Health Matters, October 2023

Support Your Immune System

By Jane Valencia

Note: Links within the article are to articles and recipes previously published in the Vashon Loop.

As we enter Autumn and the flu season, a responsible thing we can do for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community is to ensure that we ourselves are in excellent health. Here are three avenues to tend to your immune resilience.

1. Tend yourself and your family like a garden

A garden that thrives is one in which plants are planted according to their needs for sun, shade, water, soil, and climate conditions. When plants are in good health and in community – as opposed to monocropped — pathogens and pests have a difficult time taking hold, much less spreading. Just so with us. We need healthy and diverse foods, appropriate pure water and sunlight, and other vital and vibrant aspects for an environment that supports us – including companionship.

Eat whole foods, get good sleep, and, on a frequent basis, get good exercise, or at least take vigorous walks. We are also so much more than the things we eat and the ways we tend our physical health: do what you can to reduce stress! This may range from practices of prayer and mindfulness, to making life changes to remove yourself from continually upsetting situations, to engaging in life with curiosity and openness, and cultivating a positive outlook.

Tend to healthy relationships. Meet friends for tea or a walk. Smile, laugh. Have heart-to-heart conversations. Spend time in nature. On Vashon, we have a great boost in all of this. We like to connect with friends, to collaborate on projects, celebrate or grieve together, and engage in gatherings and in work that are meaningful to us. We are surrounded by forests1 and shore, and have clean air. Joyful, healthy living in community, and time in nature, nourishes our vitality and our immune systems.

More specifically:

“Our emotions play a central role in the functioning of our immune systems—so much so, that there’s a whole field of science called psychoneuroimmunology. Our moods – and sense of connection – have a profound effect on our white blood cells (the immune cells, such as B cells, T cells, natural killer [NK] cells, and macrophages). Feelings of stress and social isolation are some of the biggest immune “downers” out there. Stress hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, weaken immune function. Conversely, when we are relaxed and happy, our cells produce neuronal signaling molecules such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and relaxin, which have a strengthening effect on the immune system.”2

2. Specifically tend your immune resilience.

Some physicians feel that the so-called flu season might be more appropriately designated as “Vitamin D Winter” or “Vitamin D deficiency season.” With cooler seasons and the decreased sun and time out in it, our Vitamin D levels diminish. Illness tends to follow. Studies have found that those who suffered severe COVID-19 illness, had extremely low Vitamin D levels. Those who maintained their levels weathered COVID-19 much better. See our article on Vitamin D here.

To make sure your Vitamin D levels are sufficient: Be outside in the middle of the day when you can. This is likely not going to be enough in our winter months; therefore, you might also supplement with Vitamin D. Educate yourself on Vitamin D3 with K2, and check with someone or a resource you trust if you want to verify your approach.

Optimize omega-3 fatty acids, including both EPA and DHA, as they are immunomodulating.3 Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, and seaweed. If you decide to supplement, be sure to obtain good-quality fish oil.

Herbally, you might amp up your garlic intake by including it more frequently in your foods. Garlic is a potent immune system tonic and antimicrobial herb. Honey is also immune-building.3 You could make Fire Cider, or another herbal tonic, and enjoy throughout the season. Elderberry syrup, adding astragalus root to your soups or decoctions (herbal roots or barks that one simmers to extract the constituents), making soups with medicinal mushrooms and bone broth, teas with immune-supportive herbs that have an affinity for the respiratory system, smudging your house from time to time with antimicrobial herbs such as rosemary and red cedar – all of these can help support you during the fall and winter. See the resources below to find out more.

3. Adjust your routines as needed.

Stay home or keep your distance if you feel yourself vulnerable or under the weather. If you feel illness coming on, stay home. If you can, take time to fully recover.

Seek help from your community when you need it. Recognize that illness is natural. Our immune systems need to meet up with colds and flus to stay optimized.

Should you wear a face mask? The choice, as it always should be, is yours. Be sure to read our article here to understand what masks can and can’t do, and other issues related to mask wearing. Are you considering the COVID-19 booster shot? Past Loop owner-editor March Twisdale has written on the topic here.

When it comes to supporting our immune health, we are not and have never been helpless. Mentioned here are only a few drops in a sea of diverse, plentiful, time-honored approaches for nourishing one’s immune health. No doubt you can think of many more that I have not considered.

What are ways that you keep yourself and your loved ones healthy in the winter season? Please share your remedies and practices with one another and with us! We all benefit from learning from one another.


1Lower COVID-19 mortality in Italian forested areas suggests immunoprotection by Mediterranean plants by Valentina Roviello, Giovanni N Roviello

2Introduction to Immune Stimulants, Immunomodulators, and Antimicrobials, by Juliet Blankespoor, Chestnut School of Herbalism

3Acute Viral Respiratory Infection: Prevention and Therapeutices, presentation by Paul Bergner, North American Institute of Medical Herbalism

4Prospects of honey in fighting against COVID-19: pharmacological insights and therapeutic promises by Khandkar Shaharina Hossain, Md. Golzar Hossain, Akhi Moni,Md. Mahbubur Rahman, Umma Habiba Rahman, Mohaimanul Alam, Sushmita Kundu, Md. Masudur Rahman, Md. Abdul Hannan, and Md Jamal Uddin

Recipes and Articles in The Vashon Loop:

The Wonders of Licorice by Kathy Abascal

Horseradish & Fire Cider Recipe by Eva Deloach

Kitchen Medicine by Marjorie Watkins and Suzanna Leigh

Yes! Supplement With Vitamin D To Protect From COVID-19 by Caitlin Rothermel

Masks For All Doesn’t Work – A Practical Dilemma by Caitlin Rothermel

Find Out More:

Herbs for Immune System Support – Chestnut School of Herbalism blog articles on the topic

Past Loop owner-editor March Twisdale writes from time to time on health on her substack, Our Thoughts Matter.

October 11, 2023

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.