1) Lean on your herbal friends.
One of my favorites, I recommend patients’ keep on hand in their natural medicine cabinet for immune support is Elderberry, also known as Sambucus. Elderberry is an immune tonic that can be taken regularly during the fall and winter seasons for immune support or can be taken more often for acute colds and flu. Elderberry protects against the flu, helps to decrease inflammation, can help break fever, and tastes delicious in any form, tea, syrup, gummies, and even medicinal wines. Syrups are my favorite version of this as they are palatable for both kids and adults. There are many brands available, but my favorite are the high potency, low sugar options. A common practice in herbal medicine circles is homemaking elderberry syrup for the family, something to keep in mind next fall when the elderberries are ready for picking. Here is a link to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar’s elderberry syrup recipe.
Another well known, safe and easily accessible herbal used commonly for immune support is echinacea. Some research indicates that Echinacea angustifolia may help to make the immune response to the flu vaccine more effective, while other research demonstrates a cup of hot echinacea tea per day to be as effective as oseltamivir (aka Tamiflu) in reducing the symptoms of clinically diagnoses and virologically confirmed influenza virus infections, with less chance risk of complications and side effects.
2) Don’t forget the healing power of water.
Warming socks is an old school naturopathic approach to bolstering the immune system using contrast hydrotherapy or alternating hot and cold compresses. This can be done when feeling run down or when acutely ill with an upper respiratory infection. So effective is this in helping to make my hubby feel better when feeling run down or sick that he will initiate this himself and encourage me to do the same when I am run down. The procedure involves these few simple steps: 1) Warm up your feet for 5 to 10 minutes, quickly done by soaking them in warm water; 2) Take a pair of knee high cotton socks and soak them in cold water and wring them out thoroughly; 3) Place the cold wet socks over your warm feet and then cover these wet socks with thick wool socks.; 4) Go to bed and avoid getting chilled.
3) What about supplements?
Probiotics generally enhance natural immunity and some specific strains of Bifidobateria and Lactobacillus strains show benefit in the prevention and treatment of influenza. Daily probiotic supplement in school children appears to reduce both incidence, symptoms of cold and influenza, and helps to decrease frequency of antibiotic prescription. (3)
There is controversary about vitamin D supplementation in preventing influenza, with conflicting results from research. Well designed studies do not indicate high doses have any preventative effect from influenza and high doses can increase levels of calcium in the blood stream, which can be problematic for cardiovascular, brain, and kidney health. So getting levels checked and treading cautiously with vitamin D is recommended. Genetics have a lot to do with need of vitamin D, and can inform and will likely help inform more personalized dosing guidelines for vitamin D in the future. Given this, I have steered away from recommending high doses of vitamin D for most patients without compelling reason. (3)
Studies on vitamin C show just a slight reduction in length and severity of colds. (3)
4) Immune boost your nutrition.
We known that sugar suppresses immune function, so limiting any added sugars as much as possible is generally encouraged for both preventing and recovering from illness. Encouraging balance blood sugar with a diet that is lean and green is also recommended to support general health.
Garlic is traditionally known for its immune protective benefits. Supplementation for 90 days with aged garlic extract has demonstrated effect in reducing the severity of symptoms, duration of illness, and frequency of colds and flu. (3)
Food grade mushrooms such as, oysters, shiitake, turkey tail, and portobellos, are high in beta-glucans which have demonstrated immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and have anti-microbial effects. Studies on supplementation with beta-glucans from mushrooms or yeast have demonstrated effect in managing respiratory tract infections in children and adults. (2)
5) Be positive.
I love that we can modulate our immune and overall health with our minds and l LOVE that I get to help patients capitalize upon this to benefit their health. And I am thrilled, that I have come across this recent small study on older adults that demonstrates that positive mood either daily in the 6 weeks prior to vaccination or on the day of vaccination, significantly predicted greater antibody responses to influenza vaccination (H1N1 strain). The effect of positive mood was the only factor found to significantly predict great antibody responses to influenza vaccine over age, gender, daily steps, sleep, caloric intake, or recommended daily intakes of zinc, vitamin A or vitamin E. This was the first study of its type “to comprehensively examine patient behaviors and psychological factors on the vaccine-induced protective antibody response in older adults using a robust methodology (prospective, diary-based longitudinal study)”. (1) I hope that this effect will be researched further in larger studies that evaluate the overall effectiveness of vaccination in those with positive mood. This effect would be interesting to see evaluated in other types of vaccination, like immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops).
In fact, all aspects of our lifestyle: physical activity, sleep, stress, and mood have been identified as immune modulators that impact vaccine response or effectiveness.(1) Something keep in mind obviously not just prior to any vaccination, but on a daily regular basis, is minding and caring for yourself and reducing stress through either over activity or inactivity, getting adequate sleep, eating a balanced diet low in added sugar, and keeping a positive outlook all help prevent us from getting ill in the first place.
Dr. Sarah Giardenelli is a Naturopathic Doctor & Acupuncturist at her private practice, Collective Health Center, in Leesburg, Virginia. Dr. Sarah specializes in a caring and out of the box approach to optimizing health and reversing chronic disease using natural medicine. More information on Dr. Sarah’s practice can be found at www.collectivehealthcenter.com.
1) Ayling et al. Positive mood on the day of influenza vaccination predicts vaccine effectiveness: A prospective observational cohort study. Brain Behav Immun. 2018 Jan;67:314-323. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=PMID%3A+28923405
2) Jesenak, M., Urbancikova, I., & Banovcin, P. (2017). Respiratory Tract Infections and the Role of Biologically Active Polysaccharides in Their Management and Prevention. Nutrients, 9(7), 779. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28726737
3) Mousa, HA. Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan; 22(1): 166–174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871211/#bibr76-2156587216641831