This is a comprehensive summary of Biohacker’s Flu Guide (2020) which focuses on improving immunity and strategies for building various barricades against intruders before they get the opportunity to take hold. The aim is to inhibit their proper functioning and make one more resistant to their effects.
The world has turned into a giant petri dish for brewing potential pathogens that can wreak havoc on our health, productivity and wellbeing. Luckily, modern times bring modern responses to epidemics: outbreaks are identified much more quickly, disease agents are identified at record speed, epidemics get contained quickly and treatments are developed faster.
We take no opinion on vaccination, as it is a controversial topic, although our recommendation is to do your own research, look into historical data, read scientific peer-reviewed journals and talk to specialists regarding actual risks and trade-offs.
BASICS OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The immune system is divided into two major parts:
- Innate immunity: is what a person is born with. It is also affected by the vaccinations received and microbes the peson is exposed to during their lifetime.
- Adaptive immunity: is what a human being learns over a lifetime by exposing oneself to various pathogens.
Reaction to a pathogen can be:
- Asymptomatic: you may still spread it to others although you have no symptoms
- Mild: it goes away in a few days
- “Full-on” pathogenic: noticeable and takes 1–2 weeks to resolve at minimum
If you want to learn more in detail about the immune system, we recommend reading the Biohacker’s Handbook’s Immunity special chapter (2017).
PREPARATION OF YOUR BODY WITH NUTRITIONAL INTERVENTIONS
Body’s biochemical defense systems and immunity are modulated by the following factors and pathways:
- Glutathione: Body’s main antioxidant produced in the liver.
- Nfr2 pathway: One of the main regulators of antioxidants and cell protection
- Autophagy: Cellular self-eating process that helps the body to eliminate pathogens and damaged cells can be promoted with positive stressors such as intermittent fasting, regular sauna, exercise and cold exposure.
- Uric acid: most concentrated antioxidant in the human blood that helps to mitigate oxidative stress, especially at high altitudes and under hypoxia. Obtained from purine-rich foods like organ meat, wild game, red meat and seafood
- NAD+: cofactor that partakes in virtually all cellular reactions and energy production.
- NADPH: cofactor for cellular growth and nucleic acid synthesis.
- Strong gut lining: can be supported with bone broth, tendons and ligaments and butyrate-rich foods (fermentation of fiber, beans, and legumes but also from ghee and butter
- Diversity of the gut microbiota: supported with probiotics and a diverse diet rich in foods that enrich the gut microbiota may be beneficial for boosting immunity
NUTRIENTS RELEVANT TO THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Correcting nutrient deficiencies is a useful strategy to prevent weakened immunity caused by malnourishment. If you have no deficiencies, the benefits of supplementation may be limited.
- Vitamin D: plays a key role in regulating the balance of the immune system
- Selenium: essential mineral that is a cofactor in glutathione production
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): increases NAD+ biosynthesis
- Vitamin C: antioxidant produced in response to stress. Needs to be obtained from diet.
- Ubiquinone: contributor to the electron transport chain
- Zinc: required for the function of more than 300 enzymes. Important for hormone production and immunity.
- Nitric oxide: important signaling molecule between cells. Has been shown to fight against some viral and bacterial infections.
You can read more specific protocols on using the Top 3 micronutrients (Vitamin D, Zinc & Vitamin C) for the immune system in the Biohacker’s Flu Guide.
FOODS, SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBS RELEVANT TO THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
- Collagen: important building block in various immune system function
- Licorice: Isoliquiritigenin (ILG) in licorice has been recognized as a potent inhibitor of influenza virus replication in human bronchial epithelial cells and an inhibitor of inflammatory cytokines
- Lactoferrin: mediates antiviral activity against viral pathogens that cause common infections
- L-Glutamine: used by various immune system cells and protect the gut lining
Other important nutrients for the immune system (reviewed in the Flu Guide):
- Elderberries and other dark berries
- Fruits and vegetables
- Probiotic foods
- Probiotic supplements
- Sulfur-rich foods
- Olive Leaf Extract
- Alliums and Garlic
- Oregano and other herbs spices
TOP ADAPTOGENS AND MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS THAT SUPPORT THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Adaptogens help the body to adapt to stress. Medicinal mushrooms for example stimulate the production of macrophages that eat identified pathogens.
- Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus): has the highest antioxidant capacity of any other food
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): increases overall well-being, raises HDL-cholesterol, modulates the immune system
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): possess immunomodulatory effects and lowers stress
- Ginseng: regulates the immune cells and has antimicrobial properties
- Curcumin & turmeric: have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and boost glutathione
Other adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms that support the immune system (reviewed in the Flu Guide):
- Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes)
- Turkey Tail (Coriolus/Trametes versicolor)
FOODS AND SUPPLEMENTS THAT WEAKEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Avoiding the following:
- Cigarette smoking: undermines the immune system and increases risk of respiratory infections and pneumonia and the risk of death from these diseases
- Excessive alcohol intake: impairs the immune system and increases the vulnerability to lung infections
- Inflammatory oils and rancid fats: canola oil, margarine, sunflower oil, and seed oils in general are highly inflammatory and damage cell membranes when rancid
Other foods and substances that weaken the immune system (reviewed in the Flu Guide):
- High sugar consumption
- Gluten and grains (e.g. pastries and white bread)
- Poultry (i.e. factory-farmed bird meat in combination with high omega-6 fat diet)
- Processed meat (e.g. bacon, sausages, dumpling, canned meat)
- Toxic seafood (i.e. such that is high in mercury)
COMMON SUPPLEMENTS AND DRUGS THAT SHOW NO PROMISE IN INFECTION PREVENTION
Over-the-counter supplements and drugs are common but often ineffective (reviewed in the Flu Guide):
- Fish oil (mixed results)
- Coughing medications
- Inhaling menthol
- Paracetamol and NSAIDs
STRATEGIES FOR STRENGTHENING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
In addition to nutritional interventions, you can increase resilience against pathogens with healthy regular lifestyle interventions:
- Regular exercise: stimulates the body’s defense mechanisms and strengthens immunity by activating Nrf2
- Regular sauna bathing (traditional and infrared): flushes the body from toxins and infections by improving lymphatic drainage and blood circulation, and strengthening the immune system
- Mild cold exposure: increases resilience against infections. Make sure the exposure time to cold or wind does not last too long.
- Intermittent fasting: can upregulate glutathione and autophagy to protect against sickness
- Nutritional ketosis: activates the Nrf2 pathway that lowers inflammation and oxidative stress
- Regular sunlight: The most bioavailable source of vitamin D is the sun
- Reduce elevated cortisol (better recovery): Stress is one of the major contributors to an unbalanced immune system and predisposition to diseases
- Sleep: Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that modulates autophagy and deep cell repair during sleep. The body repairs itself primarily during deep sleep.
ENVIRONMENTAL PREVENTION AND TECHNOLOGICAL INTERVENTIONS
- Be mindful about surfaces: influenza viruses can survive up to 24 hours on hard surfaces and longer in more protected and moist environments. Flu viruses survive only 5–15 minutes on hands or tissues.
- Be mindful of what & where you eat: avoid eating in restaurants of poor hygiene.
- Go contactless: use contactless payment cards instead of paper money
- Wash your hands: soap and water are best for washing hands
- Wipe your phone daily with an antiseptic towel
Air travel during pandemic
- Do not dry your hands in jet air or warm air dryers
- Do not immediately queue to the plane. Crowded areas at an airport increase exposure to respiratory pathogens.
- Always use a paper towel or disinfectant wipe to touch doorknobs and locks
- Disinfect the seat belt buckle, armrests, remote control, touch screen, tray table, and overhead air vent buttons with a disinfectant wipe before you touch them
TECHNOLOGICAL TOOLS FOR REDUCING PATHOGEN EXPOSURE
1. Light technologies: Light therapy has been used in many kinds of situations and health problems to promote healing of the target tissue(s). Light technology can also be used to improve immunity and kill off pathogenic microbes.
- Blue light therapy (400-450 nm)
- Red- and near-infrared light (780-940 nm)
- Ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (UV-LEDS) for disinfection
- Photodynamic inactivation (PDI) methods
2. Air purification technologies: indoor air can be 2–5 times (and sometimes up to 100 times) more polluted than fresh outdoor air. Air purification techniques include for example:
- Cleaning and wiping off dust from surfaces
- Ventilating home frequently
- Air purifiers and an ionizers
- Plants that purify indoor air. Plants recommended by NASA include for example gerbera daily, bamboo and peace lily.
- Sunlight inactivates microbes under daylight conditions. When the sun is up, open up the curtains to let the sunlight in.
- Use essential oils (eucalyptus, cinnamon, clove, rosemary)
If you have symptoms, consider the safety of others:
- Use a face mask and ensure a tight fit if you are sick
- Isolate yourself from others until you are well
- Cough into a handkerchief or your elbow – never into your hands
- Dispose used handkerchiefs immediately
- Avoid touching public surfaces without gloves on
DETECTING AN INFECTION
Consider getting yourself checked by a medical doctor if you have many of the following symptoms:
- Red or runny eyes
- Loss of smell or taste
- Runny nose or sneezing
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Sore throat, cough or wheezing
- Changes in skin color
- Swollen tongue or lymph nodes
- Headache, photosensitivity or sensory distortions • Stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea or vomiting
- Internal bleeding or bloody stool
- Skin rashes or bleeding
- Joint or muscle aches
- Sinus, ear or urinary tract infection
LABORATORY TESTING AND SELF-QUANTIFICATION
Pay attention to the following biomarkers that can be quantified at home with wearables and finger blood tests.
- Body temperature
- Resting heart rate
- Heart-rate variability (HRV)
- Respiratory rate continuously
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
These tests should be performed in a rested state and values can be influenced by alcohol, drugs, heavy exercise and sleep deprivation.
You can take these basic laboratory tests to evaluate the possibility of an infection:
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Complete blood count
- White blood cell count (WBC count), in particular consider also taking WBC differential
- Polymorphonuclear leukocyte counts (to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections)
- Procalcitonin (PCT)
- Interleukin-6 (IL-6)
RECIPE: FERMENTED FOODS
The best way to protect yourself from new pathogens comes through balancing the basic elements of your life: sound sleep, diverse whole-food diet, adequate exercise and movement, proper stress management and recovery, reduced alcohol and cigarette use, positive outlook on life and fixing possible nutritional deficiencies.
In times of an epidemic, it is a great excuse to change your lifestyle. A well-functioning immune system is a reflection of the total state of health of the body. A healthy person is an ecosystem of different life-forms that live in balance with each other and the environment. This is called the holobiont which is essentially a collection of the host (human) and many other species living in and around it (colonies such as the microbiome, fungiome and virome), which together form a discrete well-functioning ecological unit.
Best recommendations for supplements, nutrients and technological tools for protecting your immune system and attacking pathogens presented in this guide are found in the bonus materials page.