Are You Boostered? What About Naturally Boosting Your Immune System?
I recently listened in on a fascinating call with Chris Kresser, a renowned expert and leading clinician in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder of the Kresser Institute, as well as a co-Director of the California Center for Functional Medicine. The talk was focused on the importance of maintaining a healthy immune system, particularly considering the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of conventional medicine, as well as public health officials, have been focused primarily on vaccines and now they are beginning to shift their attention to the development of therapeutics for treating COVID-19. Although vaccines and therapeutics are important, this singular approach to fighting the virus completely ignores a key aspect of fighting off disease…. our body’s own immune system.
I am not anti-vax nor am I against the development of therapeutics to treat COVID-19, should you contract it, particularly in older and more compromised patients, including those who don’t build the appropriate immune response even if vaccinated. These are vital tools in our arsenal for combatting COVID-19. We have seen how vaccines significantly reduce the chances that you will have severe symptoms or hospitalization and almost completely negate the chance of dying from COVID-19. Despite these interventions, people are still contracting COVID-19 and many public health officials are beginning to acknowledge the fact that COVID is likely not going away.
These conventional approaches to health focus solely on the pathogen and completely ignore the role of the health of the host in fighting off this virus, as highlighted in this talk with Chris Kresser. We see similar approaches when talking about other illnesses like the flu. Now that we are 2 years into this pandemic, we are seeing more and more studies that show a direct relationship between your risk of significant illness and how healthy you are.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 78% of those who have been hospitalized, needed a ventilator or died have been overweight or obese. Another very large study looking at over 540K hospitalized COVID-19 patients and found that 94.9% had at least 1 underlying condition, with the highest risk factor being obesity. Being obese increased your risk of death by 30%. In this same study, diabetes increased your risk by 26%, however other studies indicate it could be at much at 87%. Cardiovascular disease also poses a significant risk. According to the CDC, only 6% of the deaths listed COVID-19 as the only cause of death. On average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.
Even when we look at age and COVID-19, the health of patient is crucial to a successful outcome. One study showed that there is a 98% decrease in risk of severe illness and death for people ages 79-84, if they do not have any pre-existing conditions. Another study showed that 63% of hospitalizations are attributable to metabolic disease and that obesity specifically resulted in a 30% excess in hospitalizations. One large study looked at 50k patients and found that being inactive doubled your risk of dying from COVID-19. Some studies have also looked at nutrient deficiencies and found increased risk of infection for cold, flu and coronaviruses when you are deficient in key immune boosting nutrients, particularly Vitamin D. Poor diet has been shown to be a key contributor regarding susceptibility to various infections including COVID-19. Studies have shown a decrease in recovery time for various infections when eating a Mediterranean diet and an increase in infection severity (including for COVID-19) for people who eat the standard American diet, which includes many highly inflammatory foods.
I think the overall picture is clear. People who are generally healthy, eat a good diet, stay active, who are within a healthy weight range and do not have any significant health issues, even if you are older, your naturally strong immune system is a crucial tool to not only preventing infections, but also lowering the severity of that infection, as well as reducing the recovery time. With each risk factor, your chance of severe illness increases. Although vaccines and therapeutics are critical tools in fighting these diseases, there is much we can do to improve our overall health and support our immune system.
Although things like vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc are well known nutrients that support our immune system, Chris Kresser also discussed some lesser-known nutrients which may also be beneficial.
The following is being provided for informational purposes ONLY and should not be considered medical advice. You should consult your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.
Quercetin is a natural compound found in onions, nuts, apples, tomatoes, elderberry, as well as black and green tea. It is naturally anti-inflammatory, is an antioxidant and has anti-viral properties. It has been shown to decrease the ability of viruses to enter cells and reduce their ability to replicate. It may help to reduce the severity of various viruses, including COVID-19, although more in-depth studies are needed. Quercetin can be difficult to absorb unless it is taken in a bioavailable form, so you need to be sure to look for formulas that includes a lipid-based delivery system.
He provided some general guidance regarding various infections; cold, flu, COVID, etc.
750 mg per day for prevention / exposure
1000-1250 mg per day for mild symptoms
1500 mg per day for moderate or more severe symptoms
*Note – all should be taken in divided doses and with a meal
Propolis is a wax used by bees to seal their hives. It contains many immune boosting properties such as being naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, an antioxidant and has been shown to enhance immune response. I know many people use propolis when they are fighting off a bug and have found it to be beneficial. A limited study out of Brazil showed that its anti-viral properties may reduce hospitalization rates for people with COVID-19. Propolis has also shown promise in treating other comorbidities that are particularly dangerous for COVID-19 patients, such as other respiratory conditions, hypertension and diabetes. There are a variety of well-sourced brands on the market, including B Immune Throat Spray.
Black Seed Oil or Black Cumin Seeds are commonly used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. They are have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant and antiparasitic properties and have been shown to modulate the immune system. Some limited studies have shown that it may help to reduce the severity of infection, decrease recovery time and length of hospital stay, as well as improve recovery time.
Chris Kresser suggested only taking if you are experiencing symptoms from COVID-19, flu, cold or other bacterial or parasitic infection. He advised a 500 mg dose twice day with food.
Overall, my suggestion to all my clients is that by taking steps to improve you diet, including eating whole, real foods that are well sourced (organic, as possible), with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats is a great way to stay healthy and ensure a strong immune system. Other lifestyle factors like being active, reducing stress and getting good sleep also are key contributors to good health. Conventional medical therapies are very important when treating any illness, infection and/or chronic conditions. My hope is that my clients take steps to ensure they as the host is as healthy and strong as possible when preventing and fending off illness. And that they consider natural compounds as an adjunct and complementary therapy for any condition they are dealing with. The power of nature is real and when we take advantage of all it has to offer, we only further improve our overall health and longevity.