How to Support Immune Function Naturally

For some reason the onset of fall triggers a bunch of propaganda about the “cold and flu” season.  While there does appear to be a higher incidence of colds and flu during cooler temperatures you do not have to succumb.  A healthy immune system will support you year round regardless of your exposure to infectious agents.  If you are one of those people who get sick, at any time of year, it is likely your immune system is not functioning optimally.  As I have said before, the body is not made for sickness; it is made for robust health year round.  If you give the body what it needs it will respond by giving you optimal performance!
About 80% of our immune function is housed in our digestive tract; so a strong and fortified immune system is the result of good gut health.  Ensuring good gut health is pretty simple; focus on a live, natural, good quality whole foods diet.  Avoid processed, refined and chemically laden food.  Ensure you get 40-50 grams of fiber/day, avoid sugar (1 tsp of sugar will suppress your immune system for up to 6 hours), drink 2L of filtered water/day and chew your food well.  Other tips to keep your immune system strong include, getting enough sleep and exercise, managing your stress and practicing good hand washing.

Remember, exposure to a cold virus does not automatically mean you’ll catch a cold. If your immune system is operating at its peak, your body will be able to fend off the virus without ever getting sick.

There are many foods that deserve extra attention when we are talking about supporting good immune function:

Fermented foods will help replace good gut bacteria which, in turn, strengthens our immune function.  Foods like water kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, miso are recommended.   Look for RAW and UNPASTEURIZED forms of these foods asthe pasteurization process kills all the good bacteria.   

Apple Cider Vinegar has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help boost your immune function by raising alkalinity in your body.  You could consider using 1 tsp/day in your water.  Chlorophyll is another health boosting alternative; liquid chlorophyll is detoxifying, alkalizing and heals gut mucousa.  Adding 1 tsp/day to your water will definitely support immune function. 

Dark leafy greens (preferably organic) such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, all of which help protect against infections. Eating them raw is the best way to ensure the best nutrient density. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet.

Garlic is a potent antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal agent.  Garlic also stimulates glutathione production in the body (glutathione is a potent anti-oxidant and important liver detoxifier).   Ideally consume it raw, and crush it just before eating.  Just when you are starting to feel under the weather is a perfect time to crush a clove or two (mix with a little scoop of raw honey if you must) and swallow it down. 

Vitamin C is the king of nutrients when we look at supporting the body against infection.  A healthy body requires 500 mg of Vitamin C per hour to function; a body under attack from a virus will use up to 1000 mg/hour.  So, increase your intake of Vitamin C rich foods during the “cold/flu” season.  Kiwis have the highest amounts of vitamin C than any other food.  Other foods high in vitamin C include: citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, butternut squash, papaya, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

If you do start to feel sick there are several things you can do to fortify your body naturally and fend off the invader.  
STOP eating – you want to divert all the body’s resources to fighting the infectious agent vs. working on digestion.  Opt instead for easily digestible concentrated nutrients found in green juices and bone broths.  You also want to get lots of rest – your body needs to focus on mounting an immune response so you don’t want to use up your energy stores exercising, going to work, running errands, etc.  Lie down and sleep if you can.

In addition to the above steps, at the first sign of illness, you can also boost your immune function by taking a supplement or extract.  The following are some of my favorites:

Zinc supports immune function by increasing T cell production (this is part of your immune system).  Zinc has also been found to greatly reduce the severity of symptoms.   Zinc comes in pill form but also in lozenges for the kids in your life.

Echinacea (with goldenseal) stimulates our natural killer cells and activates an immune substance called “complement” which helps decrease inflammation.  Echinacea should only be taken for up to 15 days at a time.

Andrographis is a potent anti-oxidant.  It is also anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.  It supports immune, liver and respiratory health.  An excellent supplement to keep in your arsenal.

Vitamin C in supplement form is needed if you start to feel sick.  Vitamin C immobilizes microbes, neutralizes microbial toxins, increases immune cell activity and it acts as a natural anti-histamine in the body.  I like 1000mg./hour up to bowel tolerance. 

Probiotics is one of the MOST essential components of our immune system.  Without good gut flora we are vulnerable to all infectious illnesses.  Probiotics are anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, they inhibit pathogens and bacteria, they manufacture B vitamins (another important nutrient for our immune system), they break down toxins in the body and they prevent/decrease inflammation.  A SUPER supplement!

Remember, illness/sickness is a symptom of a malfunctioning immune system.  If you find yourself struggling with colds/flu this season you need to look at building up your immune system.  I am entering in to my 7th year free of colds/flu and you can do the same!  The body is an amazing machine that will protect you from infectious agents if you give it what it needs to function optimally.