What does a healthy immune system look like?
Is getting sick a sign of good health?
I asked these questions on Instagram last week and got mixed reviews, while 64% said colds = good health, many responses said colds are:
A sign your immune system isn’t functioning
A sign you’re not taking care of yourself, so the virus can more easily attack
Simply…healthy people don’t get colds.
So what’s the right answer? As with most things, it depends...so let's dig deep.
What is the role of the immune system?
The immune system protects our body and is in constant action. As our body is exposed to different environments and potential threats, the immune system acts as security and decides if those stimuli are self (our own cells = safe) or non-self (invaders = not safe), and then respond accordingly to get us back to our new “normal” to maintain Homeostasis (balance).
This happens constantly because we are always being exposed to new potential threats…food, water, dust, bacteria, virus’, pollen, cancer cells etc.
OK, immune system deems potential threat as non-self, now what?
Three main things happen:
Protective agents are initiated, inflammation may begin.
You see: Sore throat, headache, fever.
The threat is destroyed, expelled, or segregated (to lessen the effect)
You see: Cough, sneeze, runny nose, diarrhea.
When the threat is removed, the immune system send out messengers to end the response.
You see: You get better.
This is a natural, necessary process happening constantly in your body. It is also the process that is the cause of your seasonal cold.
How can immune function go wrong?
Mis-identification: The immune system identifies self as non-self by mistake and attacks it’s own tissues.
This is the main cause of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, psoriasis, or Lupus.
Too sensitive: The immune system identifies even the most minor non-self threats and then responds.
This is the main cause of allergies and can often lead to tissue damage (food allergies, eczema, dermatitis, hay fever).
Overreactive: The immune system correctly identifies non-self threats, but then overreacts.
This is different than #2 in that the body is correct in deciding a potential threat is a non-self cell, but then overreacts to it with extreme inflammation/symptoms. This is the case in situations such as H1N1 or Coronavirus where patients experience grave complications of the infection.
Under-reactive: The immune system can identify non-self threats, but then under-reacts.
This is seen in immunodeficiency disorders, lingering colds, recurrent infections – the body knows there is a threat, but cannot muster the response needed to take care of it.
Patient #1: “I never get sick, I’m the epitome of health!”
Based on what we know about the immune system, it should be expected that our body responding to threats is a good thing. This is why anytime I have a patient who claims they NEVER get sick, alarms sound in my head: if you never get sick, your immune system is not sufficiently responsive.
This can be caused by many factors, but under the principles of Homeopathy, an underactive immune system is typically a sign of a bigger chronic issue at play: your body does not have sufficient resources to expend on potential threats.
This is a bummer for some people (18 year-old me included!), because as their chronic issues improve, they find they are “more susceptible” to colds.
Let’s change that language though: they find their body is more capable of responding to non-self threats.
Patient #2: “I got sick, that means my immune system sucks.”
Yes and no. There’s a happy place around 1-2 colds a year that I deem “healthy” – it’s inevitable that we will be exposed to threats that require a proper immune response (cough, fever, runny nose, rest) and this is a good thing.
Body finds threat, body responds, body heals = good immune function.
However – getting sick CONSTANTLY, not recovering, or getting infections are not so good. Signs of a poor immune system may include:
Frequent cold and flu (more than 1-2/year)
Recurrent infections (Annual subscription to antibiotics is no bueno)
Cold/Flu that does not end, or lingers (anything beyond 2 weeks is a red flag)
Allergies (food, hay fever, dermatitis…)
Chronic inflammation (IBS, colitis, arthritis, eczema…)
Chronic infections (candida, toe fungus, cold sores, acne, rashes...)
Autoimmune disorders (Chronic fatigue, Hashimotos, psoriasis...)
How to build a strong immune system
There are tons of DIY immune boosters, herbal products, and expert opinions on how to “boost your immune system”, but no secret recipe will ever measure up to managing chronic health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Imagine if you shoved mud into your car engine, never got it tuned up or repaired, and then went looking for a magical “engine boosting fix-it-all”. Your body and immune system are the same: health starts in the day-to-day maintenance.
Heal Chronic Health Issues: When your body is consumed by chronic issues, it will have a hard time managing the immune system. Homeopathy can help get to the root cause and heal those issues naturally. (Blog: Chronic or Acute?)
Stop Suppressing: If symptoms (Mind and Body) come up, they need to come out. If they are pushed back in or denied expression, they have not been healed and will likely come again.* Homeopathy encourages the body to fully express and heal from illness and is non-suppressive when used correctly: excellent for Cold and Flu!
Reduce Chronic Stress + Manage Mental Health: When the body is in chronic fight-or-flight (stress), immune function is suppressed. Check out Managing Stress Homeopathically to start digging into the source of your stress and find a therapist that you like to help work through deeper mental health issues.
Improve Sleep: Sleep triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which enables the rest-and-digest processes integral in healing. If you’re not getting quality sleep, consult a homeopath and look at why that might be.
Nourish Your Body: Food is the fuel of the body and 80% of our immune system is in our gut. Refined foods, sugars, animal products are among the most inflammatory foods and should be limited in general, while boosting fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fermented foods, and plenty of fluids.
Get Moving: Exercise reduces stress, can help flush bacteria out of the airways, and is key for overall health. Bonus points for getting outside while you do it - especially in cold and flu season!
Supplements are Supplemental: If you live in a northern climate where sun is limited (Vitamin D) or if you have specific deficiencies (iron, B12, Magnesium…), supplementation may be necessary. While Echinacea, Elderberry, Vitamin C are all great immune supports in a pinch, a good healthy system shouldn’t need them. Treat them as extras!
If you suspect your immune system isn't in peak condition, take a look at the above list and see where you may be lacking. We are all lacking in some parts at some point, and checking in with the body is one of the best things you can do. If you're not sure where to start, connect with me and we can take a look at your health and lifestyle to see what needs more focus.
Health begins in the everyday. When you give your body the right environment, it will thrive!
*Some emergent situations call for suppression, this can be supported afterwards with Homeopathy – do not come off of prescribed medications without the support of your physician and please seek medical care as needed. Homeopathy is complementary to allopathic medicine, not instead of!
Interested in Homeopathy for Cold and Flu? Click here to download my free e-Book!