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Tips for Protecting Your Respiratory Immunity

It’s unusual to be thinking about upper-respiratory tract immunity when the summer solstice is upon us, but this is no usual summer. The current global pandemic makes the topic of respiration relevant even in what is normally the off season for flu-like viral infections. With so much still unclear about the risk factors and impacts of Covid-19, prevention is the best approach for nearly all of us. For starters, that obviously means following appropriate protocols for hand washing, social distancing and personal protective gear. But in case these barrier methods fail, it would be reassuring to have an immune system that is up to the task of tackling the virus before the health ramifications get severe. 

 

How do you know if you’re doing everything you reasonably can to support your immune system? While it’s impossible to address the myriad factors that come into play, there are a number of things you can do to help optimize your body’s defenses. First, good sleep habits and a healthful diet are immensely important for immunity as well as for overall wellness. Here are a few additional tips that can help defend against respiratory contagions.

 

Antihistamines

If you happen to take this type of product for allergies, please reconsider the unintended consequences. Antihistamines counter annoying allergy symptoms by drying out the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract. This practically eliminates the sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, throat tickle et cetera that plague allergy sufferers, providing temporary relief from bothersome symptoms. However, this same physiological mechanism is also a key part of our first-line protective immunity. The body responds to irritants the same as it would any other airborne pathogen—by expelling it as quickly as possible, before the invader has a chance to penetrate more deeply. As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense—so don’t hinder your body’s defenses by drying out these important fluids! The sneezing and flushing of sinus cavities with thin mucus are the body’s way of washing out offenders. And even though allergens are more like irritants than pathogens, drying up your membranes to calm the former can create an easier entry for the latter. A few non-drug alternatives that may be helpful include: keeping your windows closed through allergy season, avoiding outdoor time during high pollen count days, showering/washing clothes after coming in from the outdoors and before bed, and using a saline rinse to soothe irritated nasal passage ways.

 

Vitamin D3

This super-star vitamin is actually hormone precursor and is important to good health for a number of reasons. In this context, it contributes to a “smart” immune response because it plays a key role in both stimulating the immune response as well as in suppressing the inflammatory process. A recent study specifically confirmed that vitamin D supplementation can help protect against acute respiratory infections. The meta-analysis concludes that daily, low-dose supplementation is safe, and provides beneficial effects in the protection against acute respiratory tract infection. How much are we talking about? The study also looked at the statistical significance of varying dosages and found the most benefit from a modest daily dose of 20–50 micrograms (or 800–1000 IU). The key here is small amounts on a regular basis; taking bulk doses does not provide the same benefit, and can be potentially counter-productive.

 

Probiotics

There are so many benefits to taking a daily probiotic that you are probably taking one already. But in case you need a little more convincing, consider this: the intestinal tract is the body’s largest surface area that interfaces with the external environment, and experts now recognize that 80% of the immune system is in the small intestine. The neural system of the gut has more nerve endings than the skin, and connects to the central nervous system and virtually every other part of our physiology. Probiotics act as proxies for our gut’s microbiome, and have been shown to help reestablish and maintain a beneficial balance. Many scientific studies demonstrate the connection between a healthy microbiome and immunity in general, and even specifically suggest it primes the respiratory mucosa to serve as long-term protection against viral infections, as well as modulate the immune system’s inflammatory response. To help get the most out of your supplements, be sure to consume tested and proven human strains from a source that can ensure proper product handling.

 

Melatonin

This one circles back to the recommendation above regarding sleep. If you are under the age of 60 and tend to be a good, regular sleeper, then chances are your pineal gland is producing sufficient amounts of melatonin, and you are presumably benefitting from the numerous benefits that sleep has to offer. However, sleep is a challenge for many, and melatonin deficiency is not uncommon. This is particularly the case as we age, and for those among us who experience chronic stress and over-exposure to artificial light. Why does it matter? In addition to supporting quality sleep, melatonin is a potent antioxidant, and is another substance that can modulate the immune response, with a significant effect on inflammation. Melatonin is considered safe for short-term use, and it is generally recommended to start with the lowest possible dose. If you are diabetic, breast feeding, pregnant, trying to conceive or on birth control, talk with your doctor before supplementing with melatonin. 

 

As you may have guessed, Eastern medicine therapies such as acupuncture, cupping and moxibustion are also effective ways to support your immune system, both before and after contracting an illness. Reach out to your practitioner at Naturna for more information about these and other strategies that may be right for you.


References

Aric A. Prather, PhD, Denise Janicki-Deverts, PhD, Martica H. Hall, PhD, Sheldon Cohen, PhD, Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold, Sleep, Volume 38, Issue 9, September 2015, Pages 1353–1359, https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4968 

Azad, M., Sarker, M., & Wan, D. (2018). Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics on Cytokine Profiles. BioMed research international, 2018, 8063647. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/8063647 

Carrillo-Vico, A., Lardone, P. J., Alvarez-Sánchez, N., Rodríguez-Rodríguez, A., & Guerrero, J. M. (2013). Melatonin: buffering the immune system. International journal of molecular sciences, 14(4), 8638–8683. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms14048638 

Gabryszewski, S. J., Bachar, O., Dyer, K. D., Percopo, C. M., Killoran, K. E., Domachowske, J. B., & Rosenberg, H. F. (2011). Lactobacillus-mediated priming of the respiratory mucosa protects against lethal pneumovirus infection. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950), 186(2), 1151–1161. https://doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.1001751 

Gruber–Bzura, B. M. (2018). Vitamin D and Influenza—Prevention or Therapy? International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19(8), 2419. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms19082419 

Martineau, A. R., Jolliffe, D. A., Hooper, R. L., Greenberg, L., Aloia, J. F., Bergman, P., Dubnov-Raz, G., Esposito, S., Ganmaa, D., Ginde, A. A., Goodall, E. C., Grant, C. C., Griffiths, C. J., Janssens, W., Laaksi, I., Manaseki-Holland, S., Mauger, D., Murdoch, D. R., Neale, R., Rees, J. R., … Camargo, C. A., Jr (2017). Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 356, i6583. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6583 

Srinivasan, V., Maestroni, G. J., Cardinali, D. P., Esquifino, A. I., Perumal, S. R., & Miller, S. C. (2005). Melatonin, immune function and aging. Immunity & ageing : I & A, 2, 17. https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4933-2-17 

Srinivasan, V., Mohamed, M., Kato, H. (2012). Melatonin in bacterial and viral infections with focus on sepsis: A review. Recent Patents on Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Drug Discovery (6), 30–39. https://doi.org/10.2174/187221412799015317 

Yan, F., & Polk, D. B. (2011). Probiotics and immune health. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 27(6), 496–501. https://doi.org/10.1097/MOG.0b013e32834baa4d

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