What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment. It is also the body’s method of reacting to or preparing for a new challenge. Stress can originate from any situation or thought that makes you feel concerned, nervous, frustrated or angry. Its effects on the body are not only psychological, but physiological as well.

The physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat happens via activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This results in a typical ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Besides the nervous system, various stress hormones are also released into the body. The immediate response is activated by the hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine), whilst cortisol controls the more long-term stress response.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays an important role in how the body uses food substrates such as carbohydrate, fat, or protein, in order to meet additional physiological demands. Cortisol is normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, during physical exercise and stressful events.

When chronically elevated, cortisol has a negative impact on many systems, including weight control and immune function. With a high stress, fast-paced lifestyle, the body ends up producing cortisol almost continuously. Whilst cortisol is essential to the body, too much cortisol can have a significantly detrimental effect on our health.

What effect does stress have on blood sugar levels and the development of diabetes?

Under stressful conditions, cortisol helps to provide the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores and helping to release the glucose that is stored in the liver. This energy is required in a typical fight-or-flight situation. However, elevated cortisol over the long term constantly stimulates the release of glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. Since a principal function of cortisol is to counteract the effects of insulin, it causes bodily cells to become insulin resistant. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the increased demand for insulin. The result is that glucose levels become elevated. Chronic stress therefore increases the risk for diabetes.

What effect does stress have on weight gain and obesity?

Chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain. One mechanism is to stimulate the storage of fatty acids in fatty tissue contained inside the abdominal cavity (visceral fat stores). Another way goes back to the blood-sugar insulin problem. Consistently high blood glucose levels, in the presence of insulin resistance, leads to cells that are starved of glucose. Since these cells are in need of energy, they send hunger signals to the brain via a biochemical signalling mechanism. This leads to increased eating and the intake of excess glucose that is eventually stored in the body as fat. Cortisol has also been linked to cravings for high-calorie foods.

What effect does stress have on the immune system?

Cortisol, being a steroid hormone, is similar to the drug cortisone, often used by doctors to suppress inflammation in virtually all tissue types. In the body, cortisol’s ability to suppress inflammation is mostly beneficial. However, this may also lead to the suppression of the immune system, causing an increased susceptibility to colds, flu and other infections, as well as an increased risk to develop certain forms of cancer. Cortisol is also associated with a tendency to develop food allergies and an increased risk of various gastrointestinal disorders, since a healthy intestine is dependent on a functional immune system. The risk of developing an autoimmune disease is also higher.

What effects does stress have on the gastrointestinal system?

The ‘autonomic nervous system’ is the part of the body’s ‘automatic’ control mechanism that regulates various involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, digestion and circulation.  It consists of two divisions, namely the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems that, to a large degree, work in opposition to each other. When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘switched on’, the parasympathetic nervous system should ideally be ‘switched off’.

Whilst the sympathetic nervous system accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure under stressful conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite and helps to slow the heart rate, increase intestinal and glandular activity, and relax sphincter muscles.

The parasympathetic nervous system becomes more active during relaxed activities, such as eating. This is important because for the body to best use food energy, enzymes and hormones controlling digestion and the absorption of nutrients must be working at peak performance. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system by cortisol, however, results in the suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system. This compromises digestion and impairs the absorption of nutrients. As a result, indigestion and heartburn may develop and the mucosal lining of the gastro-intestinal tract may become inflamed. In response, mucosal inflammation of the stomach also leads to the increased production of cortisol, causing a vicious cycle. This is a reason why stomach ulcers are more common during stressful times. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis also report an improvement in their symptoms when they master better stress management.

What effect does stress have on the cardiovascular system?

Through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure in order to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood during the fight-or-flight reaction. Over time, chronic arterial constriction also leads to high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, which may cause heart attacks and stroke. This is one of the reasons why stressed-out personality types are at a greater risk for developing cardio-vascular disease.

What effect does stress have on fertility?

Elevated cortisol levels relating to prolonged stress can cause the disruption of menstrual cycles and ovulation, resulting in female infertility. Furthermore, the androgenic sex hormones are produced in the same glands as cortisol and epinephrine, so excess cortisol production may impair the optimal production of these hormones. Elevated cortisol levels are also known to cause erectile dysfunction.

What effects does stress have on fatigue?

Long-term stress and elevated cortisol levels are linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia and depression.

Which lifestyle changes can help to reduce stress?

Seeing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the best way to manage stress is by using a combination of techniques. Start by eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Exercise regularly and avoid poisoning your brain and body with cigarettes, ‘recreational’ drugs and excessive alcohol intake.

Depending on your source of stress, there are various cognitive techniques that can be used to strategically plan, communicate and think better. These include techniques on how to manage conflict more effectively and how to put better boundaries in place between you and the people that cause you to become stressed.

In addition, we recommend the use of a regular supplement to assist you during times of excess work load or emotional fatigue. Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea) is a perennial plant that grows at high altitudes in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia. Extracts of the roots have been used in Scandinavian and European countries to combat fatigue, reduce the effects of stress and to aid convalescence during illness. Several psychometric tests conducted on subjects under pressure demonstrated a substantial reduction in fatigue-related symptoms and an improvement of various cognitive indicators that are medically associated with increased psychological stress. These include a recorded reduction in cortisol levels. Roseroot has a low side effect profile and is generally considered a safe and effective supplement.


  • DSM IV Diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder
  • World Health Organisation Guidelines on conditions specifically related to stress, 2013
  • American Institute for Preventative Medicine, General Stress Management, 4th edition 2012

Cognition and immunity

What is cognition?

Cognition is defined as ‘’the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses’’. While a lot of attention and research has focused on methods to increase attention, concentration and improve learning in general, not much has been done to ensure that the information learnt is adequately stored and easily retrievable when needed.

Cognitive processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving. These are higher-level functions of the brain and encompass language, imagination, perception, and planning.

  • AttentionAttention is a cognitive process that allows people to focus on a specific stimulus in the environment.
  • Language: Language and language development are cognitive processes that involve the ability to understand and express thoughts through spoken and written words. It allows us to communicate with others and plays an important role in thought.
  • LearningLearning requires cognitive processes involved in taking in new things, synthesizing information, and integrating it with prior knowledge.
  • Memory: Memory is an important cognitive process that allows people to encode, store, and retrieve information. It is a critical component in the learning process and allows people to retain knowledge about the world and their personal histories.
  • PerceptionPerception is a cognitive process that allows people to take in information through their senses (sensation) and then utilize this information to respond and interact with the world.
  • Thought: Thought is an essential part of every cognitive process. It allows people to engage in decision-making, problem-solving, and higher reasoning.

How can I help improve my family’s cognition?

Cognitive processes are influenced by a range of factors including genetics and experiences. While one cannot change their genetics, there are things one may do to protect and maximize their cognitive abilities:

  1. Stay healthy
    Lifestyle factors such as eating healthy and getting regular exercise can have an effect on your cognitive functioning.
  2. Think critically
    Question your assumptions and ask questions about your thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions.
  3. Stay curious and keep learning
    One great way to flex your cognitive abilities is to keep challenging yourself to learn more about the world.
  4. Skip multitasking
    While it might seem like doing several things at once would help you get done faster, research has shown it actually decreases both productivity and work quality.
  5. Use supplements
    A few natural compounds, vitamins and minerals have been shown to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, fatigue, concentration difficulties, impaired immunity, poor cognitive function, stress, and anxiety while causing few side-effects. Of these, some of the most effective are Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot), inositol, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D3. The aforementioned ingredients are supported by science and are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with mental function.

    • Rhodiola rosea has been used for thousands of years in northern European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK, and Sweden.
    • Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans, and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.
    • Magnesium is a biologically essential trace element which plays a vital role in the regulatory activity of over 300 enzymes involved in nerve conduction and the production of neurotransmitters. Magnesium helps to calm the nervous system down due to the mineral’s ability to block brain N-NMDA receptors (methyl D-aspartate), thereby inhibiting excitatory neurotransmission and mental overload. Inadequate magnesium levels have been linked to insomnia, anxiety, increased pain perception, and several neuropsychiatric problems. Conversely, studies on magnesium supplementation have shown significant improvement overall emotional well-being, sleep patterns, anxiety levels and mood.
    • Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in the brain and supports several physiological, biochemical, and neurological functions. The bioavailability of zinc can influence central nervous system (CNS) function through a variety of mechanisms, and diets deficient in zinc have been known to result in behavioural disturbances and diminished brain function. (A meta-analysis of 17 studies with 1643 depressed and 804 control participants demonstrated that peripheral serum zinc concentrations were approximately -1.85 μmol/L lower in depressed participants). While the exact role of zinc in the pathophysiology of depression remains unclear, the inverse relationship between zinc levels and depression has been established in several studies that evaluated zinc bioavailability in depressed patients.
    • Vitamin D receptors are abundant throughout the central nervous system (CNS), especially in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays an essential role in the consolidation of information and the regulation of both short- and long-term memory. Research has also shown that vitamin D modulates several enzyme systems in the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. Moreover, recent studies have shown Vitamin D to possess a neuroprotective effect as well as reduce neuro-inflammation, thereby improving cognitive function.
    • Vitamin C, one of the best-established neurological functions of vitamin C is in the regulation of neurotransmitter biosynthesis such as dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Individuals who have vitamin C deficiency often report feeling both depressed and fatigued. Conversely, studies of hospitalised patients who often have lower than normal vitamin C levels have found a significant improvement in mood after receiving vitamin C supplementation. But vitamin C supplements might help improve mood even for people who aren’t known to have low vitamin C levels, as demonstrated by several studies. One study of high school students indicated that vitamin C supplementation lowered anxiety levels, while other studies have shown overall mood-elevating effects, including the reduction of anger.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-derived ingredients, has been developed by the Medical Nutritional Institute to improve neurological and immunological functioning safely and effectively. NeuroVance Focus is a unique blend of plant-derived phytochemical ingredients, vitamins and minerals that target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration, cognition and focus, and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance Focus can therefore help to improve cognition, concentration, brain function and focus as well as assist you and your child in reaching your full potential.

What is immunity?

Immunity by definition is the capability of multicellular organisms to resist harmful microorganisms. It involves both specific and nonspecific components, the nonspecific components act as barriers or eliminators of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of their antigenic make-up. Other components of the immune system adapt themselves to each new disease encountered and can generate pathogen-specific immunity. Immunity can be summed up as a complex biological system equipped with the capacity to recognize and tolerate whatever belongs to the self, and to recognize and reject what is foreign.

We have three types of immunity: innate, adaptive, and passive:

  • Innate immunity: Everyone is born with innate (or natural) immunity, a type of general protection. For example, the skin acts as a barrier to block germs from entering the body. And the immune system recognizes when certain invaders are foreign and have the potential to be dangerous/harmful.
  • Adaptive immunity: Adaptive (or active) immunity develops throughout our lives. We develop adaptive immunity when we’re exposed to diseases or when we’re immunized against them with vaccines.
  • Passive immunity: Passive immunity is “borrowed” from another source and it lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in a mother’s breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to.

How can I help enhance my family’s immunity?

There are several dietary and lifestyle modifications that may help enhance your body’s natural defences and help you fight harmful pathogens and/or disease-causing organisms:

  1. Get enough sleep: Sleep and immunity are closely tied in fact; inadequate or poor-quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. In a study of 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night. Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness. Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle. Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
  2. Eat more whole plant foods: Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. Meanwhile, the fibre in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
  3. Eat more healthy fats: Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation. Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system. Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in salmon and chia seeds, fight inflammation as well.
  4. Limit/avoid added sugars: Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbs may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity. Obesity may likewise increase your risk of getting sick. According to an observational study of around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice more likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine. Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet. You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
  5. Regular moderate exercise: Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems. What’s more, regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly. Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  6. Use supplements: Not all supplements provide you with the necessary vitamin and mineral levels required to have a significant positive effect on your immune response, however, some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body’s general immune response:
    • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient for humans, with pleiotropic functions related to its ability to donate electrons. It is a potent antioxidant and a cofactor for a family of biosynthetic and gene regulatory enzymes. Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. It supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress. Vitamin C has also been shown to accumulate in phagocytic cells, such as neutrophils, and can enhance chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species, and ultimately microbial killing. It is also needed for apoptosis and clearance of the spent neutrophils from sites of infection by macrophages, thereby decreasing necrosis and potential tissue damage. According to a review of over 11,000 people taking 650-2 000 mg of vitamin C per day, it reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
    • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect. Vitamin D has the capability of acting in an autocrine manner in a local immunologic milieu. It can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. As immune cells in autoimmune diseases are responsive to the ameliorative effects of vitamin D, the beneficial effects of supplementing vitamin D deficient individuals with autoimmune disease may extend beyond the effects on bone and calcium homeostasis.
    • Zinc: In a review of 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with 12-75mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the common cold by 33%. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It is crucial a crucial component for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells. The ability of zinc to function as an antioxidant and stabilize membranes suggests that it also plays a role in the prevention of free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to enhance immunity effectively and safely. The individual ingredients (vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc) target multiple biological pathways known to enhance the bodies’ resistance to infection in both children and adults.

Immune System

What Is The Immune System?

The immune system is a complex biological system, consisting of many different types of cells, tissues and organs, each with their own specific function. The immune system’s major functions are to recognise and neutralize harmful substances and infective organisms (like bacteria, viruses and parasites), heal damaged tissue and remove cells of our own body that are not functioning correctly, such as cancer cells. The immune system gets stronger as we approach adulthood, but again gets weaker in old age. This is why children and the elderly are more susceptible to illness.

The most important ability of the immune system is to be able to distinguish between self and non-self, or in other words, normal and abnormal. If it is not able to do this properly, it will either allow infectious organisms to invade, or begin attacking your own body. The latter is known as autoimmune disease. Early on, the body learns to recognise specific proteins that are on the surface of the body’s cells as ‘self’. As we are exposed to infectious organisms, the body learns to recognise proteins on the surface of the invaders cells, known as antigens, which signal that it should attack them.

What Are The Different Types Of Immunity?

There are three types of immunity in humans called innateadaptive, and passive immunity.

What Is Innate Immunity?

Innate immunity consists of the parts of the immune system that you are born with and that do not change significantly throughout life. It includes defensive structures such as the skin and mucous membranes, as well as a number of white blood cell types such as Natural Killer Cells. These are general defences, which means that they don’t recognise specific invaders, but rather that you have been infected and attempt to attack all invaders in a similar way. The innate immune system is your body’s first line of defence against new threats. While it can often deal with infections before they become an issue, invaders are sometimes able to overcome it. This is where adaptive immunity comes in.

What Is Adaptive Immunity?

Adaptive, or acquired, immunity is the part of the immune system that changes over time, learning to recognise new invaders and mount a response to them. This is known as immunological memory.

This memory is why vaccines can confer immunity, as well as why we do not get certain diseases (like chickenpox) twice. This is also the part of the immune system which takes the most time to develop. In children, the adaptive immune system is largely untrained, which is why they get sick so much more often. By adulthood, we have come into contact with many more pathogens and therefore are able to stay healthier longer.

The adaptive immune system relies on two special types of white blood cell, called lymphocytes. These are B-cells and T-cells. B-cells do not directly attack invaders, but are more involved in remembering what they look like and ensuring T-cells (which do attack invaders) and other immune cells can recognise them. One way they do this is through production of antibodies. Antibodies are protein molecules which circulate through the body and bind to the surfaces of invading organisms. Through binding they coat the invader (making it harder for it to move around or get inside cells) and signal to T-cells to attack.

What Is Passive Immunity?

Passive immunity is the passing of resistance to a disease from one person to another. An important role of passive immunity is to protect new-born infants from infection. Various antibodies are transferred from mother to child in the womb and through breast milk. The infant therefore temporarily receives the mother’s highly developed immunity while its own immune system begins to develop.

Passive immunity is short-lived (from days to several months), and the immunity to a wide range of organisms that an infant has while breast feeding is gradually lost as it is weaned. Toddlers and older children will therefore not be resistant to the complete range of organisms their parents are. As such, focus on supporting their growing immune system is paramount to prevent illness and develop their adaptive immune system.

What Happens To The Immune System As I Age?

As with many other biological functions, the immune system becomes less effective as you age. This includes its ability to recognise and ward off pathogens, prevent the proliferation of cells of our own body that cause disease, as well as its ability to recognise self from non-self. As we age, we therefore become more likely to develop a number of diseases, including autoimmune disorders, and become more susceptible to invading organisms.

It is therefore important to focus on immune health as you age. Some micronutrient deficiencies are also more prevalent in the elderly, and these have been linked to a decline in the immune system.

How Can You Strengthen Your Immune System?

The immune system is complex, relying on the correct function of a wide variety of cells, tissues and organs. Optimal immune function therefore relies on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

This includes following a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep, regular exercise, reducing stress, and avoiding toxic substances.

Deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E have been associated with poor immunity and higher rates of disease. Ensuring you are receiving optimal amounts of these nutrients is therefore essential. These nutrients can be obtained from a healthy diet, centred on plant-based foods, as well as supplements designed to optimise your immunity. Contact the MNI dietician at for healthy diet tips for you and your children.

ImmunoVance has been specifically formulated to contain all of the micronutrients essential to immune function. These, together will scientifically prove herbal extracts, work to strengthen your immune system and optimise its function. Read more about ImmunoVance here.

What Negatively Affects Immunity?

The health of your immune system is inseparable from general health. Factors which negatively affect general health, therefore, impair the functioning of the immune system. These include poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and bad habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Stress may seem to be the least obvious, and yet it is a major contributor to general negative health, and specifically affects the immune system. In the short term, stress can have a positive effect on immunity, priming the body for attack. Short term stress is therefore beneficial, or at least not harmful. Stress becomes an issue, both for health and immunity, when it is chronic.

Biologically, stress causes a number of changes in the body. Many of these are linked to the secretion of cortisol, a hormone which regulates a variety of processes in the body. Cortisol prepares you for ‘fight or flight’, steering energy away from processes that normally use energy but would not necessarily be useful to helping you survive an attack by a bear, for example. One of the biological functions which these hormones impair is the immune response. In the short term, this is not problematic, but in the long term, if cortisol is secreted in excess, the body can enter a state of chronic immune deficiency. Managing stress is therefore extremely important to ensuring optimal immune function.

Why Does Exercise Supress The Immune System?

Regular exercise is important to maintaining health and the immune system. Despite this, excessive amounts of exercise can negatively affect immunity. This is because exercise is a form of stress. During a normal exercise regime, the body has time to recover and return to normal. When exercise is prolonged (over 90 minutes) and extreme, however, the body does not get this opportunity, and it begins to affect the immune system in a similar way to chronic psychological stress. Athletes may also develop deficiencies of certain micronutrients important to the immune system, such as zinc, which is lost through sweat.

The phenomenon is especially observed in endurance and professional athletes, who are more likely to develop upper respiratory tract infections than the general population. Prolonged, intense exercise leads to suppression of the immune system, affecting white blood cell function, lasting up to 24 hours. During this period, athletes are more susceptible to infection. If adequate rest is not taken between sessions, the body is not able to normalise, and a chronic state of immune suppression can develop.

Adequate recovery periods and rest is therefore important, as is focus on good nutrition, high in vitamins and minerals.  It has also been found that maintaining energy levels through consumption of carbohydrates while training can reduce the negative effect on the immune system.

Infectious organisms

What is an infection?

An infection occurs when a foreign organism (such as a bacteria or virus) colonises, gets nourishment from and reproduces inside the body. Infection does not necessarily lead to disease, but when the organism damages cells and tissue, it does.

Among the millions of types of organisms, only a few are able to infect our bodies and even fewer are able to cause disease. Those which do are called pathogens. Pathogens usually enter the body through openings to the environment such as the nose, mouth, eyes and wounds. They then migrate to tissues which they can more easily live in.

Infections can be divided into primary and secondary infections. Primary infections are caused by the first organism to invade the body. Secondary infections are caused by organisms that colonise the body due to a weakened immune response or other complications caused by a primary infection. For example, flu, a primary infection, can cause infection of the lungs or airways by bacteria, leading to bronchitis or pneumonia.

What is a virus?

A virus is the smallest and most primitive type of infectious organism. There are thought to be millions of types of viruses, found almost everywhere on earth. These can infect anything from the smallest bacteria to mammals, reptiles and plants.

Viruses cannot reproduce and survive on their own in the way a bacteria, plant or animal can. Instead, they consist of only a few genes packaged tightly into an outer coating made of protein. The coat serves to protect the viral DNA and help the virus to break into and enter a host cell. Once inside, their genes take over the replication machinery of the cell, causing it to produce more viruses. In the process, the cell dies, either because it cannot sustain both itself and the virus, or because the virus causes it to swell until it bursts. New viruses are then released, which spread into the environment and infect other cells.

What is a bacterium?

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms which are able to replicate and survive on their own. After viruses, they can be considered the next simplest infective agent. Bacteria can be found in almost every environment on earth, from the soil to the bottom of the ocean, on and in plants and animals, and even in radioactive waste and the atmosphere.

Most bacteria are essential to life on earth. They are extremely important to cycling nutrients, from causing the decomposition of dead animals and plants, to creating new nutrients by turning nitrogen in the air into fertilizer that plants can use. It is thought that bacteria where the first organisms to begin producing oxygen millions of years ago, thereby creating a world that was hospitable to other, more advanced life.

Surprisingly, the majority of bacteria living in your gut and other parts of your body are actually good for you. They keep other dangerous bacteria at bay by outcompeting them, or even producing their own antibiotics to kill their competition. These bacteria also help regulate your immune system, improve your overall health and produce nutrients which you may not usually be able to acquire from your diet. This is one reason why bacteria are used to create foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods.

Less than 1% of bacteria can actually be considered dangerous. The few types of bacteria that can make you sick cause diseases such as pneumonia, cholera, tuberculosis and food poisoning, amongst others. They cause disease by invading tissue and releasing toxins which damage cells and organs.

Are There Other Infectious Organisms?

Yes, there are a few. Fungi, protozoa and parasitic worms are more complex than viruses and bacteria. Infection by these organisms is not as common, however, and is often linked to unhygienic environments, contaminated foods and insects.

Fungal infections most often affect the skin and nails and sometimes the airways. They do not usually cause severe disease, but in some cases can, especially when infecting the lungs. Fungi are responsible for common conditions such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

Protozoa are usually contracted from contaminated water or bites from insects like mosquitos. These organisms cause diseases like malaria and amoebic dysentery.

Parasitic worms are internal parasites and can be contracted from soil, water, raw meat and infected surfaces. Proper sanitation, cooking food thoroughly and avoiding swimming in stagnant water can efficiently prevent them.

What Do Antibiotics Treat?

Antibiotics specifically treat bacterial infections and have no effect on viruses. Taking an antibiotic for the flu is therefore unnecessary and will have no effect, unless your doctor has reason to believe that a secondary bacterial infection is developing. This can be difficult for a doctor to determine, and so they may prefer to be cautious and prescribe antibiotics just in case.

Over prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics can give rise to bacteria that are resistant to these drugs. It is therefore extremely important to take antibiotics exactly as they are prescribed.

Unlike antibiotics, which can kill a broad spectrum of bacteria, antivirals, prescribed for certain viral infections, are often very specific to the virus they target. This is why antiretroviral medication can not be used for the flu, for example. Because of this specificity, many viral infections cannot be directly treated.

What Makes Us Sick?

Why Do We Get Sick?

We get sick due to an infection by a foreign, disease causing organism. The most common symptoms of sickness, such as a runny nose, cough, fever and fatigue are, however, not caused directly by the infecting organism, but are rather part of your body’s immune response. For example, a runny nose results from your body trying to flush an infection out with increased mucous production.

Microorganisms can cause disease in many ways, including by releasing toxic substances, invading cells and tissues as well as releasing signalling molecules that can affect the whole body. These are the effects that damage the body, and are why it is essential to ensure the infection lasts for as short a time as possible, and specific treatment for the infection, rather than its symptoms, receives focus.

Why Are We More Likely To Get Sick In Winter?

Scientists are still unsure why we tend to catch colds and flu mainly in the winter. There are, however, a number of hypotheses, and as with most things in biology, the answer is more likely to be a complex interaction of all of them, rather than any specific one in particular.

It is thought that cold, dry air protects viruses and bacteria, allowing them to survive in the environment longer. The same conditions may also dry out the organisms, making them lighter and able to travel further. Cold, dry air also prevents mucous secreted in the nose, etc., from being as effective at clearing out inhaled material, giving the organisms more time to gain a foothold. Another reason is that people spend more time indoors in winter, creating a perfect environment for pathogens to spread from one person to the next.

When Should I Go To The Doctor For A Cold Or The Flu?

Colds and flu will usually clear up on their own but, in some cases, they may become more severe or result in secondary infections. If you are unsure whether to go to the doctor or not, it is always better to be cautious – rather pay a visit to your doctor than wait until an illness becomes really problematic. This is especially important for individuals who are at greater risk of developing serious complications, including young children, the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women and persons suffering from respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

If you are an otherwise healthy individual, and experience any of the following symptoms, you should contact your healthcare practitioner:

  • You are not recovering, your symptoms are not subsiding, or are getting worse
  • Unrelenting fever: If the fever does not subside after a few days or respond to over the counter medication
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Worsening or persistent cough

See your doctor immediately or visit the emergency room of you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Difficulty breathing or breathlessness
  • Severe headache
  • Severe rash


What Is A Vaccine?

A vaccine is a medicine aimed at preventing a disease rather than curing it. In medical terms, this is known as a prophylactic treatment. Vaccines train your immune system to recognise certain infectious organisms without actually having to come into contact with them. In order to do this, they contain only the parts of the organism that your immune system can recognise, killed organisms, or a similar organism that doesn’t cause disease. Therefore, a vaccine doesn’t make you sick, but your immune system can recognise the important antigens and train itself to recognise them in future.

Over time, vaccines have reduced the number of infections (and deaths) linked to many infections. For example, vaccines have eliminated smallpox. Getting vaccinated therefore not only protects you, but those around you, especially children and the elderly, as you are less likely to carry and spread an infectious organism if it is eliminated or supressed as soon as it tries to invade your body.

If My Body Can Recognise Previous Infections, Why Do I Get The Flu & Need A Flu Vaccine Every Year?

The flu virus has developed to change itself rapidly in order to avoid detection by our immune system. The strain that infected you last year is therefore very unlikely to be the same one that infects you this year. Before each flu season, scientists and regulators meet to decide which types of the virus will be more prevalent that season. Pharmaceutical companies then begin production of a vaccine containing antigens for these particular strains. By the next season, however, the virus has again changed, and so a new vaccine needs to be developed.

There is also not just one type of flu circulating at any one time, but thousands of slightly or very different versions. Some of these may be similar to what has been vaccinated against or what has been experienced before, and so the body can recognise and fight them off quicker, leading to less severe and shorter duration of symptoms.

Therefore a vaccine can never provide complete protection. In general, however, your chance of catching the flu is reduced by half, and the likelihood you get very sick is much less.

ImmunoVance contains micronutrients essential to optimal immune function. It has been specifically formulated to deliver those vitamins and minerals that are difficult to obtain through our modern lifestyles, and which are often more seriously depleted in the elderly. ImmunoVance® may therefore aid in preventing the decline of your immune system as you age.

Immune support

The immune system is a complex biological system, consisting of many different types of cells, tissues, and organs, each with their own specific function. The immune system’s major functions are to recognise and neutralize harmful substances and infective organisms (like bacteria, viruses, and parasites), heal damaged tissue and remove cells of our own body that are not functioning correctly, such as cancer cells.

The immune system gets stronger as we approach adulthood, but again, gets weaker in old age. This is why children and the elderly are more susceptible to illness. Here are some ways you can strengthen your immune system with exercise.

Immune support for adults

Regular exercise is important to maintaining health and the immune system. Despite this, excessive amounts of exercise can negatively affect immunity.

Immune support for kids

Children will naturally get sick and it is impossible to completely protect them from invading organisms. It is possible, however, to prevent them from getting sick as often, and to speed up recovery.