This entry is all about areas of personal and professional care that may be considered to improve
immune health. When building immune health please keep these personal care approaches in mind;
food and daily lifestyle choices first, followed by supplements if levels are low, and medicine when you
are feeling ill enough to require a health care provider’s professional guidance.
We are in the middle of cold and flu season. The Rhino virus has been running ramped throughout
Madison Valley, not to mention we are still dealing with COVID. The average American experiences 2-4
colds per year, and if you are a parent to a young child, this rate may be higher. These ailments can
include Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep throat to name a few.
Before we dive into what you can do to keep your immune system healthy, let’s get familiar with how the
immune system works. There are two main parts of the immune system, which are classified as Innate
Immunity and Adaptive Immunity. Innate immunity is basically our first line of defense. It’s broad, quick,
and to the point. Innate Immunity can be impacted by pathogens entering the skin, eyes, nose, mucous
membranes of the upper respiratory system and the digestive system, which is considered outside of the
When it comes to getting sick with a common cold, the nose is one of the unsung heroes in the immune
system, because it does so much. You breathe thousands of thousands of times a day. Each time you
breathe, your nose filters stuff coming into your body and lungs. For instance, your nasal passages make
mucus, which acts like fly paper to trap pathogens before it can get inside the body and do damage.
Mucus is normally a clear color or sort of like a pale beige, but when you get sick it ranges from yellowish
to a green color. So, what is happening here? Well, some cells inside your mucus, called neutrophils, eat
up pathogens inside your mucus and die in the process. Once neutrophils scavenge for pathogens, they
die and turn the color of normal mucus to yellowish green in color. The colored mucus comes from the
fact that part of a neutrophil is made of iron, which is green. This natural phenomenon sounds gross,
but now you know why the color of mucus can give you an idea of how sick you or your child really are.
Next comes your digestive system, which is still considered outside your body. It is comprised of
antibacterial properties inside your mouth, and powerful acids inside your stomach. Next down in your
intestines is the microbiome that prevents pathogens from getting inside your body.
Let’s see how the immune system works when something gets past the digestive system and moves
inside the body. Pathogens have an identifying part, likely a protein, called an antigen that is considered
foreign by the body. As you have already learned, Innate immunity typically goes bonkers and destroys
the pathogen. Many times, this can do the trick, but if the source or pathogen itself is too big, then the
adaptive immune system provides further defense.
Adaptive immunity is long term and very specific. It consists of extra cells, B Cells, and T cells, which
produce antibodies. These antibodies are like puzzle pieces, that only fit a specific antigen or pathogen.
Antibodies don’t kill the pathogen, but rather they just flag it for other white blood cells to kill. So, for
the 7-10 days of a cold, this is all going on inside the body. The body identifies the antigen that’s located
on the cold virus. Next, the body makes antibodies for that antigen. Finally, the body’s immune cells get
rid of the pathogen.
The cool thing about antibodies is that they stay around and if the pathogen ever gets inside again, the
body flags it and gets rid of it right away before the pathogen can cause any harm.
Now that you have a general understanding of the immune system, here are a few ways to keep it
EXERCISE, is one of the most effective ways to keep your body healthy, and it’s also a natural strategy to
help strengthen mental health. Exercise gets the blood flowing, which sharpens the mental awareness
and allows the body to identify and eradicate pathogens more rapidly. Whether that’s going for a walk
outside with your pet after mealtime or getting deep into some endurance or strength training at your
local gym, choose an activity you will enjoy.
Here are some exercise ideas:
1. Walk: First thing in the morning or after mealtime is the best time to go for a walk, either on
an indoor treadmill or outside. It doesn’t have to cost anything and it’s also a great
opportunity to be social if you aren’t sick.
2. Running is my personal go-to for relief of anxiety and depression. Not only does it get your
blood pumping, but running also floods your brain with endorphins. It can also help make it
easier to fall asleep and increase sleep quality, which are all important for strengthening
immune health. You don’t have to sign up for a workout slot at the gym. You can go for a
run at any time of the day or night that suits your schedule.
3. Strength Training: Don’t be fooled. This type of exercise is not just for young individuals. In
fact, researchers have found strength training is especially beneficial for the health and
wellbeing of older adults. It doesn’t have to mean lifting heavy weights. In fact, you could
get a strength training workout with resistance bands, free weight dumb bells, or simply
your own body weight. You don’t need to pay a personal trainer loads of money either.
There are plenty of free videos on YouTube. However, if you are someone who thrives in a
gym atmosphere, there are two local options in town you could check out.
4. Yoga is simply amazing for the body’s mental and physical health, and there are many
options available from on-site instruction with a certified yoga instructor, to membership
driven or even free online courses. If you are just starting out with your practice, you may
find it safer to attend in-person sessions. Check your local directory or Chamber of
Commerce for more information about finding a certified yoga instructor.
5. Dance like no one’s watching! You may wish to check out the availability of local dance
classes in your area.
You might be surprised that regular exercise of 20-30 minutes a day at moderate intensity is all that’s
needed to keep the immune system thriving. Keep in mind, shorter or lower intensity workouts are still
great for immune health as opposed to not exercising at all. Please refrain from deciding to exercise if
you become sick because your body obviously needs rest. If you do decide to exercise, try to stay away
from public places, like gyms where germs can easily spread. To prevent the spread of germs at public
gyms, be sure to wash your hands before and after working out.
Practicing good sleep habits can protect against getting sick. According to researchers, adults need at
least 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night to maintain health. In fact, studies have found an adult’s chances of
getting sick can be significantly reduced by as much as 20%, compared to obtaining 5 hours or less of
sleep. For optimal sleep, try to achieve 7-9 hours each night if you can. Researchers have also found
that getting to bed at a consistent time each night plays an important role in staying both physically and
mentally healthy. Keep in mind, your child will likely need more sleep. In fact, the American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends kids under the age of 18 get between 8 and 13 hours of sleep depending on their
The dietary information is nothing different than what you might already know. Certain dietary patterns
can predispose the immune system to attacks more so than others, because of their lack in variety and
nutrient density. With that said, consume less foods that are energy dense (meaning high in empty
calories), high in salt (or sugar), and contain high amounts of saturated fats. Basically, avoid highly
processed and fried foods. Reduce consumption of sugary snacks, treats, and beverages as well. Yes, this
does mean candy, ice cream, and soda. This is easier said than done, especially during the frigid winter
months, because it is natural to crave high calorie foods, especially if you work outside. Instead, here is
my suggestion to you. If consuming less of these foods seems difficult, then try increasing your intake of
healthier nutrient dense foods, such as whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Even if
that means preparing one meal at home, or eating one piece of fruit with plain yogurt or a carrot each
day when normally you would only achieve this once a week, this small change alone will make your
immune system stronger. Lastly, don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
Here Are Specific Immune Boosting Nutrients and Respective Food Sources:
• Beta Carotene is found in plant foods, such as broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and
• Vitamin C-rich foods include bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits, and melons.
• Vitamin D is found in mushrooms, fatty fish, and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified
with vitamin D are also sources of this important nutrient.
• Zinc is a trace mineral, which means the body needs only a small amount of it each day. Zinc
tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood, but also is in
vegetarian sources such as beans, nuts, tofu, and wheat germ.
• Selenium another trace mineral, is found in various proteins and enzymes, called
selenoproteins, that help make DNA and protect against cell damage and infections. Although
our soil in Montana is relatively low in selenium, it is rare for a deficiency to occur considering
the prevalence of selenium in our greater food system. The highest food sources of selenium
include seafood, organ meats, and Brazil nuts; however, breads, cereals, poultry, lean red meat,
and eggs are more commonly available sources.
• Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health. These beneficial bacteria seed the gut.
They can be found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, fermented foods with
live cultures such as fish sauce, miso, soy sauce, and tempeh, or non-dairy fermented foods such
as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
• Prebiotics are specific fibers containing inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, which help feed
beneficial bacteria in the gut. These foods include artichoke, asparagus, banana, chicory, garlic,
leeks, onions, soybeans, and whole wheat products.
• Protein comes from both animal and plant-based sources, such as beef, chicken, eggs, milk,
seafood, beans, lentils, yogurt, nuts, and seeds.
A FEW WAYS TO INCORPORATE IMMUNE BOOSTING FOODS:
1. Build a Bowl: Combine base ingredients of whole grains, such as cooked wild or brown rice,
quinoa, farro, or Kamut with any animal and/or plant-based protein sources from the above list.
Add vegetables, lentils, or beans, and top off with nuts, seeds, or wheat germ. Drizzle with a
Shake Ingredients together in a jar or whisk together in a bowl.
3 parts oil
One part vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh
4 Parts oil
1 Part Citrus
1Tbsp chopped thyme
SIMPLE RED WINE VINAIGRETTE
1⁄4 red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon
Sea salt to taste
3⁄4 cup olive oil, or light
SPICY CITRUS HONEY MUSTARD
2 Tablespoons orange
2 tablespoons lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1⁄2 tablespoon agave,
maple, or honey
1 teaspoon mustard
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
2 Tablespoons rice
3 Tablespoons soy or
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon toasted
white sesame seeds
1 teaspoon grated
2. Pre/Probiotic Overnight Oats: Combine and leave overnight in the fridge whole grain oats, plain
Greek yogurt, chia seeds, soymilk, blueberries, chopped Brazil nuts, and finish with honey or
maple syrup. Top the next morning with sliced banana and enjoy!
3. Yolky Eggs with a Side of Kimchi: Just give it a try. It packs a punch of flavor.
4. Pizza: Either prepare your crust from scratch or purchase a cheese pizza from the grocery store.
Add topics from the list above as you wish. Sprinkle a little extra cheese on top and voila! You
have an immune boosting meal!
5. Egg Frittata: You can never go wrong with an egg frittata, and you can eat it for any meal of the
day. Saute any ingredients that sound good to you. Stir in any spices or herbs. Prepare egg
mixture of whisked eggs, milk of choice, garlic, salt, and pepper and add to the pan of sauteed
ingredients. Sprinkle frittata with cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes. Pair your meal with
sliced fruit and yogurt.
6. Tzatziki: Combine 1 cup of whole milk Greek yogurt, 1 English cucumber, 2 minced garlic cloves,
2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon zest, and 1-2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, and gently combine. Fold in 1⁄4
cup chopped dill, 1⁄4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add a pinch of cayenne or
smoked paprika. Snack on with vegetables or crackers.
A SIDE-NOTE FOR PARENTS OF YOUNG EATERS
Parents of young picky eaters, my suggestion to you would be to offer food ingredients in bowls or plates
separately on the table for your child to choose to put on their plate. An example might include roasted
chicken, chickpeas, and lightly seasoned rice served in separate bowls or separately on the child’s plate.
My reasoning behind this is that depending on age, children are still forming their taste preferences, so
overcomplicated recipes may deter them from enjoying their food. In this instance, it’s easier to add
flavor to food than it is to take flavor away. Avoid becoming a short-order cook at dinner time.
DO VITAMINS OR HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS HELP?
Elderberry, specifically, Sambucus Nigra, does not prevent cold or flu, or at least that’s what the research
has shown so far. But, Black Elderberry does appear to reduce symptoms and duration of illness. How
this works is by inhibiting the flu virus from attaching to cell walls. Polyphenols and anthocyanins are the
compounds thought to be responsible for this protective activity. To combat the illness, elderberry also
increases production of inflammatory-inducing products, called cytokines. Now, not all situations of
cytokine activity are created equal; however, in this example, cytokine production is a good thing in that
it allows the immune cells to fight against the illness. Elderberry is not recommended to help treat or
reduce symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Vitamin C has been show to help reduce the incidence of colds by 50%; however, researchers have only
seen these results in individuals, such as skiers, soldiers, extreme endurance athletes who undergo
arduous bouts of physical training. For most people, supplementing with vitamin C will not reduce colds,
but it can reduce duration and symptoms associated with the common cold.
Vitamin D and Zinc are special. Unlike other nutrients, we don’t want to get extra of these, but
individuals can run low and so getting these levels back up to normal may make a big difference.
Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin because our bodies make enough from adequate sun exposure. During
the winter months when sun exposure is low, if our bodies are making any, it’s likely not enough to avoid
supplementation. The biggest obstacle to making vitamin D simply has to do with where we live in
relation to the equator, which cuts through Southern California above San Francisco on the West Coast
and just below Richmond, Virginia on the East Coast. The farther individuals live from the Equator, the
lower the effectiveness of the sun’s rays even if we do receive adequate exposure. Low Vitamin D levels
are common in people. In fact, researchers have found that roughly 40% of the population have
insufficient levels; however, these rates could be higher especially for individuals who normally don’t get
their blood levels checked. The relationship between low Vitamin D and risk for respiratory infections
are inversely related, in that the lower the serum Vitamin D levels, the greater the chance of someone
getting sick with a respiratory infection. Researchers have found that weekly or daily supplementation
as opposed to monthly dosing provides the most benefits to overall health. People with higher levels of
Vitamin D have also been shown to have lower rates and milder cases of COVID. So bottom line,
supplementation of Vitamin D can protect against respiratory tract infections if levels are low.
Zinc is a fascinating nutrient, mainly because our intake status is questionable. It’s difficult to determine
how much of it is absorbed from a meal, especially when eaten with phytate rich foods. Phytates are
compounds naturally found in plants. They contain phosphorus molecules necessary for the plant to
grow. The downside to this is that phytates inhibit the body’s ability to absorb zinc.
Zinc acts mainly on the Rhino virus, which is the pathogen most associated with the common cold. Rhino virus enters through the nose or the throat. Within 10-15 minutes, it’s already transported to the
back of the throat where it attaches to ICAM-1 receptors. Once bound, they start to replicate and over
the next 12-24 hours produce symptoms of a full-blown cold.
Zinc works by competing with the receptors for binding sites in the back of the throat. If the virus gets
outcompeted, then it can’t bind, reproduce, and cause a cold, or at least not such a terrible cold in some
Based on this information, you can deduce that zinc can be taken to reduce cold symptoms and
duration. According to health experts, at the first sign of rhinovirus, supplementing with zinc specifically
in the form of zinc gluconate and zinc acetate until symptoms are gone (which could mean roughly a
week for some) is suggested. This has to do with the ability of zinc to be released from the medicinal
compound to then do its thing inside the throat. Based on the mechanism of action, lozenges or throat
sprays containing zinc ion bound to gluconate or acetate are most effective at getting zinc to the back of
It’s recommended to wait for 15 minutes after taking zinc lozenges or using throat spray before eating or
drinking anything. In addition, do not consume any citrus before or afterwards, because similarly it
interferes with zinc ion’s ability to bind to the back of the throat. The benefit or action of zinc may be
diminished if the product also contains citric acid, ascorbic acid, sorbitol, or mannitol, which are
provided in the product’s ingredient list. Unfortunately, most zinc products do contain these
ingredients; however, there are two main products available on the market that meet the ingredient list
requirements for optimal dosing and action of zinc. These are Cold-Eeze and Walgreen’s Zinc Lozenges.
Personally, I suggest taking the time to study ingredient lists and when you find the zinc product that
meets the above criteria, stick with it. You can study ingredient lists online before purchasing. Make
sure you follow the package directions for the recommended dose, which is typically listed by age and/or
weight. This is unlikely to exceed the RDA and UL, which is provided below. A final note, zinc
supplementation is not intended for children unless advised by a professional/accredited healthcare
RDA: The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19+ years is 11 mg a day for men and 8 mg
for women. Pregnancy and lactation require slightly more at 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively.
UL: The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause harmful effects on
health. The UL for zinc is 40 mg daily for all males and females ages 19+ years.
Without getting into much detail and sparking an ethical debate, I am just going to mention that vaccines
work in a similar way as the natural immune response, except that the person doesn’t get the disease or
infection that the vaccination causes the body to protect against. Rather, the vaccine may contain part
of the pathogen or virus. In response, the body produces antibodies against the part of the vaccine
antigen, so it gets flagged, and then destroyed.
With mRNA vaccines, they do not involve the pathogen at all. Rather, mRNA vaccines give instructions
for cells to make a certain protein that is part of a pathogen. That protein is seen as the antigen, and
based on what you’ve learned already, the whole rest of the immune system kicks into play. The protein
gets flagged with antibodies and then destroyed by immune scavenging cells. So, if the virus ever gets
in, antibodies recognize the antigen, and the virus is neutralized before it can do anything. An example
of an mRNA vaccine is the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are roughly 200 cold varieties each year and for this reason, there is not that one vaccine available
to help protect against all common colds, but flu vaccines are available each year! Typically, there are two common flu strains, A and B, that affect humans. Researchers look at which ones are most prevalent and virulent to impact human populations each year. Each vaccination can protect against a few strains, but every year researchers must come up
with new vaccines, because the flu virus mutates, which is very normal.
In SUMMARY, your immune system is so incredibly complex with many parts that work independently
and collectively. To say that you can do one thing to keep yourself from getting sick just isn’t possible. To
boost your immune health, take care of daily basic needs as a first line of defense. Adults aim for 7-9
hours of sleep each night; 6 hours is the lower limit. Try to help your children achieve optimal sleep of 9-
13 hours depending on their age. Engage in some type of moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes each day.
If possible, include your entire family or household. Eat a balanced diet with whole fruits, vegetables,
lean proteins, whole grains, and drink plenty of water. If a balanced diet is not readily accessible, taking
a multivitamin containing the RDA for several nutrients may be used. Supplementation and over-the-
counter products containing zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C, and herbs, such as elderberry are available and
have been shown to help when it comes to providing protection or overcoming common respiratory
infections. Make sure you don’t exceed the recommended dosage of vitamin and over-the-counter
supplement products. You have basic knowledge of vaccinations and how they work. This information
cannot take the place of professional medical advice but is intended so you can make informed decisions
about your health.
Adult self-care may be different than if health care choices were made for a child. The importance of this
article is to improve your understanding about when to utilize the different elements of care. Please
refrain from supplementing your child unless specifically advised by a credentialed health care provider.
This entry covers this idea that daily lifestyle choices of exercise, sleep, and nutrition can be used to
nourish health for both adults and children. Next, restoration of your immune health may be necessary
through professional help when you or your child just doesn’t feel right.