by Alexandra Lucier, RHNP 02/2022
Unpopular Opinion: “Germs” are not your enemy. We are literally walking germ communities. The human body is made up of more microorganisms than actual human cells (about 10 times more). Just like the environment around us, our bodies contain a complex ecosystem of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and even viruses (that’s right - you have active viral strains living within you right now; experts estimate the average person is carrying about 380 trillion viruses, some of which cause illness, but most of which simply coexist peacefully with you and those around you, and may even benefit us in some ways).
This diverse, complex, and interdependent ecosystem (which is more diverse than the Amazon Rainforest) serves as the foundation for life as we know it, particularly our health. The human body is a masterfully-designed healing machine. It’s full-time job is to keep you alive by means of maintaining homeostasis (or “balance”) - balance of acidity, nutrients, fluids, and this microbial ecosystem. And it does this best when we aren’t messing around with it too much.
Yes, basic hygiene practices like hand-washing, mask-wearing, and sanitizing (when necessary) can help ensure that our bodies do not get inundated with too many of the bad kinds of “germs” (the ones that make us sick). But over-sterilization (think excessive use of sanitizers and disinfectants, the over-prescription of antibiotics, and social media “anti-viral” trends like ingesting medical-grade iodine or hydrogen peroxide* often pose more of a risk than exposure to any virus ever would.
This is because these practices disrupt our ecosystem by killing off our friendly microorganisms, some of the functions of which include:
Immune Function (I’ll say that again, just to make sure you didn’t miss it: IMMUNE FUNCTION!)
Furthermore, most disinfectants and antibiotics are only “antibacterial”, meaning they are designed to work against bacteria (not viruses).
In this series, I will introduce some safe, science-backed practices to naturally boost your immune system and protect yourself against harmful pathogens without disrupting your innate or environmental microbial ecosystem. In each installment, I will be going over immune-boosting nutrients and supplements (i.e. how much Vitamin D do we actually need??), lifestyle hacks, diet, and finally, when and how to use antimicrobials safely and effectively.
Nutrients & Supplements
First and foremost, it’s essential to get plenty of immune-boosting nutrients through both a whole-food diet, and supplementation. As a result of modern-day agricultural and food production practices, our food unfortunately does not contain the levels of vitamins and minerals that it once did, when soils and waters were still rich in these resources. That’s why I personally recommend appropriate supplementation alongside a healthy diet (as will any health practitioner worth their “salt” ;) ).
The most fundamental nutrients for the immune system are Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc.
As with anything, it’s best not to go overboard. Although some situations may warrant increasing your intake (when you, or someone around you is sick, for example), in general, “more” is not necessarily better. Remember, just because a substance is “natural” does not mean it’s impossible to get too much of a good thing, and in the case of zinc or Vitamin D, an overdose is no laughing matter, and could even mimic the symptoms of a viral infection.
15-30mg of zinc per day is plenty. Up to 50mg per day is considered safe; however, this dosage should not be taken daily for long periods of time, and should always be accompanied by trace amounts of copper. This is because the body uses copper as a coenzyme for zinc. So supplementing with copper alongside higher or prolonged intakes of zinc helps to both facilitate absorption, and prevent copper deficiency. Symptoms of a zinc overdose may include nausea, stomach pain, flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and fatigue, and loss of taste or smell (sound familiar?).
In Canada, in the winter, up to 3000-5000 IU of Vitamin D per day is considered safe for most people. Intakes higher than 5000 IU are typically not recommended without a blood test confirming that you need it. In the summer, depending how much sun you get, amounts of 1000 IU up to 3000 IU are sufficient for most people. While it is perhaps the most important vitamin for our immune system, Vitamin D is also one of only four “fat-soluble” vitamins. Most of the vitamins are “water-soluble”, meaning our bodies simply excrete whatever we do not absorb in the urine. Fat-soluble vitamins, however, are stored within our bodies for longer periods of time, making an overdose both more likely and more dangerous at high dosages. For precise dosaging, a blood test for your current Vitamin D levels is really your best bet.
Finally, time-honoured, tried-and-tested Vitamin C. As one of the water-soluble vitamins, it is fairly difficult to get too much Vitamin C. Extremely high dosages have been known to cause diarrhea in sensitive individuals, but that’s pretty much the worst you can expect. The body absorbs and excretes Vitamin C very quickly, so it’s a good idea to take smaller doses (about 500mg), throughout the day, rather than take a large dose all at once, as your body will simply “dump” (pun intended) the excess, wasting both effort and money. 1000mg of Vitamin C per day (in divided dosages) is a good amount for most people, and you can safely increase as needed if you are feeling under the weather, or just looking for that extra immune boost. If your stools become loose, you know you’ve reached your intake thresh-hold, and can cut back on the dose.
*More on food-grade hydrogen peroxide in a later post.