With the changing of seasons and the anticipation of cooler temperatures, October is a great time to focus on supporting your body’s ability to maintain health. Your immune system works every moment to make sure that you are able to stay healthy and recover from any illness to which you may be exposed. Read on for helpful information about how your body works, how allergies, bacterial balance and stress come into play, and most importantly, how to support your immune function as we move into cooler, shorter days!
What is the immune system?
The immune system helps to protect the body against undesirable bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites through a complex series of chemical and hormonal communications. Comprised of the spleen, thymus, blood cells, lymph, bone marrow, skin, antibodies and chemical messengers, the immune system distinguishes between the body’s own tissues and potential invaders to identify and protect healthy tissues.
While this process of identifying possible immune invaders is happening all the time in small amounts, when you have more virulent exposure, your body moves into action triggering the unpleasant symptoms of inflammation and possible fever associated with being sick. Fever and inflammation are actually signs that your body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. Fever increases metabolism, activates certain chemical messengers that ultimately help to increase the number of white blood cells in circulation. Inflammation which is characterized by redness, heat, pain and swelling, is actually the way for your body to eliminate damaged cells.
Allergies, autoimmunity, and more.
An allergic reaction is when the body perceives a threat from something that is not typically harmful. Symptoms of an allergic reaction, which can range from a runny nose to breaking out in hives to fainting, are a result of the body’s misguided attack.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system destroys its own tissues by creating antibodies against one’s own healthy tissue. Common types of autoimmune disorders include: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
While hygienic practices are essential to staying healthy, there is a critical balance of exposure to bacteria that helps to keep the body healthy. Coming into contact with bacteria, viruses and other pathogens actually allows the immune system to develop and mature, especially for children. This regular exposure helps to create antibodies that ultimately help us fight illness. While you do want to wash your hands after being exposed to someone who is sick, you don’t want to wash off all the bacteria from your skin or environment. We have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in and on our bodies. You need these good bacteria, referred to as your microbiome, to stay healthy.
How does stress impact the immune system?
Stress, especially chronic stress, can increase cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is important for daily function, but this natural steroid hormone decreases the activity of your immune system which is less ideal, especially during the fall and winter months.
What are ways to keep the immune system healthy?
Laughter. The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine, and there’s truth to that. Laughter releases dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, all of which can help decrease stress. Twenty minutes of laughter a day may not keep the doctor away, but it may help keep your immune system working properly.
Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on the body, and the immune system is no exception. Lack of sleep may make you more susceptible to catching a cold and also makes it more difficult to fight off infection.
Herbs and nutrients to support the immune system. Beyond healthy lifestyle habits, my favorite strategies include boosting vitamin D as needed to help compensate for the darker days. I also start with increasing nourishing mushrooms both in food and in supplement form beginning with the change of seasons. Host Defense’s Stamets 7 or Immune Defense are excellent beneficial mushroom products. Additionally making sure that you are getting enough nutrients like Vitamin A, C, E, selenium and zinc will help keep your immune system strong no matter what you encounter as the seasons change. If you do get sick, the key is to make sure that you are getting enough rest to allow your body to recover as you help support your immune system’s function. Of course, having herbal formulas available like elderberry syrup on hand are a good idea if you do come down with a virus. General immune support like Super Bio Vegetarian from Priority One or Integrative Therapeutics’ Super-Immuno Tone are great options to consider as well.
by Julia Strickler, ND*