Natural Ways to Enhance Immunity

Are you the type of person that seems to get ill just thinking about cold and flu season? Do you get frequent infections throughout the fall and winter? Once you’re sick, do you have trouble regaining health? Here are some ideas to keep those seasonal illnesses at bay.

First off, not all illness is “bad.” I tend to look at it as exercise for our immune systems—if we’re never challenged, our immune cells don’t have the opportunity to build up and create memory immune cells for quicker response against future illness of the same kind.

Here are a few things to consider when trying to stay healthy this season.

De-stress!
High levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) tend to suppress or lower our immune response to invading pathogens. So make time to decompress and reduce your stress level. If you find you’re responding to stressors in a less than positive way, work on mentally reframing the experiences—it’s not about the stressors, it’s about how we react to them. Whether you do yoga, cook, dance, listen to music (or make your own), take bubble baths or embrace your inner child and color in coloring books, do it and do it often!

For additional support, drink some stress relief tea throughout the day and/or take adrenal support supplements. Also be sure to get adequate sleep, since increased stress and lowered immunity are among the many effects of sleep deprivation!

Keep moving
Exercise helps with lymph flow and the circulation of white blood cells, thereby increasing the detection of illness and helping to combat the illness more quickly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, 5 days per week, to get a decent fitness dose.  Of course, check with your medical provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Eat with intention
Eating for immunity ideally includes a lot of anti-microbial herbs such as garlic, ginger, and parsley. You should also include immune-modulating mushrooms, particularly shiitake. Combining these mushrooms and herbs in a mineral-rich broth is one of my favorite seasonal meals.

Tried-and-true immune support products
This is by no means an exhaustive list. As always, consult a supplement-literate physician before adding them to your regimen, in order to avoid any potential medicine interactions and to make sure they’re right for you.

Regular use of a neti pot/saline rinse can decrease adherence of pathogens to our nasal passages, which is a common entry point of microbes. Although it can take some getting used to (and the willpower to do it), it is well worth the benefits!

Elderberry syrup or extract is one of my favorite, tasty ways to help prevent and shorten the duration of cold and flu viruses. Not only is it antiviral, but the proanthocyanidins in the elderberries make it a potent antioxidant. Children love it, too!

Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that helps keep you protected by enhancing immune function, and helps you deal with stress. That makes it a great preventive herb to take on a daily basis to build up your immune system and help you cope through the holiday season.

In the first 48 hours of feeling ill, consider frequent dosing with echinacea root. Beyond the initial phase of illness, the root may have little or likely no impact, but when used correctly can be quite helpful. The aerial parts of echinacea however, can be taken throughout the season to strengthen the immune system.

Andrographis is an excellent immune-stimulating herb to take in the beginning stages of illness. It works to decrease the symptoms of the acute cold or flu quickly, particularly helping to provide relief from sore throat or fever.

There is an undeniable connection between the gut and the immune system. An incredible 80 percent of our immune system is located in our digestive systems. Probiotics should be taken daily throughout the year to support beneficial flora in the GI tract.

Vitamin C is a classic immune-boosting standby, and can be dosed in high amounts, up to bowel tolerance, as more is required during acute infections. Lower amounts can be used daily to ward off illness.

Zinc lozenges, when used within the first 24 hours of illness, can help to shorten the duration and decrease the symptoms of the common cold. Zinc given at appropriate dosages over time can help prevent infections.

Medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides and beneficial compounds that work to modulate or enhance immune function. Taking a mushroom extract or capsule supplement on a daily basis can be very beneficial in helping the immune system to function properly.

Stay healthy this season and don’t forget to frequently wash your hands! Talk with a practitioner at your local Pharmaca for more information and product suggestions.

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