Immune Health Program tailored to each patient
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
At the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic, I have established a program to help patients optimize their immune system to better deal with colds, flu, coughs, ear/sinus/throat and other infections caused by viruses and bacteria.
Patients benefit from the Immune Health Program by getting one step ahead of viruses and bacteria (i.e. prevention), and by being better able to fight active infections (whether acute or chronic). Although we are approaching the season where infections frequently affect the respiratory system, this program targets any type of infection including bladder infections, gastroenteritis (ie the “stomach flu”), stomach ulcers related to H.pylori infections, vaginal infections, pneumonia, sinusitis, skin infections, etc...
Let’s answer the most common questions about this program…
How do I know if my immune system needs help?
It is self-evident that during any active infection, the need to support the immune system to fight it off viruses and bacteria is important.
There are also many health conditions and symptoms that let us know that our immune system isn’t working as well as it should be (it can be weakened, overly responsive or causes too much inflammation in the body). Those that are at the top of my list includes:
- Frequent colds and flu (more than 2 per year).
- Colds and flu that linger for many weeks.
- If you find yourself saying “I never get sick”.
- Chronic congestion in the nose, throat or sinuses.
- Colds and flu that turn into deeper infections (e.g. lingering coughs as in pneumonia and bronchitis) or other respiratory infections (e.g. sinus or ear infections).
- Allergies (food, seasonal, environmental).
- Herpes outbreaks (cold sores or shingles).
- Persistent fatigue.
- Recurring Candida yeast infections (vaginal, oral, digestive, or skin).
- Digestive disorders (e.g. celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome).
- Inflammatory disorders (e.g. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc…).
- Any autoimmune condition (e.g celiac disease, certain thyroid disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc...).
How do I obtain a proper diagnosis?
Naturopathic doctors are trained to make a complete assessment of any active or chronic/reoccurring infections. In addition to complaint-oriented physical examinations, in-house urine dipsticks and throat swabs for strep throat can be conducted.
An integrated approach that sees medical doctors (MDs) and naturopathic doctors (NDs) working side-by-side is important. Referrals to your MD or to the hospital may be required if an infection requires additional lab tests or imaging studies (e.g. x-ray) to confirm a diagnosis or if the infection is best treated with antibiotics or other conventional treatment options.
Besides a virus and bacteria, what makes me at risk of an infection?
Numerous causes can lead to immune dysfunction and increased the risk of infections. Through individualized detective work, I aim to determine which cause(s) are most likely to promote infections for each given patient. Please read my previous column entitled “Take a common sense approach to infections” for a full review on this topic.
Remember that a healthy immune system is best obtained through a healthy body. The goal is to look for the reasons why your body has developed symptoms. Whether it’s stress, diet, hormone imbalances, poor digestion or inflammation in the body, the key to preventing a cold or flu (or other infections) is to understand and address your medical predispositions to a lowered immunity.
Is a fever helpful when I have an infection?
Developing a fever is one of your greatest defenses.
Supporting and managing a fever during an acute infection offers a time-tested way of improving the outcome of the illness. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (main ingredients in over-the counter medications such as Advil or Tylenol) are widely used for managing fevers and easing pain or discomfort during infections. There is little doubt that they are helpful in providing more comfort during an illness. But do such strategies that suppress fever actually help us fight the infection? Does it help us get over the illness faster?
Medical research evaluating the usefulness of a fever has discovered that a fever helps decrease the ability of viruses and bacteria to replicate while at the same time ramping up our own immune cells to combat the infection. As a naturopathic doctor and as a parent, I often observe that children recover quicker from an infection if they can mount a robust fever.
No doubt, a fever doesn’t initially provide good news. It tells us that someone is dealing with an infection. What now? What knowledge do we need to know about fevers to decrease our fears?
As part of the Immune Health Program, I provide info about fevers and how to use it to your advantage. Such knowledge will help you: 1) rule out warning signs of serious infections (which may require emergency care); 2) manage high fevers via natural means; and 3) understand the importance of hydration and the use naturopathic treatment options to address the infection. By helping the body fight the infection, fevers resolve quicker.
Is it always necessary to boost my immune system?
The way our body responds against a virus (or other microbes) relies on our immune system’s ability to fight the infections. Many would think therefore, to focus our efforts solely on boosting our immune system. But, is it as simple as using natural remedies such as Echinacea or vitamin C that are commonly used for this purpose? Although these remedies can be helpful, for a more long-term and whole-body approach, adopt a plan that promotes both effective and balanced immune system function.
As always, a combination of naturopathic approaches tailored to each individual provide the best clinical results. Treatment recommendations should be based on the assessment of how your immune system is conducting itself. The way the immune system responds can either be balanced (the response is effective and proportional to the threat), hypersensitive (such as food and environmental allergies, including seasonal allergies), underactive (as in a lingering cold), overly reactive (cause to much inflammation as could occur with the previous H1N1 infections) or out of balanced (as in autoimmune disease where the immune system starts attacking the body).
Should I get the flu vaccine?
Whether or not to be vaccinated for the flu is a complicated topic, one that is a very personal decision. Educate yourself about the pros and cons. Ask your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor about its efficacy and role in your overall health plan. Regardless of your decision, I recommend naturopathic treatments that optimize your immune system to prepare for ALL viruses (not just a few specific strains of the influenza virus) and bacteria is a great way to better ensure the safety of yourself and your children. For more information, please read my previous article entitled "Be informed before making a flu vaccination decision".
Are there specific naturopathic treatments for viral and bacterial infections?
An integrated approach that sees MDs and NDs working side-by-side to treat infections is paramount. On a patient-by-patient basis, the need for antibiotics (or antivirals) should be assessed. Antibiotic prescription should only be used for serious bacterial infections (e.g. pneumonia confirmed by an chest x-ray). All too often do I see antibiotic prescribed to patients when comprehensive naturopathic treatment protocols should be considered first. Because antibiotics are associated with numerous side-effects and because antibiotic resistance is becoming a significant health care issue, this medication should only be used if absolutely required and indicated.
Naturopathic treatments should include some or all of the following: 1) nutritional and lifestyle suggestions; 2) the use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses; 3) hydrotherapy; and 4) individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations. Many respiratory infections respond well using a combination of anti-microbials, immune boosters, as well as remedies that support/strengthen the respiratory system. Such an approach will not only address the underlying infection and reduce mucus production, but will also keep the body strong at the same time.
Because many symptoms are often uncomfortable, especially with acute infections, I maintain the importance to also palliate symptoms (whether via pharmaceutical medications or natural means). This provides increased comfort in a patient's life while the underlying causes are addressed.
Symptoms such as fever, mucus production, sneeze/cough reflex, body aches are caused by our immune system inflammatory response in its attempt to fight off microbes.
Many symptoms (fever, mucus, sneeze/cough reflex) are important physiological processes created by our body to resolve the infection. The overuse of antibiotics, anti-fever medications (eg Tylenol), decongestants and corticosteroids medications (eg Nasonex) can leave someone more prone to subsequent infections. Overly suppressing symptoms can even decrease one's ability to fight off the current infection.
Use these medicines only when needed to control dangerously high fevers, during risky bacterial infections, when symptoms make you feel miserable (especially if you aren't able to rest and sleep) or when you get exhausted because of a lingering infection.
On the other hand, when we naturally support the body to produce antibodies to mount an attack and successfully fight off the infection, the body actually becomes stronger in the process. The infection provides protection for future infections by creating 'memory' white blood cells. Mucus membranes (the lining of the respiratory system), the lymphatic system and white blood cells undergo a tune up.
Any treatment approach should also include preventative medicine. You and your doctor (MD or ND) should act as detectives. Whether you’ve just had an infection or find yourself with recurring infections, an understanding of the cause(s) is perhaps the most important action you can take for your health.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 in Times & Transcript.
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