Supplements to Support the Immune System During Travel*

// Holly Lucille, ND, RN


Supplements to Support the Immune System During Travel*

The stress of travel, the re-circulation of air from planes, the dreaded seat neighbor, and altered sleep schedules can put added stress on our immune system. Luckily, there are several supplement recommendations which can help support a healthy immune system that may often be overlooked.* These recommendations can easily be incorporated into a daily plan of action or be taken seasonally as needed.

Black Elderberry

Altered sleep schedules due to travel are of particular importance.For centuries, the fruit of the elderberry has been one of the top traditional remedies for supporting a healthy immune system.* Elderberry fruit contains flavonoids, and carotenoids.* In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of International Medical Research in 2004, elderberry extract proved to be an effective, tolerable, and cost-effective extract.1 For the study, 60 Norwegian subjects received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times daily for a five-day period. Elderberry syrup tastes great, making it perfect for kids as well.


There are thought to be trillions of microorganisms living in the intestines and digestive tract. In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2015, University of Florida researchers found that probiotic supplementation, especially the strain of bifidobacteria R0071, may support the immune system seasonally.*2 The study included 581 students over a six-week period. Investigators observed frequency and severity of immune compromise.*

Many things can destroy the good bacteria in the digestive tract, including medication, environmental factors, diet (such as carbonated beverages and coffee), and stress. For those on the move, probiotic supplements that have specific immune strains and are shelf stable, not requiring refrigeration, are easy to travel with.*

Looking for additional information on probiotics? Download these educational resources on Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.


Altered sleep schedules due to travel are of particular importance and the significant relationship between sleep and the immune system cannot be overstated. Sleep is restorative to the body and allows for the downregulation of the HPA axis, regulation of immunomodulating hormones, and the balance between cellular and humoral immunity.3,4 Nighttime sleep has been shown to support Th1 dominance of the immune system, providing cellular defense.4 Nighttime wakefulness, however, have been shown to suppress Th1 differentiation and induce Th2 polarization and its subsequent cytokine production.4,5 Research has also shown that sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have been associated with increased white blood cell counts, decreased natural killer cell activity, and increased susceptibility to the immune compromise—a susceptibility that can persist for weeks.6-8 Interestingly, experimental studies have found that a short 30-minute afternoon nap after a poor night of sleep can reverse these immune responses and reduce related neuroendocrine stress.9,10 Nevertheless, frequent flyers who experience continual sleep deprivation face long-term additional risks in the forms of dysregulated mood, and impaired glucose metabolism concerns.11-13

Sleep and the circadian rhythm are intimately connected to the immune system. Circadian rhythm regulates autonomic activity and influences multiple processes including gastrointestinal, endocrine, and cardiovascular function. Recent research has also shown that even gut microbiota are regulated by circadian rhythm and just two days of sleep deprivation can provoke dysbiosis.14 Circadian rhythm is managed in part by oscillatory activity in central and peripheral tissues, and also in part by the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN of the hypothalamus. The timing, however, of circadian rhythm is controlled by light-aka the sleep/wake cycle.15 Traveling, especially across time zones, can result in interrupted sleep, bringing with it misaligned circadian rhythms, a phenomenon commonly referred to as jet lag. The entrainment of circadian rhythms to synchronize with a new time zone can take days, generally one day per hour of time difference.

Ways to Support Sleep

Fortunately, sleep can be improved while traveling with sleep-promoting supplementation and by practicing good sleep hygiene.*

Good sleep hygiene consists of providing an optimal environment for restful sleep. Even artificial light can cue the SCN in the hypothalamus and disrupt circadian rhythms, with common offenders being bright light and electronic devices that emit blue light. Using a blue light filter, avoiding use of electronic devices in the few hours before bedtime, and sleeping in a darkened room can prevent this from occurring. Conversely, exposure to artificial light within thirty minutes of awakening can support circadian alignment with the sleep/wake cycle, either through exposure to a partly cloudy morning, a brightly lit room, or an equivalent of 800 LUX from a light box.

Good sleep hygiene should also include digestive care. Minimizing late night eating allows the gut to rest, as well as counter the increased caloric intake associated with sleep disruption.16,17 Likewise, another good rule of thumb is to also avoid the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and sugary foods before bed.

There are several beneficial nutrients that are known to encourage restful sleep*. Some of these include:


Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.* Clinical trials involving healthy human volunteers show that glycine positively influences sleep quality.*18,19


Melatonin is synthesized from tryptophan and secreted by the pineal gland during periods of darkness.*20 Human research has found that that supplemental melatonin promotes sleep, improves sleep quality, and shortens sleep onset latency, particularly in individuals age 55 and older.*21-24


5-HTP is the intermediate metabolite of L-tryptophan in the biosynthesis of serotonin. In the central nervous system, serotonin levels have been implicated in the regulation of sleep.*25

Utilizing effective immune and sleep support along with employing these helpful strategies to improve sleep can be advantageous in reducing the various stresses on the immune system during times of travel.*

Holly Lucille, ND RN

Dr. Holly Lucille is a licensed naturopathic doctor, educator, natural products consultant, and television and radio host. She believes in the science, art, and mystery of healing and has a heartfelt passion for the individual wellness of all people. Built on this foundational belief, she uses the magnificence of multiple media platforms to truly make a difference and empower people to heal. Dr. Lucille’s private practice in Los Angeles, Healing from Within Healthcare, focuses on comprehensive naturopathic medicine and individualized care.

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