Immune Support

Boosting Immunity

School has started, and I know a number of my friends and family’s kids have already started to get sick - and because sharing is caring - it’s only a matter of time before everyone starts having symptoms. In this blog, I will be talking about 3 things that you can implement to Boost your Immune System, but first let’s talk about the immune system.

Everyone talks about the immune system, but how does it work? The immune system is split up into 2 different parts: the Innate and Adaptive Immune System. The Innate System is the system that fights the infection first, it is the faster part of the immune system. It is made up of physical barriers (eg. skin, and GI tract, etc), defence mechanisms (eg. mucous, bile, gastric acid, sweat, etc), and a general immune response (eg. inflammation, complement system (where the pathogen is marked and then punches are holes into their membrane to kill the pathogen), and non-specific cellular responses). The Innate System is non-specific, and is the general response to foreign bodies (the “not you”) markers. It has a number of different types of white blood cells working for it (eg. macrophages, phagocytes, NK cells, etc.) (Khan Academy). The Adaptive Immune System on the other hand, has fewer cells working for it, these cells would be the B and T cells, and it works with antibodies and cytotoxic cells. This response is slower to respond to a pathogen, and is more specific because your body builds up memories of a past pathogen and can create defence specifically for that pathogen - this is the system vaccines use to create immunity (Khan Academy).

Medicinal Mushrooms

I love medicinal mushrooms. They’re are absolutely amazing, and are able to regulate the immune system through their high concentrations of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is able to work with the immune system and enhancing the immune cells that kill microbs, and clean up the dead cells (Akramiene D, et al). Mushrooms work on the immune system depending on what it needs - making it immunomodulating. Also, the way the mushroom is extracted can effect the way it interacts with your immune system. Alcohol extraction of a mushroom inhibits cytotoxcity. This means that it decreases the amount of toxins released in your body. Alcohol extraction can also effect the number of receptors on a cell surface. While water extraction enhances NK cell cytotoxic activity - NK cells are the cells that act like assassins, and are able to distinguish which cells have been sabotaged (by a virus or becoming a cancer cell), and kill them via apoptosis. Water extraction also stimulates the expression and production of cytolytic proteins, which allows it to kill cells by “cutting them" (Lu C, et alJournal of Hematology & Oncology. These mechanisms allow mushrooms to support your immune system and help them fight pathogens more effectively and efficiently, to decrease the chances of getting sick or decrease the duration of the illness.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is known for its immune supportive abilities, especially since several immune cells need it to function. It supports the external barrier that we all have (our skin), by protecting us from environmental stress by acting as an antioxidants (Ströhle A, et al). When taking vitamin C, it can be interesting to see what your bowel tolerance is. Bowel tolerance is the dose needed to make you have looser stools or diarrhea, because taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea. This is interesting to know because when you are sick (Ströhle A, et al), your bowel tolerance increases. This is amazing, since your immune cells sequester vitamin C when you are sick, and it is able to utilize it more because they are working harder, and need more of it (Carr AC, et al). Taking vitamin C as a preventative measure, and in conjunction with treatment(s) can help support your immune system during times where several people around you are getting sick.

Astragalus

Astragalus is one of my favourite herbs when it comes to immune system health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is seen to be able to defend the Wei Qi (the defensive barrier around us), and as a result, prevent anything from coming into your body to cause illness. However, saying that, if you do get sick, it also doesn’t let anything back out, and as a result, you should stop taking Astragalus when you are sick. As a herb, Astragalus has immunomodulating, immune boosting, and anti-inflammatory effects - though the mechanism is unclear (Qi Y, et al; Guo Z, et al). It is able to modulate the immune system systemically and through the GI tract - where 70-80~% of the immune system is (Lim JD, et al). It’s long history and use in Asia, and recent and ongoing studies makes it a very promising herb that you can implement easily into your daily routine for this cold and flu season as a preventative tonic.

For more tips on how to maintain and promote a healthy immune system, check out Back to School - Strengthening Your Little One’s Immune System.

~ Dr. Charmagne

Back to School - Strengthening Your Little One's Immune System

As a little girl, I loved school. Yes, I was a nerd (and still am), but I loved going to school to be with my friends. I felt connected at school. I was able to build long lasting friendships with classmates. However, I tended to get sick quite often, especially with tonsilitis (that has left my tonsils quite large), colds and flus, ear infections, and stomach aches; the list goes on. When I was sick, I didn't go to school, I stayed home. But I loved school and I loved seeing my friends just as I loved learning, so I hated missing school. 

Whether your little ones love or hate school, it is important for them to go, and regardless of if they are in school or not, it's always unfortunate to have a sick child. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help boost their immune systems, which helps fight off the infections better and also lessens the severity if they do happen to fall ill. 

There are the common methods that everyone talks about: Vitamin C, probiotics and Vitamin D. These are staples in helping to boost and regulate the immune system, but they are also supplements. I'll be talking about these 3, along with some lifestyle and dietary things you can do to help boost the immune system of you and your kids. 

Eat lots of vegetables and fruits

Eating a healthy diet is one of the 3 Pillars of Health (the other 2 being sleep and exercise). Having half a plate full of vegetables ensures that you are getting enough nutrients and fibre in your diet. I also like to tell my patients to eat "as many colours of the rainbow" as they can. Doing this allows them to have as many different phytonutrients as possible. Not all phytonutrients do the same thing, but they are beneficial in their own way. These phytonutrients tend to be different based on the colour of the vegetable and fruit. Rich purples, reds, and blues are rich in anthocyanin (Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology) - which is a strong antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory, that can help your body be at it's best.

Exercise or Play

Being active strengthens our bodies by keeping our cardiovascular systems healthy and strengthening our bones (MedlinePlus). Everyone knows that exercising is good for you, but no one understands how it improves the immune system. Some of the theories I've read and liked included: 

  • Increased body temperature during and after the workout deters microbes from replicating and allows your body's defence system to work more optimally - the same way a fever works.
  • Faster blood flow and changes in your antibodies allows them to move through your body faster, catch and neutralize microbes they encounter. 
  • Exercise helps to manage stress, and therefore, decreases incidences of illness.

Studies have shown that moderate exercise has the best immunomodulating effects, and that doing regular, strenuous activity can be detrimental to the immune system (Clinical Sports Medicine)

Sleep

Sleep is very important for the body and health. This is the time that the body recovers from the day's hustle and bustle, the stress inflicted to it mentally, and physically. The body recovers and heals, and builds up resources to be used the next day. Sleep can be called the best anti-oxidant you can give your body (American Journal of Physiology). Sleep and many immune functions are both influenced by the 24-hour circadian rhythm. Your body adjusts which immune cells are active throughout your sleep-wake cycle. Immune cells that actively kill bacteria and diseased cells (NK cells) are more active during the day, when you are active; while memory T cells and cells that haven't matured are the most active at night (Pflügers Archiv). Therefore, it is important that your child gets enough sleep; below is a chart of recommended hours of sleep needed for children depending on their age:

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C has been known to support and improve the function of the immune system and decreases the duration of the common cold. The mechanism of how vitamin C is able to do this is still not clear, but it is needed for certain cells of the immune system (phagocytes and T-cells) to function properly. These cells track, mark, and eat invading microbes. Vitamin C supplementation was seen to reduce viral infection and replication of the Epstein-Barr Virus (aka Mono) (Medical Science Monitor). Your body has it's own absorption limit when it comes to vitamin C. In Naturopathic School, my professor would challenge us to find our limit - take and measure the amount of vitamin C it takes you to have a Bowel Movement (BM) (because it will cause you to have a BM if you take too much, as a side effect). Knowing this number can be really useful because when you are sick, your body can absorb more vitamin C, as it uses more of it to fight off the invading microb (J. Prousky).

Probiotics

70-80% of your immune system is in your gut (Clinical & Experimental Immunology). Your gut is covered in bacteria, which is often referred to as your microbiota, or gut flora. These bacteria help regulate your immune system and crowd out pathogenic bacteria so that they can't take hold of your intestine which can cause problems. Your natural microbiota is dependant on the way you were born - if you were born vaginally or through a Cesarean birth - because the first microbs you are exposed to start to inhabit your gut, so whether you were exposed to your mother's bacteria or the hospital's bacteria plays a large role in the bacteria that inhabit your gut. One way to influence your microbiota is by taking probiotics which have various immunomodulating abilities depending on the strain (Dr. David Williams).  Strains such as Bifidobacteria infantis are really good for immune modulation (Gut Microbes, FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology), whereas, Lactobacillus fermentum are good for atopic dermatitis (Archives of Disease in Childhood).

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D modulates the passive and active immune system since there are vitamin D receptors on B cells, T cells and antigen presenting cells (Journal of Investigative Medicine). There was a study showing that supplementation with vitamin D resulted in statistically decreased incidences of influenza. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Vitamin D is also able to change the concentration of different T cells, moving it from a pro-inflammatory to more of a regulatory one - allowing your body to maintain self-tolerance, which is very important because you should not be reacting and attacking your own body (Journal of Immunology). 

~ Dr. Charmagne