Strengthen Immunity with Melatonin, Vitamin D, and Probiotics

woman napping outside
October 23, 2014 (Updated: January 22, 2015)
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Good health begins with a good night’s sleep. Damaging toxins are disposed of while you sleep, and broken cells are repaired, processes that require at least eight solid hours of high-quality sleep in a dark room.

If that’s not happening, if you’re tossing and turning every night instead, your immune system suffers. And that leaves you exposed to everything from common bacteria and viruses to cancer.

Don’t scoff! The sleep-immunity connection is very real. Here’s just one example from a large body of research supporting the link.

Skin cancer tumors transplanted to lab animals were rejected by those with healthy immune systems, but grew out of control in animals with weak immunity.

Inflammation—believed to be at the root of all illness—is another by-product of insomnia and sleep difficulties. So are weight issues, including obesity.

Studies have repeatedly shown that even healthy individuals whose sleep is cut short experience small changes in inflammatory markers, setting the stage for long-term health problems.

Still not convinced sleep is that important?  In a major study of nearly 25,000 adults, researchers found individuals who slept the fewest hours were at risk for “almost all” chronic diseases.

So if you find yourself staring at the clock when you should be sleeping, you’re putting yourself at risk for heart disease and diabetes, chronic ailments that can be avoided.

Maintaining a powerful immune system starts with a good night’s sleep. If that’s a problem for you, I’ve got solutions.

The hormone melatonin is my number one recommendation for improving sleep. This hardworking antioxidant is a supplement super star, helping you sleep while fighting off damaging free radicals at the same time. Take 3 mg about 30 minutes before bedtime.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

Melatonin does much more than help you get a good night’s sleep. It also supports a healthy immune system, fights inflammation, and decreases aging markers. That’s quite a resume for just one supplement!

And beyond melatonin, there’s more you can do. Much of your immune system is located in your intestines, so what you eat and drink is important. Forget about processed, prepared, and sugary foods—those unhealthy choices are strictly off limits.

Instead, build your diet around live, whole foods—vegetables and fruits, grains, lean protein, nuts, and seeds. Ditch sodas or other sweet beverages, and replace them with pure, fresh water.

Probiotics, the good bacteria that are “must haves” for a strong immune system, are another one of my top recommendations. Food sources are limited to fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kefir, and plain yogurt.

That’s why the best way to shore up your immune system is with supplements. Look for a product containing at least 10 billion live organisms per dose.

With winter—and flu season—just around the corner, don’t forget about vitamin D3, another outstanding immune system supporter.

Vitamin D3 is known as the “sunshine” vitamin because your body produces it when bare skin, free of sunblock, is exposed to bright sunlight for about 20 minutes daily.

Unfortunately, middle-aged and older people lose the ability to convert sunshine into D3. Nearly every patient I see now has low levels of D3, putting them at risk for immune system failures.

A simple blood test can reveal your vitamin D3 status. Ideally, your levels of D3 should be in the 50 to 60 ng/mL range. It’s not possible to get therapeutic levels of D3 from food. But vitamin D3 supplements are inexpensive and widely available. I recommend 1,500 to 5,000 IUs of D3 daily.

I strongly encourage my patients and readers to strengthen their immune systems. Start by minimizing sleep problems. Then upgrade your diet, add in a few supplements, and enjoy winter, instead of dreading it.

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