General News · 27th March 2020
Maureen Williams ND
Now that we all know what the virus looks like, it's time for you to meet your immune system.
This is a macrophage. Macrophages in the lining of your mouth and airways engulf infectious microbes and infected cells, acting as part of your innate defense against infection. Your macrophages have been helping you all along -- below are some ideas for helping them (and other parts of the immune system) do their job of protecting you.
I presented this information at Folk U a few weeks ago and today on the radio. Some of you who wanted the information weren't able to attend or listen, so here it is. I'll also attach it as a word document in case you prefer to read or share it that way.
wishing you good health,
Maureen Williams ND
How to Boost Your Immune Function at Home!
Staying healthy requires a balance of microbial exposure and immune reaction. Most of the advice we are getting these days is about reducing our exposure load through physical distancing and the use of hand sanitizer. This is vital to stopping spread of infection.
At the same time, we might also benefit from toning our immune systems!
What’s going on when we’re fighting viruses
When the immune system is fighting infections, it creates tons of free radicals. This is an important way for immune cells to kill pathogens (dangerous microbes) and destroy infected cells, but it also causes harm to healthy cells and tissues. In addition, there is a ramping up of inflammatory signaling—again, critical for a robust immune response, but also hard on the body.
Protecting your body
Having high levels of antioxidants in your body during times of high immune activity helps to protect against cell and tissue damage. While this may make you think of vitamins like A, C, and E, the most powerful antioxidants known are actually phytochemicals:
• polyphenols from berries and other colorful fruits, chocolate, tea, and coffee
• carotenoids from colorful vegetables like kale, tomatoes, and squash
• sulfur compounds from cabbage, broccoli, onions, and garlic
Eating fish is another effective way to lower inflammatory immune activity. Fish oil has fatty acids that help to reduce or reverse inflammatory signaling. Other animal fats, though, increase production of chemicals that ramp up inflammation.
Processed foods have little to offer in the way of antioxidants or other helpful nutrients. Furthermore, foods that raise your blood sugar high and fast slow the immune response. To optimize your immune function, stay away from sugar, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods in general.
How your gut helps your immune system
The intestinal microbiome is your own internal compost. It needs nurturing to stay healthy and in return it keeps you nourished and strong.
The microbes (mainly bacteria) that live in and on you interact with the immune system to help keep your antimicrobial response strong while preventing overly inflammatory immune activity. We keep our microbiome strong by feeding it the right food. The microbiome thrives on fiber. Fiber comes from plants: whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. On the other hand, excessive amounts of animal food, especially when combined with low fiber intake, cause the microbiome to shift away from one that promotes a healthy immune system. Research shows some of the best immune support comes from special fibers in oats and barley, mushrooms, and sea vegetables.
Some foods have good bacteria in them—these can also improve the composition of the gut microbiome. Think unpasteurized sauerkraut, fermented veggies, yogurt and kefir, and kombucha.
Herbal medicines fight infection and raise the immune response
Some great local plants that have antimicrobial action and immune-boosting effects include:
• Cedar (Thuja plicata). The scales (cedar trees’ version of leaves) hold strong medicine that can be extracted in tea, but tincture is even better. It also breaks up mucous and promotes expectoration. Too much can irritate your gut and your kidneys so use it judiciously. Tastes like cedar!
• Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa). The medicine from this plant is in the bark covering its roots. Don’t pick too much! You can shave the bark off of the root and stem with a vegetable peeler. Again, stronger as a tincture, but a bright yellow tea will still provide some power. Tastes bitter.
• Peppermint (Mentha piperita). Peppermint and its many minty relatives are gentler sources of volatile oils that kill pathogens and help break up congestion. Make a strong tea with mint leaves and sweeten with honey, which is also anti-microbial and soothes a sore or scratchy throat. Safe for kids, and yummy, too.
• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Beats back infection, dries up mucous, reduces inflammation generally, and helps break a high fever. Tea made from flowers and leaves is lovely. Tincture is perhaps even better. This one is also quite bitter.
While these herbs are safe for general use, please, if you take medications for chronic conditions, don’t treat yourself with plant medicines without consulting a herbal medicine practitioner or naturopath.
There are many, many other plant medicines that support immune function and fight infections. These are just a few you can easily find yourself. It is important to mention that herbal therapies have NOT been tested against the new coronavirus.
What else helps the immune system?
Exercise, relaxation, and good sleep.
A cold rinse after every hot shower or bath.
Keep taking vitamin D until summer.
Gargling with plain water and saline nasal irrigation (such as with a neti pot) may help, too, by reducing microbial “sticking” on upper airway surfaces.