This is the 3rd in a 3 part series on COVID vaccines. In part one, we weighed the risks of COVID infection vs COVID injection. In part 2, we covered frequently asked questions about the COVID vaccines. Here we’re assuming you’ve decided to move ahead with vaccination, and we’re covering how to prepare and recover.
Once again, I am not a scientist or expert in vaccines or infectious disease. I’m merely a functional medicine provider, drawing on my 20+ years of experience, and lots of Googling. I hope the information is helpful.
Preparing the Immune System for Optimal Response to Vaccination
The Role of Lifestyle
Exercise, good nutrition and stress management will all factor into your body’s immune response, including its ability to return to baseline following vaccination. In the days leading up to vaccination, try to give your body a little extra TLC.
Insomnia is likely to cause a more exaggerated inflammatory response, and therefore, more symptoms, so try to make sure you get a good night of sleep before vaccination.
The X chromosome contains a higher density of immune-related genes than the Y chromosome; therefore, women generally mount stronger immune responses than men. This is one reason autoimmunity is seen much more often in women. Historically, women also respond more strongly than men to vaccination because *estrogen amplifies the TH1 immune response stimulated by vaccines, while testosterone has a dimming effect.
*Unfortunately, data on response and adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines doesn’t appear to be reported by sex, though menstruating women could consider timing their vaccination/s during the second half of their menstrual cycle when estrogen is at its lowest.
Vitamin D receptors are expressed by the majority of immune cells. Immune cells are also able to locally convert vitamin D from 25(OH)D3 into its active form (1,25(OH)2D3). Vitamin D and its receptor site signaling together have a suppressive role on autoimmunity and an anti-inflammatory effect.
We find most patients require a dose of 3000-5000 IU/day to achieve the optimal blood level of 60-80 ng/mL. It’s a good idea to check your level in winter and summer to establish your optimal daily dose. If you aren’t currently taking vitamin D, you can take double or triple the recommended daily amount for several weeks to more quickly attain sufficiency.
Probiotics and Vaccines
A meta-analysis published in the journal Vaccine in 2018 looked at 26 studies involving 3812 participants, investigating the effect of 40 different probiotic strains on the response to 17 different vaccines. The authors concluded “the studies in our review suggest that probiotics offer a relatively cheap intervention to improve vaccine efficacy and duration of protection.”
When choosing a probiotic, we find that matching them to the patient works best. Here are our recommendations:
For soft, watery or loose stool, choose a probiotic that includes saccharomyces boulardii. Our favorite is Ortho-Biotic by Orthomolecular. Take 1-3 capsules daily, lowering to once daily as stool normalizes.
For constipation, consider UltraFlora Spectrum by Metagenics. Take one capsule at bedtime.
If you don’t fall into either of the above categories, consider a broad-spectrum probiotic, like Ther-Biotic Complete by Klaire Labs, which comes in powder or capsules. If you suffer from chronic GI symptoms, consider taking 1/4 tsp of the powder at bedtime. Otherwise, 1 capsule at bedtime should suffice.
Minimizing Side Effects Following Vaccination
Plan to take it easy the day of, and the day after vaccination. Keep stress levels low, listen to your body and rest if it wants you to. Stay hydrated and eat nourishing food.
To Decrease Inflammation Post-Vaccination, Consider SPMs
Following vaccination, transient inflammation is expected, though the ability to resolve the inflammation varies. The longer it takes your body to quell the inflammatory response, the more symptoms you will experience. Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators (SPMs) can help to resolve inflammation, reducing the severity and duration of side effects following vaccination.
Although our body can use omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to generate SPMs, it’s a multi-step process involving enzymes and their nutrient co-factors, and not everyone is efficient at doing so. Supplementing with SPMs directly provides a more targeted and direct support that can resolve the inflammatory response, allowing the body to return to homeostasis more quickly.
We currently use two SPM products; Active SPM by Metagenics is the one I see the most consistent response with. Take 1 gel 3 times daily. Because the inflammatory response is necessary for creating the appropriate immune activation, we recommend waiting until 2-3 hours after your vaccination.
After symptoms have resolved, you can save the rest of your SPMs for the next time you have an inflammatory condition. They work wonderfully following a day of heavy yard work, or an sprain/strain injury.
When to Consider Delaying your Second Vaccine
I’ve now consulted with several patients who felt noticeably unwell following their first vaccination, and the symptoms hadn’t subsided by the time their second vaccination was due. Of course, they felt even worse following the second injection. If you have not recovered from your first injection, consider consulting with someone who can help you return to baseline before you proceed with the second one. Continuing symptoms are a sign that your body has been unable to resolve the inflammatory response triggered by immune activation.
And that concludes the 3 part series on COVID vaccinations and what we know now. I’ll do my best to update when I’m able if it seems necessary to do so. Please feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below in a kind and thoughtful manner.