Understanding & Optimising Your Immunity
Written by Toni Baker, Balanced Living Naturopath
Keeping our immune systems healthy is a hot topic at present amidst the current scare of COVID-19, but do we really understand how the immune system works and how best to protect ourselves and our families in this ever-changing environment?
How do we begin to get a grasp on how this vast network of cells, tissues and organs all work within our body?
Our immune system is essential for our health; without it our bodies would be constantly under threat from bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Once an unwanted pathogen is spotted, our bodies start to launch a complex attack.
This attack is what we call an immune response and all of the key players, especially our white blood cells, antibodies, lymphatic system, spleen, thymus and bone marrow all have an important role to play.
Through a complex defence system that starts with our B-lymphocytes (B-cells) producing antibodies and alerting the T-lymphocytes (T-cells), the T-cells conquer and divide and the B cells produce antibodies that stick to the virus.
Meanwhile, the phagocytes break down the pathogens removing the dead cells and the macrophages are stimulated to become more effective at clearing the debris. Finally, the suppressor T-cells are stimulated to slow down the immune response once the virus has been cleared.
So what goes wrong and what could be weakening your immune system?
Some people are born with a weak immune system whilst others may acquire an immune deficiency. Things such as travel, high stress levels, excess alcohol, poor diet, lack of sleep and lack of exercise are all contenders in weakening the immune system response.
If your immune system is too active, this may result in an allergic reaction with the onset of other conditions such as asthma, eczema and hay fever whereas if your immune system can’t switch off this can result in an auto-immune condition.
So how do we support our body’s natural defences?
Let’s take a look at some holistic lifestyle choices plus some nutritional supplements and herbs that will keep us healthy all year long.
Filtered water – if there is one good thing you can do for yourself it's to drink clean filtered water and lots of it. Water that is free of the immune (and endocrine) disrupting fluoride and chlorine helps to flush waste through our lymphatic system. If you can’t afford an expensive tap-based filter – we highly recommend Epic Water Filters which remove 99.9% of known tap water contaminants.
Avoid toxic chemicals in your day-to-day life, keep harmful chemicals out of the house, choose alternatives to plastic and give your skincare products a makeover. We love the locally produced all-in one cleaning product ETL and Soapnut Republic handsoaps.
Choose a clean healthy diet and choose organic where possible. The aim is to get as many nutrients as possible through our food. Try and make your plate as colourful and beautiful as you can. Start to include some more nutrient dense smoothies, soups and bone broth into your diet and add some immune-boosting Turmeric and Ginger to your dishes.
Mindful practice – whether you are mindful through meditation, yoga or prayer, studies have shown great benefits on the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Try to adopt a practice on a daily basis for best results.
Take a good probiotic – studies show that there are two strains in particular that we need to support our gut health for immunity. Both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus Rhamous have shown to support our immune system through our gut microbiota. With around 60-80% of our immune system located in our gut, this will definitely support how we feel both physically and mentally. We love this probiotic blend from PRL that contains Lactobacillus Rhamous.
Take up the daily practice of tongue scraping and oil pulling. It may sound a little odd but tongue scraping can prevent toxins from being reabsorbed into your body and help support your immune system. After tongue scraping, swish two tablespoons of coconut oil around your mouth for around 10-20 minutes (maybe whilst in the shower). Not only will your breath and teeth (said to whiten them) love you for it, you will be removing all sorts of harmful bacteria from your mouth.
Movement – deep breathing, exercise and massage are all great ways to encourage lymphatic flow, making our immune systems more resistant and healthy.
Emotional health – your emotional health and wellbeing is such an important part of your health. Poor emotional health can weaken your immune system making you more likely to pick up colds and flus. Also greater support is needed if you are stressed, anxious or upset.
Whilst we focus on gaining nutrients through our food, we may often need to supplement to really support our immune system. Key nutrients associated with immune health are:
- B6, B9 and B12 – Most B vitamins are best taken in a complex apart from B12 which many people take separately.
- Zinc is one of the most important in immune health plus wound healing and supporting normal growth.
- Vitamin C is an essential vitamin during infection in the body as the white blood cells absorb and use all available Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D can modulate and adapt our immune response. It also plays an important role in auto-immunity.
- Selenium helps to reduce inflammation in the body and enhances immunity.
- Iron is necessary for supporting lymphocytes within the body.
Science is starting to support the use of folklore medicinal herbs especially when there is no conventional treatment for most viruses available. Here are some our top picks for anti-viral herbs:
Echinacea – a well known anti-viral which helps produce natural killer T-cells amongst many other uses.
Elderberry – an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial herb and a good immune stimulant.
Licorice – a great apoptogenic herb which means it also supports your nervous system and digestion but with immune enhancing properties
Astragalas – known to support the immune system against both bacterial and viral infections.
Garlic – known for greatly reducing upper respiratory symptoms and a strong anti-viral.
Oregano – a strong anti-viral and anti-fungal herb
At Balanced Living we use Mountain Meadow Herbs which are harvested from the rich soils of Montana in the US. They are formulated containing the herbs above to support the immune system. We love the Family Immune Booster containing 2 species of Echinacea plus Elderberry and Propolis in a non-alcohol base.
Medicinal Mushrooms are a growing area of interest with regards to immune health. They have high levels of polysaccharides within their cell walls and are an immune modulator which means they adapt by levelling out the immune system. Our favourite pick here is Healthforce Mycoimmunity Powder.
Focus on a balanced lifestyle (pun intended). Nurture your relationships and surround yourself with loving friends and family. Dance and laugh. Feed yourself well and give your body the rest and support it deserves.
Although we can’t always prevent an immune system disorder, you can do your best to strengthen your immune system and give your body a good chance of fighting disease.
*Please seek our advice before embarking on any supplements or herbs listed in this article as many are not suitable in pregnancy or taken with prescription medicines. Our naturopaths would be delighted to advise you on product choice and dosage. Please feel to call or email the clinic or make an appointment.
- Emma Paris