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  • Writer's pictureKirsty Bednar

A Naturopath’s guide to boosting your immunity

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Again, I’ve been researching and collating the most accurate and up to date, relevant information to help you and your family remain safe at this time. There is so much we can do with good nutrition, therapeutic, evidence based natural medicines and simple lifestyle measures to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. I’m sure my list is not exhaustive either and there will be many other things you can do but the information below is what is in my realm of expertise.

I also want to let you know that I’m offering acute 15 minute video or phone consultations at $40 if you want to get a specific prescription for your individual health needs. As well as doing all my other consults via telehealth or phone or skype. Know that I can still support your health goals especially amidst this “crisis”.

I’m not going to reiterate about hand washing, sanitising, not touching your face, social distancing etc as I’m sure these have been drummed into you by now and they are the most protective things you can do. But what you may not have heard about is nasal irrigation. Apart from regular hand washing, daily and frequent nasal irrigation with salt water is one of the MOST important things that we can do to prevent influenza and other viral respiratory infections from taking hold. This is because after exposure to a virus, the influenza virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place. You can use a saline nasal spray like Fess or even better use something like NeilMed sinus rinse as this gets right through your sinuses. Or an old fashioned Neti pot and make your own saline wash.

On top of that I will let you know of some of the best ways to lower your susceptibility to an infection from a naturopathic point of view.

One of our Naturopathic philosophies is “prevention is the best cure”. This is even more paramount when we are dealing with a new pandemic with many unknowns.

The “Four Cornerstones of Good Health” are our foundations in Naturopathic Medicine. Like the four legs of a table or chair if you want the table or chair to remain upright when stress is placed on it, the four legs must be intact and strong. These are:

1. A Positive Mental Attitude – a positive mental attitude is the real foundation for optimal health. With so many of us succumbing to fear and anxiety of not just our health but the uncertainty of what the future holds for us it is so important we remain calm, focus on the things we can control, stay in the present moment as much as we can, count our blessings and reframe what’s happening into trying to see where the benefits are in this challenge because there are plenty. These practices will lessen our stress which we know is a powerful trigger of inflammation and suppresses our immune system.

2. A Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise, Sleep, Health Habits –

· Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. However, intense exercise can actually temporarily decrease immune function – so don’t overdo it!

· Sleep is super important in preventing infection. An increase in sleep actually increases the number of your white blood cells. On the other hand, less than 6hrs sleep a night you struggle to make antibodies and natural killer cells.

3. A Health-Promoting Diet –

· Stay well-hydrated. Stick to water, coconut water, freshly squeezed vegetable/fruit juices 50% diluted with water, herbal teas, and bone broth. Avoid sugary drinks. A good guide to how much water you need is 30ml for every kilo of bodyweight so a 60kg person would need 1.8 litres daily. Another good guide is that your pee should be a very pale yellow or clear if you are hydrated enough.

· Eat lots of colourful fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants which will destroy the free radicals that weaken our immune system and are responsible for making us feel sick when we catch a bug. Each colour provides different antioxidant power – so be sure to eat a rainbow every day. Its also the fibre that’s important to feed our gut microbes and we know having a healthy gut is our first defence against infection.

· Load up on foods and spices with antiviral properties. These include coconut oil, raw garlic, oregano, ginger, kimchi and other fermented foods, walnut, pomegranate, green tea, apple cider vinegar, and medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkeytail).

· Eat fermented foods. The probiotics contained in fermented foods have tremendous immune boosting powers. In fact, the fermented Korean cabbage, kimchi, was found to have significant effects in preventing and fighting the H1N1 influenza virus! Other examples of delicious fermented foods to try include sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kombucha.

· Drink bone broth. Bone broth has amazing immune-supporting properties.

· Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. Did you know that your blood shows lab evidence of a lowered immune system within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), and causes a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs? White blood cells are our “army” cells that fight off germs. This effect is most noticeable 2 hours after ingestion, but is still present 5 hours later! Keeping blood sugar levels healthy has been shown to improve immune system activity.

4. Supplementary Measures – the following are nutritional supplements and herbal medicines that can help with preventing viral infections, enhancing our immunity and reducing inflammation.

· Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC™). One of the most powerful natural medicines we have in our arsenal for protecting the immunocompromised from infections is AHCC™ (a proprietary enzyme-fermented extract of shiitake that contains a mixture of polysaccharides, amino acids, lipids, and minerals). AHCC™ has been used in over 20 human clinical trials, with results demonstrating enhanced dendritic cell populations, increased cytokine expression of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes and improved antibody synthesis in elderly patients to the influenza B virus. AHCC™ has also demonstrated efficacy for numerous viral infectious diseases including West Nile virus, influenza virus, hepatitis virus, and human papillomavirus (HPV), demonstrating activation and modulation of host immune cells such as NK (natural killer) cells, NK T cells and gamma delta T cells.

AHCC™ is currently being distributed to the medical community treating COVID-19-infected patients in the Wuhan region of China (Wuhan Zhongshan hospital and Leishenshan hospital). Although data is yet to be published on the efficacy, as evidenced by clinical trials, AHCC™ is expected to enhance immune function of these healthcare workers, facilitating the prevention and clearance of viral pathogens that they may be exposed to.

· Andrographis paniculata (andrographis) has extensive evidence in reducing the incidence, severity and duration of acute respiratory infections, as evidenced by positive results in a meta-analysis, which included 33 studies. In particular, andrographis has been shown to stimulate both the antigen-specific and non-specific immune response, as well as increase NK cell activity, antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and antibody-dependent complement-mediated cytotoxicity, thereby supporting host immune defences.

· Echinacea –The Echinacea alkylamides tend to modulate the immune response of macrophages and T cells, toning the response down in the face of a strong stimulus, hence helping the immune system to operate more efficiently. This immune modulating activity is (at least in part) due to the interaction of alkylamides with cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB2, Echinacea Premium increased heat shock protein levels (hsp70*) and increased white cell count. E. purpurea root boosts the number and function of natural killer (NK) cells (a class of white blood cell). There is a strong justification for the combination of E. angustifolia root with E. purpurea root, as in Echinacea Premium (this is the only echinacea I use in clinic).

· Astragalus is an Immunostimulant, tonic, adaptogen, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypotensive and antioxidant. Its therapeutic Indications are prevention of infection; treatment of chronic infections and impaired immunity, conditions resulting in immune suppression (such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery), general debility, excessive sweating, chronic fatigue syndrome; tonic for elderly patients, ischaemic heart disease. Astragalus is one of my favourites for prevention of infections and for the immunocompromised. Although, it may be best to use Andrograhis or Echinacea in an acute infection especially with fever.

· Zinc is particularly critical for the intracellular signalling pathways in both innate and adaptive immunity and is essential for the development of non-specific immunity, such as neutrophils and NK cells, and stimulating the development of acquired immunity.

· Vitamin C (Abscorbic acid) supplementation has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds and is increasingly efficacious when combined with zinc. Vitamin C stimulates white blood cell production and function, enhances NK cell activity and chemotaxis, supports clearance of spent neutrophils from sites of infection, increases serum levels of antibodies, and augments lymphocyte differentiation and proliferation, thereby facilitating innate and adaptive immune responses.

· Vitamin D It is well known that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating immune function, with deficiency impacting the activity of T regulatory (Treg) cells, as well as the production of antibodies. Additionally, vitamin D enhances the adaptive immune response by increasing the differentiation of monocytes to macrophages and stimulating white blood cell proliferation, essential to the neutralisation or viral infections.

· Medicinal Mushrooms Japanese mushrooms, including Cordyceps sinensis (cordyceps), Trametes versicolor (coriolus), Ganoderma lucidum (reishi) and Lentinula edodes (shiitake) enhance the body’s immune response and provide antiviral actions. Specifically, these mushrooms activate the innate immune system, triggering the production of NK cells, lymphocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, and inflammatory cytokines. Cytokine synthesis prompts adaptive immune processes to take effect, through the promotion of B cells for antibody production, and stimulation of T cells, which mediate cellular and humoral immunity.

· Strain specific probiotics Strain specific probiotics, with proven human health benefits, are useful to boost and regulate immunity. Studies have demonstrated Lactobacillus plantarum (HEAL9), Lactobacillus paracasei (8700:2) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG®) in the immune enhancing probiotic formula I use all have the capacity to induce interleukin-10, a key anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory cytokine, which is expressed by Tregs and T helper 2 cells. Animal studies have shown LGG® protects against influenza by stimulating respiratory NK cell activity, and upregulating antiviral interferon gamma (IFN-γ). L. plantarum (HEAL9) and L. paracasei (8700:2) have also been shown to stimulate innate immune responses.

The five strain spectrum formula I use HN019™ has been the subject of several clinical and pre-clinical trials that evaluate its immunological actions. Bifidobacterium lactis HN019™ has been shown to enhance aspects of cellular immunity in both elderly and nonelderly subjects. HN019™ acts via several cellular mechanisms including the enhancement of: Phagocytosis by immune cells: Natural Killer (NK) cell tumour killing activity Cytokine production Interferon - alpha production

· Colostrum contains high levels of immunoglobulins, known collectively as lacto globulin, that are vital to the removal of toxins and foreign microbes from the gut. They are produced naturally in the mother against organisms that commonly infect the gastrointestinal tract. Colostrum may be concentrated to contain high levels of immunoglobulin, and, for example, can be guaranteed to contain 40% IgG.

Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is the most abundant antibody in plasma, accounting for 75% to 85% of circulating antibodies. It offers broad immune protection against bacteria, viruses and toxins circulating in the blood and lymph, readily fixes complement, and is the main antibody to mediate immunological memory. The mechanisms by which lacto globulin is known to work are as follows:

1. By binding to bacteria, parasites and virally infected cells to form an immune complex, which the immune system can recognise and attack.

2. This binding of lactoglobulin also immobilises the pathogen. Usually many antibodies bind to a single organism, reducing the ability of the organism to bind to the gastrointestinal mucosa, encouraging it to be eliminated.

3. By promoting beneficial bacteria Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, so enhancing their ability to inhibit common gut pathogens like Candida albicans and Staphylococcus aureus.

· Specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPM’s) are endogenous regulators of infection and inflammation. Because SPMs engage endogenous resolution pathways, these mediators have the potential to both decrease pathogen-mediated inflammation and enhance host defence, which distinguishes SPMs from immunosuppressive agents. Unlike many pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories which are also immunosuppressive, SPMs reduce inflammation and promote resolution, without immunosuppression. SPM’s promotes clearance of pathogens by stimulating macrophage dependent bacterial clearance and protect against septicaemia induced cytokine storm. Furthermore, resolvins have been shown to improve antibiotic effectiveness, and survival in several animal models of infection.

It’s important to remember that long term lung damage may result from a serious respiratory infection which further stresses how important it is to nurture injury resolution.

· Melatonin, there is a correlation with Melatonin levels and people remaining healthy. Children and pregnant women have higher melatonin levels and they both seem to get the disease a lot less so there is a theory that melatonin may be helpful in fighting this disease because it shuts down the inflammasome. Normally only a Doctor can prescribe melatonin. But there is a herbal product that naturally contains Melatonin that I can prescribe.

Again, this list of natural medicines is not exhaustive. There are many other natural compounds that are antiviral and ani-inflammatory that may be of help too that I haven’t covered such as:

Elderberry, Golden seal, Curcumin, Boswellia, Spirulina, Glutamine, Co Q10, Quercetin, Rosmarinic acid found in Rosemary, Lemon balm, Sage, Oregano, Basil.

Well, that is a lot of technical information but I know some of you like the detail and it shows there’s evidence and research to support their use and hopefully alleviates some health anxiety around this virus as it shows you plenty of dietary, supplemental and lifestyle measures we can implement to keep ourselves in an optimal state of health and reduce our susceptibility to infections.

Remember to reach out if you need more specific advice on this matter or your other health goals. If you find this article helpful please share it.

Yours in Health

Kirsty xx

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