What is Herd Immunity and What Does it Mean for Your Immune System? 

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By now you’ve heard the term herd immunity. But what does it actually mean? Essentially, herd immunity occurs when a large part of a population (the “herd”) develops acquired immunity against a specific virus. This widespread “community immunity” is what is required to prevent the virus from spreading rapidly among the population. But the question is, how much of the population needs to be immune in order to prevent the spread? Experts say it depends on the virus, and how contagious it is.  

For highly contagious viruses, experts say that 85-95% of the population needs to have immunity in order to significantly reduce the risk of spread. When this many people in a community are immune, the infection risk decreases significantly—enough to prevent infection even in the small percent of people who have not yet developed immunity.1  

How do We Reach Herd Immunity?  

There are two ways to achieve herd immunity:2 

  1. By direct exposure to the virus, leading to infection and the development of immune antibodies to defend against future exposure.  

  1. By immunization that triggers your immune system to produce antibodies that are ready to prevent infections or minimize severity of infection if you become exposed.  

Herd immunity is key to controlling aggressive viruses. The problem is, when viruses mutate and change quickly, herd immunity is not as effective. Essentially, we can’t wait for herd immunity when we are faced with new viral variants that can outsmart the body’s acquired immune defenses.  

Variants are Why We Get Colds and Flus 

Just like us, viruses want to survive. To do so, they need to mutate and outsmart acquired immune defenses. These mutated forms are called variants, and their severity and contagiousness, compared to the original virus, can range from mild to severe.  

This is why we’ve all had more than one cold virus in our lives, and the reason the flu shot needs to be upgraded every year.   

And, most importantly, this is why we need to be vigilant about keeping our immune systems primed and ready. A well-trained, balanced, and optimized immune system is our best defense against viruses and their variants.

How Your Immune System Adapts to Variants 

An optimized immune system can develop antibodies to fight new viruses and their variants. How quickly it does this depends on how well your immune system functions. As soon as your immune cells detect an invader (aka an antigen) your whole immune system mounts an attack. If you already have antibodies to that specific virus, these antibodies latch onto antigens like a key in a lock, identifying them to be destroyed.  

But when your immune system encounters a new virus or variant, it has to develop new antibodies. In the meantime, the new antigen gets tagged, and macrophage immune cells are sent to fight and destroy it. It can take a few days to several weeks for your immune system to produce specific antibodies to a new virus, but when it does, your body will be able to quickly and efficiently deal with it, so you don’t get sick or develop serious symptoms if you do get infected.3  

For all of these processes to function seamlessly, you need a robust and adaptable immune system that knows how to attack and defend against invaders, without going overboard and overwhelming your body with inflammatory cytokines, leading to a cytokine storm.  
 
A nourishing, anti-inflammatory diet, healthy stress relief, adequate sleep, and regular exercise are the foundations for a health and balanced immune system. But many times—especially in today’s age—our immune systems need additional support. Probiotics and medicinal mushrooms are powerful natural solutions that continue to prove themselves as effective immune support ingredients for healthy immunity and long-term wellness. 

Probiotics and Immunity  

More than 70% of your immune system is in your gut—and your microbiome plays a key role. For optimal immunity, you need a healthy balance of probiotic bacteria that offer targeted immune benefits that are essential for keeping you healthy and free of infections.4  

Probiotic bacteria actually direct and teach your immune system how to respond to threats.5 This includes:6-11 

  • How to differentiate between healthy cells and harmful invaders  
  • When to boost antibody production to address a threat 
  • How to recognize pathogens you’ve encountered before 
  • How to address infectious microbes including viruses and harmful bacteria 
  • How to react appropriately, without going overboard and creating excess inflammation, autoimmunity, or cytokine storms 

This is why taking an effective, high-quality probiotic can be so important for your immune defenses. The right probiotic supports a healthy population of beneficial bacteria that work to improve immune function and deliver a wealth of additional benefits for gut health, brain and mood, healthy weight, and more.  

How Probiotics Improve Your Immune System   

Beneficial bacteria help to boost antibody production and activate key immune cells that fight off viruses, including T- and B-cells, and also promote healthy inflammation responses. They do this by producing metabolic byproducts called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that communicate with your immune system for optimal function. 

Probiotics also product anti-viral compounds that directly interfere with the ability of viruses to make copies of themselves as well as infect healthy cells.  

My top recommendation for a truly effective probiotic supplement, is a certified organic, live-fermented probiotic herbal drink that also includes 19 digestive herbs, plus prebiotic nutrients to nourish the probiotics and help them thrive. This opens in a new windowpowerful, fast-acting formula has been a game changer in my patients who weren’t experiencing any benefits from taking regular, pill-based probiotics. With its unique fermentation base and powerful herbal enhancement, this first-in-class probiotic formula provides a wealth of benefits for optimal digestive function, immune health, gut-brain support, and overall microbiome balance.  

How Medicinal Mushrooms Provide Antiviral Support

Medicinal mushrooms are ideal immune support ingredients because they contain a wealth of powerful compounds such as beta glucans and unique antioxidants such as ergothioneine that help to defend cells and optimize immune function. They also contain essential immune supportive vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, phosphorus, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin D. 

Mushrooms also offer powerful anti-viral actions on their own, making them an essential cornerstone of any long-term immune support program. They work to inhibit viral replication and spread through targeted actions including:12 

  • Inhibiting virus enzymes that allow the infection to replicate 
  • Inhibiting virus enzymes that allow viruses to attach to cells 
  • Blocking virus’s mobility in the respiratory system 

Mushrooms also support your microbiome, by offering powerful prebiotic nourishment for healthy gut bacteria.13,14  

Mushrooms, even the medicinal varieties, are food, which means they can, and should, be taken every day for optimal immune health and defenses. My top recommendation for medicinal mushroom supplementation is a unique, opens in a new windowbotanically-enhanced mushroom formula that contains six species of potent medicinal mushrooms—including Reishi, Cordyceps, and Maitake—that are cultivated on a blend of immune supporting herbs for fortification with additional immune-supportive compounds. This powerful, fast-acting mushroom immune blend delivers robust support for optimal immune defenses against viruses, as well as support for long-term immune function, overall vitality, and total-body wellness.  

Taking a proactive and holistic approach to support our immune systems means we don’t have to wait for herd immunity to be protected. With targeted, evidence-based immune support strategies including opens in a new windoweffective probiotics and opens in a new windowpowerful medicinal mushrooms, we can actively defend ourselves against aggressive viruses and invaders, and support a faster, easier recovery if we do get sick. 

Sources: 

  1.  Yadegari I, Omidi M, Smith SR. The herd-immunity threshold must be updated for multi-vaccine strategies and multiple variants. Sci Rep. 2021 Nov 26;11(1):22970.  

  1.  John TJ, Samuel R. Herd immunity and herd effect: new insights and definitions. Eur J Epidemiol. 2000;16(7):601-6.  

  1.  Hoffman W, Lakkis FG, Chalasani G. B Cells, Antibodies, and More. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2016;11(1):137-154.  

  1.  Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6.  

  1. Md. Abul Kalam Azad, Manobendro Sarker, Dan Wan, ”Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics on Cytokine Profiles”, BioMed Research International, vol. 2018, Article ID 8063647, 10 pages, 2018.  

  1.  Hardy H, Harris J, Lyon E, Beal J, Foey AD. Probiotics, prebiotics and immunomodulation of gut mucosal defences: homeostasis and immunopathology. Nutrients. 2013;5(6):1869-1912.  

  1.  Yan F, Polk DB. Probiotics and immune health. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2011;27(6):496-501.  

  1.  Liu Y, Alookaran JJ, Rhoads JM. Probiotics in Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disorders. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1537.  

  1.  Zheng, D., Liwinski, T. & Elinav, E. Interaction between microbiota and immunity in health and disease. Cell Res30, 492–506 (2020). 

  1.  Mirashrafi S, Moravejolahkami AR, Balouch Zehi Z, et al. The efficacy of probiotics on virus titres and antibody production in virus diseases: A systematic review on recent evidence for COVID-19 treatment. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2021;46:1-8. 

  1. Lopez-Santamarina A, Lamas A, Del Carmen Mondragón A, et al. Probiotic Effects against Virus Infections: New Weapons for an Old War. Foods. 2021;10(1):130.  

  1. Seo DJ, Choi C. Antiviral Bioactive Compounds of Mushrooms and Their Antiviral Mechanisms: A Review. Viruses. 2021;13(2):350.  

  1. Hess J, Wang Q, Gould T, et al. Impact of Agaricus bisporus Mushroom Consumption on Gut Health Markers in Healthy Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1402.  

  1. Solano-Aguilar GI, Jang S, et al. The Effect of Dietary Mushroom Agaricus bisporus on Intestinal Microbiota Composition and Host Immunological Function. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 9;10(11):1721.

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