It’s that time again! With cooler temperatures approaching, it’s time for an “immune check up” to make sure your body is healthy and strong , and ready to face another cold & flu season.
Our immune systems are marvellous and complex, capable of recognizing and destroying pathogens that we are exposed to on a daily basis. For tips on how to keep your immune system in top shape and some of our favourite natural immune boosters, read on!
Prevention is Key
As the saying goes: Prevention IS the best medicine. We all know that frequent hand-washing, good quality sleep, exercise and a nutrient-dense diet are important ways to avoid getting sick. But how about a few other tricks to help bolster your immune function?
Adequate levels of Vitamin D are an important way to keep your immune system functioning at its best. Most of us in Canada do need to supplement year round – but this becomes especially important during our winter months. Vitamin D drops by Pure encapsulations are a easy way to boost your levels. If you aren’t sure whether to supplement – get your levels checked!
Eat a healthy diet with whole foods and reduce sugars. Sugar has been proven to lower immune function within 30 minutes of ingesting it and can last up to 5 hours. If you are around people who are sick, it’s very important to stay away from sugar!
If you do start to sniffle or feel run down, turn to the powerful herb Echinacea! Echinacea is best taken in the very early stages of illness – as it helps to ramp up your immune system so that viruses don’t stand a chance. A strong infusion of echinacea tea can be sipped throughout the day. Alternatively, Echinacea Premium by Mediherb is a concentrated tablet form of Echinacea that works great during the first days of a cold or flu.
A nice strong tincture of Andrographis can also do wonders against viruses and bacteria. Several studies have shown that it reduces the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection such as cough, runny nose, fever and fatigue.
We also love Immune builder by JHS, a mushroom blend of 5 different immune boosting mushrooms. We’ve seen white blood cell counts soar in patients with low counts on this formula. It can be taken preventatively on a daily basis during the cold and flu season, and particularly when you are going to public areas where viruses abound. Studies have shown that reishi and shiitake mushrooms can increase white blood cell counts by up to 28%.
Breathing – deep breaths with maximal exhalation – is an important way to prevent respiratory illnesses from traveling down to the lungs. If you do get a cold, practice 5 minutes of deep breathing 3 times per day, including exhaling as much as you can (think about blowing out your birthday candles!) as this is a crucial step to avoiding lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.
A good old fashioned steam inhalation is a great tool to tackle germs in the respiratory tract. Add several drops of an anti-microbial essential oil, such as eucalyptus or thyme, to a bowl of steaming water. Place your face over this bowl and cover with a towel (careful to allow steam to escape from the opposite side), and inhale slowly and deeply for about 10 minutes. Along these same lines, nasal irrigation with a Hydrasense irrigator can keep the sinuses free and clear from bacteria and viruses. It’s recommended to irrigate daily during cold and flu season as prevention.
Food as Medicine
The following recipe, adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, is packed with immune-boosting foods such as garlic, onions, ginger and dark greens! Delicious reishi or shiitake mushrooms pack an added immune punch!
- Coconut oil
- 8 oz chicken, cut into slices 1 inch long and as thick as a pencil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 green onions, chopped
- 2 cups of reishi or shiitake mushrooms
- 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 small red chiles, chopped
- ½ bunch thin asparagus (about ½ pound), trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch slices
- 1 generous handful of cashews, coarsely chopped
- 4 generous handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbsps hoisin sauce
- 1 small handful fresh mint, slivered
- 1 small handful fresh basil, slivered
- Fine-grain sea salt
Heat a small splash of coconut oil in a wok or large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for a couple of minutes, until cooked. Remove from the pan. Add another splash of oil to the wok and, as soon as it’s hot, add the garlic, green onions, ginger, mushrooms, chiles, and asparagus. Stir for 1 or 2 minutes, then add the cashews and spinach and stir for another minute, or until the spinach wilts and collapses. Return the chicken to the pan. Stir in the lime zest and juice and the hoisin sauce. Cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the mint and basil. Season with enough salt to make the flavors pop, starting with a few generous pinches.
Serves 2 (generously) as a main dish, 4 as a side.
Your Naturopathic Doctor can help! From uncovering nutrient deficiencies or other stresses that may be hindering your immune system your ND can be a great resource to have you feeling your best year-round!