By Dr. Jennifer Yee, ND
Some of you are probably dreading the start of cold and flu season. Are you the person who catches absolutely everything going around your workplace, your school or your household? And when you become sick, does it drag on for weeks only for you to get sick again after you “recover”? If so, do you realize that naturopathic medicine may be very helpful to re-balance and support your immune system?
It is normal and healthy for us to become sick about 1-3 times per year (this applies to children as well). Ideally, the symptoms should be relatively mild and we should recover within a few days and be back to our usual selves. If you find yourself getting sick more often than that or taking a much longer time to recover than you feel you should, that is an indication that your immune system is not quite as balanced as it could be.
But what exactly is a “balanced immune system”? A balanced immune is one that is able to appropriately fight off infection when we come in contact with specific bacteria, viruses, parasites or funghi (also called thrush, candida or yeast). Many of these infections may be opportunistic, meaning that they exist in low amounts within our bodies at all times but when the immune system is weakened (for example, when we are stressed or overtired), the bacteria or yeast can start to multiple and cause you to become sick and experience symptoms of illness. A strong immune system should be capable of preventing or fighting off most infections. There are some cases of more significant infection that may require the use of medications such as antibiotics (e.g. strep throat) but most of the time, we rely on our own immune system to do its job appropriately. There are also a wide variety of naturopathic treatment options that can support the immune system to fight many acute and chronic infections. For example, herbal medicines that have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that also act as an immune system stimulant. There are also certain nutritional imbalances such as vitamin D deficiency that can make our immune system more vulnerable.
For people that find themselves frequently or chronically sick, it is often beneficial to look at strengthening and re-balancing the immune system as a whole – to not just treat illness when it appears but to try to prevent the illness from expressing strong symptoms in the first place. Some people such as those with asthma or diabetes, senior citizens and children may naturally have weaker and more vulnerable immune systems but there are still ways that the immune system can be improved and better supported. The immune system itself may require a bit of re-organization and re-balancing or we may want to take a closer look at the microflora balance along the digestive tract. The digestive tract is full of a wide variety of microorganisms – some of them beneficial (e.g. probiotics), some of them neutral, and some of them potentially harmful (e.g. E. Coli, yeast). It is a delicate balance that is influenced by the use of certain medications (e.g. antibiotics, hormonal birth control, immunosuppressant medications), exposure to toxins and pollutants, stress, diet and lifestyle. There are also certain foods you may be eating that can create inflammation along the digestive tract and damage that delicate microbial balance that is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system.
A naturopathic doctor can perform a thorough assessment and determine which factors may be affecting your immune system and recommend an individualized treatment plan that can help to restore optimal balance to your immune system.
Here’s to having a healthy and happy fall and winter season!