Immune system support is always important and with colder weather now upon us, viral infections like colds and flus are much more common. Prevention is important – take steps now to keep these opportunistic critters away from your doorstep. Diet and lifestyle are the foundation for overall health, and nutritional supplements provide added ‘health’ insurance. The Mediterranean Diet is an excellent dietary guide to follow. Plenty of sleep is also vital in addition to stress reduction such as meditation, yoga, walking in nature and other exercise.
Most people are aware of benefits of taking vitamin C, quercetin, zinc, and echinacea for immune support. Less well-known and very effective immune support remedies include: goldenseal, lomatium, astragalus and reishi mushrooms.
Echinacea: When taken at the first sign of infection, has been found to be effective for reducing the incidence and duration of the common cold. Although the herb has been the subject of controversial study findings, millions of people continue to rely on echinacea to help protect them during cold and flu season. Studies have found that echinacea reduced the risk of contracting a cold by 58 percent, and another found that when echinacea was combined with other supplements there was an 86 percent reduction in cold incidence.
Lomatium: has historically been used by Native Americans for a wide variety of infections, particularly respiratory illness. Lomatium was reportedly used effectively during the influenza pandemic of 1918 which was caused by H1N1 influenza A virus.
In most viral infections including influenza infection, it is increased inflammation that is the primary factor leading to a poor prognosis. Lomatium regulates the primary immune system inflammatory reaction and the Journal of Restorative Medicine suggests that lomatium can benefit those with influenza A.
Goldenseal: has been used traditionally for allergic rhinitis, colds, sore throats, upper respiratory infections and influenza. There is preliminary evidence to show that berberine, an active ingredient in goldenseal, has antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic and antifungal properties. Berberine is often used to treat H. pylori infection (the bacterium that causes ulcers), urinary tract infections and infectious diarrhea. Goldenseal may also activate white blood cells, making them better at fighting infection and strengthening the immune system.
Astragalus: has been used widely in traditional medicine for over a thousand years for its immunological benefits. Today modern analytical methods provide us with deeper insights into the modes of action of various herbs. Studies have found that a major component of astragalus decreases inflammation and increases an enzyme that is involved in activating white blood cells. Astragalus supports natural defense mechanisms, and is used for many conditions, including upper respiratory infections, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Astragalus has always been one of my top favourite immune support herbs and I would commonly recommend it to my patients during the winter months.
Reishi mushrooms: are among several medicinal mushrooms that have been used for more than 2,000 years, mainly in Asian countries, for treatment of various infections and other health problems. Some of the benefits include: strengthening of the immune system, stress reduction, improved sleep, and increased energy. Reishi has been researched for its diverse compounds which have been shown to both potentiate and modulate the immune system and reduce stress hormones. Stress compromises the immune system and is one of the main underlying causes of most chronic disease.
It has shown inhibitory effects on several viruses including herpes simplex (cold sores and herpes 2 (genital herpes); replication of hepatitis B; reducing post herpetic lesion pain in shingles (varicella zoster). Reishi mushrooms can help for those who are plagued with these nasty viruses.
Vitamin D: is also very important for the immune system. Studies have shown that it can modulate both the innate and adaptive branches of the immune responses. The innate immune system provides a general defense against common pathogens (bacteria, virus, other microorganisms). The adaptive immune system targets specific threats and has precise responses against viruses or bacteria that the body has already come into contact with. The various components of the immune system work together to provide both types of protection. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection.
These immune support supplements are available as single remedies and in combination formulas. Speak to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop.
In addition to these important immune support remedies please refer to the Vitamin Shop Blog for more information on the immune system (September 2020), the Microbiome and immunity (September 2021) and Vitamin D (November 2021).
Zamechek D, Wenner CA. Lomatium dissectum Inhibits Secretion of CXCL10, a Chemokine Associated with Poor Prognosis in Highly PathogenicInfluenza A Infection. Journal of Restorative Medicine, Volume 3, April 2014, pp. 104-111(8).
Tang W, Gao Y, Chen G, Gao H, Dai X, Ye J, Chan E, Huang M, Zhou S. A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia. J Med Food. 2005 Spring;8(1):53-8.
Hwang BY, Roberts SK, Chadwick LR, et al. Antimicrobial constituents from goldenseal (the Rhizomes of Hydrastis canadensis) against selected oral pathogens. Planta Med. 2003;69(7):623-7.
Clement-Kruzel S, Hwang SA, Kruzel MC, Dasgupta A, Actor JK. Immune modulation of macrophage pro-inflammatory response by goldenseal and Astragalus extracts. J Med Food. 2008 Sep;11(3):493-8.
Martens.P-J, et al. Vitamin D’s Effect on Immune Function. Clinical and Experimental Endocrinology
Nutrients 2020, 12(5).
“Vitamin D study sheds light on immune system effects.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 April 2019.
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.