This is common among athletes, especially high level athletes. Once the colder weather hits they come down with a cold or some kind of sickness. Obviously, this is not ideal. The reason top athletes are most susceptible is because exercise is believed to have an “inverted U shape” effect on our immune system. As our level of exercise increases from low to moderate our immune system becomes stronger, but as our activity level continues to increase it begins to suppress our immune system – leaving us vulnerable to bacterial or viral infection.
Fish Oil Strengthens the Immune System of Competitive Athletes
Athletes undergoing exercise given fish oil (6 weeks of 1,300mg EPA and 300mg DHA) have noted an increase in neutrophil (PBMC) produced IL-2 when measured 3 hours post exercise relative to placebo. Since IL-2 is normally suppressed after exercise, this was interpreted as a reduction in immunosuppression. In other words, fish oil reversed the expected exercise-induced WEAKENING of the immune system (and strengthened the immune system of athletes). This has been noted elsewhere in elite swimmers.
Fish oil also reduces select circulating proinflammatory cytokines involved in immune responses, such as TNF-alpha, IL-6, and CRP. This can translate to greater longevity throughout a long season, considering the excessive amount of inflammation that high level athletes are susceptible to.
Some of the neurological benefits of fish oil may require consistent supplementation, while acute benefits to muscular recovery may be seen immediately. If you are a serious athlete and are not supplementing fish oil, then I don’t think you are that serious. This is another benefit from a very LONG list.
Oregano Oil for Gut Integrity
This is a lesser known option for immune strength. The active ingredient is carvacrol, and if its not made from this (ie. if it is made from thyme as many are) then its useless. This actually improves intestinal barrier integrity via modulating intestinal bacteria. In general, it really fortifies our immune system and controls inflammation. This makes oregano oil a great option to add to your arsenal.
Does Exercise Really Suppress the Immune System Though?
Alright I don’t want to confuse people, but it is worth mentioning that this idea of the inverted U shape is debated. It is well known that exercise elevates certain immune markers, HOWEVER, there is some debate as to the interpretation of what this actually means. Some argue the elevation in leukocytes and other immune cells suggests a compromised immune system as I mentioned. But others suggest it is a simply a sign of “traffic being rerouted”, and cells are moving from blood to lympathetic tissue. We are complicated beasts….
Which one is true doesn’t really matter, if you are constantly getting sick during your athletic season then your performance is taking a huge hit, and your immune system is not functioning optimally. These are two good options to address that.
[i] Patrick Gray et al., “Fish Oil Supplementation Augments Post-Exercise Immune Function in Young Males,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 26, no. 8 (November 2012): 1265–72, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.08.002.
[ii] Michael Gleeson et al., “The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Exercise: Mechanisms and Implications for the Prevention and Treatment of Disease,” Nature Reviews. Immunology 11, no. 9 (05 2011), https://doi.org/10.1038/nri3041.
[iii] Priscila M. M. Andrade et al., “Effects of the Fish-Oil Supplementation on the Immune and Inflammatory Responses in Elite Swimmers,” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids 77, no. 3–4 (November 2007): 139–45, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2007.08.010.
[iv] Richard J Bloomer et al., “Effect of Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acid on Resting and Exercise-Induced Inflammatory and Oxidative Stress Biomarkers: A Randomized, Placebo Controlled, Cross-over Study,” Lipids in Health and Disease 8 (August 19, 2009): 36, https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-8-36.
[v] Irina Ciubotaru, Ye-Sun Lee, and Rosemary C. Wander, “Dietary Fish Oil Decreases C-Reactive Protein, Interleukin-6, and Triacylglycerol to HDL-Cholesterol Ratio in Postmenopausal Women on HRT,” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 14, no. 9 (September 2003): 513–21.
[vi] Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et al., “Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Inflammation in Healthy Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 26, no. 6 (August 2012): 988–95, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.05.011.
[vii] Ciubotaru, Lee, and Wander, “Dietary Fish Oil Decreases C-Reactive Protein, Interleukin-6, and Triacylglycerol to HDL-Cholesterol Ratio in Postmenopausal Women on HRT.”
[viii] I. Reinders et al., “Association of Serum N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids with C-Reactive Protein in Men,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66, no. 6 (June 2012): 736–41, https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.195.