'Health is not valued till sickness comes.' - Thomas Fuller
April 14, 2006 8:54 PM   Subscribe

I need to strengthen my immune system.

Due to a chronic condition, I've always been prone to respiratory illness, and since I've become pregnant I've had at least three bouts of moderate-to-serious cold/flu/sniffle type things, with the latest being spending the last week in bed with what turns out to be viral bronchitis. This is not my first bout with bronchitis, but is, by far, the most serious and debilitating that I've had in several years.

I'm being treated for the bronchitis, that's not the issue. The issue is that my immune system seems to have taken a nose-dive while I'm pregnant (not unusal, everyone agrees), and I'm looking for thoughts on ways to beef it up now, and in general for the future.

Part of the problem is that while pregnant, I'm not able to dose up as high on Vitamin C and Zinc as I would normally do.

I've already gotten some suggestions from my midwife and my regular MD, but no two sources seem to agree on what really works, and I'm wondering what tips and tricks you swear by to ward off respratory illnesses and in general boost up your immune system.
posted by anastasiav to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Meditation has been shown to help a great deal.
posted by occhiblu at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2006

I am a great fan of neti. Make sure to dry your sinues afterwards
posted by daver at 9:35 PM on April 14, 2006

Ah, immunosuppression - one of the many joys of pregnancy. There's a good reason for it, but it can be a real pain. There's not a lot you can do, outside of the obvious: a very healthy diet, prenatals, moderate exercise, plenty of rest, low stress levels, and avoiding exposure to infectious agents where possible. And more rest.
posted by moira at 9:38 PM on April 14, 2006

It terms of getting diseases, one non-immune issue to consider is vectors. Reduce your exposure to groups. Wash your hands frequently, particularly before eating or after extensive contact (i.e. you shake a lot of hands at church or whatever).

Regarding the immune issues - neither vitamin C or zinc is doing anything for your immune system. C has been extensively studied and while it is essential for nutrition the large doses do nothing. Zinc does show an effect in reducing intensity/duration of colds, but I don't think they really have figured out how it works.

Look to the obvious recognized environmental variables that can affect your immune system:

Stress - the meditation suggestion is a good one, or even something simple like progressive relaxation. Try to simplify your life, a lot of women I think try to go about their business normally, as if they weren't, oh, constructing an entirely new person from scratch. Reduce your workload, at home at least if not at work. If there is ever a time to call in favors, abuse the significant other, exploit your friends and hold your parents' future grandparental access hostage, it's now.

Sleep - quantity and quality. You need more now than usual.

Diet - make sure you are getting a well balanced diet, plenty of fluids, blah blah blah, I presume you are getting a prenatal supplement.

Environment - depending on how your air quality is where you live, consider an air cleaner for the environments where you spend the most time. Try to avoid prologned exposure to traffic.

I'll assume all the no-brainers like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are a non-issue. Even if you don't smoke now more than ever is a time to avoid second-hand smoke.

And of course, moderate exercise, the cure-all.
posted by nanojath at 10:02 PM on April 14, 2006

Ha, moira beat me to it and managed just as well in one short paragraph. I bow my verbose head in shame.
posted by nanojath at 10:03 PM on April 14, 2006

Please don't use a neti pot or any other pseudoscientific baloney. At worse, you'll cause additional infections. At best, you'll waste your time.

The long and short of it is, unless you have a specific condition that is suppressing your biological responses (e.g. HIV), there's no way to "boost" your immune system. As mentioned above, sleep, diet, environment, stress, etc, are really all you have control over.
posted by frogan at 11:23 PM on April 14, 2006

I've always found that moderate stress fights off illness and relaxation lets it in the door. When I am busy and doing something I never get sick.
posted by srboisvert at 12:06 AM on April 15, 2006

srobisvert, I believe the scientific record shows the exact opposite: increased stress is correlated with a decrease in immune effectiveness.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:58 AM on April 15, 2006

Talk to your MD about Probiotics. Little helpful 'germs' that help boost the immune system. Think Yoghurt...
posted by Gungho at 5:55 AM on April 15, 2006

It may not be practical now, while you're pregnant, but I've found that moderate amounts of cardiovascular exercise, a good diet, and regular sleeping patterns help me stave off whatever is going around.
posted by scalespace at 6:48 AM on April 15, 2006

Vitamin B2 (aka Riboflavin) is your friend.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2006

anastasiav, I can't speak as to the health benefits of neti, I can tell you that dismissing a health practice as "pseudoscientific baloney" because it hasn't been through a sequence of double-blind controlled trials is pretty foolish. In the absense of evidence of his own, the most conclusive advice I think frogan should be offering is based on his/her own experience with neti, if s/he has ever done it.

But personally I have a hard time with the idea of deliberately pouring water up my nose
posted by louigi at 8:26 AM on April 15, 2006

I know as a pregnant woman you spend enough time in the bathroom but you might want to consider upping your water intake. Also it has been my experience that eating too much sugar in whatever form causes my immune system to nosedive.
posted by konolia at 8:45 AM on April 15, 2006

I'm not a pregnant woman nor will I ever be. But excersize has been the one thing that has increased my ability to fight illness.

It took a year, but, slow, steady excersise is the key.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:48 AM on April 15, 2006

Neti pots are just a more Holistic version of a treatment method that ENT physicians have long recognized improves the odds of routine URI's transmogrifying into worse sinus conditions.

So yeah, Neti pots are a lot more valid than say, vitamin supplements, and probably as useful as adequate rest and handwashing in the right circumstances.
posted by docpops at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2006

I just have to put in my word about using a neti. I had some medication-induced and spontaneous hypertension two years ago that arrived just as the pollen did in spring - which meant I couldn't take sudafed to get through the day. The only thing I could do was use lots of vaporub and start flushing my nose. All I can do is warn you that it's messy and you will go through a lot of tissues, but damn if it doesn't feel better afterwards. (YMMV, of course.)

My docs never had a problem with it - they had more of a problem from my reactions to sudafed and loratadine.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:18 AM on April 15, 2006

I haven't been pregnant, but my ENT just about demanded that I use a neti pot when I showed up in her office with chronic, lifelong sinus infection and random nosebleeds. These things have improved for me as a result of the neti (twice a day if I'm being good about it, every other day if I'm lazy) plus daily zyrtec. It's not baloney, if you keep your sinuses from being damp all day, and flush out the pollens and other stuff that gets stuck up there, less stuff will grow in them.

So yes, just make sure to "dry" your nose out when you are done, and don't let your neti pot stay wet either.
posted by bilabial at 11:35 AM on April 15, 2006

I was under the impression that genetics, not external factors, control immune response. That is, hygeine has negligble influence on rates of infectious disease.
posted by geoff. at 2:19 PM on April 15, 2006

What frogan said.

Then again, there's also the 'germ theory' of modern autoimmune diseases and allegies. Or rather - the lack of exposure to bacteria, viruses, and parasites in early development (and during gestation) is permissive for the development of abovesaid disorders. That is, thje lack of microbial exposure and the decline in breastfeeding (breast milk has lots of good "general" antibodies; it's a 'good' thing that infants are messy eaters - antibodies go everywhere and both directly destroy potentially harmful microbes as well as point out to the infant's nascent immune system what's a bad microbe as opposed to something that might be benign or even beneficial) has something to do with the increase in asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders..

Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, wash your hands, get more sleep (and relax - make someone else take care of things, if possible, while you're carrying), wash your hands, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, wash your hands, and stay hydrated.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:11 PM on April 15, 2006

Wow, Frogan -- I've never heard of neti being called scientific, let alone psuedoscientic.

In my experience, I've stayed healthy while my family's gotten sick while doing daily Neti. Conversly, when I have not been doing Neti, I tend to follow the same patterns of illness as my fam. I believe that it helps to alleviate my congestion and presumably helps to mechanically clean festering phlegm from my sinues.

However, if you'd browsed the wiki article I linked, you'd have noticed that "The technique is starting to be recognized by science under the term nasal irrigation". Linking to the article on Nasal Irrigation would have led you to the link to this this randomized, controlled study at the University of Wisconson Family Medicine site:

The group using nasal irrigation had improved quality of life, less frequent symptoms, and used antibiotics and nasal sprays less often. They were compliant with nasal irrigation, liked using it, and suffered few side effects.

Note that this study was done by a MD with a background in epidemiological research.
posted by daver at 9:37 PM on April 15, 2006

However, if you'd browsed the wiki article I linked...

Don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia. You don't know who's writing what.

Now, I'm sure there are tons and tons of articles from squishy-happy-feely ayurvedic types and naturopaths. At the end of the day, you're taking non-sterile water in a non-sterile container and squirting it up your nose. My ENT dismissed the procedure as being in the same category as high colonics and people that use candles to clean out their ear wax.

But hey, rock on with your bad self!
posted by frogan at 11:17 PM on April 15, 2006

Don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia. You don't know who's writing what.

daver links to an article that's not from wikipedia, but on a university web site - which makes it much more likely to be accurate.

However, it's debatable whether a neti pot can be likened to the nasal irrigation technique talked about in the article.

Actually, upon reading the links on the UWisc web site, it becomes apparent that the pot they used is remarkably similar to a neti pot. So there you go.
posted by lemur at 6:21 AM on April 16, 2006

Frogan, your ENT is incorrect, as sad or difficult as that is to bear. Tap water is actually generally as clean as packaged sterile water, and in fact an ER study on using it for wound irrigation in emergency situations showed this. The sinuses are about as sterile as your ass, just different flora, so running water through them to clear mucus and improve clearance of secretions that otherwise would act as a nidus for infection is much different than a colonic.

The life of a person with chronic sinus disease is pretty shitty, and sinus surgery generally is only reasonable as far as improving their situation.
posted by docpops at 8:00 AM on April 16, 2006

I have been very susceptible to colds and reparatory infections. Last fall, on a friends advice, I started taking a supplement called Colostrum. I have not gotten sick at all this winter, which is remarkable for me. I usually take one in the morning. If I’m starting to feel like I might be coming down with something, I take another.
Prior to this I tried everything, from echanachia to homeopathic to whatever else I could think of. This supplement is amazing. As I understand, it’s a dairy product. A little pricey, but worth it. Available in health food stores.
I checked the bottle, and there aren’t any warnings not take during pregnancy.
posted by HarryS at 8:01 PM on April 16, 2006

I checked the [Colostrum] bottle, and there aren’t any warnings not take during pregnancy.

But you'll probably be making your own soon enough anyway... :-)
posted by occhiblu at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2006

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