Hello Dear Community,
Many of you have asked me about proper immune system support and host resistance so I've written up a little guide to address some of your questions. The best preventative measures you can take aren't very glamorous or exciting, but rather the boring ol' basics we've heard so many times that we often just gloss over. I've included quite a bit of detail below to briefly explain why these strategies are *so* important, but if you don't have time right now to read through it all you can skip down to the Recap.
All of the herbs and supplements that I mention below can be found in the shop. Since our customers can't come in to browse our products right now and our online store isn't yet live, I thought it would be easiest to give you some options and ideas here. Please let us know if we can get any of these items together for you for pick up, shipping, or delivery. We truly appreciate your support!
IMMUNE SYSTEM BASICS
Getting enough sleep every night may be one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your body, and your community right now. Adequate sleep promotes a well-balanced nervous system and a healthy immune system. Give your body the time it needs every single day to rest, restore, and rejuvenate itself. Aim for 8-9+ hours of sleep per night. Most folks require this amount for optimal health and some of us will require more than this for a short period if we have been sleep deprived. People who get below this amount are very likely sleep deprived, which affects metabolism, cortisol levels, and immune function. Having trouble sleeping? Try supplementing with magnesium glycinate or use some sleep-supporting herbs like what's found in our Get Some Zzzzs tincture formula or Sweet Sleep tea.
The state of our nervous system has a huge impact on the strength of our immune system. When stress hormones are high, immune function becomes depressed. I know it is so hard right now for many of us to feel calm. We don't know what is happening or what the future holds, and the world is rapidly changing on a daily basis. It is time to employ all of your favorite de-stressing activities and do whatever works for you to cultivate calm. This is the hardest thing for me right now. I've been finding my emotions bouncing all over the place as I take in the reality of what's happening. Spending time outside has been tremendously restorative for me. I've also been using my favorite nervous system allies which have been magnesium glycinate, Ashwagandha, Passionflower, and Rose. I'll be sending out another newsletter soon all about nervous system herbs but if you're needing some immediate support, I would suggest our Stress Less or Anxious Thoughts Be Gone tincture formulas or our Hug Your Heart or Sweet Sleep teas.
As much as is possible, try to eat a well balanced diet with a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, as well as high quality fats and proteins. Avoid foods that you know you are sensitive to or may trigger systemic inflammatory responses. This is also a great time to emphasize fermented foods as well to help strengthen the digestive system. When our digestion is strong, we are better able to utilize the nutrients from our food which in turn supports the health of our whole body.
Important Immune Nutrients
Healthy immune function relies on adequate zinc, Vitamins A, C, E and D, and selenium, as well as B vitamins, iron, calories, and protein. Without these nutrients, your immune system will not be able to work properly. You may experience more inflammation and find it takes longer to recover if you do get sick. If you are eating a well balanced diet, all you should need is a high quality multivitamin and an additional Vitamin D supplement. In my clinic, I use O.N.E. Multivitamin by Pure Encapsulations and Vitamin D/K2 by Thorne. We carry both of these in the shop and these are the basic supplements I've been recommending for folks coming in asking about which supplements they should be taking. Low vitamin D levels tend to occur during the winter months and may play a large role in immune dysfunction and susceptibility to respiratory infections. I usually suggest 4-6,000 IU per day. If you know you are Vitamin D deficient based on recent lab work, you may require higher doses. If your diet isn't as healthy as you'd like it to be or you've already had some respiratory infections this year, you may require extra supplementation to get your body nutritionally replete.
Skip the Sugar & Alcohol
Studies have shown that just 100 grams of sugar lowers white blood cell counts for up to 5 hours and causes them to be about 40% less effective at killing pathogens. High sugar intake also inhibits Vitamin C from entering our cells, an important immune system supporting nutrient. Additionally, many foods that contain sugar aren't very nutrient dense and we fill up without giving our body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally. Try giving up or reducing sugar intake for (at least) a few weeks - your immune system will be so grateful.
Alcohol also depresses the immune system and inhibits the absorption of vital nutrients such as B1, B12, folate, and zinc – avoid it if you can. Some of us turn to alcohol when we are stressed or lonely, (which is totally understandable) so try reaching for an herbal ally such as Skullcap, Milky Oats, or Passionflower to soothe and support your nervous system instead. Hops tincture can be a great ally as well (especially for hoppy beer drinkers!), providing a stronger sedative effect which may be particularly helpful for some individuals right now.
Stay hydrated folks! Divide your weight in half and drink at least that many ounces of water each day. Other options for fluids include herbal teas, broths, low sugar fruit juices, and vegetable juices. Adequate hydration has tons of benefits, one of which is healthy mucous membranes that have healthy amounts of mucus. Mucus is over 90% water and is a very important part of our immune response that helps prevent pathogens from getting in and taking hold in our bodies. Our respiratory system is lined with mucous membranes and we need them to be nice and moist to function well and resist infection, so drink up!
Exercise & Movement
Spend time moving your body in whatever ways you enjoy. Exercise and regular movement helps to pump our lymphatic systems, the part of our body responsible for clearing out regular metabolic wastes and plays a major role in the clean up efforts for our immune system. Not sure what kind of exercise to do? Just aim for at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking each day – it's a very simple way to increase your lymphatic flow. If you or someone you know isn't able to engage in a lot of movement right now, try drinking some gentle lymphatic teas every day such as Chickweed, Cleavers, Violet, or Calendula.
Even though we are trying to stay home as much as possible, we also need to get outside to feel the sun on our face, the air on our skin, and the ground beneath our feet. Take a walk, amble through the forest, sit by a stream, plant some seeds – reconnect to the land around you. We are being given an opportunity to slow down and be present for ourselves and the world, an opportunity to remember that the earth heals. A lot of us are scared, anxious, and lonely right now and I know for me, that being outdoors provides a tremendous amount of comfort. I look at all of the plant life around me starting to bloom, I see the wind blowing through the trees, I hear the birdsong in my neighborhood, and I am reminded that I am never alone.
I'm an herbalist, so why am I listing herbs last? Because without giving time and attention to all of the above, herbs will be nowhere near as effective as they could be, if they are effective at all. If we aren't taking in the basic building blocks to support healthy immune system function and implementing necessary lifestyle practices such as a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and movement, we are really expecting a lot of the plants. They are not magic bullets. We have to do our part so they can do theirs.
Astragalus is one of my favorite immune tonics. It can help stimulate white blood cells, natural killer cells, and T-lymphocytes and increase production of antibodies and interferon, making it a great ally during cold and flu season. I often use it in my clinic for reduced immunity due to chronic infection, stress, or general lack of vitality, as well as for lingering viral infections or recurring colds and upper respiratory tract infections. Astragalus can also be a supportive in cases of chronic lung weakness. It has a mild, slightly sweet taste that most people of every age find pretty palatable. Because it doesn't have a strong flavor, you can add Astragalus to soup stocks and broths (remove it before consuming) or use a tea of it to cook rice or beans – giving a medicinal boost to your food! To prepare it as a beverage, simmer about 1 Tablespoon per cup of water for 15-20 minutes. You can strain and drink it right away, or let it steep for another hour or so before drinking, taking 1-3 cups per day. We have Astragalus at the shop as a bulk herb and it's also in our Immune Tonic Tincture, Immuni-Tea, and Immune Tonic Soup Base. Note: It is advised to discontinue the use of Astragalus during acute fever.
Reishi, Shiitake, Turkey Tail, and other medicinal mushrooms
All of our medicinal mushrooms are what we call “immune amphoterics,” meaning they have a modulatory effect on the immune system. They are used for immune deficiency conditions such as cancer, AIDS and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as immune hyper-functioning autoimmune conditions. Reishi has immune enhancing effects and is traditionally used for fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Shiitake and Maitake both stimulate the system to bolster its ability to fight infections more quickly and efficiently. Use 2 teaspoons of dried mushrooms to 12 oz of water, simmer for at least 1 hour, and drink 2-4 cups per day. Shiitake and Maitake can also be found fresh in some grocery stores and eaten as a medicinal food. Any of these mushrooms combines nicely with Astragalus for a daily immune supportive tea or as a soup base. We have Reishi, Shiitake (local from Ozark Forest Mushrooms!), and Maitake at the shop as bulk herbs and in our Immune Tonic Soup Base.
Holy Basil falls in the category of adaptogen, a plant that helps the body to respond to stressors in a more balanced way, and is a highly revered plant in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an immunomodulator that helps to strengthen and balance the response of the immune system and it possesses some antiviral and antibacterial properties. Holy Basil is also a helpful respiratory ally that encourages our bodies to expel bronchial mucus and can aid in the natural fever response. I also love it because it smells so wonderful. Drinking teas of plants that are high in aromatic volatile oils can serve to soothe, calm, and uplift the nervous system – something we could all probably use a bit of right now! We have Holy Basil in bulk and it also features in our Cheer Up Buttercup Tincture, Holy Hibiscus Vinegar, Holy Basil Shrub, and our Hug Your Heart Tea.
Get plenty of sleep – 8-9+ hours per night is ideal
Do all you can to cultivate calm, de-stress, and relax in order to support your nervous system health (and hence, your immune system)
Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies
Consider supplementing with a high quality multivitamin and Vitamin D
Stay hydrated to support healthy mucous membranes
Avoid sugar and alcohol whenever possible
Engage in exercise and movement that you find enjoyable every day
Spend time outdoors, reconnecting with the land around you
Use herbs known to support immune system health like Astragalus, Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms, and Holy Basil
Some of us may be doing many of these things already and some of us may not (and that is completely ok). Since I haven't gotten to sit down with each of you to hear your story and where you are at, I can't tailor these suggestions for you specifically as I do in my clinic. But, as I tell my clients, please do not feel overwhelmed. Choose one or two changes to start integrating. Get comfortable with that, then add on something else. Not everyone will be able to do all of the above all at once, but every little effort we make to improve our own health and vitality will improve the whole community.
If you need more guidance, let's set up an Acute Herbal Medicine Consultation to get you the support you need. I have transitioned to doing all of my appointments virtually, either by phone or Zoom video chat. I'm here to help however I can.
Be good to one another.
And remember, the plants are here for you. They always have been.