Immune vulnerability and excessive physical exertion

Of the twelve biological systems in the human body, one has undoubtedly taken centre stage in recent years – the immune system – and frankly, it’s about time.

The elusive immune system has often been the subject of controversial claims and old wives tales, reminiscent of mothers hounding their kids to ‘take a jacket!’, or consuming homemade tinctures and soups. While previously lacking in robust scientific data, there has always been an intuitive understanding about the active role humans play in our own immunity, through both the pursuit and avoidance of particular choices. With the development of scientific methods and tools, understanding about the immune system over the last twenty years has increased exponentially. As we now know, immunity is tethered to innumerable biological processes in the body from mood to physical performance, it is an inextricably linked component.

So what is immunity?

Immunity, simply put, is the body’s ability to prevent the invasion of disease causing substances known as pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. It comprises two main defence mechanisms – the specific and nonspecific immune response – each with varying strategies and levels of effectiveness.

While these processes are autonomous, their efficiency isn’t entirely ‘fixed’, but rather, fluid and can be affected, both positively and negatively, by our behaviours.

To understand how we can positively support our immune system, and also why certain behaviours are deleterious, we must also familiarise ourselves further with the concept of inflammation. As previously described, inflammation is a tool utilised by the immune system to respond to physiological stressors (such as pathogens and injuries) and upregulate necessary chemical pathways, such as cortisol – the infamous stress hormone – to coordinate attacks. This is the physiological incarnation of being in a state of prolonged ‘fight or flight’, or being in a ‘code red’ state. Inflammation is a necessary component to the healing process, but triggered consistently and in high amounts, inflammation begins to exert systemic damage, ultimately negatively impacting our immunity.

While it seems counterintuitive, high performance athletes are in fact, at risk of compromised immune status. It has been sufficiently established that mild-moderate exercise has protective benefits by downregulating excessive production of inflammatory compounds such as cortisol, cytokines and adrenaline, and upregulating pathways that promote healing pathways and endorphins. This is why exercise is often prescribed as a method to improve health status.

So Where Does The Risk Lay?
Once ‘moderate’ exercise levels are surpassed, as elite training regimens often entail, the positive relationship between immunity and exercise begins to invert. This is known as the J-curve model, which depicts the susceptibility to infection (usually respiratory infections) across different levels of exercise. The J-curve model depicts how moderate exercise loads demonstrate a protective immune effect above sedentary levels, while excessive amounts of prolonged high intensity exercise may impair immune function due to the high levels of inflammation. Energy (in the form of ATP) is the body’s most cherished resource, and in normal circumstances, it is distributed across the body according to need. Repair following exercise, particularly muscle repair, requires a large amount of energy and resources that can leave the rest of the body, and immune system, depleted.

Why is this important?
High states of inflammation have consequences that extend beyond an increased likelihood to catch a cold. Systemic inflammation also negatively impacts recovery, particularly after exertion and exercise, as resources that would typically be utilised to facilitate healing are depleted. This is the physiological equivalent of drawing upon a depleted, and/or empty, well. Instead of working in a framework that is facilitating thriving, the body is now stuck trying to survive. As you can imagine, this has significant negative implications on the physical and mental performance of athletes whose lifestyle and success often depends on their ability to recover efficiently, show up at a high level consistently, and maintain motivation and focus.

How Can I Help?
Luckily, as mentioned earlier, our immunity is not fixed and can be positively affected by certain interventions. These interventions include behavioural interventions, such as ensuring quality sleep, and physiological interventions such as adequate hydration, nutrition and supplementation.

Proper supplementation provides an excellent opportunity to ensure the key compounds that support immunity are available in adequate amounts. Often, a large majority of key vitamins and minerals with protective anti-inflammatory properties are water soluble, meaning they cannot be stored by the body and must be sourced daily. This factor, combined with the fact that athletes are often on some form of a strict/modified diet, often results in deficiency status.

PILLAR currently offers two supplement blends to support your immunity at every stage; ULTRA IMMUNE and VITAMIN C + ZINC IMMUNE. These unique, science-backed formulations provide a wide spectrum of protective and supportive immune benefits, which include:

  • Supporting healthy immune function;
  • Reducing the likelihood of infection;
  • Reducing the duration and severity of infection;
  • Providing relief from common cold and flu symptoms; and
  • Expediting the recovery process.


These benefits are achieved through a set of key ingredients that have been demonstrated to have high bioavailability profiles, as well as clinically established success in proving direct and immediate immune support. These blends combine multiple potent compounds for your convenience, as supplementing at these doses individually is typically unpleasant, inconvenient and expensive.

The First Superstar: Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for humans and serves a powerful immune and anti-inflammatory effect. Vitamin C cannot be endogenously synthesised by humans and thus, requires an external source (diet or supplementation) to be obtained. Additionally, vitamin C is a water soluble compound, meaning it has a poor ability to be retained by the body and requires daily consumption. It is for this reason that supplementation serves as a more reliable source of vitamin C than diet alone. Deficiencies in vitamin C ultimately result in impaired immunity, a higher vulnerability to infection and in severe cases, even death!

Multiple robust, peer reviewed studies have also indicated that vitamin C supplementation daily is effective in mitigating the severity and duration of the common cold, as well as the incidence of the common cold if also exposed to physical stressors (i.e. intense exercise). Two key ascorbates are utilised across the formulations, at potent doses, to ensure optimal bioavailability and absorption levels necessary for immune support, with each tablet of VITAMIN C + ZINC IMMUNE containing 1000mg of vitamin C and 18mg of zinc.

The Second Superstar: Zinc
ZINC IMMUNE is a high potency zinc formula to enhance immune efficiency and fight off illness. Formulated using three selected forms of absorbable zinc to protect immune cells and support the synthesis of neurotransmitters during periods of increased physical stress with 50mg of zinc per tablet. The significance of the essential trace element zinc for immune function has been known for several decades and is particularly important for the maintenance of immune cells. Zinc deficiency affects the production and efficiency of immune cells, resulting in decreased host defence and increased systemic inflammation. In a study that monitored the relationship between Zinc and the common cold, it was concluded that in comparison with placebo, zinc supplemented participants had a shorter mean overall cold duration (4.0 vs. 7.1 days) and shorter cough duration (2.1 vs. 5.0 days).

Additionally, during chronic zinc deficiency, the production of pro-inflammatory molecules rises, increasing the likelihood of a large number of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, which has significant ramifications for athletes and the general population due to its high burden. Zinc has not only been documented as having a protective benefit against the development of rheumatoid arthritis, but also in supporting afflicted individuals, with documented alleviation of joint swelling, morning stiffness and difficulty walking.

These compounds come together, working synergistically to cover all bases when it comes to your immunity. PILLAR’s Immune Range is here to support your physical and mental wellbeing with clinically backed, and well-tolerated blends at every stage of your training regimen.

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