What to Stock in Your Medicine Cabinet This Fall

immune system


When I think of back-to-school the phrase “can you pass the tissues?” comes to mind. In my experience, back-to-school time always brings a flood of viral infections into the clinic.


It’s not a coincidence that back-to-school typically correlates with the beginning of our cold & flu season.


A ton of children and adults, thrown together in an old, dusty building, with poor air circulation just screams GERMS. Moms will come to my office all the time sniffling and coughing, claiming this is the third or fourth cold they’ve had that year! Stress, lack of sleep, a poor diet – all these things dampen your immune system so when little Tommy and Sue come home from school Mom is an easy target.


There are lots of things we can do to rev up that immune system and keep you from getting that back-to-school flu in the first place. I always like to start with what I call the THREE PILLARS:


  1. Stress Management – this could mean many different things for everyone. Find an activity that brings you the most joy, something that really warms your soul and fills your proverbial cup. Focus on YOU. Maybe that means you have a warm bath with candles a few times a week, or you hit a spin class after work – allow yourself the time and energy to focus on you.


  1. Proper Sleep – sleep can easily be interrupted, especially with little ones. To set yourself up for success I always recommend to avoid afternoon caffeine, no screens 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime, make sure your room is dark, and establish a bedtime routine.


  1. Healthy Diet – your immune cells need the proper building blocks to formulate an attack when needed. This means a diet rich in good quality proteins and healthy fats. It’s also important to limit your sugar intake (especially when you’re coming down with something), because you’re only fueling the fire.


Without these building blocks in place, no amount of immune-boosting supplements are going to give you the sweet, sweet relief you desire.  


At the end of the day, we are all human and even the 20km/day marathon runners who drink green juice and meditate 3 hours a day are bound to get sick once and a while. So when the germs finally win, here are 3 of my most HARD HITTING herbs and supplements to have on hand. Each function to boost your body’s natural immune responses and shorten the duration of your infection (score!) while dampening the symptoms you are experiencing. And because you started at step one, building the foundation, these recommendations will work that much better!


Reishi Mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidium)

Mushrooms are all the rage in the health industry right now for this exact reason. They are POTENT immune-boosters, working to enhance all your good fighter cells in the body. The polysaccharides of the mushroom is what’s important, without this constituent you aren’t going to be getting the benefit, so make sure when shopping around for reishi you are getting a hot water extract, or better yet, you are making your own tea from dried, whole reishi mushrooms. On top of being a cold-blooded killer when it comes to your immune system, reishi comes with a little side bonus of being adaptogenic and helping your body cope with stress and manage your cortisol levels more effectively. Reishi can also be supportive for conditions such as allergies, asthma, hormone imbalance, liver disease and cancer.


Elderberry Syrup

You might have heard of this berry being used as a natural cough syrup. Elderberry syrup has been found in the research to decrease pro-inflammatory cyotkines and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines making it effective in fighting off the Influenza virus. Elderberry works to decrease the adhesion of the influenza virus in the upper respiratory tract, so beginning to take it at the onset of symptoms will help keep your overall viral load down and decrease the duration of your symptoms. Researchers have also found that elderberry decreases the replication of NINE different strains of influenza, making it a potent alternative to the flu shot! A small study conducted in Norway found that 1 tbsp of elderberry syrup 5x/day at the onset of symptoms shortened the duration of the flu for individuals by 4 days when compared to placebo.


Vitamin D

Did you know that back in 2007-2009, Statistics Canada found that over 3 million Canadians had inadequate blood levels of Vitamin D? The study found that 1.1 million Canadians were deemed “deficient”, which meant a blood level lower than 30 nmol/L. Adequate Vitamin D status has been linked to prevention of debilitating disease, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as playing a vital role in proper bone health and immune function. A study conducted in 2010 looking at Vitamin D supplementation and prevention of influenza in school children found a decrease occurrence of influenza in the children supplementing with Vitamin D compared to those who were not. Optimal blood level of Vitamin D is between 90-100 nmol/L, and it’s important to test these values before and during supplementation to ensure you’re getting an adequate dose. Testing can be done through your health care provider. Long story short – if you are deficient, you are more likely to pick up those colds and flus that come home with the kiddos.


So what’s the take away from all this?


  • It’s important to establish a healthy foundation when it comes to your immune system – that means stress less, get a good nights sleep, and nourish your body with healthy foods.
  • To decreases your chances of getting ill, contact your health care provider to have your Vitamin D levels assessed. This can help guide appropriate supplementation and, as an added bonus, not only help ensure a high-functioning immune system but decrease your overall risk of developing certain cancers, MS, heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • If you do get struck down by the dreaded flu, stock up on immune-boosting goodies such as reishi mushrooms and elderberry syrup.


If you’re coming down with the flu more than 1-2 times per year it might be time to sit down with your ND and figure out WHY your immune system is letting you down. I love setting people up for cold & flu season success! To book an appointment, call Natural Choice Medical Clinic at 519-265-8035 or book online today.


In love & health,



Naturopathic Intern at Natural Choice Medical Clinic



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