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Natural Immunity - Naturopathic Support

Natural Immunity - Naturopathic Support

Natural Immunity - Naturopathic Support

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About the Author

Asti Renaut

Asti Renaut (BHSc. Comp Med, BA, Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip Herb Med, MNZAMH)

Asti Renaut is a degree-qualified medical herbalist and naturopath with over ten years clinical experience. Asti practices in Christchurch, New Zealand, treating a wide range of health issues. She especially enjoys working with infants and children, and finally has one of her own to practice on! One of the cornerstones of Asti's practice and philosophy is the importance of education and sharing information. She believes that empowering clients to understand their own bodies and health, and giving practical tips and tools to use from the garden and kitchen are just as important for wellness as qualified professional care. 

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What is immunity? A basic understanding of our immune system helps us to figure out how we can support and improve it. The ‘first line’ or ‘front line’ of the immune system is actually our tissues themselves. An obvious example is skin- it separates our insides from our outsides and stops the bugs getting in! The skin is a kind of porous covering that some stuff can get through but most stuff can’t. Some of the other such membranes in the body are inside our noses and sinuses, inside our mouths and throats and right throughout our gut. Having strong intact robust tissues and membranes is the foundation of good immunity.

The second line of defense in our system of immune response includes the white blood cells which mobilise to attack invaders and stop them spreading throughout the body. Some of these cells ‘eat’ the bad guys, such as macrophages, while others destroy them by other means, such as Natural Killer Cells (yes that’s really their name!). After these two lines of defense, the third line is the ‘specific’ forces, those cells that have been trained to identify and attack specific targets (this is where antibodies come in).

One of the main principles of naturopathy is that “prevention is better than cure”. A good immune system is not only constantly fighting off potential invaders (bacteria, viruses etc), it also identifies and neutralises rogue cells that aren’t developing properly, such as cancerous cells. One of the key and most wonderful things about natural medicine is that it gives us tools to improve our immunity, not just offering an ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ for when infection gets the better of us.

Echinacea The root of the echinacea plant has been shown to enhance immunity in several ways:

  • Increasing the production of immune chemicals that activate macrophages (a kind of white blood cell as mentioned above)
  • Increased ability of macrophages to ‘eat up’ the invaders
  • Increased antibody activity
  • Increased Natural Killer Cell activity
  • Increased levels of white blood cells on the job
  • Increased levels of white blood cells getting to the site of the battle when needed!
  • Is directly anti-viral
  • Reduces bacteria spreading

That is a phenomenal list of achievements for one single medicine! Echinacea root can be taken preventatively at one dose daily, or increased to four doses daily as treatment for infection with Kiwiherb Echinature and Children's Echinature. Remember that only a high quality extract will have these effects; make sure you get the ‘tingle’ on your tongue when you take your echinacea which shows it is high in the active constituent, the alkylamides.

Other herbal medicines are also beneficial for the immune system, such as Olive Leaf, while some help to support specific tissues and functions. For example, herbs such as Mullein have an affinity with the lungs, helping to provide immune support for those who are prone to respiratory infections in winter. Herbs such as Marshmallow and Ribwort support the health of all ‘mucus membranes’, those membranes we discussed right back at the beginning, inside our noses and throats and guts!

Diet, Nutrition and Nutrients

  • Diet plays a huge role in our immune function, as our food provides the building blocks for our immune cells (white blood cells) and determines the health of our tissues. When our tissues are healthy they have better immune defence. Specific deficiencies have negative impacts on our immunity: Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Iodine, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin D are all linked to reduced ability to fight infections.
  • Avoid or reduce foods that don’t agree with you, as well as ‘empty’ foods that have little nutritional content such as alcohol, refined sugars and flours. Sugars have a direct impact on reducing some white blood cells’ ability to ‘eat’ up or kill invading organisms. Increasing quality proteins and fresh vegetables is key to building good immune function. Other stars such as blueberries and blackcurrants can offer specific benefits, as can adding turmeric and fresh garlic to your diet especially over winter.

Reduce stress and increase positivity. An increasing body of research proves that the more positive and relaxed we are, the better our immune system is. Grief, stress and depression all significantly impact our ability to fight infections and provide good immune response.

Another main principle of naturopathy is the importance of education. Sharing information about good health practices empowers people to make better choices and have the right tools at their disposal when needed. In essence, choose quality natural medicines, quality whole foods, quality company and quality time to improve your immune function and wellness this winter.