If you’ve read our previous posts, you already know how much we believe in the wisdom and magic of plants, and in particular adaptogenic plants that support our well-being, helping adjust to the stress in our busy lives.
But— our love and respect for plants doesn’t stop there. There are so many herbs and foods that can do so many things for the body and today we’re focused on plants that can help support the immune system. Not only does a strong immune system help the body rebound from stress, it also helps us to avoid getting overly run down and plagued with unwanted illness.
With recent world events, it’s likely top of mind that protecting our immunity is more important now than ever. We need our immune systems to be strong to help us prevent illness or to ensure that if we do get sick, we will recover quickly and without lasting effects. When we are stressed, exhausted or just completely run down, the body is at a greater risk for sickness. Thankfully, with the help of adaptogens and other herbs & plant foods, we can help to mitigate the effects of stress on the body, and in turn, support our immune response.
Since we focus on the well-being of our bodies holistically, we look to adaptogens as a means for protecting the body against the many types of stress that negatively impact the body’s systems, including the immune system.
In understanding the relationship between stress in our immunity, things get a little bit technical.
The relationship between the central nervous system (CNS) and the immune system is mediated by the endocrine system. Our endocrine system includes our glands which are responsible for hormone production and have an impact on a variety of functions in the body such as regulating metabolism, growth and development, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood (Glaser et al, 2009).
The interaction between the CNS and the immune system includes the production of our stress hormones by something called the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and the SAM (sympathetic-adrenal-medullary) axis. In addition, the interactions between immune cells themselves take place through the production of something called cytokines, which are molecules that provide signalling instruction cells. When cytokines send feedback to the brain, this can produce changes in our HPA axis and cause the symptoms we feel when we are ill such as fever, loss of appetite and changes in sleep patterns, as well as depression (Glaser et al, 2009).
With this understanding of how stress can cause illness, let’s review some ways that we can reduce our stress levels and therefore decrease our chances of getting sick!
While no plant can magically erase stressors in our lives, Adaptogens as a class of plants, have qualities that support the body’s response to stress. Specifically, they are known to be “response modifiers that increase an organism’s nonspecific resistance to stress by increasing its ability to adapt and survive,” (Panossian, 2012).
Of course, if we can better adapt to stress, then we have a better chance of preventing it from a negative response in the body!
Aside from adaptogens we can’t forget the impact of food on immunity. Food in and of itself is MEDICINE! Yes, certain foods give off a healing effect that can boost our moods and help protect our bodies against infection.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you know on some level that your immune system is affected by the foods you consume. Our bodies need the amino acids found in proteins to build and repair, as well as common micronutrients and vitamins including zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E and B-6 (amongst many others) for a high functioning immune system.
On a very basic level, when eating to support immunity, there are two simple things to remember:
#1 Eat the Rainbow: eat as many colourful fruits and vegetables as possible.
#2 Consume Variety: different foods and herbs serve different purposes and benefit our bodies in different ways, so it’s important to have options.
The most obvious food that you likely consider when wanting to boost your immune system are citrus fruits because they are rich in vitamin C - which helps to build immunity. Specifically, vitamin C is said to increase the production of white blood cells which are key to fighting infections. Some examples of citrus fruits include: lemon, lime, grapefruit, oranges, clementines and tangerines. And, while we commonly think of these when it comes to upping our vitamin C intake, you might be surprised to learn that red bell peppers actually contain 3 times as much vitamin C as an orange! In addition, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, almonds, turmeric, and foods high in protein are among the list of some other foods that help in protecting and building our immune system for the properties they possess.
Many widely used herbs are considered “antagonists” to pathogens. In other words, this means that herbs have the ability to actively fight off microorganisms, such as viruses. Some amazing immune-boosting herbs to make note of are Echinachea, Ginseng and Reishi.
Stress is ubiquitous. Yet, for the sake of our mental health and our immunity it’s something that needs to be managed. Keeping our bodies healthy and well doesn’t always feel easy, but every little step counts. It truly helps to take some Time To Unwind!