You might have heard the Hippocrates quote (and a sentiment echoed by naturopath’s the world over): “all disease begins in the gut”. There is more than one way to interpret the phrase, however consider this: the foods we eat hold the nutrients we require in order to grow and thrive; however the foods must be digested in order to unlock the nutrients they hold for use by our bodies. If our digestion is poor, our ability to access these vital nutrients is limited. And if our access to nutrients is limited, so is our ability to grow and thrive.
Get the foundations right
Nutrient deficiency is often associated with a struggling immune system. We must first consume the building blocks nutritionally, in order to support the function and defensive capabilities of the immune system. You can read more about specific nutrients that will bolster your immune system on another article I recently wrote here.
Build up your bugs
While we’re on the topic of the digestive system, by now I’m sure you've heard of the microbiome: the bacterial community living within the gut. What you may not know is that these bacteria play a crucial role in the immune system, and also reside on or in many other areas including the skin, lungs, nose, and mouth.
Whilst the science is still evolving, we know that a happy microbiome plays a significant role in maintaining the health of the digestive system, making your gut bugs a key player in upholding the first line of defence as mentioned in the previous blog post, Understanding the Immune System.
The power of sunshine
Something extra to consider when it comes to our immune systems is the role of vitamin D. This is a vitamin which is largely made within the body in a process driven by exposure to sunlight, of which there is less in winter due to reduced daylight hours. Almost all of the cells within the immune system have been shown to use vitamin D and scientific research demonstrates a potential role for vitamin D in maintaining the function of the immune system. One of the ways vitamin D does this is by enhancing the defensive capabilities of macrophages, a type of white blood cell responsible for destroying invading pathogens or unhealthy cells.
Manage your mind
Moving away from food and nutrients, stress management is also critical in regards to nurturing the immune system. Stress results in an increase of corticosteroids (a class of hormones) as well as adrenalin and noradrenalin, the catecholamines. In the short term, this is beneficial; however over the long term, this may lead to suppression of the immune system via changes in the way white blood cells (key cells of the immune system) are created and the way they function. This may result in an increase in viral and/or bacterial infections within a person.
Remember the basics
Finally, it still holds true that basic hygiene, such as washing your hands properly before eating or preparing food, and after going to the bathroom, is one of the most effective ways to support the immune system and protect ourselves against illness.
Using naturopathic treatments to improve the immune system assists in improving the body’s ability to ward off illness, but also to protect and support against further damage caused by pathogens (the bad guys).
Many of us need some extra help boosting the immune system. Whether it's pinpointing the cause of repeat bouts of illness, or bolstering ourselves coming into cold and flu season; being prepared and at your best can minimise the time you spend feeling miserable this winter. Book your first appointment now and starting working your way towards an optimal immune system.