During the fall season patients often ask me what boosts their immune system. However, the answer isn’t to simply boost the immune system but rather to have it signal properly. We don’t want mature cell mediated immune cells to continually be active, as that can lead towards an autoimmune response. We can, however, try to boost the INNATE or nonspecific immune response, which is the first line of defense. Be cautious with marketing techniques that claim their products boost your immune system.
The innate immune cells include the phagocytes (the garbage collectors: think pac-man), the natural killer cells (NK cells), and other dendritic cells.
According to research, agents that increase phagocytosis include (1-8):
Polyphenols, such as pycnogenol
NK cell activity is enhanced by (9):
Vitamin D, C
Medicinal mushrooms (Shiitake, Reishi, Maitake, Coriolus)
Eleuthrococcus senticosus (also called Siberian Ginseng)
I also like Chinese herbs for boosting innate immunity. The ones with the most research include: Astragalus membranaceous, Codonopsis pilosula (which increases macrophage activity), Panax ginseng, white Atractylodes, as well as the medicinal mushrooms (Reishi, Maitake) (10).
Cortisol, a stress hormone put out by the adrenals impairs phagocytosis, as does sugar, aging, diabetes, fasting and opoids (11).
For cold and flu season this winter I am using Vitamin D as prevention at high dose. One study found 4000 IU reduced the odds of taking antibiotics by 60% in patients with frequent respiratory infections (12). At the first sign of any run down feeling, I am using a nice formula by St. Francis Herb Farm called Deep Immune that has many of the Chinese herbs discussed, along with a throat spray by Wise Woman Herbals called Throat Mist, which contains echinacea, propolis and ligusticum as well as other supportive herbs.
If you have a product favorite backed by research for cold and flu season, leave a comment below.
Nari Pidutti, ND
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