Written by Dr. Heather Robinson, ND
Fall is a notoriously tough season for the cold and flu. Kids are back to school, the more lenient summer lifestyle is catching up with our bodies and from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, our bodies can have difficulty adjusting to the change of seasons. As the cooler weather approaches and we get into that time of year, there are a lot of ways we can be supporting our immune system (please see disclaimer below) to help mitigate the effects of any colds or flus we come in contact with (the exception being COVID-19).
A question I get asked a lot is ‘what’s a normal amount to get sick’. And surprisingly, the answer is not never (double negative, I know). If you have a competent immune system (and stay home) isn’t a bad thing or a sign that you have a deficient immune system. The viral environment evolves and our immune system has to evolve with it. So, the rule of thumb that I discuss with patients is getting sick 1-2 times per year with a reasonable recovery time is still a very healthy immune response. Getting sick every other month or coming down with bronchitis or strep throat that knocks you out for a month is not.
Keep in mind everybody is different and will have a different baseline immune capacity, so it is important to individualize care. We always suggest seeking the assessment and advice of a Naturopathic Doctor to help create a specific plan for you! Here are some general tools that can help to generally support immune function:
Nutrition: A diet rich in whole foods – colourful fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats like nuts/seeds – is the first line of defence. When you take supplements like Vitamin C and Zinc, why is that? It’s because they’re two common nutrients that are pivotal in healthy immune function. Where do we naturally find those? Whole foods! Diversity is key when it comes to whole foods so you can get a variety of micronutrients. It also plays a big role in gut health which, as you’ll find out, is the key moderator of our immune system.
Gut health: The GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) in our gut produces more antibodies than our bone marrow, spleen and lymph combined. If there is inflammation (whether from food or underlying infection), immune function is compromised. Certain strains of probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus casei have been shown to significantly reduce the occurrence and severity of the common cold in healthy people. Individualization is very important here.
Contrast showers: Contrast showers are alternating hot and cold at the end of your shower. Admittedly, they are tough to get used to but are so incredible for immune function. Exposure to cold water, particularly to the core, causes an increase in white blood cells (our body’s defenders), helps with lymph flow (circulates immune cells) and blood flow. Again, consult with a practitioner to ensure this is safe and right for you.
Vitamins + Minerals: The trio that are the most important when it comes to immune function are Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc. Most Canadians are deficient in Zinc and Vitamin D, whereas we are not facing scurvy epidemics anymore. Vitamin C tends to be most beneficial for immune function after one undergoes a period of extreme stress (physically/mentally) and hasn’t been shown to be terribly beneficial from normal oral dosing in otherwise healthy populations. Check with your practitioner to determine the appropriate dosing!
Botanicals: Herbs such as echinacea are wonderful right at the first sign of a cold/flu. If chronic colds or flus are an issue, other botanicals that are immune modulating include reishi, cordyceps or astragalus help to directly affect your immune function. There are others that have antiviral properties that target viruses such as turmeric, oregano and garlic (are also all in your cupboard!). You want to ensure there is no interaction with these herbs and medications.
Keep in mind: colds and flus are viral, meaning an antimicrobial (kills of bacteria), won’t impact it. The botanical must be antiviral in nature or directly impact the immune system to have an effect.
Sleep and stress: I’m sure we’ve all experienced being sleep deprived or having a period of stress and then as soon as it’s over, *bang*, we’re sick. Focusing on stress management and good quality sleep is part of the foundations of a healthy immune system.
Feel free to book a complimentary 15 – minute meet and greet with one of the Naturopathic Doctors at Sage if you feel you need some support!
Disclaimer: This information is not at all in relation to Coronavirus/COVID-19. There is no data supporting the use of these modalities in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 and is for information purposes only.