By: Dr. Kelly Brown, B.Sc., N.D., and Acupuncturist
It’s that time of year again when we start worrying about catching the latest cold and flu! Kids are going back to school, work gets busier, and the weather starts to change. One to three mild colds per year is completely normal in a healthy individual. However, if you find yourself getting more than this or if your colds last longer than 7-10 days, it’s time to consider focusing on your immune system. This can be achieved with Naturopathic Medicine by using many different modalities and techniques.
There are many herbs used to help fight off infections and keep your immune system functioning optimally. The best way to take herbs are in herbal combinations. Astragulus is a herb found in many immune system supplements. It has been used for years in upper respiratory tract infections, common colds, flus and seasonal allergies. It has been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory. This ingredient can be found in many forms, such as soups, teas, extracts, and pills. Each form will have a different dose. Although it is safe and well tolerated, it shouldn’t be used for more than three months. Mushrooms are often included in herbal combinations. The most common being Reishi. This mushroom has been shown to have many properties such as antibacterial and antiviral. Studies have been done with Reishi and two different types of the herpes virus as well as Epstein Barr Virus (also known as Mono or Mononucleosis). It can be used to help treat multiple conditions, is helpful in maintaining cardiovascular health, used as a powerful antioxidant, among other benefits. One reason Reishi is so diverse in the conditions it can treat, is that it is made of many constitutes that have different properties!
What you eat and put into your body will affect your immune system. Nutrients and minerals help cells communicate with each other and function optimally. Most nutrients are found in vegetables. It is important to have a variety of vegetables and other raw foods in your diet. Consistently eating the same thing may increase your chance of missing important nutrients that are found in other foods. Eating sugar significantly decreases the function of the immune system, possibly more than anything else! Did you know that as little as 2 teaspoons of sugar changes blood chemistry enough so that the body is no longer in homeostasis – the balanced state where it functions best? Sugar is obviously found in sweets but is also hidden in many products and goes by various names. It is important to read labels and be aware of the ingredients used in our groceries. Most processed food contains a lot of added sugar, for example dressings and condiments! The simplest way to look at a healthy diet is to have a whole food diet. This means no processed/refined foods! Focus on lean proteins (i.e. chicken and fish), a variety of brightly colored vegetables (i.e. tomatoes and spinach), healthy whole grains (oats and rice) into meals as well as homemade dressings and sauces made from simple, nutritious ingredients.
Zinc is very well known for helping the immune system and has been used for various infections. It does so by a range of different mechanisms. It is a natural anti-microbial, which means it has been proven to reduce or more importantly, prohibit the growth of many bacteria. Zinc is also an anti-inflammatory. Inflammation can be caused by exposure to chemicals, car exhaust, stress, medications, and poor diet. When you decrease any inflammation in your body, your immune system functions better. In addition to this, Zinc is a very powerful anti-oxidant, that helps repair any DNA damage throughout the body. Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils also play an important yet indirect role in immune system health by decreasing certain inflammatory markers in the body, helping the immune system fight off infections with saved resources. Probiotics are the good bacteria that occur in your body. The body relies on its natural bacteria to absorb nutrients, and prevent “bad bacteria” from overtaking your system.
Stress causes a decrease immune system function while increasing inflammation in the body. Many different techniques and supplements are available to help handle the stress in life and should be considered if this is a problem. Washing your hands often will ensure that any bacteria you come in contact with will be removed before accidentally entering your body. This is the simplest and most effective method to decrease colds and flus.
Consider seeking a professional when taking herbs or supplements as many herbs interact with medications or specific health conditions.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach. -30-