Updated: Jun 5, 2020
With the start of back to school and all those back-to-school bugs that our kiddos bring home, parents are often asking about general immune support. These recommendations here are for the whole family, and and our favorites because the work so well, taste great and are very safe for everyday use in keeping those viruses and bacteria at bay.
Although we understandably dread every illness our children get and bring home, it's important to realize that our immune system remembers all these illnesses, and with every illness it gains more experience and becomes better developed to handle everything we'll be exposed to in our lifetime. As adults, these exposures are also "boosters", helping to maintain the immune system memory of those infections and continue to protect us over time.
A note about fever reducers...
Using medication to suppress the immune response, such as fever reducers like Tylenol and Advil, can do harm. Studies show these medications prolong viral illnesses, and Tylenol in pregnancy and early childhood may play a role in development of autism. We need to avoid these medications when possible, as fevers are rarely dangerous in a healthy child or adult. Fever is a protective mechanism of the body, which reduces viral and bacterial replication, stimulates the immune cells and helps fight the illness faster. Be sure to discuss fever with your doctor, so you'll know exactly what to do to stay comfortable when the times comes. We provide our patients with "Fever Instructions", to keep on hand for when a fever arises.
Now, onto the immune supporters!
Echinacea is the Purple Cone Flower, and grows in many people's yards. This tall flower produces isobutylamides and various polysaccharides which activate macrophages against microorganisms, as well as increases T-lymphocyte proliferation. It enhances the immune system's resistance to infections and stimulates wound healing. I have never seen an adverse reaction to this herb in patients, so I use it in just about anyone who needs immune support. Echinacea purpurea also has properties of a neuraminadase inhibitor, which is what Tamiflu does, but without any side effects! You can take it as a tea, tincture or capsules. Dose early and frequently, so at the first sign of an illness and every few hours or so. If you're allergic to flowers in the daisy family, then echinacea is not for you.
2) Elderberry syrup
These delightful little berries taste great and fight viruses like a champ! When it's made into a syrup, it's your kiddos favorite immune support. The berries and flowers are high in flavonoids which impart anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity. The berries contain high amounts of anthocyanadins which are powerful anti-oxidants and vitamina A and C. Elderberry can help prevent the binding of the influenza virus to host cells, which means it can help prevent the flu! Tastes way better than a flu vaccine feels! I recommend 1/2 tsp 2-3 times a time for prevention in children, and more frequent doses when sickness arises. Adults can take 1 tsp 2-3 times daily for prevention, and up to 6x daily when sick.
3) Vitamin C
Also known as Ascorbic acid, this water soluble vitamin is the main ingredient in popular immune support products such as Emergen-C and Airborne. This nutrient can reduce the duration of the common cold, it stimulates the production and function of white blood cells and can kill pathogens by being a potent antioxidant and protecting white blood cells from damage. It also has antiviral activity and help with differentiation and proliferation of B and T-lymphocytes (white blood cell types). In addition to it's immune boosting functions, vitamin C is also helpful in hypertension (high blood pressure), reducing cardiovascular disease risk, stroke risk and certain cancer risk. Vitamin C is difficult to overdose on, as signs of too much is generally loose stools. I recommend 2000-5000 mg daily as prevention, and to "bowel tolerance" when fighting an infection. If you get loose stools taking it, simply decrease the dose.
Selenium deficiency has been associated with immune system dysfunction and chronic inflammation. Selenium plays essential roles in regulating the migration, proliferation, differentiation, activation, and optimal function of immune cells, thus influencing innate immunity, B-cell dependent antibody production, and T-cell immunity. Selenium supplementation in HIV positive patients helps to reduces complications. It is also helpful in reduce auto-antibodies in autoimmune thyroid disease such as Grave's and Hashimoto's, Brazil nuts are high in selenium and a handful gives adults the recommended daily allowance, 1-2 Brazil nuts is plenty for children if they like them. For supplementation doses, please do speak with your physician as too much can be toxic.
Like selenium, zinc deficiency is associated with immune system dysfunction and increased susceptibility to infections. It plays a large role in immune system function, specifically for normal development and function of cells that mediate both innate (neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells) and adaptive (B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes) immune responses. Taking too much zinc for too long can deplete copper levels, so be sure to discuss with your provider if you plan on taking zinc long term. I recommend 30-60 mg in adults daily for a short period time when illness or deficiency signs are present. Dosages lower than this (15-30 mg per day) are safe for prevention in adults. Intranasal zinc (Zicam) and zinc lozenges are common immune support products.
Those are our 5 favorite immune boosters! Although there are many others, (green tea, vitamin A, D, herbs like astragalus, yarrow and licorice....) these 5 tend to be our most widely used immune supporters because of their effectiveness.
Stay healthy this school year!
Multiple studies listed at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C
Multiple studies listed at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/selenium
Multiple studies listed at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc
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