “acidic arabinogalactan”, a highly purified polysaccharide extracted from echinacea cell cultures. The study found that acidic arabinogalactan activates macrophages against tumor cells and Leishmania enriettii, a parasitic microorganism. While this particular polysaccharide didn’t have an effect on the B- and T-cells, it did induce macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factors interleukin-1 & interferon-β2 to seek and destroy cancer cells.
These studies have helped show how effective echinacea is at stimulating your body’s natural immunological responses against both outside invaders and cancerous tumors. On top of that, because macrophages tend to reside in the lungs, echinacea is particularly effective against respiratory infections. So the next time you’re at a natural health store, grab a bottle of echinacea extract and stock your immunological armory against infection.
Another natural compound that boosts the immune system might be growing on a bush in your neighborhood or by the road. Elderberry can be taken as a supplement in the form of tablets, tinctures, and even tea, and can be found in many natural health and nutrition stores. Black elderberry is documented in texts dating back to Hippocrates of Kos in the 5th century B.C., and for millennia has been used to treat diarrhea, scurvy, depression, birth complications, constipation, ear infections, colds, and sore throats.
One study observed the effects of elderberry on airline passengers. The study noted the many health risks that go hand-in-hand with flying: physical and psychological well-being is threatened by cabin ozone concentration, oxygen pressure, motion or vibration, and oil additives used in the engines. Fatigue is very common, immune function is compromised, and stress and changes in mental state can occur due to long-distance travel. And, not surprisingly, respiratory infection happens frequently: nasal dryness, allergic rhinitis, and viral or bacterial infections. The study, which also mentioned the benefits of echinacea, then elaborated on the effects of elderberry supplementation.
Elderberry extracts possess antioxidants, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating, and antidepressant properties, as well as a wide array of beneficial nutrients: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B9, C and E, minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as carotenoids and other phytochemicals. The benefits of using an elderberry extract, due to its high nutrient content, included both shorter duration of the cold, which the study was focused on, and a reduction in cold symptoms.
Taking elderberry extract orally has also been found to reduce the duration of influenza A and B virus infections by an average of four days and significantly reduce the need for rescue medications when compared to a placebo. This study had patients take 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup four times per day for five days.
You can build your own holy trinity of herbal, immune-boosting power by combining thieves oil, echinacea, and elderberry. If you have access to an elderberry tree, you can even pluck the berries, ferment them, and make an immune-boosting wine.
3) Zinc Lozenge
If you get sick, you can significantly decrease the duration of any type of upper respiratory infection by using something available just about anywhere: a zinc lozenge. When zinc dissolves in your mouth and makes its way up into your nasal cavities, there’s a reaction that decreases the duration of things like the cold and flu.
Zinc is a micronutrient, found in many types of food like meat and beans, and especially in seafood, particularly oysters. If you’re wondering just how important this micronutrient can be, since 1963, scientists have learned of over 300 enzymes and over 1,000 transcription factors that require zinc for proper function. And, not only does zinc modulate cell-mediated immunity, it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get enough zinc through real food, so supplementation is a perfectly good way to get the immune-boosting benefits of this heavy metal. One study found that zinc supplementation, more so than multivitamin supplementation, helped to reduce the contraction and symptoms of both diarrhea and respiratory tract infections, particularly in infants younger than 12 months old. Lower respiratory tract infections can cause death during early childhood, and zinc deficiency can contribute to this by impairing cellular and humoral immune function. When used as a supplement in children up to 30 months, who had access to other immunity-boosting compounds (vitamin A), zinc seriously reduced the incidence of pneumonia, as well as acute lower respiratory tract infections in general.
Zinc deficiency causes immune dysfunction in all ages, so 15-100 mg should be taken daily when fighting a cold.
Not all zinc is equal, however, and neither are zinc supplements. You should take your zinc supplement, preferably as zinc acetate, in the form of a lozenge, which acts similar to a cough drop by dissolving slowly in the mouth, providing a steady-release zinc source, usually over the course of 20-30 minutes. It’s that easy, just pop a zinc lozenge into your mouth to get this underappreciated yet oh-so-crucial micronutrient to give your immune system and serious boost.
Here’s the fact of the matter: the modern day immunity marketplace is flooded with supplements and herbal formulas claiming to cure a common cold overnight, or to make the human body impervious to illness. And here’s another fact: it’s exhausting to sift through the flashy marketing and quack supplements.
Fortunately, supplements like echinacea and elderberry have centuries of real-world evidence in their favor that demonstrate just how effective they are, and those centuries of success should speak for themselves. Zinc supplementation, while a relatively new phenomenon, stands with decades of study from across the globe behind it that suggests how effective it is at boosting your immunity.
And of course, the basis of an unbeatable immune system is a healthy diet that supports a robust gut microbiome. Combine this with a few choice supplements and some common sense lifestyle factors and you won't be able to remember the last time you got sick.