Your Drug-Free Guide to Seasonal Immunity

Your Drug-Free Guide to Seasonal Immunity

By Stephen Brenna, Pn1

Your Drug-Free Guide to Seasonal Immunity

Tis the season to be sickly, right? Temperatures drop, there's some moisture in the air, sunlight becomes scarcer, and we welcome in the pathogen parade. "There's a bug going around" becomes the commonplace phrase as individuals miss work, fall off their nutrition or exercise regimen, or otherwise annually mail-in the final few weeks of the year.

 What if I told you getting sick three times every winter wasn't normal? What if I told you it wasn't necessary? And what if I told you that it could be avoided, without pharmaceutical intervention, or a damp piece of porous cloth covering your face? Yes, this is all possible; and this drug-free guide to seasonal immune support can help you achieve it:

  • Get very cold, and get very hot

The human body is arguably nature's most adaptive organic system. Hormesis is typically defined as a beneficial or stimulatory effect caused by exposure to low doses of an agent known to be toxic at higher doses. These agents can be both chemical or physical, but here we're talking about the hormetic effects of both extreme cold and extreme heat. High temperature saunas and low temperature cold plunges (or other forms of cold-water exposure) promote an adaptive response from our bodies that significantly strengthens our immune systems.

  • Trust Your Gut

Our gut microbiome serves as the primary backbone of our immune system, with microbiota playing a pivotal role in the body's immune response to both pathogens and environmental stressors (such as injuries or chemical exposure). However, modern factors like the overuse of antibiotics, chronic stress, and poor dietary choices can wreak havoc on this natural defense system. Introduce or increase consumption of fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir, and foods high in prebiotic fiber such as garlic, onions, and asparagus. Also consider including intestinal healers like bone broth/collagen and miso to help support gut health.

  • Supplements

There are a host of different supplemental options for supporting immunity. From vitamins and minerals, to traditional herbs, to mycobotanicals (medicinal mushrooms), supplements can help fortify immune-boosting nutrition and lifestyle choices. Some immune support heavy hitters include: vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, astragalus, reishi mushrooms, turkey tail mushrooms, N-Acetyl Cysteine, and quercetin. This list is not all-inclusive, and it is neither necessary nor recommended to consume all of these supplements at once. Simply selecting a few of these options can provide a leg up to stay illness-free this winter.

  • Sleep & Stress

It cannot be overemphasized enough how critical adequate rest and recovery is to not only immune system function, but overall health. High stress levels combined with chronic sleep deprivation drive a sympathetic or "fight or flight" nervous system response, a biological "emergency" state where the immune system is suppressed. It is crucial to prioritize sleep along with stress management techniques to elicit a parasympathetic or "rest and digest" nervous system response that promotes recovery and repair.

Each of the factors above could be discussed in much further depth, as we have only scratched the surface of the complex mechanisms behind our multifaceted immune systems. However, complexity can be the enemy of execution, so don't get overly caught up in implementing every strategy listed above all at once. Incorporating just a few of the supplements, getting hot/cold a little more often, and increasing your awareness of your gut health and sleep habits can lower your likelihood of catching whatever is "going around" this winter. Keep in mind, exposure does not automatically equal infection! We are exposed to pathogens and environmental antigens daily, but if we have done our part to support our natural immunity, our system can protect itself without any need for pharmaceutical intervention.