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How to Support Your Immune System with Herbs

How to Foster a Healthy Immune System

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Editors' note: Today on the blog, we've asked Amanda Jokerst, a certified herbalist and licensed massage therapist, to share her advice on how to stay healthy during this challenging time. We've both consulted with Amanda on our health and have been impressed with her care, experience, and especially her practical, evidence-based approach to herbal medicine and massage. Here in part 1, Amanda explains just why getting enough sleep, eating well, and other factors are so important. In part 2, she talks about specific herbs that can help, once the below steps are taken. Here's Amanda:

Many people ask me about proper immune system support and host resistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I've written up a little guide to address some of these questions. The best preventative measures you can take aren't very glamorous or exciting, but rather the boring ol' basics we've heard so many times that we often just gloss over. But it might be helpful to know just why these things are important.

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Sleep

Getting enough sleep every night may be one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your body, and your community right now. Adequate sleep promotes a well-balanced nervous system and a healthy immune system. Give your body the time it needs every single day to rest, restore, and rejuvenate itself. Aim for 8-9+ hours of sleep per night. Most folks require this amount for optimal health, and some of us will require more than this for a short period if we have been sleep-deprived. People who get below this amount are very likely sleep-deprived, which affects metabolism, cortisol levels, and immune function. 

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Stress

The state of our nervous system has a huge impact on the strength of our immune system. When stress hormones are high, immune function becomes depressed. I know it is so hard right now for many of us to feel calm. We don't know what is happening or what the future holds, and the world is rapidly changing on a daily basis. It is time to employ all of your favorite de-stressing activities and do whatever works for you to cultivate calm. This is the hardest thing for me right now. I've been finding my emotions bouncing all over the place as I take in the reality of what's happening. Spending time outside has been tremendously restorative for me. 

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Diet

As much as is possible, try to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, as well as high-quality fats and proteins. Avoid foods that you know you are sensitive to or may trigger systemic inflammatory responses. This is also a great time to emphasize fermented foods as well to help strengthen the digestive system. When our digestion is strong, we are better able to utilize the nutrients from our food, which in turn supports the health of our whole body.

Important Immune Nutrients

Healthy immune function relies on adequate zinc, vitamins A, C, E and D, and selenium, as well as B vitamins, iron, calories, and protein. Without these nutrients, your immune system will not be able to work properly. You may experience more inflammation and find it takes longer to recover if you do get sick. If you are eating a well-balanced diet, all you should need is a high-quality multivitamin and an additional vitamin D supplement. In my clinic, I use O.N.E. Multivitamin by Pure Encapsulations and Vitamin D/K2 by Thorne. We carry both of these in the shop, and these are the basic supplements I've been recommending for folks coming in asking about which supplements they should be taking. Low vitamin D levels tend to occur during the winter months and may play a large role in immune dysfunction and susceptibility to respiratory infections. I usually suggest 4-6,000 IU per day. If you know you are vitamin D-deficient based on recent lab work, you may require higher doses. If your diet isn't as healthy as you'd like it to be or you've already had some respiratory infections this year, you may require extra supplementation to get your body nutritionally replete.

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Skip the Sugar & Alcohol

Studies have shown that just 100 grams of sugar lowers white blood cell counts for up to 5 hours and causes them to be about 40% less effective at killing pathogens. High sugar intake also inhibits vitamin C from entering our cells, an important immune system-supporting nutrient. Additionally, many foods that contain sugar aren't very nutrient dense, and we fill up without giving our body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally. Try giving up or reducing sugar intake for (at least) a few weeks - your immune system will be so grateful.

Alcohol also depresses the immune system and inhibits the absorption of vital nutrients such as B1, B12, folate, and zinc – avoid it if you can. 

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Hydrate

Stay hydrated, folks! Divide your weight in half and drink at least that many ounces of water each day. Other options for fluids include herbal teas, broths, low-sugar fruit juices, and vegetable juices. Adequate hydration has tons of benefits, one of which is healthy mucous membranes that have healthy amounts of mucus. Mucus is over 90% water and is a very important part of our immune response that helps prevent pathogens from getting in and taking hold in our bodies. Our respiratory system is lined with mucous membranes, and we need them to be nice and moist to function well and resist infection, so drink up!

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Exercise & Movement

Spend time moving your body in whatever ways you enjoy. Exercise and regular movement helps to pump our lymphatic systems, the part of our body responsible for clearing out regular metabolic wastes, and plays a major role in the clean-up efforts for our immune system. Not sure what kind of exercise to do? Just aim for at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking each day – it's a very simple way to increase your lymphatic flow. 

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Get Outside

Even though we are trying to stay home as much as possible, we also need to get outside to feel the sun on our face, the air on our skin, and the ground beneath our feet. Take a walk, amble through the forest, sit by a stream, plant some seeds – reconnect to the land around you. We are being given an opportunity to slow down and be present for ourselves and the world, an opportunity to remember that the earth heals. A lot of us are scared, anxious, and lonely right now, and I know for myself that being outdoors provides a tremendous amount of comfort. I look at all of the plant life around me starting to bloom, I see the wind blowing through the trees, I hear the birdsong in my neighborhood, and I am reminded that I am never alone.

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About Amanda Jokerst

Amanda is a certified clinical herbalist trained in the Vitalist tradition of herbal medicine, a licensed massage therapist, and a certified practitioner in the Arvigo techniques of Maya abdominal therapy. She is a graduate of the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, a 1255-hour program in Vitalist Western Herbalism, botany, herbal medicine-making and formulation, flower essences, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, pathology, and herbal safety. Amanda grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and recently moved back after several years of study in various part of the country to open Forest & Meadow Clinic & Apothecary. She truly believes in the power of the therapies she practices, and says that offering this work to others is one of the most life-giving and soul-enriching things she's ever done. 

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