As we enter into the cold and flu season, especially now that the kids are back in school, we should consider what to do to fortify our immune system. I see many people these days concentrating much of their health efforts on strengthening the immune system. With so much information out there, it is easy to get confused about what is the best, or should I say, the most appropriate things to do for your immune system. On the surface it seems like an easy thing, but there are more things to consider than – “Which is the strongest supplement or life style issues for my immune system?”
We can easily consider our immune system like an army. Our immune system is meant to protect us from outside intruders – invading organisms. If our immune system is not strong enough, the invading forces will overtake ours and we will succumb to the colds, flus or whatever. On the surface it appears that if we just strengthen our immune system without limits, we can make it so strong that nothing can attack us.
The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. If you have a military that is too strong, they will attack the government in a coup take over attempt. In our body this is called an autoimmune disease. This is where the immune system gets a little cocky and starts attacking the body itself. Examples of this are arthritis, lupus, MS and certain types of cancer.
So like many other things in life, it is not just a question of pure strength, but one of balance. The balance goes way beyond the issue of strength though. You need to be in balance with your environment.
In the modern world most people don’t live in their environment that often. Lets say you live a very exciting life as a ‘Clift Dweller’ in a high-rise apartment; you live in side at about 24oC. You take the elevation down into underground garage, get in your heated car and drive to another underground parking lot, where you take an elevator to your office that is kept at about the same temperature. Mean while the outside temperature fluctuates from -10oC to +10oC. Then all of a sudden one day you go out side to walk a few blocks to have lunch. Your body and possibly your clothing have not been acclimatized, thus it is a big insult to the immune system. One of the simplest and more important issues is to spend some time outdoors every week for at least 30 – 45 minutes. Go for a walk and remember what cloth, preferably layer are appropriate for the season.
Warm yourself up with a Treat
When you get in from the cold have a warm drink. Yes it is easy to grab for the coffee, but a cup of hot Ginger tea will warm you up more and get that blood flowing into your extremities. Just take a few slices of fresh ginger, boil them for a minute or so and drink. You can add some honey, lemon or maybe a bit of apple juice. It taste quite good and feels almost like someone has wrapped a warm blanket around you.
The Stew Pot
Our ancestors ate a lot of soups and stews in the winter. These warming foods, especially with a good deep stock made from boiled bones, not only stimulates our immune system and warms us, but it can help our heart, bone, muscle and ligaments.
The best immune prophylactic I have found is a mushroom call Turkey Tail (Coriolus). I would say it is about 2 – 5 times better than Echinacea for preventing influenzas. This mushroom, either as a capsule, or even better as a Supper Food powder, does wonders for both building and balance the immune system. I often take 2 – 3 capsules before I get on a plane to protect myself from all of the airborne viruses one comes into contact within a sealed environment like that. Another way is to put ½ – 1 tsp. of the powder in a hot drink or blender drink. I often add 2 – 4 teaspoons into the soups or stews I make to make it an immune fortifying dish.
Another great medicinal mushroom is Chaga, ½ – 1 teaspoon twice daily.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea) is a good preventative. We suggest you use it in powder (capsulate or tableted) as a preventative. At the first stage of a health issue, we have had best success with the liquid tincture form. We often add it to goldenseal to give it a good boost. Contrary to popular opinion, Echinacea does not lose its effectiveness after 10 – 20 days. Both clinical experience and scientific studies have shown that long-term use (over several months), does not significantly lower its role as a preventative agent. For preventative we usually use 2-3 capsules of Echinacea, twice to three times daily, depending on exposure. At the first stage of a cold/flu, we usually used Echinacea/goldenseal tincture in 1 tsp. for every two hours. After 3-5 days into an immune attack, Echinacea has very little effect. It really only works as a preventative and at the first stage, not in deeper issues. If used for deeper issues it should be used with Astragalus, Goldenseal and/or Licorice.
Reishi is one of my favourite immune herbs. It works both on the surface and at a deep level. It is the best herb when you suspect that some of the immune problems are related to internal circular arguments. I use Reishi in most immune compromised situations. I like a fifteen to one extract, like Reishi extract, suggesting 2-3 capsules, two – three times daily.
Beta carotene: is one of the best protectors of surfaces, both skin and mucus membranes. It protects us from the oxidant problems related to the sun; aiding in protecting us from skin cancer. It protects the respiratory tract, thus protecting penetration of organisms. Beta-carotene also works deep in the sense that it stimulates our immune system to work, being good at all stages of immune function. It aids in protection, during and after an immune attack. As a prevention agent we suggest 20,000 IU of beta-carotene, twice daily. Beta-carotene works on deeper, more critical problems also. For health issues like Cancer or being HIV positive we suggest 50,000 – 100,000 IU, twice daily.
Vitamin C is very good in preventing colds and flus, but is not all that effective after you get one. So it works well as a preventative and at the first stage of surface issues, but not afterwards. If a person is suffering with a critical health problem, it can work on some deeper level issues though. We suggest 500 mg, twice daily as a preventative and up to 10 grams (spread throughout the day) for deeper problems.
Zinc is very important for the immune system. There have been several studies showing that zinc deficiency will impair the immune system. On the other hand, too much zinc will also compromise the immune system. We suggest a person take 15 – 60 mg of zinc daily if an immune problem is suspected. If a person takes more than 60 mg of zinc daily, for more than four months, they need 3-6 mg of copper to reduce a risk of excess zinc affecting the immune system.
To sum up, there are many supplements that are good for the immunes, but they should be used differently at different stages. For prevention: Beta carotene (10,000 – 20,000 IU, twice daily), Vitamin C (500 mg, three times daily), Echinacea (2-3 capsules, twice daily), Reishi ( 2 capsules, twice daily, zinc (10 – 20 mg, daily). Lifestyle changes like going for a walk outside, have bone broth soups and medicinal mushrooms like Turkey tail and Chaga.
At the first stage of a cold/flu: Beta carotene (50,000 IU, twice daily), Vitamin C (1,000 mg, every two hours), Turkey tail (2 – 3 capsules), Chaga, Echinacea/Goldenseal tincture (1 tsp., every two hours), Reishi (3 capsules, two times daily), zinc ( 10 – 20 mg, daily).
If a deeper, long term immune problem: Beta carotene (100,000 IU, twice daily), Vitamin C (500 mg, three times daily), Astragalus (3 capsules, three times daily), Reishi (3 capsules, two times daily), Turkey tail, Chaga and zinc ( 10 – 20 mg, daily).
By following some of these simple rules, you can see how to choose supplements for your immune system. It can also provide a checklist of issues to consider when choosing an immune product from the myriad of products available.