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In focus this month:
Creating a Powerful Immune System
Dr. Martin Herzan BSc, ND, UnifiedPath Family Health Services
Even though the threat of the H1N1 virus has passed and the peak of the seasonal flu is behind us, I find many of my patients are still struggling with weakened immune systems and dealing with frequent sinus or chest infections or the rhinovirus - - the common cold. Keeping our immune system strong is essential, especially when we’re dealing with antibiotic resistant bacteria, unusual viruses and the recent community outbreak of the stomach norovirus (Norwalk).
As a licensed naturopathic doctor with 7 years of training in complementary medicine and 12 years of practice, I routinely investigate causes of weak immune status in my patients, helping them re-establish and maintain their resistance.
Simple adjustments in lifestyle can have an enormous impact in immunity. For example, just 4 hours of missed sleep can drop your immune activity by 30%. The pressure of the holidays, travel, work, and family responsibilities, if not properly managed, can further make our bodies more susceptible to infection by keeping the stress hormone cortisol elevated. Fortunately, moderate exercise, sufficient rest, and specific naturopathic therapies can keep this hormone in balance.
Many people are surprised to learn that as little as 75 grams of sugar found in candy, chocolate and even fruit juice, can lower your immune function by half for up to 5 hours. The most popular colas have 40 grams (almost 8.5 teaspoons) of sugar per can, and an average chocolate bar 20-40grams! The most common ‘energy drinks’ on the market have between 55 and 102 grams (12-21.5 tsps) of sugar per can! When was the last time you ordered your coffee with eight or twelve sugars – yuck!
Fortunately, there are specific, safe, and well-researched naturopathic strategies that act to increase our resistance and drop our stress hormones to normal levels. Most of us are familiar with the use of vitamin A and C, zinc and Echinacea, but when needed, there are stronger plant-based medicines that act as targeted anti-viral and immune enhancing agents that support immunity on many different levels.
I urge my patients to refrain from self-medicating as even natural products have drug interactions and dosages need to be specific to each situation (not just what’s on the label) in order to obtain the desired result without causing side effects. For example, the mineral zinc is essential in raising immunity, especially in the elderly, and has direct antibacterial properties but in too high a dose it suppresses the immune system.
Strengthening the immune system is important not only to prevent and manage the usual winter colds and flu’s but also to protect our bodies against cancer and other serious illnesses related to chronic immune suppression.
Extra immune support is also essential in patients who are frequently exposed to bacteria such as daycare centres and nursing homes, and also in the elderly, in patients on anti-inflammatories or those who have a history of frequent antibiotic use. I see patients with undiagnosed food allergies who continually struggle with immune problems that clear up once we identify their problem foods. Also, women going through hormonal shifts in menopause can face immune challenges without the proper naturopathic support.
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