• Immune Hacks Part 3: Nutrition and Supplementation

    Hippocrates said that food is medicine and he was right! Our bodies are made to absorb and utilize the nutrients in food. A healthy diet can help to strengthen and rebalance all of our essential processes, especially those of the immune system. In the third installment of my Immune Hacks series, I will discuss ways in which we can use targeted nutrition and (non-synthetic) supplementation to strengthen immunity. You might be surprised by some of the entries on this list. Keep reading to the end for supplement ordering links!

    1. Calcium: This mineral is not talked about enough when it comes to immunity. Calcium has a strong role in activation of the immune system. Research shows that the body’s tissues need adequate levels of calcium for the immune cells to utilize glucose for fuel. They cannot do work without it! Calcium also acts as search crew, finding and marking agents of infection for the immune system to subsequently attack. Calcium acts as a natural fever reducer and is important for gut health (much of the immune system depends on this!). 

    How should we be getting calcium for immune support? Dietary nutrients are always best absorbed and utilized, so look to foods such as milk products, almonds, amaranth, sesame seeds, and green leafy veggies. Pasteurization decreases the absorbability of the calcium in dairy products, so opt for raw dairy if possible. Hard well water and spring water contain calcium bicarbonate which is the same form found in the bloodstream and therefore easily utilized. Unfortunately, calcium bicarbonate is not available in tablet form. If you choose to take a calcium supplement, look for calcium lactate which is just one chemical reaction away from becoming calcium bicarbonate. Your second best option would be calcium citrate. Stay away from calcium carbonate (as opposed to BIcarbonate) as this form takes many steps to breakdown and often precipitates into the joints, kidneys (stones), and arteries (plaque) because the body cannot utilize it.  

    2. Vitamin D: Calcium cannot work unless it is pulled into the bloodstream and distributed to the tissues of the body. Vitamin D is essential because it does exactly this: Brings calcium into the bloodstream for distribution. Vitamin K and phosphorous also help with transportation, specifically when calcium needs to be deposited into the bones. 

    As you probably know, the sun is a great source of vitamin D along with fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms. The vast majority of us are deficient due to the use of sunscreen, time spent indoors, and a diet lacking in these foods. 

    What is the best supplementation strategy? First, I do not recommend blind high dose synthetic vitamin D supplementation. You should always have your blood levels checked (this is one of the initial tests that I perform with my patients) because excessively high concentrations of vitamin D can be just as dangerous as deficiencies. The safest and most effective way to add extra vitamin D is through cod liver oil. Keep reading for more on this!

    3. Essential Fatty Acids: The potential problem with having high levels of vitamin D is that calcium can be locked into the bloodstream, circulating but not available for use. As we have discussed, this is eventually laid down in undesirable deposits throughout the body such as kidney stones, arterial plaques, and joint calcifications (ouch!). This is where essential fatty acids (EFAs) come into play. EFAs pick up the calcium from the bloodstream and distribute it to the tissues where it is needed. For this reason, cod liver oil is an amazing immune support. Cod liver oil is full of essential fatty acids as well as vitamin D. The perfect combo for immune, bone, and cardiovascular health. I would recommend a high quality cod liver oil supplement for just about everyone.

    4. Vitamin C: This probably comes as no surprise! Vitamin C is well known for its immune-supporting properties, and with good reason. It has been shown to enhance skin barrier function, thereby protecting against infection and improving wound healing. Vitamin C also enhances microbial killing, shortening the duration of infections and illnesses. As an antioxidant, it helps to ward off chronic disease and premature aging. 

    While there is a lot to say about the benefits of vitamin C, I want to be clear that supplementation with ascorbic acid is not the same as eating an orange. Our body is set up to recognize and utilize the nutrients in whole foods (such as oranges) which come as package deals including fiber and other complimentary nutrients. Simply taking ascorbic acid in pill form does not confer the same benefits and essentially leaves the body looking for the missing pieces. I like to use Cataplex C from Standard Process for vitamin C supplementation when needed. This is a food-based formulation that is highly absorbable and easily utilized by the body. 

    Calcium, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, and vitamin C are a perfect combo for immune health and strengthening. As always, strive to obtain your nutrition from food for maximal benefits. If this is not possible, look for calcium lactate, cod liver oil, and a whole food vitamin C supplement such as Cataplex C from Standard Process. You can order these via Wellevate! If you do not already have an account, just enter your info to set this up (no cost or obligation) for access to the protocol. Pair this with the basic lifestyle immune hacks that were discussed in Part 2 of this series, and you will be set up for wellness.

    If you are interested in an in-depth and personalized functional medicine analysis, you can reach out here. I would be glad to chat with you about what I do and how it could revolutionize your health!