Ask a naturopath: How to prevent and recover from illness this winter
June 3, 2022
Natural ways to strengthen your immune system.
The dreaded cold and flu season is upon us. Everyone has a few ‘go-to’ remedies up their sleeve to recover faster, such as grandma’s chicken soup, fresh OJ or whole cloves of garlic. While these heroes may show your immune system some love they may not help resolve a depleted immune system. You see, lingering immune symptoms can leave you in that vicious repeat cycle of being sick every few weeks, suffering from those pesky lingering colds and walking around feeling simply ‘not quite right’.
The good news is there are many ways to naturally strengthen your immune system over time. To manage your illness best, the first thing to do is understand if you are in the acute immune phase or you’ve slipped into lingering immune symptoms. Here’s a handy checklist:
I’ve just been struck with illness (Acute immune infection):
You’ve just been stuck with an infection – it may show up as a respiratory infection, common cold, gastro, urinary tract infection (and many more).
I can’t bounce back from illness (Lingering immune symptoms):
You’ve recently experienced an infection and you just can’t bounce back – you’re slow to recover and have lingering symptoms.
Once you’ve established this – use the guides below on how you can best manage your illness for a fast and full recovery.
Q: I’ve just been hit with an infection – advice to support my immune system?
A: Acute immune conditions may appear as respiratory infections (e.g., common cold), gastrointestinal infections (e.g., food poisoning), urinary tract infections, and many more. While the doctor’s orders are usually pretty self-explanatory – rest and hydrate – there are a few more tips that you might not know that could help you recover faster. Acute immune conditions are best tackled with nutritional and herbal support to get your body over the hump and beat the bug.
Q: What can I take to support my immune system while I’m sick with an acute immune infection?
Vitamin C and Zinc. It might be worth stocking up on vitamin C and zinc supplements this winter. Clinical trials suggests that oral vitamin C supplements and zinc supplements reduce the length of colds when taken in the early stages of symptoms and these nutrients may be most beneficial when taken together. Don’t forget to take zinc with a meal; this helps to prevent nausea and other digestive symptoms associated with zinc supplements.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata). Known as ‘the king of the bitters’ in Ayurvedic medicine, this herb has been shown to reduce the severity and the duration of upper respiratory tract infections, and relieve symptoms of the common cold, such as respiratory tract congestion. You might prefer to take this notoriously bitter herb in capsule form.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea). Echinacea is traditionally used in herbal medicine to support immune system function to fight illness and relieve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Evidence suggests that Echinacea assists with both management and prevention of the common cold, which could explain why it is so widely available in immune health supplements.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra). Elderflower is used in traditional herbal medicine to relieve symptoms of common colds, such as fever, coughs, sore throat, and mucus build-up in the respiratory tract. This throat-soother is commonly consumed as tea, but may also be found in liquid and capsule form.
Garlic (Allium sativum). The bulb of this pungent herb is widely used as a traditional herbal medicine remedy to relieve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, such as congestion. During an acute infection, adults can consume up to 6 Garlic bulbs a day. Prepare by peeling and crushing, then cook and add to meals as desired, or if you’re hard core enough, go old-school and consume it raw.
Photo by @leafandpetaldesign
Q: I’ve been sick recently and I just can’t bounce back – advice to recover?
A: Immune underactivity may present with signs of poor resistance to infection, and slow and incomplete recovery from illness. Lingering immune symptoms require a ‘slow and steady’ long-term approach to support your immune function. A few key pillars of this approach include quality sleep, stress management, and balanced and nutritious diet. When your body needs extra support, that’s where supplements come in handy.
Q: What supplements can I take ongoing to strengthen my immune system for lingering immune symptoms?
Vitamin D3. Low vitamin D levels are linked to poor immune function. In colder months (aka common cold season), when we’re rugging up, and the sun’s rays are not as intense, we often struggle to get enough sunlight and maintain adequate vitamin D levels. This is the time when a daily vitamin D3 supplement comes in handy!
Zinc is an essential mineral that not only supports healthy immune function, but it is also required for over 300 metabolic reactions in the body, including energy production. So, it’s no wonder that it is essential for general health.
Medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), are renown in Traditional Chinese Medicine for their immune properties that support healthy immune function. Medicinal mushrooms may be consumed in many forms including liquid herbal extracts, capsules, and powders. They may also be cooked and eaten in meals, but beware the bitter taste!
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is another herb widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is purported to maintain a healthy immune system, lung health support, and act as an adaptogen to increase resistance to stress.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has been long used in traditional Western Herbal Medicine to support a healthy immune and stress response. It is more specifically used to relieve symptoms of fatigue and weakness, and to boost energy and recovery, especially after periods of illness, exhaustion, or exertion.
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