I’ve helped thousands of my patients enhance their immune systems over the years. In the face of COVID-19, this year must have been an all-time record. In this article, I’ll share what works to enhance your immune system in general.
Functional Medicine Clinician & Associate Medical Director, P3 Health
Immunity has become a primary, geopolitical concern as the costs of a weakened immune system — for the planet and its people — become apparent in a post-COVID world. Besides wearing a mask in appropriate contexts, practicing good hygiene and physical distancing, and staying home when you’re sick, there are known natural things can you do to enhance your immune system. The following are evidence-based lifestyle, diet, and supplement tips proven to support a healthy immune system.
Start Here! The not-so-secret 7 dietary and lifestyle pillars
The following aren’t a secret but they’re often ignored. If you want a strong immune system, you would do well to practice the following diet and lifestyle principles:
- Exercise daily (yes, every day!)
- Practice sleep hygiene: get a good sleep and get an average of 7–8 hours per night in a cool, dark, silent room
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and sugar — all of which are immune suppressants
- Eat a rainbow of organic fruits and vegetables every day (1/2 cup of each color for both fruits and vegetables for a total of 6 cups)
- Drink half of your body weight (lbs) in ounces of purified water daily
- Consider intermittent fasting (8-hour feeding window) with a diet rich in healthy fats and protein
- Meditate for at least 10 mins daily (preferably mornings upon waking)
Immune ingredients that actually work
Immune related supplements reached $3.3 billion in 2019 and are spiking above 50% growth through 2020. But what ingredients found in supplements does the science show really work?
Once you have the not-so-secret 7 dietary and lifestyle pillars in place, the next thing to do is consider the following evidence-based supplement recommendations to take your immune system to the next level. The natural product world is littered with unsubstantiated claims and products with poor evidence and efficacy. The supplement retail marketplace is still a “buyer beware” landscape and it’s necessary to identify brands that contain ingredients on the label that are safe, effective, and evidence-based (i.e. proven in human clinical trials). You can trust that the following ingredients will work for you. As always, it’s best to check with your health care provider before starting any new medication or supplement routine.
Select forms of echinacea that provide a broad spectrum of antiviral activity to prevent and treat a wide range of cold and flu viruses. This includes H1N1, H3N2, MERS, SARS, and previous strains of coronavirus. No vaccine or product can make prevention claims for the current strain of the COVID-19 virus. Still, echinacea is something to consider when looking to modulate your immune system and provide an optimal defense against any virus. Echinaforce by A.Vogel is a Swiss product supported by over 30 clinical trials including those done by Dr. Ron Eccles at The Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University — the world’s only centre dedicated to researching and testing new medicines for the treatment of flu and the common cold.
This is a naturally-occurring yeast that is an active immune-enhancing ingredient that helps to strengthen your immune system and keep you healthy. Look for a whole food fermentate called EpiCor. Multiple published human clinical studies show EpiCor not only boosts immune health, it strengthens the immune system and improves your immune threshold.
Natural yeast beta glucan
This is found in foods such as baker’s yeast, shiitake mushrooms, and cereal grains like barley, oats, rye, and wheat. It’s a yeast extracted from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast. Highly purified, it’s naturally gluten-free and helps to strengthen the immune system. Look for Wellmune, a clinically proven yeast (beta 1,3/1,6 glucan) extracted from the cell wall of baker’s yeast.
Vitamins C, D, and zinc
This is a potent trio we’ve heard about before. Vitamin C can reduce the duration of cold symptoms if taken regularly before getting sick, and vitamin D may help prevent upper respiratory infections. Look for Ester-C and Vitamin-D3 (cholecalciferol).
Oral Zinc lozenges may reduce symptom severity by inhibiting viral replication at the back of your throat and may prevent the virus from entering cells by blocking their entry. Swallowed tablets are not effective, and nasal spray may cause permanent adverse effects. Look for a 10–20 mg zinc acetate lozenge.
Research shows quercetin can reduce the infectivity of viruses and block viral replication (possibly by induction of interferon), binding of viral capsid proteins. In other words, it has anti-viral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects which helps reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, and help prevent heart disease. Quercetin is found in foods, such as red wine, onions, green tea, apples, berries, Ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, American elder, and others. Buckwheat tea also has a large amount of quercetin.
Almost all quercetin supplements currently available have low bioavailability. This is likely due to form but could also be due to the many in vitro studies that use “quercetin aglycone” whereas this particular form is never found in the blood, even after ingested, as it’s changed in the liver. Scientists are currently working on creating a very bioavailable form of quercetin expected to hit the health food store shelves in 2021.
Personalized immunity: the way of the future
Personalized nutrition supplement sales in North America are on track to surpass $4.3 billion by 2023. Given what I’ve come to learn from 20 years in clinical practice and having travelled the globe investigating many dozens of ingredient manufacturers, I have developed a personalized immune supplement program based on an individual’s immune system. This is possible through the identification of different immune profiles that dictate how individuals respond to disease. By pairing profiles to active proven ingredients (like those above), you’ll have the opportunity to identify and supplement with ingredients that fit your personal profile. This customized program is called mymmunity® and will launch just in time for the 2020 cold and flu season.
Bryce Wylde BSc (hons), DHMHS is a leading health expert and clinician at P3 Health in Toronto, co-founder of Youtrients and The DNA Co, CIO at Brain Armor Inc, author of three best-selling books, previous host of CTV’s Wylde On Health, and regular guest health expert and medical advisor on The Dr. Oz Show.