Around this time of the year, a lot of people are sick and for just about everyone, it’s clear that their immune system could be strengthened. But what if you’re not sick or don’t ever get sick? Does that mean that your immune system is functioning optimally? What are some other signs that your immune system could use a boost, or rebalance? And how exactly can you support your immune system?
10 Signs You Need to Boost Your Immune System
1. I Always have a Cold
People often tell me that they always have a cold, despite taking echinacea drops or another store bought immune booster every winter. Your immune system might be weakened or distracted by something else in the body, inflammation for example. For long-term, permanent results, it’s important to not only boost the immune system but to address the root cause of the immune deficiency. Optimal functioning of your immune system relies on healthy hormones, a healthy gut and an overall healthy lifestyle.
2. I Never Get Sick
I often hear patients tell me that they don’t remember the last time that they were sick, and they say so proudly. But is that a good thing? This can often mean that the person’s immune system is so weak or distracted that it is completely unresponsive. In this case, your immune system needs to be woken up!
3. I frequently get infections – ear infections, sinus infections, eye infections, urinary tract
There is an underlying imbalance of good-bad bacteria or dysbiosis in each of the infections
mentioned above. Bacteria play a key part in keeping intruders out of your body by physically occupying space in your body so that bad bacteria cannot establish themselves and multiply. When you have an imbalance of good-bad bacteria, this means that your immune system’s barricade to the outside world is not strong enough. Populating your good bacteria means strengthening your immune system.
4. I have a chronic skin issue – eczema.
A chronic skin issue like eczema can often be treated with dietary interventions.2 Often your immune system mistakenly identifies a food as being foreign, tagging it with an antibody and forming an antibody-antigen complex. When these form in abundance, they deposit in your joints, and your skin – leading to eczema.2 Conditions like eczema require modulating your immune system to only identify and tag true intruders and not foods that we eat on a daily basis.2
5. I have seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies are a sign that your immune system is overly sensitive to the pollen in the air grass or to certain trees. This is contrary to many of the other signs that you need to boost your immune system, where your body is actually deficient. Just like having a chronic skin issue – your immune system needs to be retrained.
6. I’m always under a lot of stress.
Chronic stress suppresses your immune system, specifically your T-cells which recruit cells to an infection and help to ensure that the magnitude of an immune response is adequate.
Cortisol is also anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory interventions are often a good thing when they’re being to used to treat conditions where there is chronic inflammation. When cortisol levels are too high, such is the case in hypercortisolism, the immune system simply shuts down and the person becomes susceptible to a wide variety of infections.1
7. I have an autoimmune condition – Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis.
There is a common perception that the only way to treat an autoimmune condition is to
suppress the body’s immune response, creating a host of potential adverse effects.
Autoimmune conditions are often due to an increase or decrease in activity in one cell type or messenger. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, for example, is often described as being Th1 dominant, meaning that there are too many natural killer and T-cells. Lupus on the other hand, is said to be Th2 dominant, meaning that it’s due to elevated B-cell antibodies. Rebalancing the immune system to modulate the number of natural killer, T-cells and B-cell antibodies can often help ease autoimmune symptoms.
8. I have a chronic inflammatory condition such as Diabetes or atherosclerosis.
In chronic inflammatory conditions such as Diabetes, atherosclerosis or Metabolic Syndrome, immune cells must repair damaged tissue rather than fight infections.2 To further complicate things, many of these conditions are associated with an increased risk of obesity. Fat cells produce chemical signals that promote chronic inflammation; therefore, the more fat cells you have, the more inflamed you’re going to be.5 Decreasing inflammation, weight loss and repairing tissue are at the crux of any treatment protocol for these chronic health conditions.
9. My neck always feels swollen.
You have a sore throat, you might notice a few bumps around your neck, under your chin –
those are swollen lymph nodes. When your throat is sore, it’s normal to have swollen lymph nodes. It means that your body is working properly and fighting off an intruder. When your lymph nodes are always swollen, it means that your immune system is constantly fighting something and being tired out.
10. You have chronic gut issues – bloating, flatulence etc
Digestive issues such as bloating and flatulence are signs of dysbiosis or an imbalance of goodbad bacteria. This imbalance can lead to a number of downstream effects – eventually
compromising the integrity your gut lining, your largest internal barrier or barricade to the
outside world. This increases your susceptibility to foreign microorganisms you are exposed to everyday in your foods.
An overabundance of bad bacteria also produces harmful chemicals that damage your gut
lining, prompting your immune system to recruit even more immune cells to the area. Over a long period of time, this chronic inflammation causes leaky gut, allowing just about everything to cross the gut lining.This distracts your immune system and makes your body more susceptible to various infections.
The Bottom Line
A healthy immune system means minimizing distractions for your immune system so that it can focus on its main job – dealing with intruders. This means eating right, and making positive lifestyle changes to decrease chronic inflammation and prevent chronic health conditions. It means supporting your immune system using diet, supplements, and herbs.
How Can I Support my Immune System?
A healthy immune system requires a healthy mind and body. This means eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercising, stress management and other positive lifestyle choices.
When you do have an imbalanced immune system, it’s important to choose interventions that address the true underlying cause of your immune deficiency. These interventions can either boost or rebalance your immune system.
Boosting your immune system refers to elevating the activity of all your immune cells which is great if your immune system is generally weak. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work for everyone. In the case of several autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroidits, Asthma and Type I Diabetes, activity of only one cell type is affected. Increasing activity of all your immune cells will not address this underlying imbalance. It’s important to choose treatments that address the true underlying cause of your immune deficiency.
Want a faster, bigger immune boost? Intravenous (IV) injections are cocktails of various
minerals and vitamins that support the immune system and can make all the difference for
some. Intravenous injections are especially advantageous for those who experience chronic gut issues and may not be absorbing nutrients from their diet. Intravenous injections go straight into your bloodstream to where the nutrients are needed, bypassing the gut.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I especially love using herbs because of the countless ways that they can be combined and prepared, all leading to different effects on the body. This makes herbs especially useful for treating the underlying cause of the immune deficiency or oversensitivity, leading to a permanent solution. A few of my favourite immune modulating herbs – Allium sativa (garlic), Echinacea spp. (Echinacea), and Usnea barbata (Old Man’s Beard). Make sure that you work with a herbal trained health care provider.
Dr. Olisa Mak is a licensed ND with a general family practice in downtown Vancouver. She has a special interest in bringing awareness to the mind-body connection using homeopathy, botanicals and lifestyle counselling.
She is driven to educate, inspire and empower those around her. Everyone has the potential to achieve their dreams and goals but are often unable to because of their fears, perceptions and circumstances. Dr. Mak strives to work with her patients to remove barriers, empowering patients to seize opportunities and to make the life they want a reality.
1. Friedman, Michaël. Fundamentals Of Naturopathic Endocrinology. Toronto, ON: CCNM
Press, 2005. Print.
2. Pizzorno, Joseph E and Michael T Murray. Textbook Of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, Mo.:
Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2006. Print.
3. Kharrazian, Datis. Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal.
Garden City, NY: Morgan James Publishing, 2010. Print.
4. Mraz, M. and M. Haluzik. “The Role Of Adipose Tissue Immune Cells In Obesity And Low-
Grade Inflammation”. Journal of Endocrinology 222.3 (2014): R113-R127. Web.
5. Beever, Richard. “Do Far-Infrared Saunas Have Cardiovascular Benefits In People With
Type 2 Diabetes?”. Canadian Journal of Diabetes 34.2 (2010): 113-118. Web.
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