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Without a functioning immune system, the human body would quickly succumb to illness and poor health. We are fortunate to have our immune system diligently working day in and day out, with no rest, no breaks and no vacations. The big question is, what have you done for your immune system lately?
In my 24-years of clinical practice there are what I describe to my patients as “musts” for nurturing the immune system.
Keep it Simple
First and foremost, rest your body for approximately 8 hours each day in a completely dark room so it can restore and undergo restoration.
- Lessen your stress. It is so vitally important not to sweat the things outside of our control and the small things that are just not worth getting sick over. All too often I have seen patients experience a big stressor and shortly thereafter they get sick and all too often, way too sick. Take a deep breath. Don’t carry yesterday’s worries into today and today’s worries into tomorrow, whenever possible.
- Take vitamin D. Vitamin D is vitally important for proper immune system. Even in warm, sunny climates where you may work indoors, wearing sunscreen and not getting enough sunlight during the spring and summer season lead to levels to fall below optimal levels.
- Stay hydrated. Consuming enough fresh water to keep you from feeling thirsty is essential. It is generally believed that the moment you fill thirsty or have a dry mouth you are already dehydrated. Moist body tissues, like the eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs, make them more resistant to invasion from microbes.
Nurturing your Immune System with Herbal Medicine
After you have covered the basics described under in the “keep it simple” section I suggest nourishing your immune systems. Most herbal medicine used in our modern era have origins as foods for indigenous peoples around the world. Hence the concept, may our food be our medicine and our medicine be our food. After more than two decades of clinical practice and the experience of raising a family myself, I have my favorite herbs for supporting immune function. Here’s what’s in my personal tool chest. I use these either individually or often as combinations to gain the benefits of having a multi-faceted approach.
- Astragalus is known as an adaptogenic herb, which can be simply translated, as helping the body adapt to stress. In traditional medicine, it is popularly used to support long-term immune function and is safe to take all winter.
- Elderberry has long been held to help with supporting the immune system. There was recent (2016) randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study that shows that it may help with the duration and symptoms of winter challenges.
- Echinacea is the proverbial vitamin C of the herbal world. Its popularity is based on the years of successful use by the general population. There are two common strains well-known for immune support and they are often taken as blends with other herbals such as Goldenseal, Astragalus and Elderberry. There are some very yummy, kid-friendly liquid forms that are big hits with my pediatric patients, as well.
- Goldenseal is another popular herbal used either by itself or in combination formulas. It has growing scientific literature that supports many of the benefits that people have sought to harness over the millennia. In 2011, a group of researchers reported some promising research relative to helping with a healthy inflammatory response and supporting mucous membranes during the winter months.
My Clinical Thoughts
We must create an ecology within our bodies that is resistant to the state of non-wellness. Consuming health promoting foods, including organic herbs, is an important part of the pursuit of wellness. Combining this with a health promoting lifestyle and mind set is also vitally important. The best offense is a good defense, so I encourage my patients during cold and flu season to up their dietary intake of immune nurturing herbals prior to getting ill and certainly at the first sign of extra nutritional needs.
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J Anim Sci Biotechnol. 2013; 4(1): 22.
Phytother Res. 2006 Aug;20(8):687-95.
Nutrients. 2016 Mar 24;8(4):182.
Int Immunopharmacol. 2011 Nov;11(11):1706-14.
Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., has 24-years of experience practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, Oregon. He is dedicated to using his vast knowledge about alternative medicine to help his patients and generously give to those in need. He has written over a dozen books and 100's of national articles, and was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 2003 by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Read more about Dr. Meletis here. Or, visit our "Ask Dr. Meletis, N.D." page for additional articles.
*Statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or health condition. The information on this website, and provided by Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is recommended that patients check with their doctors before taking herbs, to ensure that there are no contraindications with prescription medications. There is additional information linked within this site to HealthNotes®, a third party educational source, containing the latest research on health and supplements. Oregon's Wild Harvest will not be held accountable for this information and consider it an education reference only.