Beyond the Spice Rack: Immune Boosting Hormones

By Michael A. Smith, MD

We recently published a blog post on common herbs and spices that can help boost your immune system. However, in this post, we’re going to focus on optimizing what’s produced in your body naturally - hormones.

Hormones are the communication lines or messengers between your brain and body. When hormones are functioning at optimal levels, all body systems work better — including your immune system. Let’s take a look at two key immune-boosting hormones, DHEA and melatonin.

DHEA is an Immune Cell Booster

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone with powerful effects felt throughout the body. It peaks in our teen years and twenties and then starts to drop off significantly year after year. DHEA and its metabolites have demonstrated powerful immune-enhancing and antiviral effects. The loss of DHEA is probably the biggest culprit behind age-related loss of immune function.

In a study, administering 50 mg a day of DHEA to elderly men resulted in the following immune enhancements compared to a placebo1:

  • 35% increase in the number of monocyte immune cells
  • 29% increase in the number of B immune cells
  • 62% increase in B-cell activity
  • 40% increase in T-cell activity
  • 50% increase in IL-2
  • 22% to 37% increase in natural killer cell number
  • 45% increase in natural killer cell activity
Here’s a quick summary of each type of cell affected by DHEA:

  • Monocytes are antigen-presenting cells and are necessary to initially identify pathogens and initiate the immune response.
  • B-Cells produce antibodies and help in killing pathogens.
  • T-Cells orchestrate the immune response, and some T-cells have direct pathogen killing abilities.
  • IL-2 is a powerful immune protein that is used by cells to communicate and coordinate an attack.
  • Natural Killer Cells are cells with direct pathogen killing abilities.
DHEA is not for everyone. People with hormone sensitive cancers need to speak with their doctor before taking it.

Melatonin Orchestrates the Immune Response

Melatonin has broad-spectrum immune-enhancing effects and has been shown to enhance T-helper cell activity, a very important type of immune cell. Specifically, T-helper cells are critically important for orchestrating and managing the immune response against viruses.2

The following was the conclusion of one melatonin study: “The immune-modulatory, antioxidant, and neuro-protective effects of melatonin suggest that this hormone must be considered as an additional therapeutic alternative to fight viral diseases.”3

Another study examined the immune function benefits of melatonin and found that melatonin activated IL-2 and gamma interferon, the body's natural hormone-like agents that facilitate T-helper cell production.4

Of course, with melatonin dose becomes an issue. To obtain the immune modulating affects you need to take a higher dose, say 10–20 mg/day. However, this would knock most of us out. The way around this is to take at bedtime and to start low and go slow.

Remember…the flu is a serious infection. So act fast when you start to feel sick and add DHEA and melatonin to your regimen until you feel better.

For a very detailed discussion of the immune system and our suggested immune-boosting nutrients, be sure to check out our cold fighting protocol.

  1. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1997 Jan;52(1):M1-7.
  2. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;467:217-26.
  3. J Pineal Res. 2004 Mar;36(2):73-9
  4. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;460:395-405.


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