By Dr. Adam McLeod, ND, BSc (Hons) –
There are hundreds of natural therapies that can be used to support or stimulate the immune system. It is often challenging to sift through this information to find out what actually works. Everyone you talk to will have a different solution they swear by. In this article, I will describe some approaches I personally use to fight off a common cold. Some of these ideas discussed are from my experience as a naturopathic Doctor; others are simply approaches I have found to be personally helpful.
Immune stimulating tinctures
There are countless botanicals that have been shown to support the immune system. The mixture I have personally found helpful is equal parts of astragalus, echinacea, andrographis, and panax ginseng. There is significant research to show each of these herbs can stimulate the immune system. If it is an infection in the throat, I also use echinacea throat spray to directly attack the infection. Obviously if your immune system is stronger it will be more effective at combating any infection whether it is viral or bacterial in nature. This potent tincture tastes awful but I notice almost immediate relief when I use it. I usually take 5mL a minimum of three times a day until 24 hours after all symptoms cease.
Increase water intake to a minimum of 2L per day
While fighting an infection, it is important to stay well hydrated. This is something I personally find I forget to do when I am not feeling well. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I am not drinking enough water. There are some helpful apps on the iPhone that can be good reminders to drink water. The one I use is called Waterminder and this gives me frequent reminders to drink water when I feel ill.
I have always found a hot bath to be helpful when I am not feeling well. There are a number of reasons why this may be effective, but essentially it is a way of inducing an artificial fever, which will result in the immune system being more active. I usually do this for as long as I can tolerate it and I combine this with meditation. While doing this, it is important to stay well hydrated.
Even though when you are feeling sick you will obviously not be feeling energetic, exercise is still important. I force myself to exercise at the first sign of symptoms. Usually this will involve just 5–10 minutes on a stationary bike or push-ups and squats. Essentially, I work out just enough to get the blood flowing and to feel slightly out of breath. There are several reasons why this can be helpful and it will certainly make it easier for you to get a good night’s sleep right when you will need it the most.
I have found meditation and visualizations to be two of the most powerful tools to focus my immune system. These techniques help to support your immune system by reducing stress and giving your immune system the opportunity to focus on healing. Where ever the infection is, I visualize drawing white blood cells to the area of concern. I see all of these cells moving around looking for a potential problem and eliminating it before it becomes an issue. The immune system is incredibly powerful and effective once it recognizes what the problem is. Visualizations and meditation utilize the mind-body connection to direct your cells’ awareness to the area of concern.
I firmly believe it is healthy and normal to get sick once or twice per year. These periods of illness are an opportunity for your immune system to get fired up. Your immune system is like a muscle; it needs to get a work out once in a while if it is expected to be strong. Not only does this give your immune system a chance to be stronger, it gives it the opportunity to recognize good and bad cells. An immune system that never becomes activated may struggle to differentiate between good and bad cells. This can lead to a whole new set of problems.
In my practice, when I hear from patients that they never get sick I consider this a bit of a red flag. If you have not gotten sick in 20 years, your immune system simply is not engaging infections effectively. Many of these patients will have lower white blood cell or neutrophil counts. These values do not have to be out of range but they can be on the lower end of acceptable values. Those bacteria and viruses are there no matter what you do, but often it is your immune system response that makes you feel ill—not the infection itself.
Of course, there is a balance with this argument. If someone is frequently getting sick, that is a problem and this is obviously not a sign of a strong immune system. Some infections are critical to avoid and I am not suggesting that patients should deliberately make an effort to get sick. I simply believe it is normal and healthy to occasionally get sick and there are many biochemical reasons to support this logic.
If you are interested in developing a natural strategy to help combat flu season this year, contact a naturopathic physician to design a plan that is right for you. It is necessary to have professional guidance to develop a plan that is both safe and effective.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a naturopathic doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) Molecular biology, motivational speaker, and international best-selling author. He currently practises at his clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia where he focuses on integrative oncology. http://www.yaletownnaturopathic.com.