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A strong immune system is your best defence

Aches and pains and sniffles – is your body trying to tell you something?

Just like an invisible security fence that surrounds your property, a healthy immune system is all too easy to take for granted. You may not think twice about your immunity, until you start to notice common signs of “immune weakness,” ranging from fatigue to swollen lymph glands to constant sickness to an uncontrollable craving for sweets.

Again, these signs of poor immunity are easy to overlook, often because we’re told that they are a normal side effect of our modern society. If you’re not struggling with stress, exhaustion, fatigue and cravings, you’re the odd man out. It’s rare that these symptoms are presented for what they really are – a weak and struggling immune system that is crying out for help.

A strong immune system is your best defence


If you are a parent, or if you have ever spent time around young children, then you know that a robust immune system is not something we are born with.

Most new parents shield their babies from the outside world in the early days, protecting them from unknown bacteria and viruses until their immune system starts to grow stronger.

University of Michigan Health System researchers “cracked the code” about this immune conundrum when they examined the fledgling immune systems of babies in 2012. In a study published in Nature Immunology, researchers found that essential immune cells needed by the body to fight infection don’t mature until later in life, in adulthood.1 Senior study author Dr Yasmina Laouar, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Microbiology and Immunology, explained, “During this time, we are left with an immature immune system that cannot protect us against infections, the reason why newborns and infants are more prone to infection.”

And yet, this doesn’t change the fact that a weak immune system is one of the primary factors in many diseases and can become especially dangerous as we grow older. “Taken together, infectious diseases are the most powerful selective pressure with which our species must contend,” the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense of the UT Southwestern Medical Center states. In fact, the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense goes on to say, “Before the age of 44, more people die from infection than from all other causes combined.

While cardiovascular disease kills more people worldwide than infection does, it is not equivalent as a selective pressure.”2


Right at the beginning, babies who are born full-term receive this natural immune protection against infection from their mothers, after being colonised with beneficial gut bacteria both in the womb and through the vaginal tract.

aches and pains and snifflesPremature babies may not have the same advantage, however, and can experience lowered immunity if their communities of protective gut bacteria have not had time to develop. Premature babies may also suffer with weak immunity if they are not able to nurse, increasing risk for infection even further. University of Missouri School of Medicine researchers discovered that manufacturing a natural breast milk protein called lactoferrin could help to protect premature babies against staph infection.3

With the right foundation at birth, our immunity can grow stronger to protect us as adults, before it begins to wane in old age. Researchers now consider immune system frailty in adults aged 65 and older to be a “widespread public health issue” in the Western world. By examining the blood samples of 92 volunteers, from the ages of 21 to 97, in a 2016 study published in Nature Immunology, researchers were able to detect a subset of T-cells, or infection-fighting white blood cells known to decrease with age, that had not yet been exposed to a virus or infection. Researchers believe that, among the elderly population in particular, diverse immune testing could be used to determine the status of immunity and whether outside support is needed.4

“Older adults are by far the largest group of people who are vulnerable to infections, because of their weakened immune systems,” Dr Nikolich-Žugich, principal study investigator and head of the Department of Immunobiology and Elizabeth Bowman, Professor of Medical Research at the UA College of Medicine, Tucson, said.

Young or old, supporting the immune system is critical in order to strengthen our defence against the outside world. University of Birmingham researchers discovered in 2016 that the health of a robust immune system may depend on something they called “immunological memory,” traced back to a new class of regulatory elements in the genes.5 Simply stated, the immune system’s ability to fight off recurrent infection, including the common cold and flu, stems from its ability to “remember” encounters with past infections. This cumulative memory builds up long-term immunity.

The risk of infection is constant and oftentimes deadly – we know this much is true. Improving the immune system’s “memory” may be the most important thing we do to support our body and strengthen its natural barrier system with age. As you may have experienced with your own health before, the wisdom of the immune system can work both ways.

A strong and intelligent immune system will remember previous encounters with infection to fight a winning battle once again. A weak and confused immune system that has not been given the proper support may lose the battle by focusing its attention in the wrong area. A 2010 study published in PLoS Pathogens reported that recurrent urinary tract infections may be the result of an immune system overreacting to an initial infection.6


The simplest way to approach reinforcing the health of the immune system that we need to withstand danger is to think back to where it all began.

Full-term babies who have been given the greatest support, in the form of proper nutrition and beneficial bacteria that inoculates their new gut, are often born with the greatest natural defence. As straightforward as this may seem, it holds the key to our immune health, starting at birth and lasting a lifetime.

Diet and nutrition have been directly linked to immunity. UK researchers discovered in 2011 that eating green vegetables could be enough to improve immune defence – mice fed a vegetable- poor diet for only two to three weeks saw a 70 to 80 percent drop in immune- protective cells in the gut and the skin.7 Now it makes sense why specific nutrients, like zinc, have become superstars in the arena of immune nutrition. Vitamins and minerals have the potential to significantly improve even the weakest immunity.

Zinc is best known for its role as a popular cold-fighting remedy, and researchers may have finally figured out why. In 2013, Ohio State University researchers learned that zinc may help to control infection by “pumping the brakes” on the immune response to halt the spread of excessive inflammation that can often be deadly.8 Taking a zinc supplement may also help to boost immunity in older adults in nursing homes, protecting against infection.9 OptiZinc®, or zinc monomethionine, is the most potent form of FDA-approved zinc available, combined with the essential amino acid methionine. This form of zinc has been proven to enhance mononuclear-phagocytic function in turkeys, increasing cellular immunity and helping the body to naturally resist disease.10 Zinc remains one of the most powerful natural antiviral agents available to fight off rhinoviruses, associated with the common cold.

A dried yeast fermentate, EpiCor, is another pro-immunity nutrient that works hand-in-hand with zinc. In the fight against infection, EpiCor stands out as a powerhouse antioxidant, needed by the body to combat free radical damage. Free radicals that come from processed foods, excessive drinking and smoking and environmental pollutants can burden the immune system and increase the risk of chronic disease. With an exceptionally high antioxidant ORAC rating of 52,500 per 100g, EpiCor has confirmed immune-balancing and strengthening benefits seen in seven published human clinical trials, with relief for allergy, cold, and flu symptoms.11,12,13

Along with the heavy-hitters like zinc and EpiCor, you can strengthen your immune system even further with the help of supporting nutrients like selenium, vitamin D3, and vitamin C. Selenium, also an immune-boosting antioxidant, is a trace mineral that the body can’t produce on its own. Highly bioavailable organic selenium, or eXselen, may be better utilised by the body – elevating blood serum levels up to two times more than ordinary selenium. Vitamin D deficiency has been known to compromise the immune response, while higher levels of vitamin C have been linked to a decreased risk in fatal chronic disease, including stroke, cancer, heart disease and related risk factors like chronic inflammation, high blood pressure and a poor immune response.

From the day you are born, the untapped potential of your immune system has the power to increase over a lifespan – once you learn how to cultivate and nourish your natural immunity. Immune function becomes even more important as our life expectancy increases, researchers explained in a 2012 study published in Aging and Disease. Nutritional intervention has been recognised as a practical, cost- effective way to address the immune function decline and infection risk that comes with age.14


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S. M. and Laouar, Y. 2012. TGF-ß is responsible for NK cell immaturity during ontogeny and increased susceptibility to infection during mouse infancy. Nature Immunology, DOI: 10.1038/ni.2388.
2. Purpose of the Center. Center for the Genetics of Host Defense, UT Southwestern Medical Center.
3. Sherman, M. P., Adamkin, D. H., Niklas, V., Radmacher, P., Sherman, J., Wertheimer, F. and Petrak, K. 2016. Randomized controlled trial of Talactoferrin oral solution in preterm infants. The Journal of Pediatrics, 175: 68 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.04.084.
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7. Li, Y., Innocentin, S., Withers, D. R., Roberts, N. A., Gallagher, A. R., Grigorieva, E. F., Wilhelm, C. and Veldhoen, M. 2011 Oct. Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.09.025.
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10. Kidd, M. T., Qureshi, M. A., Ferket, P.R. and Thomas, L. N. 1994. Dietary zinc-methionine enhances mononuclearphagocytic function in young turkeys. Biol Trace Elem Res. 42 pp 217-229.
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