Your Immune System
Integrative Health Clinic
A Look Into Your Immune System
Written by Resident Naturopath Peta Matthews
As the weather cools down and respiratory illnesses such as COVID, influenza and the common cold ramp up, protecting our immune system becomes a high priority for most adults and their families. As a clinical naturopath, one of the most common questions I get asked in the cooler months is "How do I improve my immune system?" The answer always differs from person to person. Putting the enormous complexity of the immune system aside, there are countless things we can do to protect our health on a daily basis including:
- The addition of strain specific probiotics and prebiotics
- Consuming food rich in Vitamin C and Zinc
- Boosting Vitamin D with safe levels of sunlight
A common mistake I see in clinical practice is people going overboard with the self prescription of supplements whilst neglecting to determine the root cause of why their immune system is compromised. Supplementation works wonders for acute illnesses, but what is often neglected is the importance of lifestyle, the nervous system, gut health and nutritional factors for overall immune function.
Humans have trillions of bacteria, fungi and archaea residing within the digestive system known as the microbiome. This provides us with huge advantages in many aspects of health including the immune system, with over 70% of the immune system residing in the gut.
Unfortunately our modern lifestyle often includes incorrect diet, packaged and refined foods, poor sleep, pesticide use, antibiotic use and an increase in day to day stress. It is these factors which change the composition of the microbiome and often favour more sinister strains of bacteria which weaken the immune system. This leads to inflammation and imbalances of the gut microbiome as well as a loss of integrity in the lining which can dramatically reduce immune function.
One of the fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine is to remove obstacles to cure. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population fail to acknowledge the impact our lifestyle choices have on our immune system and aim to supplement a compromised immune system which will only help so much. This is where working with a health practitioner can be of benefit. Thorough case taking and functional testing, including complete microbiome testing, can give enormous insights into a person’s immune and digestive systems which helps a practitioner to give a more targeted approach to treatment and help peel back the layers and address the route cause of illnesses.
Speak to one of our Naturopaths today to get your immune system on track. At our Integrative Health Clinic, we offer acute consultations for immune health, standard naturopathic consults and combined doctor and naturopathic consultations.
Our Top Tips for Protecting Immune Function in Respiratory Illnesses Winter
1. Remove Obstacles to Cure
- Reduce inflammatory foods: A huge portion of today’s diet consists of highly processed foods and inflammatory oils high in omega 6. The best thing we can do is fill our diet with good quality whole foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and quality proteins) and reduce highly processed foods such as vegetable oils, margarine, fried foods, sweets, biscuits and highly refined carbohydrates such as white breads.
- Reduse stress: Not only does stress favour more sinister strains of bacteria, it also reduces natural killer cells, lymphocytes and reactivates latent viruses. Some researched techniques that help reduce stress include meditation, diaphragmatic breaths, sitting in nature and walking barefoot on the sand. Supplementation can also work extremely well. This however should be discussed with a health professional.
- Improve sleep: Poor sleep quality increases inflammation and worsens immune function. Researched techniques which improve sleep include turning off devices one hour before bed, avoid flicking through social media or anything on your phone before sleep (not only does the blue light in our phone suppress melatonin and elevate cortisol, content can also increase our dopamine which is associated with wakefulness) and making sure your room is dark which is important for melatonin production. Supplements such as magnesium glycinate and herbs such as passionflower or valerian may also be indicated. Dietary interventions may also be indicated here.
2. Support Gut Health
- Identify obstacles to cure (see above)
- Prebiotics: Prebiotics such as Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum and Human Milk Oligosaccharide are usually quite well tolerated and fantastic at feeding beneficial bacteria such as akkermansia and bifidobacterium species which enhance immune function.
- Probiotics: There are many researched strains of probiotics which enhance immune function including Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG, Lactobacillus plantarum 6595, Bifidobacterium lactis BS01 and Saccharomyces boulardii (to name a few). Note - It is better to talk to a health practitioner about which probiotic may be best for you (especially if you suffer with gut issues).
- Comsume fermented foods within the diet
- Identify gut pathologies through functional testing
3. Consume Vitamin Rich Foods
- Vitamin C: Enhances white blood cells and improves integrity of gut lining. Can be found in foods such as kiwi fruit, citrus, capsicum and broccoli.
- Zinc: Required for proper functioning of white blood cells. Can be found in foods such as oysters, nuts and seeds, red meat, poultry and tofu.
- Vitamin A: Important for gut lining integrity and enhancing immune responses. Can be found in foods such as cod liver oils, green leafy vegetables and orange vegetables. Note - Vitamin A is one you don’t want to supplement with without speaking to a health practitioner!
- B Vitamins: Important for methylation which supports immune function. Can be found in foods including green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and animal proteins.
- Vitamin D: Modulates the immune system. Can be found in foods such as wild caught salmon, sardines and mushrooms soaked in the sun. Sunlight in appropriate amounts is best for vitamin D synthesis.
4. Supplement When Sick at Therapeutic Dosages:
- Vitamin C
- Mushrooms such as reishi, maitake and cordyceps
- Elderberry at the first sign of respiratory illness
- Andrographis (contraindicated in pregnancy),
- NAC (must be practitioner prescribed and contraindicated in children under 2 years of age).
Please Note: This information is intended for advice only. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding please consult your doctor or health care provider before commencing any supplementation. It is also recommended that children under the age of 2 be seen by a doctor or health care provider before commencing supplementation.
At our Integrative Health Clinic, we offer acute consultations for immune health, standard naturopathic consults and combined doctor and naturopathic consultations.
Our Clinic offers traditional GP speciliast services for commonly occurring health issues, as well as tackling uncommon and chronic diseases. With a clear focus on preventative medicine, we provide additional integrative lifestyle health approaches for more complex health comples. This model has demonstrated exceptional results in areas such as anxiety, depressions, digestive problems, insomnia, allergies, diabetes and other chronic and inflammatory conditions.