Well folks, another wave is upon us.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another article about Covid, Covid vaccines, mandates, lockdowns or any of that. We have more than enough of that as it is.
The reason I mention the Winter wave we are now experiencing is to underscore that here at True Protocols we think it's absolutely critical that everyone has access to the knowledge and tools to prepare our body when situations like this arise. We believe the quality of our individual operating systems depends upon the inputs, including what you feed it both physically and mentally.
For years I took my health for granted. I ate whatever I wanted, I exercised sporadically, and I made decisions based on what made me feel good in the moment with little regard for what was needed for the health of my system over the long term. And with that came countless coughs, colds, fatigue and overall poor function.
The problem is when that’s your norm, you really don’t know any different. It was only once I slowly but surely made changes in what I ate, what I supplemented with, how I moved my body, and how I prioritized sleep, did I start to witness firsthand what I had been missing out on.
So in the midst of a seemingly long winter, here are some steps you can make to set yourself up for greater resilience. By using a combination of these lifestyle habits, nutrition tips, and supplement supports, you can dramatically equip your immune system to look after you.
Truthfully, these aren’t shocking, newly invented therapies. Following the lessons of evolutionary biology, we now understand that many of the best things we can do for our health are not brand new technologies and synthetic agents (pharmaceutical drugs). Instead, they are the things we have had the most time to adapt to through repetitive exposure.
And it makes sense when you stop and think about it; why try and force the body to improve by using something it’s never seen before and has no memory of it coded within our blueprint? We instead can look to our ancestors and start with what worked for them. For they are the survivors, the winners of natural selection. They passed their code onto you when other lines were lost.
These ancestral victors survived and often thrived, through much worse conditions than what we are now accustomed to. At the very least, to study and learn from our past is our quickest and safest option towards better health.
With that said, here is an introduction to steps you can take to help improve your immune system this winter.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (and hormone!) that we produce endogenously (within our body) when our skin is exposed to sunlight. This vitamin has gained considerable attention in the past 2 years following the publication of research showing a direct relationship between vitamin D deficiency and worsened outcomes with COVID-19 (4). While these were only correlations, and not proven causations, it’s nevertheless an important piece of information considering the rates of vitamin D insufficiency here in Canada have been estimated to be between 70 and 97%. (5) Due to the lack of year-round sunlight in some countries like Canada, and the minimal amount of vitamin D found in food, supplementation is a safe (and cheap!) solution.
Zinc is one of the most critical minerals when it comes to the regulation and support of the immune system. While widespread zinc deficiency is not considered to be on the same scale of prevalence as what we see with vitamin D, it has been estimated that there are 2 billion people affected by zinc deficiency worldwide. (6)
And this does not include the fact that while some may not be classified as zinc ‘deficient’, they may not have levels that are optimal for maintenance of the innate and adaptive immune system. When we have a disruption in the homeostasis of zinc it can lead to impaired formation and activation of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and weakened innate host defence. (7) Also like vitamin D, zinc can be safely and affordably supplemented with to support the zinc from our diet.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in numerous plant species. Our most common food sources of quercetin are apple skins, onions, and capers, to name a few. Quercetin has been shown to offer numerous benefits. It has anti-histaminic properties and reduces mast cell degranulation, both properties that provide potential in reducing allergy symptoms. Additionally, a 2014 study found that quercetin has zinc ionophore activity, which means that it helps increase the uptake of zinc from the bloodstream into cells. (8)
I’m sure you’re all tired of people telling you how important sleep is so I’ll keep it short here. There is a direct relationship between our immune systems and our sleep, one in which our sleep can reduce infection risk and improve infection outcome, while sleep deficiency can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation that is associated with a number of common and dangerous disease states like diabetes and atherosclerosis. (9) I could tell you all just to get your 8 hours of sleep but it’s not always that simple.
If you’re struggling with your sleep other things to consider are getting all electronic devices out of the room you sleep in, make your room as dark as possible, reduce food consumption for a couple of hours before bed, and optimize the temperature of the room you sleep in.For those interested in the science of sleep check out the excellent book ‘Why we Sleep’ by Dr. Matthew Walker.
Sugar (or lack thereof)
No discussion of immune enhancement is complete without discussing that devilishly sweet white powder in the cupboard. Excess sugar consumption is a well-known trigger for immune dysregulation. When levels of sugar in our blood remain chronically high, it leads to increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (signaling proteins) that ultimately lead to immune dysregulation. (3)
Obviously, the picture is much more complicated than this (a discussion for another time) and doesn’t mean zero sugar is necessarily the answer either. But it does mean that our dietary choices absolutely have a role to play in how our immune system responds to different pathogens. If you are like me and you suffer from frequent cravings for sugar, a couple of tips to fight cravings is to ensure you are getting enough protein and salt in your diet, and that you are getting consistent, quality sleep.
A few years ago medicinal mushrooms became all the rage, and deservedly so. Many different species of mushrooms have made it into the public sphere and onto market shelves as a result of emerging research illustrating the role they play in enhancing human health.
While those interested in biohacking and productivity improvements may have heard of Lion’s Mane, there are numerous other powerful species, including Chaga, Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Cordyceps, that all demonstrate immune-modulating actions (and a host of other great benefits!). (1) These mushrooms come in a number of different forms (supplements, powders, tea/coffee blends) so there is an option that is palatable for everyone. Other species like Shiitake and Maitake are also great options that can be easily added to mealtime as a part of your favourite recipes. (2)
Another critical immune-supporting molecule that we all take for granted, myself included, is Vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, this antioxidant molecule which we commonly know of as the scurvy-cure, is absolutely critical in our inflammatory and immune processes.
Its role in the regulation of our immune system is further supported by the use of high-dose intravenous ascorbic acid in the treatment of a number of different types of cancer. The doses needed to provide a boost to the immune system are on the lower end and should remain that way when taken orally to avoid the unwanted side effect of loose stools.
Last but definitely not least is the importance of moving your body. This can be aerobic training like running, biking, swimming, strength-based training, and any other style of exercise that keeps you coming back. Yes, there is a discussion to be had about which type of training is best for whatever your goals are, but when it comes to keeping your immune system running at full capacity it matters less what kind of exercise you perform, as long as you’re doing something.
Exercise has direct anti-inflammatory effects and changes the way our white blood cells are regulated. (9) Whether you want to think about this direct link, or the indirect link illustrating the importance of exercise in maintaining cardiovascular and metabolic health, which in turn is a strong predictor of our immune responses to different pathogens, it all brings us back to the same conclusion. Move your body.
And with that, we come to the end of our list, though this is by no means an extensive list.
If there was one message that I would want anyone to take home from this is that you have more control than you think. Your immune system is not static, its strength is not just a product of your genetics. You have keys to the car. You get to choose the quality of fuel you put in it, when to check your oil, and when to take it to the car wash.
The key isn’t to go 100% into every aspect of the approach listed here. The best protocol for you is one that you can maintain. So as we start off 2022, let's start making the changes that will support your health now and far into the future.
Let us know what changes you are making in 2022. We want to hear what works for all of you! And if you think we missed anything critical, let us know!
1) Guggenheim AG, Wright KM, Zwickey HL. Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(1):32-44.
2)Xiaoshuang Dai, Joy M. Stanilka, Cheryl A. Rowe, Elizabethe A. Esteves, Carmelo Nieves, Samuel J. Spaiser, Mary C. Christman, Bobbi Langkamp-Henken, Susan S. Percival. ConsumingLentinula edodes(Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391
3) Shomali N, Mahmoudi J, Mahmoodpoor A, Zamiri RE, Akbari M, Xu H, Shotorbani SS. Harmful effects of high amounts of glucose on the immune system: An updated review. Biotechnol Appl Biochem. 2021 Apr;68(2):404-410. doi: 10.1002/bab.1938. Epub 2020 Jun 8. PMID: 32395846.
4) Radujkovic A., Hippchen T., Tiwari-Heckler S., Dreher S., Boxberger M., Merle U. Vitamin D Deficiency and Outcome of COVID-19 Patients. Nutrients. 2020;12:2757. doi: 10.3390/nu12092757.
5) Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ, Hiltz MN. Addressing vitamin D deficiency in Canada: a public health innovation whose time has come. Public Health. 2010 Jun;124(6):350-9. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Apr 21. PMID: 20413135.
6) Rink L. Zinc in Human Health. IOS Press; Amsterdam, The Netherlands: 2011. p. 596
7) Maares M, Haase H. Zinc and immunity: An essential interrelation. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2016 Dec 1;611:58-65. doi: 10.1016/j.abb.2016.03.022. Epub 2016 Mar 26. PMID: 27021581.
8) Dabbagh-Bazarbachi H, Clergeaud G, Quesada IM, Ortiz M, O'Sullivan CK, Fernández-Larrea JB. Zinc ionophore activity of quercetin and epigallocatechin-gallate: from Hepa 1-6 cells to a liposome model. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Aug 13;62(32):8085-93. doi: 10.1021/jf5014633. Epub 2014 Jul 31. PMID: 25050823
9) Wang J, Liu S, Li G, Xiao J. Exercise Regulates the Immune System. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1228:395-408. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-1792-1_27. PMID: 32342473.