I want to start out by saying I am not a doctor; I am a Holistic Nutrition Consultant, but I have studied how the human body works and how to support it through food. I do have a different view on things than most conventional anything (doctors, traditional nutritionists, etc.) when it comes to supporting your immune system and any underlying conditions.
With everything that is going on in the world right now, everyone is clamoring to tell you the best way to stay healthy. What I am hearing the most is Vitamin C, Vitamin C, Vitamin C! While it does have its place, the recommended amounts are typically inadequate, and the form isn’t the best. The Daily Recommended Amount for men is 90 mg, for women it is 75 mg, and smokers should add 35 mg. This is just enough to keep Vitamin C deficiency diseases at bay but not enough to truly boost your immune system or help combat free radicals. You will hear a lot of people say that your body can only absorb so much and that is technically correct, however, when you are looking at helping your body through an illness or when you are supporting a condition, higher doses are recommended. Taking 1000 mg (Ordman, 2010) daily is what is recommended for someone trying to achieve optimal health, but when you are sick, taking 2000-4000 mg is often helpful. Be careful – there is such a thing as bowel tolerance! That just means that you have reached saturation and you don’t need anymore. A perfectly healthy person who has achieved optimal health only needs 100-400 mg to maintain healthy stores or levels. Another thing that is often left out is that Vitamin C can’t be taken alone and be effective; it has to be taken with bioflavonoids, such as rosehip. Whole foods are the best source of Vitamin C and are always recommended before supplementing.
Vitamin C is not the only thing that boosts your immunity. It is an intricate system that requires more than just one element. Vitamin A enhances cellular & mucosal immunity and helps with boosting the cells that fight the infection. The Daily Recommended Amount is 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg for women but can be increased up to 3000 mcg during an illness. The best form of Vitamin A is going to always be egg yolks, milk, cheese, cod liver oil, and animal liver. You can always get it from fruits and veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and other leafy greens.
Vitamin D is a big player when it comes to regulating your immune functions. Its antioxidant activity is enhanced by Vitamin C & CoQ10. The best source is always the sun, but there are foods that have Vitamin D. Animal foods are the best form, i.e. oily fish, cod liver, egg yolks, butter and the ever faithful dark, green, leafy veggies. The Daily Recommended Amount is 15 mcg, but many experts don’t agree and recommend 100 mcg – 250 mcg.
Vitamin E is another helpful immune booster. It’s one of the top immune-boosting vitamins and has been shown in clinical studies to enhance your immune system. Vitamin E helps in the production of white blood cells and increases your resistance to infection. The Daily Recommend Amount is 15 mg a day, but as with most recommendations, it may not be enough for the average person. For optimal health, 268 mg – 536 mg is recommended. In a whole foods diet you can get Vitamin E from grains, seeds, nuts, unrefined cold pressed oils, the ever popular green veggies (spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale), and avocado.
It probably didn’t escape your notice that everything I have mentioned is an antioxidant, and if not, now you know. Antioxidants are important in maintaining health. They have many functions but the most important one is fighting oxidation and helping repair your cells. This is why eating a well rounded, veggie-based diet is really important. Inflammation is a buzzword being thrown around a lot, and we are learning that it is pretty much the basis for all illness and disease. Antioxidants help combat inflammation and reduce the instances of illnesses and curb the development of diseases. They are that important! The big ones are ACEZS: Vitamins A, C, & E and the minerals, Zinc & Selenium. I’ve talked about how ACE, Zinc and Selenium are just as important. For overall general health, 15-20 mg of zinc a day is recommended, but if you start to feel under the weather 30-75 mg a day seems to be most effective. You can get your zinc from oysters, pumpkin seeds, peas, pecans, almonds, red meat, and walnuts. Be careful if you choose to supplement zinc; if you get too much without balancing it with copper, you can cause more bad than good. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that offers immune stimulating properties and helps with overall health. These are great sources of Selenium: the Brazil Nut, cremini mushrooms, eggs, garlic, nutritional yeast, meat, and seafood. The recommended amount for adults is 55 mcg, but for optimal health 200 mcg for women and 250 mcg for men is best.
I could go on for pages and pages on other things that boost your immunity. Things like elderberry, Holy Basil, thyme, ginger, garlic, etc, but I want to keep this short. (Probably too late!) This is why I always reiterate eating the rainbow; the more color you add to your diet, the better. A well rounded diet with a little bit of supplementing can help keep you from being as sick as often. Is it going to keep you from being sick ever? No; sickness happens, but these things can help with the severity of it.
There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. There will always be someone’s opinion of what to do and what to take, but I always default to real, whole foods. Reducing your reliance on processed foods, sugar, abundance of alcohol (to get through this current craziness, you have to have some!!), and refined flours is important. All of these things suppress your immune system and damage your intestinal tract. Your immune system starts in your gut. All my recommendations and then some will help maintain a healthy gut. The one supplement I feel every single person on this planet should be taking is a good Probiotic. They are huge in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system and keeping you healthy!
Where I start to differ from the recommended immune boosting protocol is I’m not just going to recommend supplements; I always advocate whole foods and lifestyle changes too. Lifestyle changes include getting adequate sleep, regular exercise, stress reduction, having someone you can depend on, and making sure you maintain a good mindset. All of these things have a profound effect on your health – more than anyone really thinks about. Taking steps to help make these lifestyle changes such as finding ways to help with sleep, reduce your stress (i.e. meditation), getting exercise in and finding time to hang with friends will also help go a long way in improving your immune system.
This is where I can come in and help guide you. Again, I am not a doctor, but I may be able to work with you to make suggestions to help improve your health. One last note: make sure you are aware of any interference you may have with any medication you are taking and any supplements you are thinking about adding.
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Ordman AR: Vitamin C twice a day enhances health. Health 2010, 2(8):819-823