Words: Tamara Walsh | Herbalist
Our immune system is our greatest asset! We need it to be functioning optimally to prevent infections, fight infections and even for vaccinations to be their most effective.
SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that has turned the world upside down. Masks, social distancing and lockdowns help to limit our chances of infection but in some ways, becoming exposed to the virus is out of our control. Improving the functioning of our immune system however is very much something we can work on. So let’s bring our focus to the latter for a minute…
Increase the nutrient density of your diet
We need to avoid nutrient deficiencies to avoid a compromised immune system. If you focus your diet around a variety of nutrient dense foods you can’t really go wrong. Eat lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood (especially oysters, muscles and wild caught fish), grass fed and finished meats and offal, full fat organic dairy (if tolerated). Additionally, you can add in some awesome condiments to up the nutrients in a meal such as fermented vegetables, medicinal mushrooms, sprouts, olives, capers, chillis, cold pressed olive oil, avocado, apple cider vinegar, seaweeds and sea salt. Don’t forget antimicrobial and antioxidant rich culinary herbs such as cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage, cloves, ginger and garlic. And of course, hydration is key so drink plenty of fresh, filtered water.
Consider supplementing with vitamins and minerals that your diet may lack that support immunity
Selenium deficiency has been linked to viral virulence. Selenium acts on the viruses DNA or RNA and inhibits its ability to multiply and reduces its ability to mutate. Selenium-rich foods include seafoods, brazil nuts, meats and eggs.
Zinc deficiency can impair white blood cell function (these cells are part of our immune system). Zinc is also important for cell membrane integrity and healing and it has antiviral properties. Zinc deficiency is actually quite common and even mild degrees of deficiency can impair white blood cell function.
You may have heard by now that severity of COVID-19 has been linked to vitamin D status. Vitamin D plays a huge role in regulating the immune system. Safe sun exposure on bare skin is so important for health.
Good ol’ vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that has been shown many times over to reduce the severity of colds and flus. Vitamin C can be used both as a preventive to optimise the immune system and therapeutically in acute illness.
Nourish your gut
A huge amount of your immune cells are in your gut. As we learn more about the gut microbiome we see the links between gut disturbances and poor immunity, autoimmunity and allergies. Probiotics have been shown in the research to enhance the immune response to vaccination. Increase both prebiotic and probiotic rich foods in the diet as well as nourishing gut healing foods like bone broths, gelatin/collagen powders and the herb Slippery Elm.
Refine and hack your lifestyle
If you spend the majority of your time in a stressed state, your immune system will be dampened. The first step is becoming aware of when we are stressed, then you’ll have the power to change it using whatever tool you prefer (breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, laughing, resting etc). I love the State Breathing app for nasal breathing exercises, Insite timer for guided meditation and HIIT Timer for quick at-home high-intensity training.
Regular exercise will help to both manage stress and induce sleep and even better if you can do it outside in the sunshine to boost Vitamin D production and help your brain to unwind.
If you’re sleep is your nemesis, read my past post here with tips and herbal medicines to aid sleep.
Reduce toxicants and harmful chemicals in your home
Harmful chemicals are such a constant onslaught to our bodies and immune systems. It’s about minimising your exposure where you can. Could you grow some of your own greens, herbs or vegetables to ensure they are pesticide-free? Could you add a few indoor plants to your office to help air quality? Could you install a water filter in your home? Could you reduce your alcohol consumption? Every little bit counts. Look at all the products you use in your house and on your skin. Are they full of chemicals you can’t pronounce? A fabulous resource is the Environmental Working Groups’ site Skin Deep where you can look up specific products and ingredients to get an idea of their toxicity and safety.
Herbal medicine for immunity
I mentioned upping our intake of culinary herbs earlier. Most of the culinary herbs are strong antimicrobials and antivirals so try adding one or more fresh herbs to your meals each day for maximum benefit.
When it comes to optimising the immune system with herbal medicine, we look to herbs with immune enhancing or immune modulating effects. These herbs include Astragalus, Echinacea, Cat’s Claw, Siberian ginseng and the mushrooms Reishi and Shiitake. When looking at disease prevention and immune enhancement however, most naturopaths and herbalists will consider the function of all body systems not just the immune system itself. For example, a herbal formulation that aids sleep, improves the integrity of the gut lining and relieves constipation will also help to strengthen the immune system.
As you can see, there is so much we can do to help our immune system function at its best. Implementing some of the above ideas could make all the difference in keeping you well and helping to prevent severe infection. As I said at the beginning; Our immune system is our greatest asset!
Words: Tamara Walsh | Herbalist
Click HERE to book in with Tamara for your individualised herbal consultation