2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Getting Tough With Your Immune System

Originally published Dec 2015

No reasonable physician (I modestly include myself here) can refrain from crowing delightedly when a new clinical study confirms the value of a treatment he or she had been using for years, even if that treatment had contradicted prevailing standards.

Ever since I learned something about natural medicine, I’ve been reluctant to prescribe antibiotics for respiratory tract infections, such as colds, sore throats, and bronchitis. Many physicians had issues with this question. The debate was really nothing more than “Do we or don’t we?” boiled down to “Are antibiotics actually doing anything?” with the cautionary add-on “Are antibiotics preventing a worse infection, like pneumonia?”

A couple of decades ago, when a spate of antibiotics hit the market and drug reps clogged our offices with cases of freebies, if you looked at a doctor cross-eyed you’d leave with an antibiotic. Even though doctors knew most respiratory infections were caused by viruses (which antibiotics can’t touch), to cover ourselves we prescribed them anyway, worried about so-called secondary infections, malpractice suits, and the economic cost of dissatisfied patients.

Both physicians and patients became victims of this antibiotic delusion. One interesting survey reported that when doctors had a cold or flu, they themselves took antibiotics and acknowledged that any clinical success might be attributed to a self-induced placebo effect. Despite all this, a majority of patients seeing a doctor for a stuffy nose, sore throat, or cough continue today to leave the office with an antibiotic.

Enter alternative medicine
When I began studying alternative medicine some 30 years ago I was impressed that, regardless the modality (natural medicine, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, etc.), each emphasized the human body’s design for self healing. Alternative practitioners didn’t prescribe drugs carrying war metaphors (antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, beta-blocker, proton pump inhibitor), but rather recommended treatments that strengthened innate healing capacities. Acupuncture ramped up your qi (“chee”). Homeopathic remedies supported your élan vital, or vital force. Certain mushrooms were prescribed not to kill viruses or bacteria, but instead to enhance immunity.

When I’d see a patient with a respiratory infection I would no longer write an antibiotic prescription to be started immediately. Instead, I’d specifically tell my patient not to fill the prescription unless things got worse and then offer suggestions on strengthening immunity, but more on that later.

The clinical study I referred to above, entitled “Prescription Strategies in Acute Uncomplicated Respiratory Infections,” (click here for an easy-read overview) appeared last week in JAMA Internal Medicine. It confirmed what I, and probably more and more physicians, had been doing anyway. In the study, the group of patients given an antibiotic with instructions to start it immediately fared no better than those given a prescription but told to hold off and use it only as a last resort.

The study also showed that patients who were prescribed antibiotics for immediate use had a tendency to keep returning to their doctors for antibiotics whenever a symptom appeared (“Hey doc, I woke up with a sore throat. Phone in an antibiotic and let’s catch this early.”) Those who were not given antibiotics learned to take care of themselves. Obviously, antibiotic overuse can lead to superbugs, bacteria that nothing short of Rambo-mycin can kill off.

In addition to a delayed antibiotic prescription, I would also give my patients a quick lesson in immune enhancement using psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI, by the way, is not alternative medicine per se. It lies more in the realm of the mind-body therapies you may have read about.

For years, studies have confirmed that the power of the mind, directed through the nervous system, can affect immunity for better or for worse. It’s well known, for example, that emotional stress of any stripe adversely affects immunity. When surveys are taken of who gets a cold when the virus is romping through a large office, it’s usually those who are having stress issues either at home or in the workplace.

The key is to get your immune system to work for you
You have to get tough. Remember, your immune system is your body’s local bad guy, tackling viruses, bacteria, parasites, and cancer cells. When you talk to your immune system, you must speak its language. Talk Hemingway or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, not Elizabeth Barrett Browning. No gentle positive affirmations. And don’t whine.

When I hand you a prescription for a “delayed antibiotic,” do the following:

Hold it with the written part facing you and say aloud: “Listen, bud. You haven’t been performing up to snuff. Maybe your back was turned. Maybe you got distracted by a pimple. But I want you to get the hell back to work and get rid of this (insert ailment). See this prescription? If I have to take it, if I have to swallow this, it means you, yes you, have failed. Now get to work.”

In addition, give your immune system a little mushroom boost with the aptly named Host Defense MyCommunity, a blend of 16 types of organically grown mushrooms. Very likely in a day or two you’ll be able to tear my rx into little pieces and you’ll…

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. I love this! I talk to the cells in my body all the time. “OK folks, we have a canker sore developing on lower lip. Time to marshal our healing resources to drive out this virus!” As a RN and Reiki practitioner, I often recommend body talk to my clients. Especially those dealing with cancer. “Love your liver”, “love your colon”. I remind them that their body is doing it’s best and needs lots of love and support. Thanks for this article

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Upcoming Workshops

**Functional Sport Nutrition: Decoding Your Personalized Path to Wellness and Optimal Performance
Olivia Wagner
Thursday July 19, 6:00 – 7:30pm
Fee: $35 

Planning to run a 5 or 10k this summer? Are you training for a marathon? Want to improve your energy and performance at the gym or in a favorite sport?

Just as each individual responds differently to training, each person requires individual nutrition approaches.

In this work shop you will learn real-food nutrition strategies and functional medicine tools to support.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online or by calling (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

**Shamanic Gathering: The Power of Summer as an Ally for Healing
Katie Oberlin, HTCP

Thursday August 9, 2018, 6-7:30pm
Group Session – $55 registration

From a shamanic perspective, the South is related to Summer, midday, a time of power and activity, and supported by the Earth element as a container for our lives.

Learn how to work with these energies to support your intentions for healing and living in alignment with your life purpose.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
Please register online or by calling the Center at (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

Recent Health Tips

  • Why Conventional Medicine Hates Homeopathy

    If it’s of any comfort to US homeopaths, until the past ten years or so, when the health insurance industry gave conventional medicine something serious to fret about, the organized hostility toward alternative medicine was mostly democratic. It hated all forms. Their battle cry, “We’re the real doctors, down with quacks,” was directed at any healer who didn’t follow three rules: Go to our schools. Read More

  • Revealed: Why Susan Can’t Lose Weight

    Susan sat across from me and I could see her chin quivering as she tried to hold back the tears. “I am trying so hard to lose weight, doctor! Look at my diet diary. I’m at the gym almost every day. My thyroid numbers are perfect. And so what happens? This past month I actually gained three more pounds!” Having battled weight issues myself since Read More

  • Ten Drugs Doctors Should Consider De-Prescribing

    Physicians use the word polypharmacy when a patient is taking five or more prescription drugs daily. A recent survey showed that half of women Medicare recipients were taking five or more drugs daily, and 12% of them were taking ten (!) or more. New patients frequently arrive at WholeHealth Chicago carrying bags stuffed like piñatas with prescription drugs and nutritional supplements, the latter recommended by Read More

July Sale: 20% off Curcumin Supplements

Turmeric extracts and curcumin products are popular and potent anti-inflammatory supplements. For the month of July, both Theracurmin HP and CurcuPlex-95 are 20% off in the Apothecary.

As always, we recommend you check with a physician before beginning any new supplement. Because curcumin is contraindicated in several conditions, please consult with a healthcare professional before adding this to your regimen. More>>