The world is an uncertain place at the moment, and for many of us this not only means a dramatic change to our normal routine but also a realisation that there may be some things we were not prepared for. Maybe you have found yourself questioning how well prepared your body is to fight infection should it come your way. It is increasingly important to also remember that it is not just the immune system we should be worrying about, but also our response and resilience to long term stress.
The “distress” created by recent events and the subsequent disruption it has caused should not be underestimated, nor brushed aside. In fact, stress has the capacity to unravel efficiency of your immune system defences, leaving you weakened in the face of viral and bacterial invasion. The secret to staying well is building a strong, healthy immune system AND keeping your stress response in check.
Your immune system is your “department of defence’. It protects you from potentially harmful invaders by recognising and responding to them as a threat. In optimal condition, the immune system acts like a powerful, well-regulated army consisting of multiple specialised white blood cells. There are several naturally derived medicines and nutrients that can nourish and strengthen your immune system “army” to ensure it is in its best possible form, if and when action is required.
Vitamin C increases the activity of infection-fighting white blood cells, and can inhibit viral growth to reduce the incidence of the common cold. Vitamin C has been shown to be most effective when given with other nutrients such as zinc. (1)
Vitamins A & D
Vitamin D enhances immune system surveillance and may reduce viral growth. It is beneficial in reducing upper respiratory tract infections and may be of particular supportive benefit for people with asthma. (2,3)
Vitamin A is anti-inflammatory, enhances immune function and nourishes and supports the lining (mucous membranes) of the respiratory tract.
Zinc is crucial for the normal development and function of white blood cells (aka the immune army). It is also an important ingredient in the production of antibodies which help build immune memory to protect you against similar infections in the future. Inadequate levels of zinc in the body can dramatically reduce your ability to fight bacteria and viruses.
Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds and sore throat. (4)
Shitake, Reishi, Coriolus & Grifola have immune enhancing effects by stimulating the activity of protective white blood cells. These mushroom extracts can be used both to support the treatment of acute infections as well as be taken as a daily remedy for chronic immune weakness, to maintain good health.
This herb has a long history of use for viral and bacterial infections. Andrographis is beneficial in treating cold symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, hoarseness, chill, headache and fever.
Astragalus has been used for centuries to support healthy immune function. It is effective for building immune resilience in people who have had chronic or long term infections.
Echinacea species have been widely studied for their benefits in supporting the immune system and reducing the symptoms of cold and flu. Specific compounds (alkylamides) found in quality standardised echinacea extracts have been shown to enhance immune activity and suppress the inflammatory responses of lung and respiratory tract cells to viruses and bacteria.(5)
It is not enough to rely on just taking supplements to support your immune system and keep you healthy, fit and strong. When you are stressed, your ability to fight off infections is reduced. This is because hormones released in the body when you are stressed, can suppress your immune function and diminish the activity of your white blood cells. (6)
Simple and effective ways to nourish your nervous system, manage your stress response and improve your immune system at the same time include:
Eat a diet high in colourful fruits and vegetables.
Avoid sugars, white flour (bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes etc.) and excess alcohol.
Schedule time each day for relaxation and leisure.
Increase water intake to 6-8 glasses per day.
Get enough sleep : 7-8 hours per night.
Supplement your diet with recommended nutrients and herbs.
Prevention is better than cure
See your practitioner before you get sick, to help you find the best way to support your specific needs. If you have a chronic illness or medical condition, it’s important not to neglect the routines and treatments that help you manage your condition and prevent flare ups. Just because everyone is talking about the immune system right now, doesn’t mean that your other pre-existing health concerns are not important. In fact, if you have a long standing health concern, it is even more important to focus some attention on sorting this out, so you can keep yourself in the best condition possible throughout these uncertain times.
(1)Vitamin C Is an Essential Factor on the Anti-viral Immune Responses through the Production of Interferon-α/β at the Initial Stage of Influenza A Virus (H3N2) Infection
(2)Vitamin D and Influenza—Prevention or Therapy?
(3)Vitamin D supplementation to prevent asthma exacerbations: a systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data.
(4)Does zinc improve symptoms of viral upper respiratory tract... : Evidence-Based Practice
(5)Applications of the Phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in Infectious Diseases
(6)Stress Weakens the Immune System