By Dr. Teri Goetz, DACM, LAc

It has been an intense flu and virus season, hasn’t it? My patients are asking for ways to strengthen their natural immune system and hopefully prevent getting sick. Besides following the CDC recommendations found here, there are natural ways to help build your immunity. The recommendations here are in addition to the everyday prevention strategies we too often overlook.

In Chinese medicine, the best way to fight an infection is with a strong natural immune system, called Wei Qi or, protective qi. When it’s strong, we weather exposure remarkably well. If it’s not, then disease enters the body. Protective qi (your natural immune system) is derived from a healthy diet (mostly plant based, not processed and, ideally, organic), moderate exercise, solid sleep, drinking plenty of water and herbal tea, breathing fresh air, and limiting our exposure to toxins. In other words, we absorb nutrients and utilize oxygen to create a strong immune system or protective qi. In addition, it is important to keep your gut in good health because up to 70-80% of your immune cells are found there.

The goal is to build a strong natural immune system so that, if you are exposed, you can beat the viral or bacterial load before it has a chance to replicate significantly. Some things you can easily do now to keep your body’s defenses strong:

  • Remember that food is medicine, so eat a clean diet with LOTS of green leafy and vibrant-colored vegetables, which are full of antioxidants and nutrients. Look especially to broccoli, green leafies, red peppers, elderberries, blueberries, acai berries, sweet potatoes, miso, foods high in zinc, like oysters, assuming they’re clean, legumes –soak or sprout first, dark chocolate, hemp seeds, cashews, and spices as listed below.
    — Note: red bell peppers and citrus are high in Vitamin C (red peppers are the highest!) and are thought to help build white blood cells. (Caution—citrus produces phlegm, so if you’re sick, find another form of Vitamin C.)
  • Exercise moderately. We’re not exactly sure how (there are many theories), but we do know that exercise builds immunity. You can over-exercise, especially if you’re sick. If you exercise regularly, this doesn’t mean increase the amount, just keep it steady. Moderate exercise, like taking 20-30+ minute walks, bicycling, or playing golf, all count as exercise and should be incorporated into daily life. Count your steps and work to gently increase them, if you’re falling far below the 10,000 step mark. (Though somewhat arbitrary, this number seems to be one that positively impacts health.) Get outside and breathe some fresh air!
  • Yoga is a great way to stimulate your lymph system, which is one of your body’s first lines of defense. One of the most important jobs of the lymphatic system is to filter and transfer antibodies and good lymphocytes as well as bacteria. It signals your body’s infection fighting cells to keep you healthy.Dry brushing also helps increase lymphatic drainage. You can look this up online, but just remember that the lymph network is fairly superficial, so gentle, light strokes toward the heart are best

As always, please check herb-drug interactions. Plant medicine is very safe when used properly but can interact with medicines you may be taking. Please check with your healthcare provider. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor. It is always best to consult with a knowledgeable health care provider for your specific needs.

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