Your immune system is more important than ever right now. When stress levels rise, it disrupts healthy immune function. Here are 6 steps to help your body rebalance your immune response.
I hear from so many patients who have imbalanced immune responses. Whether they are susceptible to viral infections (such as EBV and HPV), or they have allergic reactions and histamine intolerance, or even autoimmunity of various types, all of these situations are caused by a less-than-optimal immune system. Most practitioners come from the perspective of wanting to suppress the immune system (including allergists and rheumatologists) or to force the body to attack the invading substance. Hardly ever will you hear the strategy of wanting to bring the immune system back to healthy function.
The immune system is quite complex and not as well understood as we might think. It is not as simple as pushing it one way or another. And it is not stuck where it is now. My body is a perfect example of that. I experienced severe allergies for over 20 years, and now they are gone. I did this not by suppressing my immune system (such as with steroids), and not by forcing it to do what we think it should do (such as with allergy shots). Instead, I supported it in returning to optimal functioning with what is now known as my Stress Recovery Protocol.
Our immune system is built to protect us. Our unique genetics can lead us to be more susceptible to variations in how our immune system functions. For some, that means being more likely to have allergies, or autoimmunity, or immune deficiencies. But what is important to know is that our genetic tendencies are turned on by stress. Once we help your body recover from stress, your immune system can go back to doing what it does best, protecting you and helping your body heal.
I’ll show you how to get your immune system back on track in this article. The first step is to understand your immune system.
What Is the Immune System?
The immune system is comprised of several different types of white blood cells, including B cells and T cells (which are lymphocytes), as well as mast cells. There are MANY signaling substances – I refer to them as “messengers” – including antibodies, histamines, cytokines, and more.
Unlike other parts of the body, the immune system is not located in one place. It is able to be anywhere in the body, anytime it is needed to protect us from foreign substances – a bacteria, virus, yeast, parasite, or allergen.
The white blood cells are made in the bone marrow, and each play a different role in the immune system. B cells make antibodies (IgA, IgG, IgE, etc) and help to “flag” invading cells so the rest of the immune system knows what to attack. T cells, which finish development in the thymus gland, can directly kill infected cells and cancer cells, and make cytokines that communicate to the rest of the immune system to fend off viruses, bacteria and any other abnormal cells (cancer cells) or a foreign substances. Mast cells, which are especially important in the intestines, directly eliminate pathogens and release histamine, cytokines, and other messengers to signal to the rest of the immune system.
Working together, this whole process creates inflammation and oxidative stress, which is necessary to some degree, in order to address the issue, and to stimulate healing. The immune system is also able to turn itself off and calm back down, to be ready for the next potential issue.
Essentially, your immune system is built to protect you from viruses and the like.
It is when inflammation is over the top, and doesn’t turn off when it should, or is over-reactive and over-protective to substances that aren’t really an issue, and/or gets confused and starts protecting us from our own cells and tissue, that trouble ensues.
What Is a Cytokine Storm?
A cytokine storm is an overproduction inflammatory cytokines, which attract even more cells that end up attacking and damaging healthy cells in the body.
You may have heard this term (cytokine storm) being used lately in regards to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), but that’s not the only time a cytokine storm is known to occur. Other viruses, as well as cancer and autoimmunity can also trigger an overproduction of cytokines, and the resultant inflammation, oxidative stress, and tissue damage.
Immunosuppressive medications have been developed to stop this kind of cytokine over-responsiveness. They are used in the treatment of autoimmune conditions and cancer. There is a downside though. These medications are also associated with an increased risk of infection and cancer. In some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. However, these patients need to be monitored carefully, and the medications may only work for a period of time.
Another “messenger” in the inflammatory response is called bradykinin. Bradykinin is produced at the site of an injury or infection and signals for help, and for pain. Recent studies have indicated that a “bradykinin storm” is involved with COVID-19. When bradykinin levels increase (because they are not being broken down properly), it causes blood vessels to become “leaky” (similar to leaky gut), leading to fluid leaking into the lungs, dizziness, fatigue. It can also cause low blood pressure and irregular heart beats, all of which are common symptoms with COVID-19.
We can help minimize occurrence or avoid all of the above by having a balanced level of immunity. We want to see not too much (cytokine or bradykinin storm and autoimmunities), and not too little (sickness and no protection against viruses). To do that, we need to give your body what it needs to recover from stress (and oxidative stress) so that your immune system can work when you need it, and turn off when its work is done.
How Stress Affects the Immune System
Stress comes in many forms, including physical or emotional events in our lives. This includes working long hours, demanding deadlines, financial anxieties, personal losses, trauma, physical injury, toxins, or infections. These ALL cause a stress response in our bodies.
And in turn, this stress response disrupts our healthy immune function.
We know that stress impacts our cortisol levels, causing them to be too high or too low. We also know that cortisol is always in communication with our immune system. When cortisol levels shift, so does the signal to the immune system. With long-standing stress, the immune system isn’t able to do its best work, plus, stress directly affects genetic expression, meaning stress turns on your genetic tendencies.
That’s why we are most susceptible to allergies, autoimmunity, infections, and cancer when we’ve been exposed to ongoing stress without enough stress recovery.
Examples of Stress and Immune-Related Health Issues in Studies (reference below)…
- Students who are stressed over maintaining their grades or a looming test tend to have decreased immune function and increased infections.
- Nurses who work night shifts are more likely to develop cancer.
- Adults who experience consistent stress in their lives are more likely to develop autoimmune conditions.
However, the answer is NOT to stop being students or to attempt to avoid all stress. That would be impossible. Stress is all around us, and actually, HUMANS ARE BUILT TO BE STRESSED.
It is simply a matter of making sure we also give our bodies what they need to recover from stress, including rest, nutritious food, water, nurturing, exercise, and nutrients. And to expose our bodies to the signals it needs so that our immune system has a chance to work for us, instead of against us.
By doing this, by helping our bodies to recover from stress, we can actually change our genetic expression. We can turn off autoimmunity and allergies. We can reset our immune system to where it functions best.
6 Steps to Reset Your Immune System
1. Practice Self-CARE
- Clean Eating: It’s important to consider both WHAT to eat… and what NOT to eat. High inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, and sugar all affect immunity, so limiting or eliminating them is ideal. On the contrary, not having enough protein in our bodies also negatively affects our immune function. I recommend having protein or a protein shake with every meal.
- Adequate Sleep: For so long people thought it was a badge of honor to get by on so little sleep. This is not something worth striving for. In fact, a lot gets done while you sleep. Unfortunately, when we are experiencing stress, sleep is often disrupted due to elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels making it difficult to fall asleep. If that is the case for you, please know there is much we can do to address this issue and get you back to sleeping through the night.
- Reduce Stress: Stress-reducing activities help us to reset cortisol levels back to “normal” so we can keep our immune system functioning properly. There are truly no shortage of stress-reducing activities depending on what works for you. For some, it’s spending time with loved ones or petting/cuddling pets, others it’s going for a walk or meditating. Whether we realize it or not, nature has a positive impact on our emotional/ mental health that helps us to reduce stress. This could include gardening, sitting in the sun, listening to water, or even tending to indoor plants or looking out the window if the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activities. Dancing, singing, and laughing are also fantastic ways to release “happy hormones” and reduce stress.
- Exercise: Healthy movement helps to balance our immunity, however, the keyword here is “healthy.” Overdoing workouts can actually raise your cortisol too high and decrease your immunity, so make a point to move your body… but listen to it at the same time. Ultimately, we want to keep cortisol balanced and inflammation down.
2. Nutrients and Antioxidants to Support the Immune System
In my experience (and based on research), the best nutrients to support healthy immune function are:
- Vitamin C – see Dr. Doni’s Vitamin C Support.
In addition to supporting immune function, vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, helping our bodies recover from inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Zinc – see Dr. Doni’s Zinc Support
Just as with vitamin C, zinc is also an anti-oxidant and is involved is hundreds of metabolic processes related to healing.
- Vitamin A – see an example here
Vitamin A is directly anti-viral in addition to being needed for healthy antibody production. It’s made from beta-carotene in our diet, but many of us have genetic variations that decrease conversion from beta-carotene, making actual vitamin A more effective. If you’re pregnant, you’ll want to stay under 10,000 iu, but otherwise, clinical doses can be used to support immune function.
- Vitamin D – see Dr. Doni’s Vitamin D & K Support
Vitamin D has so many functions in our bodies, including supporting healthy cytokine and bradykinin levels. We get vitamin D from sun exposure, but at least 20% of people are deficient in vitamin D (I see deficiencies much more often than 20%). Be sure to have your levels checked in your next blood work.
- NAC and Glutathione – see an example NAC here and glutathione here.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is the amino acid cysteine (which our body can make from methionine) in a form we can take it as a supplement. It is one of the precursor nutrients for making glutathione (which we can also take as a supplement). Both are important as anti-oxidants, helping our bodies to heal for oxidative stress and inflammation. Additional, NAC has been shown to be directly anti-viral and to inhibit cytokines.
You can get Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Zinc in one capsule in Dr. Doni’s Immune Support.
3. Herbs to Support a BALANCED Immune Response
In addition to nutrients, herbs* may support healthy immunity and to protect us from viruses and other pathogens, such as:
4. Beneficial Proteins, Amino Acids, and Peptides
Protein, which is broken down into amino acids, are necessary for healthy cell production and immune function. This is one of the reasons I emphasize getting enough protein with each meal, which can require extra diligence if you are following a plant-based diet. Peptides, which are small chains of amino acids, and in particular the specific peptides that signal to the DNA in our cells to reset function, can be profoundly beneficial to immune function.
- L-Lysine: A building block of protein not naturally-derived in the human body can be taken in supplement* form. It has been touted for its impressive health benefits including the promotion of rapid healing, stress reduction, calcium absorption, and the prevention of cold sores.
- Pea Protein Powder: Unlike many protein powders, Dr. Doni’s Pea Protein doesn’t include sugar, dairy or gluten, making it an easy way to incorporate protein without other inflammatory ingredients.
- Collagen Powder: Similar to the protein powder, collagen powder is an effective way to quickly get the amino acids our bodies need for healthy hair, joints, and overall immune system. The type of collagen matters – this product contains the most active type of collagen.
- Khavinson Peptides: These bio-regulating immune peptides signal to our cells to RESET function after being affected by stress, which to me, is the ultimate stress reset for our immune system.
5. Gut Health Is Essential
50% of our immune system is based in our gut… that’s a BIG deal! If we have leaky gut or are on medications that negatively affect gut health and bacteria, our immune system becomes “confused” from the mixed signals.
Once you have removed the foods causing stress to your gut, you can work to heal your leaky gut and balance gut bacteria.
You can order my Leaky Gut Support powder to help heal your intestinal walls.
6. Help Your Adrenal Glands Recover From Stress
Finally, the last step is to help our adrenals recover from stress. The best indicator of this is to actually check your cortisol and adrenaline levels throughout the day.
Once you have that information, you can use nutrients, herbs, and peptides that all help to re-optimize and reset your adrenal cortisol and adrenaline levels after stress exposure. My Dr. Doni Adrenal Support contains many of those essential herbs and nutrients.
You CAN Do This!
For decades I had severe allergies – to foods, dust, pollen, and more – plus autoimmune conditions are common on both sides of my family. It took time but I eventually used these same six steps to recover from stress and reset my immunity.
Your body WILL respond to these positive steps so don’t give up because a healthy immune system is one of the most valuable things we can have in life – and it’s worth the effort of obtaining and maintaining it.
And that’s what I want for you, too.
- If you would prefer to work together 1:1 in person, by phone, or through video, you can schedule your appointment here.
- You can also work your way through my Stress Remedy Program as mentioned above.
Above all else, I want you to know that you CAN “boost”… or rather, balance and reset… your immune system to support and protect your health.
You deserve to change your health destiny – and I’m here to help every step of the way.
Wellness wishes to you, always!
16th April 2020
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements – nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other – should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
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- Galdiero M, Varricchi G, Seaf M, Marone G, Levi-Schaffer F, Marone G. Bidirectional Mast Cell–Eosinophil Interactions in Inflammatory Disorders and Cancer. Front. Med., 24 July 2017. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2017.00103
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