Granting immunity

Take a look at integrative approach to building healthy immune system

By Deb Dittner

Integrative medicine combines conventional Western medicine with complementary and alternative therapies.

Some modalities used in integrative medicine include but are not limited to nutritional supplementation, lifestyle changes, mind-body medicine, and traditions such as acupuncture, massage, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Functional medicine can also be included here as it searches for the “root cause” of presenting symptoms.

Integrative approaches are used in an individual way. Let’s explore the variety of ways in which you can encourage a healthy immune system.

— Self-care builds a healthy immune system as the body recovers from daily physical, emotional, mental and cultural stressors.

Developing a daily self-care regimen just for you is important to build resilience.

So, what do you like to do just for you? Reading a book or magazine, having a cup of tea, sitting on the beach watching the waves move in are just examples of what you can do for you.

Physical movement and exercise have many benefits including improved mood, thus decreased anxiety, depression and panic. All activities count with your daily progress causing decreased physical stress on the body. If you’re just starting out, incorporate moderate movement if possible for 30 minutes or more.

The most important step is the first step and you should continue to build upon that one day at a time.

Movement also helps lubricate the joints and can reduce mortality by approximately five years. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Some activities can be exhaustive and may actually decrease immunity.

Overtraining — stressful exercise that you fail to recover from before exercising again — will increase both your stress load and autoimmune symptoms.

— Be one with nature. Get outside and enjoy the warm sunlight against your face. This is especially helpful in winter when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be a concern.

Full spectrum sunlight will increase your mood and provide much needed Vitamin D that increases immunity.

Grow a garden and get your hands dirty. Gardening can also be utilized as self-care in decreasing stress and physical movement is realized with all of the bending and stretching. And the dirt also promotes a healthy immune response.

— Restorative sleep consisting of 7 o 9 hours nightly. Sleep improves all levels of your immune function, reducing stress, the risk of infection, and improving outcomes when infection does occur.

Develop a nighttime routine starting approximately one hour before turning in to bed. Eliminate all technology (TV, iPhone, iPad), have a soothing cup of tea, read a book, take an Epsom salt (full of magnesium) bath with added therapeutic grade essential oils, or possibly restorative yoga.

Time to relax

— Rest and relaxation support your immune function and the body’s ability to heal, while also decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and providing an overall feeling of wellbeing. Sitting in quiet, sipping a cup of tea or using acupressure techniques are all good sources of relaxation.

— Hydration and nutrition improve immune function and creates a healthy gut. Eating a diet of whole nutrient-dense foods in a rainbow of colors and drinking pure filtered water and herbal teas provide a healthy detoxification.

— Botanicals and nutraceuticals should be kept simple and chosen wisely. There are many respected resources with published guidelines such as the Institute of Functional Medicine, Hippocrates Institute, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, and Dr. Mark Hyman’s UltraWellness Center.

  • Vitamin D3, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is needed for optimal immune function. A blood test, 25-OH Vitamin D, will determine your level and supplementation needs. Vitamin D is usually low at the end of winter, and in elderly and those with dark skin.
  • Vitamin C lowers your risk of respiratory and systemic infection, supporting immunity. Low levels are typically found in the elderly and diabetics. Kiwi is a fantastic source of Vitamin C as are citrus fruits, kale and broccoli.
  • Zinc is a mineral supporting healthy mucosa and immune function. Zinc may prevent viral entry into cells and may shorten the duration of colds when taken within 24 hours of initial symptoms. Low levels may be found in the elderly and vegetarians. Foods rich in zinc are oysters, beef and pumpkin seeds.
  • Selenium is a supportive nutrient for the immune system and can be found in beef, oysters, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts.

By incorporating an integrative approach into your daily lifestyle, you will be boosting your immune function and become resilient not only to live a better and longer life, but creating balance in the body.

• Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at www.debdittner.com or contact her at 518-596-8565.

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