Immune health – something that we like to focus on when the temperature starts to dip but has really been a hot topic of conversation since the start of 2020. Our philosophy here at Mullen Health is that our immune system is not separate from our whole health and that we should be supporting our bodies holistically, year-round to ensure our immune system is functioning optimally. Often, this is easier said than done when daily stresses and routines take their toll, our immune systems can falter and we become susceptible to viruses and bacteria that can wreak havoc on our bodies. This is when we find our patients come rushing through our doors seeking out all the immune boosting herbs and nutrients! To save you the scramble this year, we’ve put together an easy to follow guide to support your
immune system. A list of factors that lead to a weakened immune system and tips to support you and boost your immune response!
Still wanting more information? Reach out to our Herb Bar Naturopaths, they’re available every day the clinic is open and they’re here to help with free mini phone consultations and natural medicine prescriptions.
Nutrient deficiencies can compromise immune functioning and leave us vulnerable to nasty infections. We require key nutrients to ensure our immune system is able to ward off potential infections and to reduce the severity and longevity of the illness if we do happen to get sick. Vitamins A, C, D, E B6, B12, folate, iron, copper, selenium and zinc are essential to a healthy immune system. These nutrients can easily be depleted by various stages in life, poor digestive function, even medications we are taking.
Tip: Maintaining a balanced wholefood diet is imperative to ongoing health benefits. Eating a diverse range of natural foods – the more colourful the better (when it comes to your fruits and vegetables) and as many as different types as you can fit in. Setting a goal of eating 30 different plant-based foods per week is a good place to start. Diversity in your food choices is beneficial because they contain different nutrients plus our gut bacteria thrive on diverse wholefoods, this keeps those bugs happy and healthy and we need a balanced microbiome to support a functioning immune system. We also suggest taking a high quality multivitamin as one of your foundation supplements.
Stress has become a 21 st century pandemic. We now know that stress affects our whole health in many adverse ways by increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, mental health conditions, the list is endless. So, it is no surprise that chronic stress causes HPA axis (our complex and delicate stress response system) dysfunction, promotes inflammation throughout the body and impairs immune function. Additionally, chronic upregulation of our stress hormones enhances the growth of pathogens and lowers our natural defences (natural killer cells) leading to compromised immune function and
increasing the risk of infection.
Tip: Find stress reducing techniques that work for you. I’m a big believer in the power of meditation and exercising in nature, be it swimming in the ocean or bushwalking. For others, the idea of sitting still with their own thoughts for even twenty minutes, can be stress inducing just on its own which is counterproductive to our end goal. I always suggest to my clients to really prioritise their own individual stress reduction strategies. Find what works for you and make it part of your daily routine. It could be dancing in your kitchen to some Motown after a long day at work, it could be a kick boxing class with your best friend, it could be learning a new song on your guitar, anything that calms your nervous system and brings you joy is the goal!
Microbiome disturbance; we now know that our gut microbiota can be negatively altered in so many ways – food choices, medications, exercise, environmental toxins, stress, disease. A healthy diverse gut microbiome is imperative to a functioning immune system as it improves and strengthens intestinal mucosal immune response, creating a barrier against pathogenic bacteria by releasing anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory molecules to fight infection. Any alteration to the diversity or balance of these beneficial bugs can lead to a weakened immune response and increasing susceptibility to infection.
Tip: Feed your bugs! You have the power and the tools to improve your gut microbiome because it starts and ends with what you put in your mouth. Feeding your good bugs with a diverse intake of prebiotic foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, green bananas, apples, oats, nuts, seaweeds, asparagus and barley, will not only help the beneficial bacteria to grow and thrive, thereby improving your gut lining integrity but you are also improving the balance of good vs bad bacteria. A good quality probiotic will also help improve your gut microbiome.
Poor sleep quality should probably be at the top of this list, that’s how integral it is to a healthy functioning immune system. Going to sleep is like hitting the restart button on your computer. While we sleep our body goes through numerous biological processes; our brain stores information and eliminates toxic waste, our cells communicate and reorganise, our cells also repair and release hormones that regulate our energy, mood and mental awareness, our liver metabolises nutrients and detoxifies toxins and our immune system releases proteins called cytokines. And guess what these cytokines do? They fight inflammation, infection and trauma. If you’re getting less than 7hours sleep, you’re sleep deprived but remember it’s not just about sleep quantity, quality of sleep is even more important.
Tip: Prioritise sleep! One of the most common things I notice in clinic and something I’m guilty of, is sacrificing sleep time for having some time to myself at the end of the day. By doing this we push our bed time later and later and we spend our time just before bed overstimulated, trying to have another entire day just to ourselves. Aim to be in bed and asleep by 10pm, but before that, get into the habit of dimming the lights as the sun goes down, this will aid your circadian rhythm to recognise that the day is coming to a close, inducing sleepiness. Eat a protein rich meal at least 2hrs before bed and avoid drinking any liquids after dinner. I would also encourage avoiding the use of screens 1-2hrs before bed.
Of course, we can live the healthiest life possible but sometimes we get sick and this is unavoidable. This is when we can rely on the support of natural medicine to really bolster our already strong immune response to really kick that nasty infection to the curb. When it comes to supplementation and herbal medicine it’s really important you speak with a qualified health professional rather than self-prescribe. Our Herb Bar service, offering free mini phone consults is a great way to gain targeted immune support tailored to you!
Mushrooms – mushrooms are my go to when a patient has come to me with a cold or flu that seems to be lingering or they are experiencing recurrent infections. Mushrooms (shitake, reishi, cordyceps, coriolus) work by activating the innate immune system triggering a cascade of immune cellular responses which then prompt are adaptive immune response, allowing our bodies natural defences to strengthen and fight the infection.
Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D – the golden three when it comes to immune support! Vitamin C and Zinc work synergistically to reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu symptoms. On it’s own Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that works to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and zinc is involved in over 300 enzymatic functions in the body. Deficiency in either or both can be detrimental to a healthy immune system. Vitamin D regulates cellular reactions when it comes to immune response, particularly T Cells, the cells responsible for fighting new infections and stimulating an adaptive immune response.
Echinacea, Andrographis, Rosemary – the power in herbal medicine, especially when working with our experienced Herbalists, is that your formula is unique to you. Everyone experiences sickness in their own way and for this reason alone, there is no one size fits all approach. Utilising immune supportive herbs like Echinacea, Andrographis and Rosemary (and so many more!) we can really target your specific symptoms whilst also supporting and upregulating your immune response to help you get better, quicker!