Macro and Micro Nutrients to Support Immune Health

The nutrients your body needs to maintain a healthy immune system.

We’ve all been told a similar story about illness - that it’s caused by bad luck, bad genes, or both, and that the best we can hope for is that we’ll be one of the “lucky” ones, and can survive whatever comes our way. When we do get sick, we’re convinced by medical authorities to lean on prescription medications and in turn hand our power over to medical providers and the pharmaceuticals they prescribe. It’s time we take control of our own health. It’s time that we understand what makes a human healthy, resilient, and strong, and to the contrary, what actually makes a human being sick.

There is an endless amount of dietary and health information available to us today. We can look to the internet, books, research articles, podcasts,  the list goes on and on. The information that we have at our fingertips today would have been nearly impossible to acquire several years ago. Advances in information bring us many benefits, but with those benefits come challenges as well. Fortunately, there’s another way!  

We now know that we can adapt and change our bodies in real time. This is the beauty and sophistication of epigenetics’ and the microbiome - a very dynamic ecosystem.

Most of us aren’t trained to read research. Most of us aren’t attending conferences and doing courses on a regular basis. We can easily get lost in the wilderness of false information and go down a path that takes us in the opposite direction of where we want to go. 

I see this time and time again with the patients that I consult with regarding health coaching and nutrition. They eagerly research online, read health books, listen to podcasts and try to self diagnose and ultimately try to treat themselves. This process can turn into a vicious cycle. 

I encourage curiosity and learning, but this pattern can lead people down a path where they find themselves frustrated, confused, and desperate to get well. I have the opportunity to work with Dr. Bruce Hoffman and often sit in on his consultations with complex patients, where I realized how many patients are lost in the sea of online information with no coherent diagnostic or treatment plan in sight. It’s a big problem and something I’m committed to providing accurate and trusted information. 

What I’m going to provide you with is a research based roadmap that you can use to rebalance your immune system and get your health back on the right path, or continue to refine and build a robust immune system that will last you a lifetime.

Let’s start with going over some immune system basics and the basic nutrients needed to support our immune systems.

Eating For A Strong Immune System

A well functioning immune system is the key to providing a good defense against incoming pathogens, to providing immune tolerance to non-threatening organisms, food components, and to one’s own cells and organs. 

The immune system does its works by:

  •   providing an exclusive barrier
  •   identifying and eliminating pathogens
  •   identifying and tolerating non-threatening sources of antigens
  •   maintaining a memory of immunological encounters

The immune system is very complex. It consists of many different cell types differentiated throughout the body with many different chemical mediators; some are involved in defense and some are involved in regulatory roles.

We’re born with an immature immune system that develops over the first few years of life. In young adulthood it should be at its peak. As we continue to age, our immune system begins to  decline. Age, combined with poor nutrition may potentially be an immune system disaster. Due to our dietary choices we often underestimate how much control we actually have over our immune health.

Let’s first talk about macro and micro nutrients. The individual nutrients that are essential for immune health are phosphatidylcholine, omega 6 fatty acids, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, Iron, and selenium*. Now, just to be clear - these micronutrients are the key players but we need all the micronutrients in the perfect amount for them to support us, which is why the highest quality diet is of utmost importance.

Micro Nutrient Recommendations 

Phosphatidylcholine (PC)

The outer membrane of the cell, composed of PC, is first to meet incoming invaders where tiny peptides called defensins provide the first line of defense*. A healthy cell membrane is able to sweep invaders from the membrane’s outer surface before they are able to enter the cell. When the cell membrane is resilient, flexible, and has integrity, the defensins can clear the pathogen away allowing for the immune system to have time to clear away the inflammatory attack*. This is where BodyBio’s PC comes into play. This macronutrient is essential to allow the cell membrane to maintain perfect architecture.

How much PC should I take?

The best approach is to test what your PC levels are with a practitioner that does fatty acid testing. If you do not have access to testing, I recommend 1-2 Tbsp per day as a maintenance dose. For moderate to severe health conditions,  2-4 Tbsp per daily is recommended. BodyBio PC may also be taken with Ox Bile or Tudca if needed.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Let’s start by talking about Linoleic Acid – one of the major omega 6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid, like all essential fatty acids, is considered essential because it cannot be synthesized by the body. One important function of Linoleic acid is for mitochondrial / energy support because a major phospholipid in mitochondria is cardiolipin that requires four linoleic fatty acid tails*. Downstream from linoleic acid, created by a process known as desaturation and elongation, are gamma-linolenic acid (GLA- found in evening primrose oil and organ meats), and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA also functioning as an eicosanoid, a class of compounds involved in cellular activity).

Another major omega 6 fatty acid is arachidonic acid (AA) found in egg yolk, butter, cream and meat fat. I personally do not recommend dairy so the places I get my AA from are egg yolks and meat fat. All of these omega 6 fatty acids play a role in gene regulation inside the cell*. DGLA and AA are eicosanoids which are precursors to prostaglandins that evolve into important mediators for immunity and the immune response*.

We need to ensure that we’re getting enough omega 6 fatty acids in balance with omega 3 fatty acids from the food that we eat. That takes some work. I am going to help you with a plan to ensure that you are taking in adequate amounts of linoleic acid, because this critical fatty acid has been depleted in our food supply without our even knowing it by the replacement of high-oleic acid hybrid oils rather than seed oils that are naturally high in essential fatty acids.

How Much Omega 6 EFA Should I Take?

As with PC, It’s advisable to test your levels of omega 6 fatty acids with a practitioner that does fatty acid testing. For an individual that has not tested their levels, I recommend 1-2 Tbsp of Body Bio Balance oil 2 times per day, and 2-4 capsules of Evening Primrose oil daily.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are put on the highest pedestal amongst health enthusiasts. While Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid and is crucial, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is what is really important. The optimal ratio is four parts of omega 6 to one part of omega 3. We do not want to over consume omega 3 fatty acids and limit omega 6. I have talked about the health disasters that can result from these dietary habits in the past. We can easily get the required amounts of omega 3 in the diet by eating 3 servings of wild caught, fatty fish (not predator fish) per week. My favorite way to ingest omega 3 fatty acids is through eating caviar. Runners-up to caviar are wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, and I personally love wild caught black cod (although the omega 3’s in cod are not that high).

How much Omega 3 EFA should I take?

Just like omega 6 fatty acids, it’s important to test omega 3 fatty acids. One does not want to overdose on omega 3 fatty acids through food or through supplementation. The goal is to maintain the delicate balance of 4:1 (omega 6 to omega 3) that is needed for healthy cell membranes. As a general recommendation, I think it is sensible to consume 3 servings of wild caught, cold water fatty fish per week, along with 2 servings of wild caught Sturgeon Caviar.

Micro-Nutrients: Vitamins 

Vitamin A

Most of us are aware that vitamins are essential constituents of our diet that have long been known to influence the immune system. Vitamin A plays a role in a broad range of immune processes, such as lymphocyte activation and proliferation, T-helper-cell differentiation, tissue-specific lymphocyte homing, the production of specific antibody isotypes and regulation of the immune system. Vitamin A also has the ability to modulate tissue-specific immune responses and potentially prevent and/or treat inflammation and autoimmunity.

How Much Vitamin A Should I take?

One of the ways that I recommend we get vitamin A is from organic, pasture raised beef liver or pastured chicken liver. Combining liver with beef to make burgers is a delicious way to get this superfood into your diet. If you choose to supplement, 10,000-25000 IU’s daily is a general recommendation.

Vitamin D

In an ideal world, we would be able to get the appropriate levels of vitamin D from the sun but unfortunately, most of us don’t live in an ideal vitamin D world. The average American spends 95 percent of their day indoors, and when we do venture outdoors, we cover our bodies with clothing to avoid sun exposure, we put on sunglasses and hats so we are fully protected from the sun! The sun has got a very bad rap over the years which in turn, has created a fear of sun exposure. Because of this fear and because of our modern-day world which predominantly revolves around being inside, our likelihood of getting the vitamin D we need is really unlikely.

Vitamin D is synthesized by cholesterol in the skin, then metabolized in the liver and the kidneys to the metabolically active form of vitamin D(1, 25 dihydroxyvitamin D). In order for this process to occur, we need to be mostly naked, outside during midday, for about 20-30 min per day. How many people do you know that deliberately go outside naked on their lunch break to work on getting their vitamin D levels raised?

How Much Vitamin D Should I Take?

For this reason, I strongly recommend vitamin D supplementation, especially if you are above the age of 40 and live in the Northern parts of the world. Vitamin D is a hormone and is a fat-soluble nutrient so one’s levels need to be tested to ensure levels stay between an optimal range of 50-80 ng/ml (US measure) . My first recommendation is always to get your serum levels tested. If you do not have access to testing, 5000 IU’s daily is a good dose to start.

There are vitamin D receptors found on immune cells, (B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells) and these immune cells are all capable of synthesizing the active vitamin D metabolite*. Vitamin D has the capability of acting in an autocrine (cell signalling) manner in a local immunologic milieu*. Vitamin D can also modulate both the innate and adaptive immune response*. If you want a gold winning immune system, you better put vitamin D on your starting lineup!

Vitamin C

This water-soluble vitamin is one of my favorite nutrients of all. The myriad of roles that vitamin C plays in the body to support our health is nothing short of mind blowing. Vitamin C supports cellular functions in both the innate and adaptive immune system, it supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens, enhances differentiation and proliferation of B cells and T cells, and improves immunity and susceptibility to infections*.

How much Vitamin C should I take?

As Vit C is water-soluble,  it gets used up by the body rapidly so it’s important to dose vitamin C multiple times a day to keep your plasma levels saturated. 1-2 grams of vitamin C 2-3 times per day is typically recommended.

B Vitamins

There is plenty of evidence that B2, B6, B12, and folic acid (vitamin B9) play a crucial role in the healthy balance of the immune system. Inadequate levels of folinic acid and B12 can drastically alter a person’s immune responses by affecting the production of nucleic acid, protein synthesis, inhibiting the activity of immune cells, and interfering with metabolic processes*. Some of these metabolic processes include methylation and theserine, glycine, and purine cycles. Methylation defects lead to high homocysteine levels which causes systemic and vascular inflammation contributing to the pathogenesis of many other diseases.

How Much Vitamin B Should I Take?

A good quality B complex will provide you with your basic needs. I recommend following the dosing guidelines that are provided for you on the bottle. Any further recommendations would need to be determined by testing.

Zinc

Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system, from the barrier of the skin to gene regulation within lymphocytes. Zinc is needed for normal development and function of cells mediating nonspecific immunity such as neutrophils and natural killer cells. Zinc also affects development of acquired immunity by preventing both the outgrowth of certain functions of T lymphocytes such as activation, Th1 cytokine production, and B lymphocyte assistance. It is also critical for lymphocyte development and antibody production - particularly immunoglobulin G. One pivotal cell that is involved in many immunologic functions that is adversely affected by zinc deficiency is the macrophage. The effects of zinc on these key immunologic mediators is rooted in the myriad roles for zinc in basic cellular functions such as DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division, and cell activation*. On top of all this, Zinc also functions as an antioxidant and can stabilize membranes*.

How much Zinc should I take?

I recommend getting your serum levels of zinc tested so you know your levels. Maintaining a balance of zinc/cooper is critical. If you do not have access to testing, 20-60 mg of zinc daily is my general recommendation.

Iron

The influence of iron on the immune system has long been understood. Iron is fundamental not only for proper development of the immune system, but also for proper maintenance. A deficiency in iron creates an inability to mount an appropriate immune response, and it is needed for immune cell proliferation and maturation.

How Much Iron Should I Take?

Like all nutrients, there is an optimal level of iron that the immune system needs to function at its best. Excess iron impacts cells negatively as does iron deficiency. I recommend getting ferritin levels tested regularly to ensure you are in the sweet spot. Foods that are rich in iron include red meat, organ meats, and shellfish.

Selenium

This profound antioxidant plays many roles in the body. Selenium is required for efficient and effective operation of the immune system*. It influences both the innate and adaptive immune systems*. Selenium-deficient lymphocytes are less able to proliferate in response to a pathogen. Macrophages, leukotriene B4 synthesis, which are all essential for neutrophil chemotaxis, (movement of a cell in response to a chemical stimulus)  are all impaired by a selenium deficiency*. The good news? These processes can be improved by selenium supplementation!

How Much Selenium Should I Take?

Selenium levels also need to be measured but 100 - 200 mcg daily for an adult is suggested. Why do so many people have a selenium deficiency? Today, our soil is so depleted that it makes it difficult to get enough selenium from the foods we eat. Brazil nuts are a selenium rich food that typically provides about 50 mg of selenium per nut. Depending on where the Brazil nuts have been grown, and the soil that they have been grown in, are both factors in the level of selenium found in the end food product. The best way is to eat 2-4 Brazil nuts per day, along with a handful of raw, organic mixture of seeds. Shellfish are also rich in selenium so including these foods in your diet is wise if you wish to avoid supplementation. Best advice? Get your selenium levels tested. In nature, there is a balance, and like all micronutrients, there is a sweet spot. As Goldilocks said - “not too hot, not too cold, but just right.”

Now let’s all get out there and feed our miraculous immune systems what they need to thrive!