Written by Dr. Nicole McCulloch, ND
We often think about the immune system this time of year when colds and flus are becoming more apparent. I often get patients ask me, “Is my immune system as good as it could be?” This is not a simple yes or no answer. We know many things can affect our immune system. One thing that has a significant impact on our immune system is stress. Stress decreases our immune response, meaning that when we are exposed to different bacteria or viruses our body’s defences are not as strong. This has a significant impact on our body’s ability to fight off infection. So, what can be done to help decrease stress and to improve our defences? One of the best things is to tackle to the stress head on, meaning to deal with the source of stress.
There are two ways in which we experience stress, we have our ‘perceived’ stress, the stress we actually feel, and we have our ‘physiological’ stress, the stress response our body actually produces. One does not necessarily correlate with the other. We can feel as if we aren’t experiencing any stress but we could have high amounts of stress hormones circulating in our body. In order to deal with the perceived stress, lifestyle factors can be very effective, whether it be meditation, yoga, gentle exercise or even just going outside in nature. As far as tackling the physiological stress, herbs known as adaptogens can be very effective at decreasing our internal stress response, both at the physiological level but also the amount of perceived stress. These herbs, known to act directly on our adrenal glands (our stress glands) have powerful actions on the body and can be the solution to decreasing the stress. By decreasing the stress response, these herbs have the ability to in turn increase our immune defences during this time.
There are also some vitamins, specifically vitamins C and D, which are great at increasing our immunity this time of year. If your immune system needs a pick me, consider speaking with your naturopathic Doctor to learn more about how you can decrease your stress response and in turn increase your immunity.