Friday, 20 December 2019

Supporting The Immune System Herbally - Part 1

Image: Bruno Glätsch
Article: Debs Cook
Our immune systems, are made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, which together help the body to fight off infections from germs and prevent bacteria and other micro-organisms from attacking the body. When everything is working as it should, our immune systems do a fantastic job of keeping us healthy and infection free, but when the immune system gets compromised that’s when the problems begin. One of the common occurrences of compromised immune systems at this time of year is the rise in cases of cold and flu over the winter months.

The immune system doesn’t just help us fight of colds and flu, it also protects us from viruses such as chicken pox and mumps, and from harmful bacteria like e-coli and other forms of bacteria that can cause ear infection, meningitis and tonsillitis, so it’s important that you keep your immune system in tip top condition and keep it functioning properly to help you ward off these potential threats.

What Does Our Immune System Do?

The immune system has 3 types of responses depending on what the body is attempting to fight off, these are: - an anatomic response, an inflammatory response, and an immune response.

When the body exhibits an anatomic response, it reacts by attempting to physically prevent foreign bodies from entering the body. An example of an anatomic response would be the release of tears when a foreign body gets in to the eye to try and ‘flush’ it out, the mucous membranes and the skin provide the first line of defence to the body. If the foreign body still manages to take hold, the body exhibits its next line of defence which is the inflammatory response. The inflammatory response attempts to target the foreign body and eliminate it from the body, an example of this action is sneezing, producing mucus in the nose and chest and increases in body temperature to help eliminate foreign body.

If the inflammatory response fails to eradicate the foreign body the final stage kicks in, known as the immune response. The immune response forms the core of the immune system and is made up of white blood cells, which fight infection by eradicating antigens [a foreign or toxic invader to the body e.g. bacteria]. During times when the body is fighting off infection, around ¼ of the white blood cells in the body, known as lymphocytes, migrate to the lymph nodes and produce antibodies, which help the body to fight the illness. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system, and includes lymph nodes, vessels, the spleen, thymus, tonsils and the bone marrow.

The best way of ensuring that your immune system functions as it should, is to make sure you are doing everything you can to look after it. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when it doesn’t have to fight off unnecessary onslaughts to its function, like the problems caused to the immune system by smoking and drinking alcohol. Other ways you can help your immune system are by taking regular exercise, cutting down caffeine consumption and maintaining a healthy weight. It will also be of great benefit if you keep your blood pressure under control, ensure you get enough sleep each night to help the body recover from daily stress and strain and eat a healthy diet full of antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables, whole grain foods and cut down on saturated fats.

Diet wise make sure you eat plenty of foods containing vitamin C and E, both of these vitamins help the immune system to function, vitamin C can be found in oranges, berries, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach. If you smoke, you especially need to boost your vitamin C intake because smoking reduces the rate that your body absorbs vitamin C. Taking vitamin E helps to prevent cell damage, it can be found in wholegrain cereals and sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin E. Ensure you include enough omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish like salmon and trout and also by adding flaxseeds and oil to your diet, these fatty acids play a vital role in helping your immune system prevent problems such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and skin problems like psoriasis.

Foods rich in natural probiotics such as live yogurt help to promote ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut, these friendly bacteria can help your immune system fight off bacteria and disease that attack the digestive system. Eating starchy, wholegrain carbohydrate rich foods also benefits the digestive system, these foods will also help give the body energy to fight off infection. Minerals such selenium and zinc are also very beneficial to immune system health, so eat zinc and selenium rich foods such as pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts.

Join us next week for part 2 of this article which will look at 10 Immune Boosting Herbs and include a tasty recipe for Hedgerow Fruits Elixir.

Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.