Dr. Lori Horan Soule, ND, LAc

Soule Health Care

3526 SW Corbett

Portland OR, 97239


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Newsletter Archive

How Can I Keep My Immune System Strong

September 29, 2011

I am hearing questions with increasing frequency these days from my patients: how worried should I be about a lethal flu pandemic, and what can I do to protect myself? No one knows the future or if a human-to-human avian flu will even materialize. What we do know is a few things about how the immune system works. When we want to avoid colds, flu and bacterial infections of any kind, we do well to practice “Prevention is the best medicine.”

Microscopic wars are happening constantly within your body but you are normally not aware that these incessant battles against infection are going on. Ideally, your immune system automatically provides legions of defenders, a wonderful network of organs and specialized cells that are constantly vigilant, forever fighting to keep you healthy. But sometimes your defenders are caught in a weakened state, and you develop symptoms.

Prevention is the Best Medicine.

When our bodies come into contact with an external pathogen, we need B-lymphocytes to form plasma cells which produce large amounts of antibodies, and T-cells to regulate other defensive cells, known as macrophages and neutrophils. T-cells release a variety of chemicals to produce other cell-mediated and antibody-mediated responses. With so many different components, it is not surprising the immune system requires multiple nutrients. Cells of the immune system generally turn over rapidly, which means high nutrient requirements. Inflammation generates free radicals and other reactive chemical species that damage membrane lipids, impair T-cell function and injure tissues. Consequently, a wide variety of antioxidants are needed to protect immune system cells. Needless to say, we need to promote optimal nutritional support of the body's innate ability to maximize the state of immune system readiness and functionality.

What Weakens the Immune System?

The factors that contribute to a weakening of your immune system are basically physical, psychological and emotional stress, poor physical conditioning, lack of sleep, rest and relaxation, and a poor diet. While all of these factors should be addressed, the following is a focus on the nutrients necessary to properly supply immune support. Diets that rely on highly processed fatty foods may not supply enough vitamins to ensure long-term health and antioxidant production. Other things that are known to negatively affect your immune system are: high sugar intake, too little protein, overuse of caffeine, alcohol, junk food and preservatives, excess fat intake, and food sensitivities.

How Does Nourishment Affect Immunity?

Many scientific studies show that when your nutritional stores become depleted, your immune system becomes less able to provide defense against pathogens. The most important nutrients are:

  • Vitamin C is perhaps the most common nutrient we associate with immunity. It increases the activity of specific white blood cells, including natural killer (NK) cells, involved in fighting infection. Virus growth is inhibited when vitamin C is present. Up to 12,000 mg. per day is recommended for serious immune challenges. I recommend Metagenics UltraPotent Vitamin C, and 1000 mg. per day as preventive medicine.
  • Vitamin A maintains the thymus gland and lymphatic tissue. It also supports antibody production and the integrity of epithelial cells essential for a healthy mucosal barrier. A typical supplementation ranges from 5,000 to 20,000 IU/day, depending on pregnancy status. I prefer 1-2 drops daily of the Metagenics liquid suspension of mycelized Vitamin A for its enhanced absorption.
  • Vitamin E contributes to a dynamic antioxidant defense system by quenching free radicals in cell membranes and decreasing inflammation. Vital Nutrients makes a mixed natural tocopherol blend I recommend at 400 mg. per day.
  • B Complex and Folic Acid play a critical role in rapidly dividing cells, including those of the immune system. Supplementing with up to 50 mg. daily of B Complex improves lymphocyte populations and improves energy production essential for immune responses and a healthy thymus gland. Folic acid is required for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation. Inadequate amounts lead to immune dysfunction. A minimum of 400 mcg. is what I recommend daily. NF Formulas' Spectra B provides a solid combination.
  • Selenium enhances the antioxidant properties of Vitamin E, involved in T cell activation, free radical scavenger and protects macrophages. Inadequate selenium can cause depressed immunity and reduced T-cell production. Recommendations range from 50 to 250 mcg. daily.
  • Zinc deficiency impairs immune function. It is necessary for T lymphocyte and monocyte stimulation and acts to enhance B lymphocyte response to antigens. 30 mg. per day.
  • Garlic has been shown to have direct viral-killing and anti-bacterial effects in numerous studies. Fresh garlic is useful, or supplement 1000 mg. per day. I suggest the Metagenics brand SuperGarlic at one tablet per day.
  • DHEA boosts our ability to mount a stronger immune response and protects us against inflammatory cytokine responses that can occur in response to viral infections. Dosage ranges based on lab reports. Metagenics makes Biosom, a liquid DHEA using a liposomal delivery system that makes smaller doses possible because of enhanced absorption.
  • Melatonin deficiency is associated with a variety of disease conditions. It induces a strong immune response as well as a deep sleep one often needs to fend off infections. I recommend the Thorne brand at 3 mg. per night.

Good nutrition is the single most important factor in developing a healthy immune system. When diets are not optimal in their content, supplementation is highly recommended for enhancing an effective immune response against any pathogen. If you suspect you have a weak immune system and want to be evaluated, or simply want to optimize your health, please call for an appointment with Dr. Horan.

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