Natural Ways to Support Your Immune System

So it seems everyone is trying to avoid getting sick by buying all the hand sanitizer (and toilet paper?). The problem with that is, effective hand washing with plain ol’ soap and water is actually MORE effective at removing surface bacteria than hand sanitizer. Using an all purpose castille soap such as Dr. Bronner’s will do the trick.

In addition to practicing proper hand washing, you need to support your immune system to be able to prevent yourself from getting sick. Whether it’s you or your children, someone in your household is likely sick during cold and flu season. How do we prevent getting sick? and if we do get sick, how can we manage the symptoms naturally? I have your answers.

Prevention is key. We want to support our immune system to be strong all year so we don’t catch a cold (or the flu or another virus). Our immune system lies within our gut. This means we can support our immune system from the inside by supporting our gut with probiotic supplements and fermented foods. Fermented foods include kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and brine fermented pickles (not ones soaked in vinegar and sugar). You might be most familiar with yogurt as a probiotic. While it’s true yogurt is fermented with good bacteria, ultimately there’s just not enough bacteria in the final product to support our gut. In fact:

“you would need to consume dozens of canisters of yogurt daily to obtain the amount of beneficial probiotics in a single high-potency probiotic supplement”

Caroline Farquhar, RHN

In addition, many yogurts contain unnecessary added sugars and sugar actually reduces immune function. Now, most children may not appreciate the tang associated with naturally fermented foods. Good news is, there’s plenty of effective, safe children’s probiotics on the market. Genuine Health and Genestra make high quality supplements kids love.

There are also safe probiotic supplements for moms-to be. Genestra maternity pro is specifically for expectant mothers. For everyone else, I love this brand.

When taking a probiotic it’s important to have enough food for the probitoics so they can flourish. This “food” is referred to as prebiotics and consists of resistant starches (a.k.a fibre) from plant foods. This would include vegetables, legumes and high-fibre fruits (like berries). So you can already see how beneficial eating a variety of foods can be when it comes to your immune system.

Vitamins for Support

Another way to support your immune system is with Vitamin D. Research supports that a vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced immune function. The very breif description is that vitamin D works with the cells of your immune system to strengthen it. The safe upper limit for vitamin D consumption is considered to be 4,000IU however, more is recommended to correct deficiency. A simple, inexpensive blood test can determine your vitamin D levels and you can work with your naturopath, RHN, or FMD to determine appropriate supplementation. I personally take 6000-8000 IU during cold and flu season and 3000-4000 during the summer months when I have more sun exposure. Here is the link to Health Canada’s recommendations for all ages. Unless otherwise discussed with your primary care provider, you can use these guidelines for babies and small children.

Vitamin C is another vitamin important for immune function because vitamin C helps create white blood cells which fight infection. You can take vitamin C in a supplement form but there are a variety of foods rich in vitamin C such as:

  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Sweet Potato

I would focus on whole food sources especially for children. If you do take a supplement, it’s important to point out that vitamin C is water soluble. This means you pee out the extra your body doesn’t need so it is considered safer for that reason. You can however take too much (just like anything else) and diarrhea is typically a symptom. I take 3000-4000mg of vitamin C (while I was pregnant and while breastfeeding) to support my immune system.

Zinc is a mineral that also plays a role when it comes to immunity. Organ meats are an excellent source of zinc as are oysters. I’ll bet you’re not a huge fan of consuming these foods. Good news is, you can find it in other foods and zinc is available as a supplement. Things get delicate though, when it comes to supplementing with minerals as too much of one can inhibit the absorption of another. I wouldn’t take additional zinc (beyond what’s found in your multi vitamin or a lozenge) unless you’ve discussed this with your naturopath or functional medicine doctor. Additional food sources of zinc include:

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Fortified whole grains
  • Almonds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Eggs

Again, demonstrating the benefits of varied diet.

Stress and Immune Function

Did you know stress is a key factor in how strong our immune systems are? When our bodies are under stress, our immune system becomes weakened making us more susceptible to illness. The reason for this is cortisol. Cortisol is one of the hormones released when we are stressed. One of it’s functions is to temporarily supress the immune system. This means over time, chronic stress leads to reduced immune function. So, keeping our stress levels low is important for strong immunity. We can support our body’s response to stress with the use of adaptogens which are herbs that help balance our immune system by nourishing the adrenal glands (small glands that sit above our kidneys and produce stress hormones). Some of these herbs include Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Siberian Ginseng and Maca. While there are herbs that are considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, there are many herbs that are unsafe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Discuss with a trained herbalist or naturopath prior to consumption. I would follow this for children as well. It’s naive to assume children don’t experience stress. We know they do. This product helps children with nervousness and anxiety.

A lack of sleep is also a stressor on the body and will weaken your immune system. It’s important to do what you can to get a good night’s rest. This might mean shutting off electronics an hour before bed and finding a different way to wind-down. A note for new moms: trying to get a good night’s rest is an outlandish request, I know. I have been there (and still am). Just sleep when you can and keep reading to find out what you can safely take if you do get sick.

Supporting with Food

In addition to the foods already listed with respect to vitamin C and zinc, you can help support your immune system with other foods you might already be eating. Garlic is an excellent anti-bacterial and great for immune health. Raw honey is full of enzymes and immune supporting compounds (though typically should not be given to children under 2 years).

Reducing the amount of sugar you are eating will benefit your immune system as well. I am referring to refined sugar such as cookies, pastries, pop and packaged foods not the natural sugars found in fruits. Refined sugar weakens the immune system so leaving it out of your diet is helpful. Reducing or eliminating the amount of alcohol you are consuming will also support your immune system. This is because just like sugar, alcohol dampens the immune system.

Natural Health Products to Reduce Symptoms

So what happens if we do get sick? Well, you can help manage the symptoms with the below natural health products. I have used all of these in the past so they are some of my favourites. There are products appropriate for adults, children and even pregnant and lactating women!

  • Echinacea (A. vogel) is a herb that’s long been used to fight infection. I love this brand because it works! It’s anti-bacterial and anti-viral. This brand is also safe for pregnancy and lactation and their research supports safety and efficacy for preventative use for 4 months. This means you can take it as a preventative but if you do get sick, you can take it to manage symptoms. Just follow the dose on the bottle.
  • Elderberry Syrup (Suro) is available for children and adults and is wonderful when it comes to reducing the symptoms of colds and flu. This one is not recommended if you’re pregnant and breastfeeding however.
  • Medicinal Mushrooms such as Shiitake, Maitake, Chaga and Reishi are incredible immune modulators which means they help boost the immune system (Purica, Four Sigmatic) They help fight off bacteria and viruses. These should not be consumed by pregnant and breastfeeding women or young children without first consulting a naturopathic or functional medicine doctor.
  • Oregano oil is an incredible force when it comes to fighting bacteria and viruses. (not for pregnancy or breastfeeding or kiddos) St. Francis Herb Farm offers an excellent oregano product. You can take this at the first sign of infection. A couple drops under the tongue is all you need. Word to the wise, it’s spicy! And quite potent.
  • Deep Immune by St. Francis Herb Farm is a fantastic product that can be used to keep the immune system strong all season. This is safe for adults and there’s a kiddos version. It is not safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I hope you found a little comfort in knowing you ARE in control of your immune system and there are other measures that can be taken to support the health of you and your family.

If you found this informative, please share so we can spread the word about natural immune support


Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes. We do not yet know what cures/treats COVID-19. We do know we need to properly wash our hands and stay away from infected individuals to prevent the spread. If you believe you have the symptoms of COVID-19 do not hesitate to get yourself checked out.