Immune. My first memory of this word is from watching the show Survivor, with the person winning a challenge having “immunity” from being voted off the island. Then as I got older, the words “immune system” got thrown around when flu season came. It wasn’t until I started medical school that I fully understood what our immune system wholly entailed. By definition, immunity means protection. Our immune system is made up of a host of different tissue groups, organ systems, and specialized defense cells that are distributed throughout the body and its main job is to protect us from invaders that can harm us.
In the world of the current pandemic, this concept of protection is vitally important. And while masks, physically distancing, and vaccines are ready at the hilt to protect us from the virus, we can always do more to help ourselves.
I believe that the most important thing that we can do to strengthen ourselves is to have a proper foundation of health. This entails having adequate hydration, eating nourishing foods, getting enough restorative sleep, moving our bodies through some form of exercise, and participating in social connection. The next layer is then to support our bodies with nutrients and minerals that we may not be getting enough from our diet.
Now, what I love about Naturopathic medicine is that most of our medicine comes from the earth, provided by mother nature. Take mushrooms as an example. Specifically, let’s do a deep dive into Cordyceps, also known as Chinese Caterpillar Fungus. These mushrooms are chock-full of essential amino acids, B and K vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Most impressively, they contain protein fragments and polysaccharides that modulate the immune system by enhancing natural killer cell activity, increasing the number of helper T-cells (which activates all other immune cells), and increasing the production of IL-1, interferon, and TNF (pro-inflammatory mediators).
Imagine, all that immune support from a little growth on the ground that most people could care less about. And that is just one example, there are so many other herbs and plants out there that can provide plenty of ways to improve all the different aspects of our immune system. There are other immunomodulators such as Echinacea (Echinacea purpura) and Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), antimicrobial herbs such as Garlic (Allium sativum) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and diaphoretics (fever management) such as Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and this list is not even close to being exhaustive. There are many common and not so common plants that we see every day that benefit us in so many ways other than aesthetically and nutritionally.
So, what did we learn today? Our bodies are equipped to protect us from our germ-filled world, but we must provide our bodies with the proper foundations of health and support it with medicines that come from our earth. Also, mushrooms and plants are really cool so if you have the time, go learn more about them!
Disclaimer: while herbs and plants are readily available to consume, please see your Naturopathic physician or licenced herbalist before taking any of the mentioned herbs medicinally as there can be interactions with medications as well as contraindications that may result in harm.
By Angeli Santos -- BA Psyc and 3rd Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine, CCNM