Natural Support for a Healthy Immune System
The immune system has become a major focus of attention for all of us this past year. With all the blogs, social media posts, and articles circulating it can be difficult to know what we mean by “immune system” and natural ways that we can help support it. So let’s dig into it.
The immune system is in charge of protecting our bodies against pathogens, whether they be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. It does this by:
Part 1, Keeping Invaders Out
Our first line of defense includes physical and chemical barriers to keep pathogens out. Examples of these include healthy intact skin to prevent unwanted organisms from reaching our blood stream, high acidity in our stomach to kill any unwanted invaders that make it into our GI tract, and the mucosal lining of our nose, eyes, and throat to help capture and destroy germs before they can invade deeper. If pathogens manage to break through these barriers, they encounter our next line of defense…
Part 2, General Attack
This includes defense mechanisms that respond quickly to general threats, within seconds to hours of invasion. Special white blood cells are released that can attack and destroy some pathogens in a process called ‘phagocytosis’. Chemicals are also released to initiate a fever which helps to slow down or sometimes even stop pathogens. Although this defense is fast, it is non-specific, so some pathogens can evade the general attack. These pathogens next encounter…
Adaptive Immunity, Smart Attack
Each pathogen has its own individual marker, kind of like a name tag, called an ‘antigen’. When a new pathogen enters the body, it eventually will encounter immune cells that identify the pathogen as an invader and develop a label of sorts so that its antigen can be recognized in the future. The next time this pathogen enters the body, the immune system is primed and ready to seek and destroy it. This strategy takes longer, but it is highly effective.
So now that we have the basics of the immune system down, here are some natural strategies that help support general immune health?
Nourishing the Body
- One of the best ways we can support our immune system is to eat nutrient dense whole foods that help to provide an array of minerals, vitamins, and cofactors that our bodies need to function properly and optimally. Complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber (from fruits and non-starchy vegetables) can help reduce unnecessary inflammation. Additionally, certain food and herbs possess various antioxidants and flavonoids that can further support immune system health and boost your body’s ability to fight off infection.
- Certain herbs such as nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, and burdock are high in minerals and can be a helpful addition to a nutrient dense diet. These are found in Wise Women Herbal’s Nutritive Tea and Multiple Formula tincture.
Keeping the Barrier Intact
- Fortify the skin against damage by avoiding harsh chemicals, UV damage, and preventing dry, cracked skin that can compromise skin integrity. Consider nutritive formulas such as Skin Deep to help nourish the skin and products such as Wild Weed Salve to help heal cracked or raw skin.
- Keeping the gut barrier and the gut microbiome healthy and intact is important in preventing potential pathogens from escaping into the bloodstream. The herbs found in GI Integrity and Digest Tea help support healthy digestion.
Strengthening the Defenses
- Certain herbs, foods, and nutrients help to modulate the immune system, enhancing it when it needs to fight off pathogens, and calming it when there is no danger present. Mushrooms are a great immune modulator and can be eaten or taken in tea, capsule, or tincture form. Additionally, there are a plethora of herbs that have potent antiviral and antibacterial properties to help enhance your defense. Common examples include: elderberry, echinacea, astragalus, and Oregon grape. Cellular Support combines the best of both worlds for daily immune support.
Dr. Kelley Garrison is a naturopathic physician at Northwest Life Medicine Clinic in Bellingham, Washington. She works with patients on the foundations of healthy living, supporting the body’s innate ability to heal and helping patients find the root cause of their symptoms. You can learn more about her at www.nwlifemedicine.com.