This article was contributed by our founding Nutrition Programs Director, Romilly Hodges MS CNS CDN IFMCP. Romilly is the author of the new book IMMUNE RESILIENCE, published in April 2022 by Penguin Random House and available wherever books are sold. Don’t forget to order your copy!
In the field of personalized health, it should be no surprise that different bodies and immune systems respond to vaccines in different ways. And that vaccine efficacy, while always reported as a single number (a calculated average) is actually an estimate or range of confidence (a confidence interval). Whether that’s a measure of the number of people who actually did or did not get the disease after vaccination, or whether a study uses a proxy measure of effectiveness, such as the levels of antibodies that are developed in response to a vaccine, there is always variability. And it turns out that some of that variability comes down to dietary, behavioral, and environmental inputs.
Factors that Influence Vaccine Response
The following table lists factors that have so far been observed to influence vaccine response in at least one human clinical trial (and many in several trials):
|Factors that may INCREASE vaccine responsiveness
|Factors that may DECREASE vaccine responsiveness
|Time of day of vaccine administration||
*Intriguingly, interventions that target the microbiome don’t just influence the outcome of oral vaccines like rotavirus, which might seem most likely. Instead, they also appear to influence injected vaccines including hepatitis A and influenza. In addition to probiotic interventions, living in a rural area has been found to be associated with a greater diversity of species in the microbiome and is quite possibly a reason why living in such an environment may have a positive effect on vaccine response.
How to Prep for Vaccination
In general, for many of the factors in the table above, evidence has been mixed. Some studies have shown a statistically significant effect (positive or negative), others have shown no statistically significant effect. However, issues with weaker study designs that have plagued this research area to date mean we shouldn’t conclude that no evidence of benefit is evidence of no benefit. While more research is still clearly needed to confirm different effects by vaccine type and more, here’s what I feel comfortable recommending for optimal vaccine efficacy from what the research tells us so far:
- Ensure nutrient repletion, especially vitamins C, D, E, iron, selenium, and zinc
- Diet should be nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, microbiome supportive (abundant fiber and phytonutrients)
- Optimize lifestyle factors – sleep, stress, exercise, nonsmoking, BMI
- Address dysbiosis (Functional Medicine excels at this)
- Address any depressed mood. Generally, this involves squashing any unwanted sources of inflammation, vitamin D levels to 40-60 ng/mL, magnesium, lightbox therapy (if seasonal depression), supporting a healthy microbiome, nutritional repletion, and then, if needed, targeted mood-boosting nutraceuticals such as St. John’s Wort. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be helpful.
- Help caregivers get as much support as possible. Meal kits/delivery, a robust social support network, time off from/help with caregiving are all good here. The data are really very consistent that caregiver stress is significantly associated with worse vaccine response.
- Work on any of the additional factors that may impede vaccine efficacy such as those comorbidities. Anti-aging interventions are likely relevant to vaccine efficacy!
What About Vaccine Side Effects?
Then we can also consider what might also help reduce the potential for vaccine side effects – that’s a whole other (related) topic, but an important one. Getting vitamin D into that target range of 40-60 ng/mL, extra attention to prebiotic fibers that allow your microbiome to produce more SCFAs—both D and SCFAs help promote T regulatory cell activity which keeps immune activity robust but in check—as well as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and dietary antioxidants to keep the inflammatory response more manageable. Last but not least, consider some detox support, including potentially N-acetyl cysteine, milk thistle, or a combination product (there are many good quality professional options) that has detox-related nutrients, amino acids, and herbs.
Thoughts? What do you think of for optimizing vaccine response? Enter your comments below.
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I am 64 years of age and had a terrible response to the Moderna Booster last Fall~neuropathy of the hands and feet, weakness of the lower limbs to the point I didn’t know if I could walk to my bathroom. Infections that got out of control mostly uro/gyn infections. Extremely elevated blood pressure (I normally run low) headache, dry eyes, you name it I had it for a few months after the booster. It took three doctors in different specialties working as a team to help me through it. They felt perhaps it was a hyper-response of my immune system. I had had Covid in 10/2020 followed by the 1st and 2nd Moderna vaccine the beginning of 2021, with the booster coming 9 months later which is when I encountered an extreme derailing. It was a very scary time as they could not tell me if my strength would come back or if the neuropathy would resolve. I did report my adverse event to the CDC. I am not opposed to the vaccines as I feel it’s a part of the answer, but I, along with my physicians, feel that we don’t give enough weight to natural immunity. I was told to hold off on getting additional covid vaccines. Definitively did not do the 4th Moderna Booster. I’m hoping that different kinds of vaccines (other than J and J) will get FDA approval before next year so that I can choose something other than MRNA related. Your last paragraph in this article caught my attention. How to best avoid vaccine side effects. Thanks for sharing this article with us.
While the world is currently arguing over the validity of mandating the most recent “vaccine,” I find this article to be such an interesting perspective. I have seen virtually no one else talking about what factors influence vaccine effectiveness/side effects. While I find this intriguing, I’d love to see information or articles to support people who don’t want vaccines or who don’t support them. Having two children with vaccine injuries, and seeing so many friends and neighbors seriously injured by this most recent “vaccine” (neighbor with PE immediately after booster and friend with myocarditis and another with 2 blood clots–all under the age of 40 to name a few), I still think there are better ways for most of us to ensure health without injecting ourselves with injurious vaccine ingredients. However, if forced to take a vaccine (which I vehemently disagree with as each person must evaluate the risk-benefits of vaccination), the above article does pose some interesting things to consider prior to taking a shot. Thank you for posting this.