By Drs. Sue and Sapna
We’re getting a lot of questions about immune health these days – for good reason! Some are wondering how they can support their immune systems to keep healthy, others are trying to address seasonal allergy symptoms, and some are aiming to do both. Is it possible to do so? The answer is yes, and here’s why.
The immune system is highly complex. The main goal of the immune system is to protect the body from infection (viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa), and to recognize unhealthy cells, which includes those that have been damaged through infection, or non-infectious agents like sun damage or cancer.
We want the immune system to be activated when needed. If this doesn’t happen issues can arise like infection. However, when the immune system is activated without a real threat, or if it remains activated when it should have been turned off, other issues can occur – including allergies and autoimmunity.
When looking at how to support a healthy immune response – ie. effective for fighting pathogens, while not “overreacting” causing allergy symptoms, there are certain foods, nutrients and plants/botanicals that can help.
Emphasizing protein, and vitamin-rich vegetables – both are essential for healthy immune function. And both can help make the immune system more effective, and less “overreactive”.
Protein sources include legumes, nuts/seeds, lean meats, eggs and dairy (if tolerated). Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which helps support optimal functioning of the immune system.
For vitamin-rich vegetables, choose a variety of those that are brightly coloured. For example red peppers, berries, and citrus fruits, which are all rich in Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids.
Clinical Nutrition and Botanicals
When considering taking a supplement, it’s important to work with a Naturopathic Doctor to ensure they are safe, and so ideal dosing can be determined based on your individual needs.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased infections, allergies, and other allergic conditions such as asthma, and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Although Vitamin D is made through sun exposure, due to our latitude and not wanting to promote excessive sun exposure, Health Canada recommends for all adults to take 1000-2000 IU’s of Vitamin D3 daily. However in some cases we find it helpful to test Vitamin D levels to ensure you don’t have a severe Vitamin D deficiency where you would need a higher dose on a daily basis.
Helpful for both cold prevention and allergy treatment! When targeting allergies, we often recommend that the Vitamin C is taken with “bioflavonoids” including Quercetin. These bioflavonoids work with Vitamin C to stabilize “mast cells” (immune cells that make histamine), to prevent the release of histamine into the bloodstream.
You might know that zinc lozenges are a great for scratchy throats that come with colds but did you know that sufficient zinc might help reduce allergies too? Zinc is important in how histamine is stored in the body. A deficiency means that more histamine can be released throughout the body, increasing your sensitivity to allergens overall.
I think we’ve all heard of Echinacea for preventing/treating colds, but did you know it can help with allergies as well? It’s actually an “immunomodulator” – meaning when the immune system needs some support, that’s what it gets. And when the immune system should be toned down (such as in allergies or autoimmunity) it can do that as well.
It’s important to note that not all Echinacea products are created equal! You need the right species, the right plant part, the right amount of “active constituent” (the stuff that makes it work), and you need to take it in the correct way. Studies have shown that Echinacea is best taken for prevention of colds/flus, and at first sign of any symptoms the dose should be increased.
If you’d like more info about specific products or dosing, please reach out to us and we can determine if it might be a good fit for you.