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Host Versus Pathogen, Immunity, and ...what’s your ACEs card?

Have you ever wondered why, when a bug or virus is making the rounds, some people get sick while others don't? What is it that makes the difference between an infected/sick person, and a healthy one who appears to have escaped the scourge?  How can you stack the odds in your favor, to be an viral escapee rather than headed for urgent care?  What’s your ACEs card?...

First, to define "host," and "pathogen."  A host in this context is a human body; science refers to the body as a "host" because it becomes the accommodations for party-crashing bacteria, viruses, or other microscopic creatures that cause illness. The infectious creature is referred to as the "pathogen," which comes from the Latin words pathos, meaning “suffering,” and “gen,” meaning "causing." 

The strength of the pathogen (infectivity, R-naught) is a characteristic of that pathogen, and therefore it is not a variable that you can control.  You CAN, however, influence the strength of the HOST (that would be YOU!), by ensuring that your immune system is armed and fully prepared for invasion.

To explore this idea, let’s look at three options for how a host handles the same pathogen, according to how strong the HOST is.  A pathogen, when it enters the host's body, will (hopefully) evoke a neutralizing response from the host's immune system once it is detected.  In the best-case scenario, the host's strong immune system detects the pathogen quickly and kills it, squashes it like a bug. The potential infection or sickness is therefore stopped in its tracks. You were infected, but you never knew it because the infection didn’t progress.  Second, in an intermediate case scenario, a moderately strong host may get infected but may not get outright symptoms, because their body is taking care of the invasion “behind the scenes” with no obvious symptoms or signs.  Unfortunately, in this case they are STILL CONTAGIOUS, and can infect others.  THIS is why personal hygiene and hand washing are so important - so that if you are unknowingly contagious, you’re mindful to keep your bugs to yourself!!  The third scenario, the one we naturally pay more attention to, is of course if the WEAK immune system fails to respond quickly and with authority.  In this case, the pathogen (virus, bacteria, parasite, whatever) will have enough time to reproduce within the host, to replicate more of its own kind, and wreak havoc. So in this scenario, the number of bugs that initially elude the host's immune system exponentially influences the severity of infection: if your body was not READY to detect and kill invaders, your immune system will have to create a full-on war rather than a sniper attack, and the outwards signs and symptoms of infection will reflect that.

Your immune system's optimal function and PREPAREDNESS, then, is obviously crucially important for early detection and elimination of pathogens whose sole existential purpose is to replicate (at the expense of the host!). A strong immune system will squash all invaders quickly, while a compromised immune system will be sluggish in its response and allow bugs to take up residence and breed, making the host’s body a battleground in a war where the bombs and artillery are high fever, all over body aches, GI issues, congestion, pneumonia, runny nose, headache, and other forms of misery.  It follows that the best way to skew the odds in your favor as a potential host is to keep your immune system healthy and strong. 

Necessary ingredients for maintenance of a strong immune system include adequate nutrition, hydration, sleep, and minimization of stress and toxins from your life.  Additionally, nutritional supplementation may provide an opportunity to bolster and support the immune system, to ready it for challenge.


  • Hydration.  Drink half your body weight in ounces of water, each day.  Hot lemon water is my fave lately, because it also incorporates vitamin C.
  • Sleep.  Immune function wanes with insufficient sleep syndrome (ISS) - now is NOT the time to skimp. (Click here for a review)
  • Exercise.  Regular exercise has time-proven benefits for the immune system.  Get out there and walk!  (Preferably outside in the sunshine...  see Vitamin D below)
  • Avoid toxins.  Things that impede your immune system’s resilience include sugar, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol, as well as smoking/vaping.  Thinking about doing a 30 day no-booze cleanse?  Great idea!
  • Solve nutrient deficiencies.  This is a BIG one: Your immune system “house” is only as good as its building blocks.  To be blunt: if your foundation is weak, the house may fall.  Can your diet provide the level of nutrients necessary to prevent infection?  I can’t answer that.  Personally, I prefer to err on the side of excess when it comes to the biochemical building blocks your immune system needs to work at its best.  As a former recovering biochemist, I can certainly tell you that any nutrient deficiency has far-reaching effects, because each nutritional component is used for multiple functions in multiple systems....  after all, it’s all connected =) #systemsbiology

ACEs: Vitamins A, C, E, and Selenium: Foundational elements for strong immune system 

Vitamin A: Have you eaten your carrots??  Vitamin A is essential for your immune system’s response to viruses (click here).  Deficiency of vitamin A cripples your body’s antiviral defenses.  I’m currently taking a daily multivitamin with 10,000 IU beta-carotene, and my breakfast includes carrot juice.  Just don’t take so much that your skin turns orange....

Vitamin C: Did you know that deficiency of vitamin C results in higher susceptability to infection, and can predispose to pneumonia?  That concept seems pretty relevant currently.  Furthermore, “supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections.” (Click here)  My multivitamin has 500 mg ascorbic acid, and I’m also enjoying vitamin C-rich grapefruit juice (warning: this is not right for everyone!) as well as lemon water, and lemon in my morning veggie juice.  

Vitamin E: As an essential component of your body’s natural antioxidant system, vitamin E is important for immune system functions across the board (click here).  Avocados and wheat germ oil contain vitamin E, and if you want to make sure to be ”ahead of the curve,”  you can boost your intake via supplements.  30 IU of alpha tocopherol is the US RDA, and it may be to your advantage to take in more than that, in the form of mixed tocopherols.

Selenium: Research has shown that the micronutrient selenium enhances immune system responses, and that deficiency of adequate levels of selenium in the body inhibits immune protection (Click here).  

Bonus:  Vitamin D and zinc are also essential for immune system function.  Vitamin D deficiency has been clearly shown to increase susceptibility to infection (click here) and here in March in New England, vitamin D deficiency is its own epidemic.  I currently supplement with 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily in the winter and 2000 IU daily in the summer.  Also, make sure you get outside!  Your body naturally synthesizes and converts vitamin D to its biologically active form in sunlight.  Lastly: Zinc... ah, my friend zinc.  Many of the modulators within the immune system use proteins with a motif called a “zinc finger,” which is used to attach to DNA to turn it on or off.  I know these zinc fingers well, as I worked with one, MZF-1, in grad school round 1 (click here) If your body doesn’t have enough zinc, it’s not going to make enough zinc finger proteins for the immune system to get a grip on the problem.  (Ha, ha, ha....)

Enhancing immune system function can also incorporate chiropractic adjustments to eliminate subluxations (distortions to the spine, or restrictions to its strength or movement, that irritate the nervous system and thereby immune system function.)  A lot of people are not familiar with the connection between chiropractic care and immune system function.  The basic premise is that the immune system and the nervous system share chemical modulators, therefore anything that affects the function of the nervous system will by extension affect the function of the immune system, and vice versa, because these systems are intimately connected.  For a full explanation of that statement, click HERE for a fully referenced article I've written on the impact of chiropractic care on immunity.  If you’re under regular chiropractic care, you may have already experienced the impacts of getting adjusted on immune system function - many of you report back to me that you don’t get sick as often, and if you do, the duration of symptoms is much shorter than you’ve experienced prior to starting your care.  I love that!!  It gives me great joy to hear that your are healthier and more resilient to the challenges your body faces, and it reminds me just how much chiropractic care enhances human adaptability.  And now is the time to make sure you’re giving your body that advantage, for sure.

You cannot control the strength of the pathogen, but you CAN influence the strength of the host - YOU. And maximizing the strength of the host's immune system through healthy living - including getting adjusted to reduce and eliminate subluxations that detract from the optimal function of both your nervous system and your immune system - really can be one of your best defenses against the bugs that we are bound to encounter every day, much less the COVID-19 pathogen that’s currently on the loose.  The time to take preventative actions to strengthen your body is *NOW* - to protect ourselves and by extension those around us.  So take the ACE(s) card I’ve given you and get to work!  Your health, and your community’s health, may indeed depend on it in the weeks and months ahead of us.