Based on work done by James DiNicolantonia Pharm. D.
“The Immunity Fix: Strengthen Your Immune System, Fight Off Infections, Reverse Chronic Disease and Live a Healthier Life” is a new book written by James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D.
Immune System Basics
As a refresher, your immune system consists of two primary “arms”:
- The innate immune system, which is your first line defense made up of natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and white blood cells like neutrophils
- The adaptive immune system — T cells, and B cells that produce antibodies
Top Two Nutrient Deficiencies to Address
Diet and nutritional supplementation are two key strategies that can help boost your immune function. According to DiNicolantonio, vitamin D may be the most important nutrient in this respect.
Vitamin D activates more than 2,000 genes, DiNicolantonio notes, including vitamin K-dependent proteins and repair genes. It also helps your body produce powerful antimicrobial and antiviral peptides.
Those over the age of 60 have a ninefold greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than that of younger individuals. If you’re severely vitamin D deficient, your risk can be 15 fold greater. So, while you cannot change your age, you can certainly alter your vitamin D status, thereby potentially minimizing your risk.
However, in order to convert the vitamin D into its active form, you need magnesium, so magnesium would probably be the second-most important nutrient deficiency to address. Magnesium is also required for immune cell function, so if your magnesium level is low, your immune function could be impaired.
Zinc and Selenium Are Also Important
In terms of importance, zinc would probably nab the third spot. Taking zinc lozenges at the first onset of cold symptoms has been shown to cut the duration of the common cold by six to seven days, but you have to take it correctly.
“If you’re using lozenges, you have to take it every two hours,” DiNicolantonio explains. “You got to take it within 24 hours of symptom onset. You have to take about 18 milligrams per dose, and you have to get the total daily dose over 75 milligrams.”
Fourth on the list would be selenium. Not only is selenium deficiency associated with a fivefold higher risk of dying from COVID-19 and a threefold higher risk of having a poor COVID-19 outcome, but it is also associated with coxsackievirus-induced cardiomyopathy (Keshan disease).
The Importance of Melatonin
Another thing that is associated with improved COVID-19 outcomes is melatonin. DiNicolantonio explains:
“Melatonin is interesting. I kind of view it like molecular hydrogen but with some additional advantages. Melatonin can freely pass into any cell membrane, so that’s very key. If you want to get to the oxidative stress, you have to be able to access it and get into the mitochondria. Melatonin and molecular hydrogen are two molecules that can do that and really do that well …
High-Dose Melatonin Reduces COVID-19 Mortality
As for dosage, a recent case series involving 10 patients with COVID-19-related pneumonia used 36 to 72 mg of oral melatonin per day in four divided doses, which is far higher than recommended for sleep. DiNicolantonio comments:
“It’s so safe. Doses of melatonin up to 1,000 mg per day in humans have shown virtually no side effects besides grogginess and sleepiness … Melatonin use is associated with an 83% reduction in mortality from COVID-19, a 30 to 50% reduction in testing positive for SARS-COV-2, and in a case series of 10 COVID pneumonia patients, it cut the duration of hospital stay by five days.
And none of those patients who got melatonin ended up on a mechanical ventilator or died whereas in similar severe COVID-19 cases that were hospitalized at the same time, 25% to 40% of those individuals ended up on mechanical ventilators or died.”
As explained by DiNicolantonio, melatonin is actively produced throughout the day and is a master antioxidant, meaning it scavenges free radicals. It also binds to melatonin receptors that upregulate your innate antioxidant defense systems.
Address Your Metabolic Health
In addition to addressing nutrient deficiencies, in particular vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and selenium, he stresses the importance of optimizing your metabolic health.
“Research [has found] that metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol & Triglycerides all those things, worsen the outcomes of COVID-19 as well as other infections like influenza. Obesity also increases the duration that you can carry the virus and share it for longer. So, it’s especially negative in a society that tends to be in poor metabolic health.
The Case for a Low Linoleic Acid Diet
DiNicolantonio discussed the importance of avoiding seed oils in the book, “Superfuel.” In it, he took a deep look into the importance of healthy fats for metabolic health, and the destructive nature of linoleic acid-rich vegetable oils.
Linoleic acid (LA) is one of the most perishable molecules in food, meaning it’s highly susceptible to damage. When it oxidizes, it turns into oxidative metabolites called oxidative linoleic acid metabolites or oxylipids or OXLAMs that damage proteins, DNA and cell membranes and are likely the primary culprit of chronic disease.
OXLAMs also activate pathways that destroy your immune response. What we didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that even healthy oils, such as olive oil, can have a negative impact, thanks to their LA content. LA is also high in conventionally raised chicken, as these animals are typically fed LA-rich grains.
If you exceed 10 grams of LA per day, and perhaps as little as 5 grams — regardless of their source — you may radically worsen your metabolic health.
“That’s a great point, and I think from a COVID-19 perspective, the biggest thing you want to do is increase the resilience of your cells to oxidative stress. Unfortunately, if you’re consuming a diet high in LA, and if it doesn’t get burned for fuel and it gets stored in tissues, the half-life of LA is 680 days, and it can start oxidizing the cellular membranes, including your immune cells as well.
If you increase your omega-6 intake, that affects the levels in your immune cells. And if you saturate your immune cells with this oxidized LA, you’re probably at a much higher risk of secreting more proinflammatory cytokines in your own cells, and your lungs and your arteries are probably much more susceptible to the damage that occurs when our body tries to kill off viruses.
Simple Strategies to Improve Your NAD+ Level
Another important molecule is nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which can be increased using precursors such as nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) and/or nicotinamide riboside (NR).
Any type of oxidative stress is going to deplete NAD. So, fix your metabolic dysfunction and improve your nutrient deficiencies first.
Benefits of Sauna Bathing
In addition to preserving your NAD, sauna bathing also mimics a fever, which is your body’s first-line defense against infections. DiNicolantonio explains:
“The reason why we induce a fever to fight an infection is because it allows our cells to secrete heat shock proteins. In order for a virus to replicate, it has to infect your cell, hijack your machinery, and it has to export its ribonucleoprotein complex out of the cell to replicate. In order for that complex to get exported, the M1 protein has to dock onto it.
Heat shock protein 70, which gets released during sauna sessions, can combine with the viral ribonucleoprotein complex preventing M1 protein from docking. [By] inhibiting the export of that viral ribonucleoprotein complex, [heat shock protein] essentially inhibits viral replication.”
Regular sauna bathing and exercise are among the best things you can do to strengthen your immune system and increase your body’s resilience. The two are also complementary.
Exercise causes preconditioning hormesis, so if you exercise before your sauna, then you significantly bolster your body’s ability to handle infection and other stresses. The heat will also promote recovery from the exercise by boosting growth hormone, repairing damaged proteins, and reducing inflammation.