Boost Your Immune System Defenses
Cold and flu season is officially upon us, and many are wondering what steps can be taken to prevent getting sick. Our immune system is our body’s defense against bacteria and viruses. If our defenses are down, our likelihood of contracting an illness increases. Botanicals, supplements and nutrients can be used to boost or support our immune system in order to prevent illness, or to decrease recovery time.
Elderberry, also called Sambucus, has traditionally been used to treat colds, flus and infections. Elderberry is a natural antiviral and immune stimulant, which means that it can activate or improve immune system defenses. It has even been studied as a treatment for influenza and was proven to reduce the duration of illness. Elderberry is usually taken in the form of a syrup, and is generally safe for both children and adults.
Vitamin C is particularly important as an immune system booster. It is considered an essential nutrient because humans are one of the few species who cannot make it within our bodies, so we have to consume it. The effect of vitamin C on the immune system is due to its activity as an antioxidant and histamine regulator. Interestingly, our digestive system absorbs more vitamin C when we have a cold, which suggests that there is a greater demand for it during illness. Studies report that daily intake of vitamin C can decrease our risk of contracting the common cold. Vitamin C can be taken as a supplement; administered intravenously (often in the form of a Myers’ Cocktail vitamin infusion); and consumed in many common foods, such as bell peppers, citrus and strawberries.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can support the immune defenses. Beneficial bacteria live in our body, particularly in our gut, and help to crowd out any harmful bacteria that try to take up residence. Some probiotic strains, including lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, can not only prevent infection and diarrhea but can also stimulate the immune system’s responses. At birth, our digestive tract does not contain any microorganisms, but healthy bacteria soon begin to move in and contribute to the development of the immune system. Illness, diet, antibiotics and other factors can decrease the number and variety of our gut flora, so most people can benefit from taking probiotics daily to help replenish and maintain a healthy balance.
Don’t wait until the first signs of illness to supercharge your immune system. While supplements and nutrients are helpful for speeding recovery, boosting your immune defenses preventatively can be even more beneficial.
Elizabeth De La Torre Hogan, NMD, is a naturopathic physician who specializes in holistic and alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, botanicals, acupuncture and anti-aging. An Arizona native, Hogan attended Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Tempe. She also has advanced training in nutritional sciences from the University of Arizona. Her hobbies include taking fitness classes and hiking, when the weather cools down in Phoenix. She enjoys traveling with her husband and stepson, especially to the beach. She also teaches as an adjunct faculty member at local colleges. For more information or to connect with Hogan, call 480-991-9945, or visit DrLizGillman.com or AbsoluteHealthAZ.com.