Your immune system is the most important thing that stands between you and the harmful pathogens in your environment. Without immunity, you could be vulnerable to a whole host of potentially lethal bacteria, germs, and viruses. The real question is, “can supplements boost your immune system?” Here we identify, examine, and explain five key immune ingredients you can find in supplements that can help to keep you safe.
Each of us is susceptible to various pathogens (most notably airborne diseases such as the common cold, influenza, and, now, COVID-19, which is increasingly capturing headlines) that can take hold when your immunity is compromised. This is all the more obvious when we look at the increased likelihood of the elderly, with their lower than desirable immunity, succumbing to all manner of infections and illnesses. The culprit? Most often it is a reduced capacity to mount an effective immune response.
For the rest of us, we have standard precautions like avoiding large gatherings (when possible), washing our hands, and other standard measures. Is there a way to avoid getting infected by the minefield of pathogens that live and breed amongst us? (including those which may inhabit those often-cited breeding grounds for infectious bacteria: social spaces, including the gym).9, 14, 34
Having strong immunity (the capability of the body to resist harmful microorganisms) extends well beyond avoiding the pathogens that may cause temporary sickness. More chronically, without the protective shield of a thriving immune system, full recovery from strenuous training can take much longer to achieve; we may feel less energetic (in extreme cases, constant tiredness may set in); digestion may be compromised; infections may occur more often; wounds may take longer to heal; and muscle growth may take a backseat to chronic inflammation.8, 11, 16
This is because many of the pathogens we are routinely exposed to (basically any disease-causing microorganism) can more insidiously weaken the body without promoting a full-blown disease state.4 Instead, we may permanently function poorly due to suppressed immunity over the longer term. To fortify our immune system means we not only become more resistant to illness and disease but also better functioning and healthier overall.
5 Immunity-Boosting Supplements
In short, excellent immunity enables us to feel and perform better. We can also look better with a lean and muscular physique that radiates health and wellness. There are several ways to effectively strengthen immunity. However, given the direct relationship between health and nutrition, the most effective immune-boosting strategy is to give the body the key nutrients it needs to build and maintain all aspects of the immune system. The following are a list of five of the most beneficial immunity-enhancing compounds (in some cases, compound groupings). Use each of them – ideally as part of a comprehensive immunity formula – to keep your body performing, and growing, at peak efficiency.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is universally considered to be the body’s preferred immunity enhancer. Otherwise known as ascorbic acid, this water-soluble vitamin is integral to strengthening connective tissues such as cartilage, bone, blood vessels, and skin. In addition, its ability to build and maintain immunity is unparalleled.3 Here’s why:
- In addition to its famed ability to support the activity of natural killer cells (small lymphocytes that attack and kill foreign cells), Vitamin C, among other functions, also helps to produce interferons (which enable cells to defend against pathogens)
- Forms much of the composition of white blood cells (the primary cells of the immune system); boosts the function of phagocytes (white blood cells which engulf, and consume, pathogens)
- Enhances the phagocytes’ production of oxide (the substance which kills captured pathogens)
- Helps to activate macrophages, natural killer cells, and antigen-specific T-lymphocytes as part of the cellular immune response
- Inhibits the destruction, and enhances the production of T-lymphocytes
- Supports the production and activity of antibodies (large proteins that are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogenic bacteria and viruses)
- Assists in the formation of prostaglandins (hormones which, among other functions, regulate T-cell activity)
- Neutralizes oxidative stress
- Makes bacterial membranes more permeable to antibodies.3, 6, 10, 17, 19, 29
Foods that are high in Vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, and green peppers (while recommended), merely scrape the surface when it comes to fully bolster natural immunity. What’s also needed is an ultra-high potency formulation that contains a minimum of 1000g of highly bioavailable C.
2. Vitamin D3
Known mostly for its effects on calcium and bone homeostasis, Vitamin D has of late gained a solid reputation for its immunity strengthening properties.2, 5, 28 In fact, research has shown that those with a Vitamin D deficiency have a greater chance of succumbing to autoimmunity (a dysfunctional immune response) as well as experiencing an increased susceptibility to infection.
Vitamin D plays a big role in helping to keep the immune system balanced. While excessive immune stimulation may increase the likelihood of autoimmunity (any disease resulting from an aberrant immune response), too little immune stimulation can lead to infection and a range of illnesses and non-autoimmune diseases. With corresponding receptors and enzymes located on the surfaces of all white blood cells, Vitamin D, when taken in sufficient amounts, can help to counter both of these extremes. 21, 23, 25, 26, 27
Of the two main types of Vitamin D, D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) is more potent and effective than D2.23 The natural form of D that’s manufactured by the body during exposure to sunlight, D3 is rarely found in the foods we eat (notable exceptions being egg yolks and fatty fish). Thus, the best way to upgrade our D3 levels is to consistently hit the warmer climates (impractical and in some cases health-adverse for many) and/or supplement with a reputable D3 formulation.
Though best known among bodybuilders for its ability to support muscle growth through heightened testosterone production, Zinc also remains one of the most essential nutrients for healthy immune cell development and functioning (with a deficiency in this nutrient leading to an increased risk of illness and disease).
As well as being a powerful immune-boosting antioxidant (much like Vitamin C), Zinc improves immunity by enhancing the protective barrier of the skin to keep out pathogens; is involved in gene regulation within lymphocytes; encourages the development and functioning of nonspecific immune cells such as neutrophils and natural killer cells (which respond to different types of antigen, or foreign substance, thus functioning as the first line of defense against infection or injury); augments the development and functioning of macrophages (cells of importance to many immunologic functions); and, like D3, encourages a balanced immune response (keeping the immune system from becoming either under or overactive).13, 15, 18, 32
Like the other key nutrients featured in this article, Zinc can be found in various foods. However, to fully support immunity, sufficient high-strength Zinc needs to be taken. Chelated minerals are highly sought after because the mineral, in this case, Zinc, is bound to an amino acid so that the body can effectively absorb and utilize the Zinc. Minerals on their own are either not stable (they break down) or are not able to be absorbed and are therefore ineffective. Today’s most bioavailable version of Zinc is Zinc Aminomin Chelate (standardized to 20% elemental Zinc) which, when taken in optimal dosages, supercharges the immune system to provide the ultimate in health and vitality.
Though known for some time to be highly beneficial for health and wellbeing, the Beta-Glucans have come into their own in recent years for their potent immunomodulatory (ability to positively modulate the immune system) properties.1, 20, 33 Present mostly in edible fungi (mushrooms), these non-starch polysaccharides (long-chain carbohydrates which double as a form of prebiotic fiber) can also be found in oats, barley, seaweed, and yeast. The dietary supplement industry has finally caught on to the powerful immune-boosting benefits of the Beta-Glucans, with the most reputable formulas making available the best of the Beta-Glucans to those looking to secure the edge in health and longevity.
The Beta-Glucans work their immune-boosting magic by acting on several immune receptors responsible for stimulating immune cell activity. These include macrophages, T-cells, monocytes, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells.7, 20 The first line of defense against foreign pathogens is the innate (or non-specific) immune response. This response includes physical, chemical, and cellular defenses against pathogens. Then there is a subsystem of the immune system called the adaptive (or acquired) immune response, which is specific to the particular pathogen presented and is composed of specialized, systemic cells and processes that eliminate pathogens or prevent their growth. Because of their ability to target multiple immune receptors simultaneously, the Beta-Glucans are able to beneficially modulate both innate and adaptive immunity, thus providing full-spectrum insurance against illness and disease.
It’s believed that athletes are especially vulnerable to various illnesses due to exercise-induced immune suppression. In this case, the Beta-Glucans are believed to be this population’s best ally when it comes to bolstering immunity more broadly.
Three types of Beta Glucan are particularly potent in their ability to build immune cells and stimulate the immune response:
Comprised of a complex carbohydrate extracted from the cell walls of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), Nutramunity is notable for the unique structure and high bioactivity of beta-1,3/1,6-glucan.31 It exerts its powerful effects by binding to cells of the innate immune system and biochemically making this system more potent.
Reishi Mushroom Extract
An excellent way to improve overall health and wellbeing, the Reishi mushroom is also notable for its beneficial impact on the immune system. It’s believed that this power-packed fungus boosts immunity by altering inflammation pathways on white blood cells, thus rendering these immune-critical cells stronger and better functioning. Reishi mushroom also strengthens immunity by increasing the activity of specific white blood cells called natural killer cells as well as increasing the production of lymphocytes.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Containing bioactive compounds such as polysaccharopeptide and polysaccharide krestin, the Turkey Tail Mushroom has traditionally been used to treat lung diseases and strengthen immunity.22, 24, 30 This powerful fungus – known as the “Beautiful One” due to its broad array of bright colors – contains an impressive lineup of antioxidants, including phenols (up to 35 different phenolic compounds) and flavonoids (such as the ultra-powerful quercetin and baicalein).12 This impressive antioxidant blend is believed to stimulate the release of immune protective compounds. Of particular note, the polysaccharopeptides found in Turkey Tail Mushroom boost immunity by activating and inhibiting immune-specific cells and reducing inflammation.
Optimal hydration remains one of the most important steps to building and maintaining a sound immune response. Integral to immunity is a substance called lymph, a fluid compound that comprises much of the immune-specific lymphatic system. Lymph is crucial to immunity as it carries white blood cells and other cells of importance to the immune system around the body. However, without a sufficient intake of water, much less lymph can be produced (of which water forms a major part) and what little lymph we do have will be much less effective.
Unfortunately, active people tend to experience a greater than normal disruption to their water balance due, in part, to sweat loss and greater energy production requirements. Simply replacing lost water is often not enough to ensure sufficient circulating H2O to support myriad physiological functions and processes (including lymph production and immunity). This is where a good balance of electrolytes will assist in helping the body to better absorb and use the water we consume.
In fact, electrolytes (small, slightly charged particles) are essential when it comes to maintaining an optimal water balance both inside and outside of the trillions of cells of the body. It’s therefore important to properly support the immune system (to perform its role of keeping us pathogen-free and functioning at a high level) by loading up on the key electrolytes, three of specific importance to the immune system are potassium, calcium, and sodium.
Sound Protection for Superior Gains
Strengthened immunity is an all-important requirement when it comes to keeping the body fully charged and ready to conquer the toughest workout. In addition, to fully recover from such a workout demands that we be on top of our game in a general health sense. This, again, requires a solid immune response.
Building immunity takes a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Proper sleep, optimal hydration, stress minimization, and regular exercise all contribute to immunity enhancement. However, for each of these immune-critical factors to produce their desired outcome, optimal nutrition is essential. Not only will specific nutrients make sleep, hydration, and exercise, for example, more effective, but these nutrients will also directly benefit the immune system on multiple levels - as discussed earlier.
So, to take your gym progress further than ever before, equip yourself with superior versions of the above-listed nutrients and get ready to experience the best results of your lifting career – guaranteed.
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