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.