Supporting a weakened immune system -- what helps?
By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
Since the pandemic began I’ve received countless questions from women about what to do to boost their immune function. So many of these women are struggling with immune-compromising conditions that put them at higher risk for a serious case of Covid-19 — like Nancy, a woman who is in the middle of several rounds of chemo, and Karen, who has an autoimmune issue and is taking medication for it , and Donna, who seems to catch every virus that comes her way.
Each wants to know what she can do to protect herself at a time in her life when her immune system is not functioning as it should. Does this describe what you’re looking for too?
I’ve written before about the dozens of factors that suppress immunity. The risk is real, and for any woman coping with weakened immunity, I know that protecting yourself from infection is about a lot more than washing your hands and wearing a mask.
How suppressed is my immune function?
Immunity can be compromised by so many different health issues. For example, if you're one of the many women with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune issue, and have been prescribed Humira (adalimumab), a popular biologic for RA, you can see right on the drug’s website homepage a blackbox warning about the drug’s major risks for lowered immunity. So many other drugs for autoimmune issues carry similar risks.
Or, if you’re a women like Donna and feel like you develop viral and bacterial infections at a drop of a hat, think back on your health history. Have you frequently taken antibiotics in the past? Along the way, you may have weakened your immune system — 70% of which resides in your gut. Frequent antibiotic use can damage immune-protecting “good flora” in your gut, setting your up for new and frequent infections.
High levels of chronic stress can also be detrimental to immune function, which may also help to explain why you’re “always sick” with some bug or the other.
Chemotherapy weakens immunity — and for the millions of women who undergo these treatments, the struggle with lowered immunity can last much longer than they may think. Research out of the UK shows that the immune system can be compromised for up to 9 months following the last round of chemo, depending on the type of cancer and chemo you have.
So what can you do to boost your immune function, even when it’s been knocked down? It turns out -- quite a lot! Here are five things you can try.
#1 Move your lymph
The lymphatic drainage system and the immune system are best friends who rely on each other to keep you healthy. The lymphatic system is in part a kind of killing ground for pathogens and aberrant cells. It also helps the immune system remove and destroy toxins, dead cells, pathogens, waste, and even cancer cells.
Remarkably, even though there are liters of fluid that need to flow through your lymph system every day, there’s no "pump". Instead, the system relies on physical activity to move the fluid through it. Couch potatoes, pay attention! You don’t have to go to the gym -- you just have to move, but more is better! Walking, yoga, qi gong, or any kind of movement that you can handle will be hugely beneficial to keep your lymph moving.
So, try going for walks outside in the sunshine while maintaining distance from others. The CDC recommends maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from each other whenever possible. This one is not difficult for me! I am usually the only person out hiking in the crazy Arizona heat. I love to hike because it makes me sweat — and sweating is great for detoxing the lymph system.
If getting outside to exercise and sweat is just not possible, try an infrared sauna in your home. Or you can try dry brushing; it will move the lymph and detoxify the body. There is a dry brushing tutorial available here.
#2 Stay away from “waste”
All your body’s resources are limited, and the immune system is no exception. So if you’re immunocompromised, you want to conserve the immune resources you do have. One implication is that it’s wise to avoid touching anything that could be described as “waste”; i.e. picking up after a pet, taking out the trash, etc. to reduce risk of exposure to bacteria and viral infections. Consider this a great excuse to get out of household chores!
#3 How do I put this delicately? Have more orgasms!
Here’s a little known fact — when a woman has an orgasm, it releases the chemical DHEA, which contributes to immune tissue repair and overall healthy immune function. Having an orgasm also releases relaxation hormones that can help you fall asleep — good news for women who stay up night after night with stress-driven insomnia, another health issue that contributes to poor immunity. Orgasm can be a form of self care or a way to explore intimacy with your partner.
#4 Switch to an immune-supporting diet
Avoid non-organic meats and dairy as much as possible, as these foods contain added hormones, pesticides, and chemicals that will only add to your body’s toxic burden. Excess sugar has been described as putting immune cells “in a coma” so you really want to ditch sugar from you diet.
To fill your plate in a healthy way, try adding more raw organic fruits and vegetables to your diet. The live enzymes in these foods will help detoxify the body and boost cell regeneration. Fresh fruits and vegetables also contain many of the important antioxidants and micronutrients needed by the immune system for repair and optimal function.
Try exploring different varieties of mushrooms and leafy greens for their immune-boosting powers. You can also consider ridding your diet of grains, especially if you are struggling with autoimmune issues. Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated as a way to keep your tissues and cells, and lymphatic system, functioning at their best.
#5 Boost healthy gut flora
Supporting good gut health is crucial for boosting immunity and rebuilding your intestinal flora. With so much of your immune tissue living in your intestines, the health of your gut is directly connected to the strength of your immune system. Fermented vegetables like probiotic-rich sauerkraut and kimchi can really help, as well as a high-quality probiotic taken in the morning on an empty stomach or at bedtime.
Remember, as I like to say: I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor. So, please, if you do have weakened immunity, find a naturopathic doctor who can help you with the specifics for bringing your immunity back to robust health.
In the meantime, if stress is a major factor in your life, I also encourage you to pick one method for reducing stress and really commit to working with this method to see results. If you are having troubles sleeping, try melatonin -- it has added immune boosting powers too.
I hope you can get out on the trails to work up a sweat, or simply head out in nature to relax and soak up some vitamin D. It all helps! If you happen to find yourself in Arizona, be sure to look for me!
Last updated on 08/06/2020