Our world is constantly changing and exposing us to new viruses and pathogens. Almost as quickly as we discover and identify a pathogen, it’s likely to have evolved and changed to avoid current medication to eradicate it and so as well as focusing on the specific pathogen, our very best defence is to boost our immune system, our own defence army as much as possible. When the immune system is functioning optimally, it is a very powerful defence system, identifying and destroying bacterial and viral invasion.  It is our natural, healthy state to fight infection and not only survive but to come out even stronger on the other side with stronger immunity and resilience.

Viruses in particular can have sneaky ways of avoiding detection by the immune system. Usually when a person has contracted a particular virus, they build up a natural immunity so if exposed to the same virus in future, the body will recognise and defend itself very quickly. Some viruses can gradually change their outer surface so they are no longer recognised by the immune system. Occasionally viruses that are usually only found in animals can mutate to a degree that they are then able to infect humans and because their surface proteins are so different to what humans are usually exposed to, the human immune system is taken by surprise and infection can spread very quickly eg. pandemics. Some viruses are clever enough to bind to inflammatory markers in the body and inhibit inflammation and a strong immune response. Some bacteria can cloak themselves in a biofilm to avoid destruction by the immune system. All these strategies make it so important to not just target these clever invaders but also to boost the defence army of the host – us!

When functioning well, the human immune system is a powerful army including specialised white blood cells. The more robust your immune system, the less likely you are to pick up infections despite others around you. Aside from good hygiene practise such as washing hands regularly with soap and avoiding hand to mouth contact, there are some other things to consider to improve immune function. Your body is capable of incredible healing and defence, it just needs the right environment to flourish.

  1. Ensure adequate sleep – poor quality sleep and/or regular sleep deprivation (<6hr per night) can increase the risk of developing the common cold by 4-5 fold. The immune system repairs and strengthens during sleep.
  2. High intake of seasonal fruit and vegetables. The fruit and vegetable that are naturally in season are full of nutritional requirements for that season. Eg citrus in winter = vit C, watermelon in summer = high water content/electrolytes. 5 handfuls of vegetables/salad and 2 pieces of fruit per day to meet our requirements. Wash fruit/veges extra well in flu season.
  3. Asian mushrooms such as cordyceps, coriolus/kawaratake, reishi, shiitake exhibit more immune boosting and anti-viral properties. Cook lots of them! 
  4. Regular exercise can improve circulation, happiness hormones and immunity. It needs to be a regular part of your lifestyle aiming for 3 hours per week and increasing the heart rate. Over exercising can also deplete the immune system. Taking a walk outside, in the park, on the beach, near nature can be uplifting to the body physically and mentally. 
  5. Avoid processed food, high sugar containing food and alcohol. These things have low nutritional value and can actually contribute to depleting nutritional stores.
  6. Stay hydrated with 8 glasses of water per day more if you’re very active. Adequate water intake supports good body elimination via the bowels and urinary system. Drinking more water may encourage transportation of microbes to the stomach for destruction by digestive acids.
  7. Long-term physical/emotional stress can negatively impact the immune system so ensure a balanced life including down time, fun and relaxation. Slow down and breathe, meditate –even for 5mins each day.
  8. Check if prescribed medication can lower the immune system such as cortisone. If it’s necessary to be on such medication long term, speak to your naturopath about extra immune support. 
  9. 70% of your immunity is located in your gut so ensuring healthy digestive function is important for immunity. Eating an abundance of food in it’s natural state as opposed to eating fast/processed food will help keep the gut healthy and there specific strains of probiotics which are been proven to support healthy immune function.
  10. Optimal levels of iron (lean red meat, spinach, mushrooms, apricots, parsley) zinc (lean red meat, whole grains, pepitas, egg yolk), vitamin C (orange/yellow coloured fruits/veges), vitamin D (20mins direct sunlight on most of the body daily) and protein (fish, lean animal meat, legumes, beans, tofu) are very important for good immune function in both adults and children. Speak to your naturopath/nutritionist to check if your diet/current blood levels are optimal. Nutrition is the number healthcare for most of the planet, so use food as medicine especially in winter.
  11. Prevention plans and acute treatment including naturally derived medicines (evidence based) are available via a qualified naturopath aiming to reduce incidence and severity of an infection. The most effective herbs and therapeutic doses are not available over the counter and require practitioner prescription. 

If self-isolation is required or feels appropriate, take the time to truly slow down, rest, regenerate, meditate, breathe deeply, sleep and find the positives to focus on in your life. It’s not just about separating from infection, it’s about boosting your immune system.

Remind yourself that your body is truly amazing and is capable of incredible things if given the right environment. 

For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900.