Vaccinations & Immune Response
Vaccines make you immune or resistant to infectious diseases and are incredibly important for human health. It was, after all, a vaccine that eradicated smallpox – one of the deadliest diseases ever. Even now around two or three million deaths are prevented globally every year thanks to vaccines protecting us against polio, tetanus, measles, meningitis, pneumonia and the flu, to name just a few.
How do vaccinations work?
Vaccines work by ‘teaching’ the immune system to recognise when your body’s been invaded by a particular bug, by introducing a harmless version that looks exactly the same, and trains it to attack the offending organism. This protects you against future infection because your immune system has a ‘memory’.
For instance, let’s say you get a virus. This kicks your immune system into action, making it produce antibodies to kill the virus. If you come into contact with the virus again in the future, then those antibodies are ready and waiting to destroy it so quickly that you you don’t even become ill.
There are different types of vaccines because your immune system responds in different ways to different bugs. Some vaccines contain a weakened version of a living virus or bacteria, while in others the virus or bacteria are inactivated (dead).
There are several different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccination currently being rolled-out, but the 2 you are most likely to receive in the UK are:
• BioNTech / Pfizer (BNT162b2) Called a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, this contains the genetic code of a protein found on the surface of the virus. This triggers the immune system to recognise the protein and destroy the virus before it causes an infection.
• Oxford University/AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 AZD1222) This jab also contains the protein genetic code, but unlike the Pfizer vaccine it delivers it using a harmless version of a virus that causes colds in chimpanzees.
N.B. If you have concerns due to recent press regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine; here is a balanced, informative, summary article from the independent.
In both instances the corona virus itself is not present, meaning it is impossible to catch Covid 19 from the vaccination.
Whether you've had your jab or not we'd suggest that, in the current climate, keeping your immune system healthy so it can react as efficiently as possible to any infection, real or otherwise, is probably a good idea.
Nutrition and immunity
Poor nutrition is known to weaken immune function, so eating a healthy balanced diet is important if you want to keep those bugs at bay. Some nutrients are especially important for your immunity:
Recognised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as needed for the
normal function of the immune system, zinc is found in:
• Dairy foods
• Wheatgerm and other cereals
A healthy and balanced diet should provide the zinc an average adult needs. However, if you don’t, you may risk becoming deficient – and studies suggest zinc deficiency may cause problems with the immune system.
The EFSA confirms zinc is also important for maintaining normal bone, eye and brain health, plus fertility and reproduction. If you don’t eat many zinc-rich foods and want to protect yourself, or are looking to reverse a deficiency, then a high-quality zinc supplement or multivitamin & mineral complex may be useful.
Did you know? Very high doses of zinc over an extended period of time can lead to adverse symptoms, and in extreme cases even anaemia and weak bones, so be sure to avoid taking too much unless you really need it.
Immune health may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of calcium, but it is crucial to the process of triggering immune response and, according to these Bristol University scientists, wound healing.
Calcium is commonly found in:
• Dairy foods
• Green leafy veg
• Fortified foods
• Fish with edible bones (eg sardines and pilchards)
However, to absorb this important mineral, you need vitamin D. There are few foods containing vitamin D – oily fish, egg yolks, red meat, liver and fortified foods for example – but the main source is the sun because our skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight.
Did you know? In the UK, many of us don't get enough vitamin D in autumn and winter when the sun is weaker. You could be missing out during the summer too if you have darker skin, don’t go out much or always cover-up when you’re outside. Supplements like our Vitamin D3 are an easy way to top-up.
It may be found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, berries, tomatoes and peppers, but if you’re not getting your Five A Day then your vitamin C levels could drop, as your body can’t make its own supply. There’s evidence vitamin C deficiency leads to immunity problems and a higher risk of succumbing to infections. Researchers also believe vitamin C boosts parts of the immune system.
Did you know? Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble, so whatever your body doesn’t use is passed through urine, out of the body. That's why you you need a daily supply.
The Bs are needed for immune system support too, including B6, B12 and folate (folic acid). Getting your 5-a-day should give sufficient levels for most, but if you're very active, stressed or struggle to get a balanced diet, a daily multivitamin & mineral complex may be useful.
Chronic B deficiencies can be harmful, for example; A long term vitamin B12 deficiency, in serious cases, can cause pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disorder (this means your immune system attacks healthy cells or tissues).
Did you know? Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is actually a form of cobalt and becomes particularly difficult to absorb as we get older because it is the largest, most complex, vitamin. It's mainly naturally found in foods of animal origin, further increasing risk of deficiency if you follow a plant-based diet.
Probiotics (friendly bacteria)
Your gut microbiota – the community of micro-organisms living in your digestive tract – supports your body’s production of immune cells and strengthens part of the immune system called the intestinal barrier. Having a varied diet helps keep your gut microbiota healthy, so try to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day (the more the merrier).
Eating fermented foods like live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha can also be beneficial, since they contain probiotics (‘friendly’ bacteria). Alternatively, taking a high-strength probiotic supplement containing a diverse selection of probiotic strains, such as our Advanced Bio Cultures Complex, can be a convenient way to maintain balance.
Did you know? Scientists believe 80 per cent of your immune system is in your gut and your gastrointestinal tract contains approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms – way more than the number of human cells in your body.
TurmericThis spice contains curcumin, a compound that gives turmeric its orange-yellow colour. According to research, curcumin may be important for the immune system because it controls the activation of immune cells, with studies suggesting curcumin helps to regulate parts of the immune system that tend to become overactive and cause autoimmunity.
You can add turmeric to your food, especially when combined with pepper as this boosts absorption, but the quality isn't always great and it is difficult to include in every meal. Many prefer using a potent, high-quality daily supplement such as our Organic Turmeric Curcumin 1440 with black pepper.
Omega 3Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish called EPA and DHA are known for health benefits such as heart, brain and eye support. But they are very beneficial for immune health too, with one report published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggesting omega 3s affect a variety of immune cells.
EPA and DHA are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and herring. If you’re not a fish fan, or struggle to fit much into your diet on a daily basis, then a great-value supplement such as our Super Strength Omega 3 Fish Oil could be beneficial.
The bottom line
A healthy balanced diet will help to keep your immune system in good working order, which will in turn improve the effectiveness of immune response to infections and vaccines alike.
However, there are other things important for immune health too, such as; regular exercise, good quality sleep, not drinking too much alcohol and steering clear of stress.
DON’T FORGET: If you’re considering taking a new supplement, speak to your doctor beforehand, especially if you have a health condition or are taking any medicines.