Can you Build Viral Resiliency? Science says, absolutely.
Updated: 7 days ago
Did you know that you come into contact with hundreds of pathogens, many being viruses, every single day? Most the time we don’t notice, because the immune system is able to recognize and eradicate them before symptoms show up. Every once and a while though, a virus sneaks past our defenses and is able to proliferate. When this happens, we come down with a common cold, the flu or something related (thou shall not be named). The health of our immune system determines the severity of the infection- not the virus itself. This explains why there is a large variance in the severity of symptoms among individuals. So, what can we do to prep our immune system? How can we prep our body, so that when it comes into contact with an infectious pathogen, we have a smooth recovery or no illness at all? How can we create a lower viral load as to slow the spread? Here's the science:
A virus typically enters the body through mucous membranes, such as the mouth and nose. Because this has been happening- probably forever, part of our immune system is actually located on these mucous membranes. The capacity for the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and even the digestive tract to ward off pathogens is twofold. They act as both a physical and chemical barrier. They trap the virus (physical), so that immune cells can attack it (chemical) before it has a chance to enter the body. The specialized immune proteins on the membranes can kill the trapped pathogens with relative ease- when they are abundant.
If hydration isn’t adequate, the mucous membranes become dry and their defense against pathogens substantially decreases. When the mucous membrane isn’t coated, in well- mucous, pathogens essentially “slip through the cracks”. In addition, dehydrated membranes don’t provide an ideal environment for those immune cells that we just mentioned, meaning the quality and quantity is adversely affected. When this happens, they simply cannot do their job.
Cheers and chug your water my friends- it is the easiest and most cost-effective way to help your body out and stop the entry of pathogens.
Every nutrient is good for the immune system- but, there are a few foundational ones that most of the population have subpar levels of. Suboptimal levels of these nutrients contribute to a chronically suppressed immune system and more specifically a reduced anti-viral capacity.
They are Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium and Vitamin C. While clinical deficiency is rare, it is more prevalent in western countries where the standard American diet (SAD) is widely consumed and ancestral eating habits are absent. Despite the low rate of clinical deficiency, standard recommendations (RDIs) do not come close to providing the modern body with the amount it needs to thrive. To compound on this, the average person doesn’t meet the RDI on these nutrients on a given day. It is to be noted, that there could be a book written of each of these as they relate to immune function, but here’s the sparks note version:
A body without adequate zinc cannot effectively fight viruses. This is because zinc is needed to synthesize various immune cells as well as antibodies. Zinc attaches to viruses, rendering them ineffective and inhibits their replication. It is able to modulate immune activity through several pathways- including protecting the health of the digestive tract, which is where most of the immune system resides. Worldwide deficiency is 31%, with most of the deficiency coming from developed countries (hi, Canada). Deficiency also promotes chronic inflammation, which is an immune response gone awry.
Often overlooked, this trace mineral is crucial for the anti-viral capacity of the immune system. The immune system relies heavily on “selenoprotiens”, which as the name suggests requires a constant influx of selenium to be made. Selenium also inhibits viral mutation, which has implications in the body’s ability to recognize and fight viruses before replication gets out of hand. Those with low levels of selenium have higher mortality rates from viral infections, as the immune system is dependent on selenium.
Has over 20 functions in the immune system- including attacking viruses directly. Vitamin C is concentrated up to 50x more in immune cells, and more so when there is an active infection. Vitamin C is used by nearly every system in the body- neurological, cardiovascular, lymphatic, integumentary and it gets rapidly used up when the body is in fight or flight mode (ie- stressed). It is ideal to have plasma levels saturated at all times. This is difficult to achieve from food alone given the environment we live in and the many functions it has in the body. If not used prophylactically, vitamin C can still be used in an acute infection, although the dose needs to be substantially higher.
I cannot stress enough the importance of vitamin D in immune function. Among several mechanisms of action, it stimulates the upregulation and expression of anti-microbial peptides in lung tissue. This means that it directly prevents upper respiratory tract infections. The amount of vitamin D in your body correlates to your risk of infection (and predisposition to chronic and autoimmune illnesses). Speaking to a virus specifically, those with low levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to viruses and have worse outcomes than those with adequate levels. If you do not live in a tropical country and are not supplementing- you do not have adequate levels. High dose vitamin D is one of the best things that you can do for your health- and it is one of the most cost-effective supplements out there.
It is of importance to note that most people living in the western world do not have optimal levels of any of the above nutrients. It also of importance to understand that anyone with metabolic dysfunction (which is 88% of the population) will have an increased need for every one of these nutrients.
Optimizing these nutrient levels through diet and orthomolecular medicine is paramount to improving viral resiliency.
The Other Stuff
There are many factors at play when it comes to the ability of the body to fight off viruses. We know that 80% of the immune system resides in the gut- in what we refer to as the microbiome. We also know that sugar kills the good bacteria, and feeds the bad bacteria. And we know fiber feeds the good guys, so that the bad guys can’t take over. Ensuring the health of your microbiome contributes in several regards to overall health and the ability to ward off viruses.
Sleep is often overlooked in the realm of disease prevention. This is the time the immune system’s ability to scavenge pathogens is increased. Depending on the person, 7-9 hours is ideal, and hitting REM sleep is essential. Without a consistent sleep cycle, the body is at a massive disadvantage in its ability to scavenge viruses.
Joy is perhaps more overlooked than sleep- but feelings of joy, gratitude and love have a profound impact on the immune system.
My hope is that we start to paint a holistic picture of what health is- and from here, we are able to identify the gaps in our lives where we are not supporting our body. The gaps that are not conducive to immune resiliency. My intention is to highlight how amazing the body is when provided with the right nutrients and environment. And that you CAN have a body that is resilient to viral infections, which helps you and those you love.
As individuals, we have much more control over our health than most of us believe. It’s the little habits every day that can add up to long-term sustained health. Most of us, at this point in time are concerned with one certain virus. The susceptibility that you have to it, also predicts your future health outcomes. The immune system isn’t just needed to fight of viruses- it’s needed to keep cancer cells at bay, for the health of your neurons and every system in the body. Taking steps now to increase the resilience of your immune system has ripple effects that will be seen throughout your life.
The choices that we make are influenced by a complex interplay between beliefs, hormones, neurotransmitters, the composition of our microbiome and socioeconomic status among many other things. Reach out if you are curious about improving your viral resiliency, but are unsure how. If you have questions, comments, concerns- please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to dive deeper, if you want to know what doses to take of the above supplements, what brands are efficacious- you can book a one-time consultation with me where I can assess the health of your immune system and help you put a plan into action, a plan that makes you feel good.
In Health, because I am confident with the right practices everyone of us can have it- now and in the future.
Lisa, B.kin (hons), CNP