Dr. Melissa Blake
Our immune systems, when working properly, are amazing and effective. The immune system, which includes our skin, mucous membranes, white blood cells, and lymphatic system, are the body’s defense against infection and illness. The super cells of the immune system are constantly circulating the body, looking for unfamiliar cells (such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi) to attack and remove.
Germs are everywhere! Luckily, our first line of defense is the barrier our skin and mucous membranes (nasal passage way, upper respiratory tract) provide from the outside environment. Maintaining healthy skin and mucous membranes is therefore an important (and sometimes forgotten) way to support immune function and avoid getting sick.
Inflammation and fever are the body’s natural responses to infection. Most bugs do not tolerate higher temperatures and that is one reason why it’s better to safely support a fever rather than to suppress it.
If a germ does get thru the initial barriers, a cascade of events is triggered and our innate immune system bursts into action. First, our immune cells need to identify a germ as being foreign and potentially harmful. A type of white blood cell known as a phagocyte is continuously patrolling the body. When these cells identify a germ they sound the alarm to alert other white blood cells of the danger. B cells and T cells (specialized white blood cells) are drawn to the scene and are part of the body’s adaptive immune system. These cells allow for the immune system to maintain a memory - so that if the body encounters that same germ again, they will be faster to recognize it and respond.
We can’t and shouldn’t always avoid getting sick. Suffering with the occasional cold or flu is beneficial to the innate and adaptive parts of our immune system. However, there are many effective natural strategies to support immune health - leading to less frequent infection and reduced length and intensity of symptoms when infection does occur.
Knowing we are all covered in bugs, support your skin barrier with regular hand washing. Evidence suggests proper hand washing reduces the risk of illness by as much as 20 per cent. Consider using a non-alcohol-based soap, preferably castile soap to which you can add essential oils.
Dry skin brushing
Supports skin health and stimulates the lymphatic system. Handout at www.thepeartreeclinic.com
Sweating (thru exercise, sauna, stream baths) creates an artificial fever and promotes the elimination of toxins.
Support a fever
A fever indicates the immune system has been “turned on” and acts to kill off bugs that do not tolerate higher temperatures. For ways to safely support a fever, talk to your ND.
As both a preventative and treatment tool - getting proper rest is an essential and underused strategy. Have you ever noticed the tendency to get sick during busy and stressful periods? Could it be your body’s attempt to get you to slow down?
Sugar is harmful to health. Period. When it comes to immune function, sugar has been shown to reduce white blood cell activity by as much as 40 per cent. Be aware that sugar is present in foods you may not suspect, like ketchup and fruit juices.
Eat a rainbow (and no, this doesn’t mean skittles - see #6)
Get a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet daily to ensure the spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Ensure your vitamin D status is optimized
Many of us are vitamin D deficient and this can make a huge difference in immune function. Speak to your naturopathic doctor about vitamin D.
Eat your healthy fats
Omega 3s are immune supportive, reduce inflammation, support brain and cardiovascular health, and more. Good food sources include: wild fish, sardines, walnuts, flax oil, and a good quality fish oil supplement.
Try our Wet Sock Treatment
It sounds weird but it works! See the details at www.thepeartreeclinic.com.
The last and definitely the most important tool for staying healthy - LAUGH and PLAY! Laughing reduces the negative and suppressive impact of stress on immune function. Laughter is far more contagious than any cold or flu - and a lot more fun!
Speak with your naturopathic doctor for more information on how you can support your immune system, questions about the flu shot, and ways to get thru an infection naturally.
In health, Dr. Melissa Blake, ND
Dr. Melissa Blake completed her pre-medical studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax where she received a bachelor of science in biology and psychology. Since graduating in 2006 from the four year medical program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, she has been practicing at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic located in Dieppe.