The following is a review I wrote of the current research on exercise and virial disease. It is a researched review of the academic literature for the Naturopaths and Medical Herbalist of New Zealand Incorporation (NMHNZ). It is just one part of many reviews that the NMHNZ will be forwarding to the government to show that Naturopathic Practice is a research based modality and should be considered an essential service to New Zealand. We can provide an essential service to the public, particularly in the area of prevention and recovery from viral infections (among other things). Due to the nature of this article, many may simply want to read the introduction and the conclusion.
It is certainly evident (and should be obvious) that regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. Although often considered to suppress the immune system, epidemiological evidence demonstrates that regular physical activity (both aerobic and resistance training) reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases in older age, including communicable diseases such as viral and bacterial infections (Baik et al., 2000; Romaniszyn et al., 2014), as well as non-communicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders (Warburton & Bredin, 2017).
Naturally, exercise is not the only area of lifestyle that should be addressed when attempting to strengthen the immunity against viral load. However it should be considered of paramount importance when suggesting any health/wellness plan with the benefit of being often free, or of low cost, to an individual. Exercise is also unique in that it can boost our mental health and lower emotional stress, a factor well known in its relation to our immune function.
How Does Exercise Strengthen the Immune System
T cells, also called T lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cell that help the body fight infections/diseases and are an essential part of the immune system. In particular, having adequate numbers of naïve T cells is essential for the immune system to continuously respond to new and unfamiliar pathogens. The age-associated decline in immune function, referred to as immunosenescence, is well characterised within the adaptive immune system. Interestingly, a review of the recent evidence shows that regardless of age, an active lifestyle is linked to lower numbers and proportions of memory T cells and higher numbers and proportions of naïve T cells (Campbell & Turner, 2018; Turner, 2016). This study suggests that exercise might exert an anti-immunosenescence effect and prevent the severity of decline of immunity as we age. It is further supported by a recent systematic review, concluding that regular structured exercise increases the number of naïve T cells in peripheral blood at rest (Cao Dinh et al., 2017). However other research indicates that exercise does not need to be regular to have this affect and even a single bout of exercise (albeit transitory) enhances the manufacture of viral-specific T-cells (Simpson et al., 2015; Spielmann et al., 2016).
An overview study of systematic reviews assessed the effectiveness of physical exercise in persons living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Their results suggest that exercise improves outcomes of physiological and psychological health. Although they reported no statistical significance on virological or immunological outcomes, the study did report positive effects of exercise on CD4 counts (the cells that the HIV virus kills) among those studied (Kamitani et al., 2017). This suggests that even though there was no apparent reduction of the virus, there was an improvement in the immune response as a result of exercise. Furthermore, the positive physiological and psychological health outcomes are also part of a healthy immune system. Lastly, Kamitani et al. (2017) suggest that physical exercise appears to be a good strategy to preventing viral spread.
Natural Killer Cells
With their ability to not only recognise and eliminate virus-infected and neoplastic cells but also to produce immunoregulatory cytokines, natural killer cells (NK-cells) represent an important part of the innate immune system. Exercise mobilises these NK-cells throughout the duration of the exercise and exercise recovery (Zimmer et al., 2017). Muscle-derived exercise factors, known as myokines, regulate NK-cell proliferation, maturation and activation as a response to training (Simpson et al., 2015).
Antimicrobial Peptides and Proteins
There is a high risk of infection at the epithelial surfaces of the body, such as the skin and respiratory system, that interface with and separate the body from the external environment. These epithelial surfaces are protected from invading microorganisms by the innate mucosal/epithelial defence system. Antimicrobial peptides and proteins (AMPs) are the diverse class of naturally occurring molecules that are produced as a first line of defence in the mucosal immune system. These proteins have a broad activity to directly kill bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and even cancer cells. As a constituent product at mucosal surfaces, AMPs participate in the barrier function that prevents microorganisms from causing infection by acting directly on these pathogens. This activity can be lethal to microorganisms, inhibit their growth and activity and/or prevent them from initiating an inflammatory response. AMPs directly kill microbes by a variety of mechanisms, including DNA/RNA disruption, disruption of membranes, degradation of ATP and initiation of autolysins (West et al., 2006).
Exercise has been shown to increase the concentration and secretion rate of each AMP suggesting enhanced immunity and control of inflammation (Gillum et al., 2015). Although the exact mechanism of how the AMP’s are increased has yet to be discovered, the findings of Gillum et al. (2015) are consistent. Although AMPs act directly on microorganisms, they also exert their protective effect via immunomodulatory mechanisms, especially in noninflammatory conditions by recruiting cells, inducing cytokines and aiding in tissue repair (West et al., 2006).
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
An Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) is generally caused by the direct invasion of the inner lining (mucosa or mucus membrane) of the upper airway by a culprit virus or bacteria. As we have seen, the act of exercise promotes the body’s natural defence against virial infections via AMPs, NK-cells and T cells and their immunomodulatory effects. Many of these studies were aimed specifically at URTIs and Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI). One such randomised controlled trial found statistically and clinically significant reductions in ARI illness for participants randomly assigned to 8 weeks of exercise training, compared to observational controls (Barrett et al., 2018). This study interprets the consistent pattern of apparent benefits across their two trials suggesting preventive effects ranging from 14–33% proportional reductions in ARI illness.
Does Exercise Suppress the Immune System
It is perceived by many that a vigorous bout of exercise can temporarily suppress immune function. A recent rigorous review article summarising 249 peer-reviewed research papers in the leading journal Frontiers in Immunology, deconstruct the key pillars which lay the foundation to this traditional theory. The review highlights that:
Furthermore, Campbell and Turner (2018) provide evidence that frequent exercise enhances—rather than suppresses—immune competency, and highlight key findings from human vaccination studies which show heightened responses to bacterial and viral antigens following bouts of exercise.
Other research also supports this claim that recent findings challenge early exercise immunology doctrine by showing that international athletes performing high-volume training suffer fewer, not greater, upper respiratory tract infections (Walsh & Oliver, 2016).
Although the type, duration and intensity of exercise conducted in the collected research varies, the outcomes were consistent. Whether an endurance athlete or an elderly person taking a 30 minute walk, exercise has a profound effect on the upregulating functioning of the immune system, especially in regards to antiviral defences.
This review highlights that regardless of age, human studies confirm individuals can increase their immunity against viral diseases and limit or delay immunological aging, simply by incorporating mild-moderate exercise into their lifestyle. These effects are immediate after one bout of exercise and do not require a long history of fitness training. The evidence also debunks the myth that exercise temporarily suppresses immune function. We are thereby left with the conclusion that the appropriate form of exercise should provide a protective benefit to all against viral disease.
Baik, I., Curhan, G. C., Rimm, E. B., Bendich, A., Willett, W. C., & Fawzi, W. W. (2000). A prospective study of age and lifestyle factors in relation to community-acquired pneumonia in US men and women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160(20), 3082–3088. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.160.20.3082
Barrett, B., Hayney, M. S., Muller, D., Rakel, D., Brown, R., Zgierska, A. E., Barlow, S., Hayer, S., Barnet, J. H., Torres, E. R., & Coe, C. L. (2018). Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection (MEPARI-2): A randomized controlled trial. PloS One, 13(6), e0197778. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0197778
Campbell, J. P., & Turner, J. E. (2018). Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan . In Frontiers in Immunology (Vol. 9, p. 648). https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648
Cao Dinh, H., Beyer, I., Mets, T., Onyema, O. O., Njemini, R., Renmans, W., De Waele, M., Jochmans, K., Vander Meeren, S., & Bautmans, I. (2017). Effects of Physical Exercise on Markers of Cellular Immunosenescence: A Systematic Review. Calcified Tissue International, 100(2), 193–215. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00223-016-0212-9
Gillum, T. L., Kuennen, M. R., Castillo, M. N., Williams, N. L., & Jordan-Patterson, A. T. (2015). Exercise, but not acute sleep loss, increases salivary antimicrobial protein secretion. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(5), 1359–1366. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000828
Kamitani, E., Sipe, T. A., Higa, D. H., Mullins, M. M., & Soares, J. (2017). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Physical Exercise Interventions in Persons Living With HIV: Overview of Systematic Reviews. AIDS Education and Prevention : Official Publication of the International Society for AIDS Education, 29(4), 347–363. https://doi.org/10.1521/aeap.2017.29.4.347
Romaniszyn, D., Pobiega, M., Wojkowska-Mach, J., Chmielarczyk, A., Gryglewska, B., Adamski, P., Heczko, P. B., Ochonska, D., & Bulanda, M. (2014). The general status of patients and limited physical activity as risk factors of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus occurrence in long-term care facilities residents in Krakow, Poland. BMC Infectious Diseases, 14, 271. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2334-14-271
Simpson, R. J., Kunz, H., Agha, N., & Graff, R. (2015). Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, 135, 355–380. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.08.001
Spielmann, G., Bollard, C. M., Kunz, H., Hanley, P. J., & Simpson, R. J. (2016). A single exercise bout enhances the manufacture of viral-specific T-cells from healthy donors: implications for allogeneic adoptive transfer immunotherapy. Scientific Reports, 6, 25852. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep25852
Turner, J. E. (2016). Is immunosenescence influenced by our lifetime “dose” of exercise? Biogerontology, 17(3), 581–602. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-016-9642-z
Walsh, N. P., & Oliver, S. J. (2016). Exercise, immune function and respiratory infection: An update on the influence of training and environmental stress. Immunology and Cell Biology, 94(2), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.1038/icb.2015.99
Warburton, D. E. R., & Bredin, S. S. D. (2017). Health benefits of physical activity: a systematic review of current systematic reviews. Current Opinion in Cardiology, 32(5), 541–556. https://doi.org/10.1097/HCO.0000000000000437
West, N. P., Pyne, D. B., Renshaw, G., & Cripps, A. W. (2006). Antimicrobial peptides and proteins, exercise and innate mucosal immunity. FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, 48(3), 293–304. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-695X.2006.00132.x
Zimmer, P., Schenk, A., Kieven, M., Holthaus, M., Lehmann, J., Lovenich, L., & Bloch, W. (2017). Exercise induced alterations in NK-cell cytotoxicity - methodological issues and future perspectives. Exercise Immunology Review, 23, 66–81.
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How our thoughts and actions might help or hinder our own resilience and that of those around us.
We must remember, that putting the right things into our bodies, be it foods, herbs or supplements, is only part of our immunity. One of the biggest destroyers of our immune system is not anything foreign to ourselves but is actually our thoughts and perceptions. The stress response activated by the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) is normal and healthy in short bursts but if the body is in a chronic stress response, it becomes the number one killer and ‘weakener’ of our immune system. There are countless amounts of research in this area. One area of science I am particularly interested in is epigenetics. Applying epigenetics to personal biology, I would sum up the study of epigenetics as:
Your subjective experience (belief) has more power than your objective situation (reality).
Interestingly, I feel Buddha also summed this up a few thousand years ago:
“What we think, we become”
In other words (applied to our present situation), if you are fearful of a virus and are constantly thinking about it in a negative manner, your body is not only being programmed to attract this negative conception into reality (like attracts like), but the stress on the body shuts down your immunity.
I recently came across a fantastic organisation in New Zealand and was reminded of several aspects that I have yet to discuss – hence this article. I was very inspired by their work as it is very akin to my own approach when working towards holistic health and wellness. As such, the following suggestions come from the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience:
If over days and weeks your distress or stress symptoms are escalating, or you feel you are not coping, help and professional support is available. For those residing in NZ, if you are in self-isolation, call Healthline first (0800 611 116). For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Today’s focus will be on the best herbs, nutrients, homeopathic remedies and things you can do at home to boost your immune system naturally. Discover my top home remedies to relieve flu-like symptoms and which supplements help protect you from viral infections.
Supplements for immune health
Herbs to boost immune system
Here are some of my favourite immune-boosting herbs:
Homeopathic remedies for immune system
Although I am not a qualified homeopath, the following are common formulas used for upper respiratory tract infections. If you are interested in homeopathics, I suggest you see a qualified professional who specialises in this area:
Home remedies to relieve flu symptoms
Simple home remedies can be very effective for relieving flu symptoms:
Recharge your immune system
Boost your immune system naturally by topping up on essential nutrients like vitamin D and zinc. Support your body and alleviate flu-like symptoms with herbs and homeopathic remedies. Use some of the simple home remedies to soothe a sore throat, clear sinuses and relieve a dry cough. Make your immune health a priority to avoid getting sick.
In our next issue we will be discussing resilience strategies and how our thoughts and actions might help or hinder our own resilience and that of those around us.
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Carrying on from our series of what we can do to increase our immunity the following are some simple steps that anyone can take to increase immunity and strengthen the body’s resilience against infection:
Health starts from within
The best way to keep yourself well is to boost your immune system by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Coronavirus cannot survive in a heated environment so maintaining body heat may be important; drink hot water, eat heating foods and do plenty of exercise. Furthermore, if you do end up with a fever, encourage it by wrapping up in warm blankets. Although this may make you feel uncomfortable, you are promoting/aiding the body’s wisdom in raising the temperature of the body so that it can kill off the virus. NB: if the body’s temperature rises above 40 degrees, then you will need to contact your GP and this is the time to not promote a further rise in temperature.
Finally, reduce your toxic load, cut out junk and sugar, eat immune-boosting foods and detox your body. In my next coronavirus blog, I will be discussing the herbs, nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies you can take for immune health.
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Believe it or not, 70% of your immune system resides in the gut as lymphoid tissue. This specialised lymph tissue houses your immune cells (leucocytes, macrophages and lymphocytes) whose job is to identify invading microbes and destroy them. It also secretes essential antibodies to help you fight off infection.
The large intestine hosts a community of around 100 trillion microbes. The main function of our microflora is to help us digest food (by fermenting carbohydrates), extracting the nutrients for our body to use. These beneficial microorganisms help our immune system work efficiently as they protect us against pathogens.
Any imbalance in your gastrointestinal system or with your gut microflora could lead to immune system issues, including inflammation and autoimmune conditions. You may also become more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.
Seven steps to optimal digestive health:
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The terrain theory was the brainchild of French scientist, Antoine Béchamp (1816–1908). His philosophy was that disease occurs from within the body as a result of an acidic and poorly oxygenated ‘terrain’ (the body’s internal environment), not from external factors. Béchamp suggests that bacteria and viruses are simply ‘after-effects’, rather than the cause of disease. Although ridiculed at the time, modern technology and research now supports Béchamp’s theory as it is now known that opportunistic microorganisms (bacterium, virus, protozoan or fungus) are extremely common within the blood stream but usually cause no symptoms of illness. These microorganisms can also lie dormant in body tissues for many years, such as the human herpes viruses. When the immune system is weakened and cannot raise an adequate response, these microorganisms are activated, begin to multiply and soon overwhelm the body's weakened defences.
Béchamp believed that a healthy terrain is a result of a nutritious diet, healthy lifestyle practices, hygiene, fresh air, clean water and exercise. With a healthy terrain, pathogenic germs cannot flourish and, therefore, cannot manifest into disease states. An unhealthy terrain, on the other hand, makes a person not only prone to infections and diseases but provides an environment for them to flourish.
In our present day, we are currently in a massive paradigm shift within the scientific community. The new science of epigenetics and quantum mechanics (now being referred to as the most true science we have), also supports Béchamp’s theory in the respect that external factors (such as bacteria and viruses) are not the problem, it is the environment (diet, lifestyle and mindset) of the individual that is the problem/solution. We will discuss this science in more detail at a later stage.
These principles of the Terrain Theory, epigenetics and quantum mechanics are all in harmony with traditional and modern naturopathic practice. Naturopathy is a system of healthcare which encourages and promotes the human being’s own self-healing mechanisms. The body is able to heal itself given the right conditions, environment and treatment/complement.
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Internationally, naturopath’s and other complementary/adjunctive health practitioners have been earnestly trying to educate the public on preventative measures one can take in order to strengthen the body’s resilience to infection. It is common sense, is it not, that there are things people can do in regards to diet and lifestyle that can increase our immunity. It is so sad to see that there has been a global attack on practitioners - such as myself - who are scientifically trained to know what works and what does not in this regard. The attack of scorn and ridicule obviously comes from those deeply biased and oblivious to current research.
We know those most at risk are people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly and chronically ill. Smokers, drug users and those taking medications (including immune suppressants) are also at risk due to the impact these substances have on the immune system.
In response to media fearmongering and allopathic prevaricating, I will endeavour on my website to dive deeper into how to prevent a possible coronavirus infection. I’ll be sharing this information for those interested and will be looking into various approaches and protocols including the terrain theory and the importance of gut health in relation to your immune system. You’ll learn how to boost your immune system by optimising your diet with immune-supporting foods and lifestyle changes.
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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
- Benjamin Franklin
Coronavirus is on the verge of being the next worldwide pandemic. Thousands of people, mostly in China, have contracted the virus. Yesterday New Zealand had its first reporting of the virus at Auckland hospital. With no known cure for this virus, researchers are working furiously to find a way to treat those with this potentially deadly infection. And while the world is focused on a cure, not enough of the conversation is focused on the things people can do to avoid contracting the disease!
“A clever person solves a problem a wise person avoids it”.
- Albert Einstein
As with most of these epidemics, sadly the people who generally die are the elderly and those with weak immune systems. At Holistic Health & Wellness we are combating this issue by using natural, safe and scientifically researched approaches to strengthen the body’s natural biological functions to combat and avoid disease/viruses. We spend a great deal of time with our clients to design a personalised plan that is right for them. It should come to no surprise that to promote a strong immune system, we must maintain a healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise regime. But with so much information out there, it can be confusing to know where to start and too daunting to bother.
“You seek too much information and not enough transformation”.
- Sai Baba
As an example, herbs and supplements such as vitamin C, echinacea, elderberry and garlic are all beneficial nutrients to help fight off and/or prevent an infection. However, many of these supplements brought over-the-counter are limited due to ineffective dosing, poor quality and/or absorption ability. It is important to make an appointment with a qualified naturopathic practitioner who specialises in this market to make sure that the herbs/supplements you are taking are of a high quality and have therapeutic effects. Let us help you simplify the confusion of this market and provide you with the tools that actually work to boost your resilience against disease.
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