Boosting your immune system
COLD, CHEST INFECTION AND FLU HOLISTIC REMEDIES
"Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food" – Hippocrates
This article is not intended as a substitute to medical care or treatment. This is merely a guide to naturopathic, Ayurveda and herbal ways you can support yourself to try and stay healthy. I have focussed on herbs and spices that are easily available in shops or possibly already in your cupboards. Specialist herb shops will sell many more herbs that are of benefit that I have not mentioned here. Your local herbalist can also offer advice and blend bespoke remedies for you.
In China they used Traditional Chinese Medicine alongside conventional medicine during the SARS outbreak with great success. They have also used it this time for COVID-19 reducing severity of symptoms, speeding up recovery times and reducing mortality rates. Combining ancient wisdom with modern medicine is very effective.
One interesting observation about COVID-19 and how it settles in to the lungs, is that in traditional medicine this is the organ associated with grief and sadness. We are living in a time when consciously or not, we are all feeling the grief of a world in peril with people generally being more stressed than happy.
People look at a virus in terms of how to kill it. In holistic medicine we look at changing the environment so the stronger body can resist the virus or launch a good immune response to get rid of the virus. Holistic medicine works on strengthening the immune system.
Below I offer some ways to support your immune system
2020 is the year we learnt how to wash our hands.
A rather disturbing thought really.
The simplest way to prevent the spread of infection is through
basic hygiene, washing our hands with soap and warm water for
at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based sanitizer.
Coronavirus (and most other viruses) is a self-assembled nanoparticle with a fatty outer layer. Soap dissolves this fat membrane rendering the virus inactive. This is why it is important to use soap for a minimum of 20 seconds when washing your hands.
Ensure you are applying moisturiser after hand sanitizer so that your skin doesn't start cracking with the dryness. You can also make your own hand sanitizer. It is very simple and will not dry your hands out causing cracking.
If you make your own alcohol based hand sanitizer then the alcohol must be a minimum of 60% ethyl alcohol
• 2/3 cup of alcohol/surgical spirit • 1/3 aloe Vera gel
• Add a couple of drops of essential oils such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, eucalyptus, clove
Catching coughs and sneezes into your elbow effectively prevents fluids from spreading, even more so than using a tissue. Disinfecting frequent touch zones like door handles and technology surfaces will help minimize the amount of hand-to-face bacteria transfer. Avoid touching your face and most importantly, stay at home if you have any cold or flu like symptoms.
Coconut Oil Barrier: If you go out then use a clean cotton bud to rub coconut oil around your nostrils, over your lips and even your hands to trap pathogens. Thoroughly wash away once home again.
UV Lamp: Ultraviolet (UVC) light eliminates many bacteria and viruses by disrupting their DNA and rendering them harmless. UV light can restrict the number of germs that get re-circulated through your home.
The first line of immune defence is the skin and mucosa
(intrinsic epithelial barrier).
Anything that strengthens this helps resistance, slows viral
multiplication,and strengthens against the damaging effects of virus
and bacteria on the mucosa.
Vitamin C is believed to strengthen the endothelial layer under the epithelial layer. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps to protect against viral infections by
enhancing the immune system. When the body is fighting a viral infection its need for vitamin C increases. It also helps in the production of anti-stress hormones so is very useful during our current stressful times.
Good sources of Vitamin C include red bell peppers, asparagus, avocado, beet greens, black currants, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, collard, dandelion greens, dulse seaweed, grapefruits, kale, lemons, mangoes, mustard greens, onions, oranges, papaya, green peas, sweet peppers, pineapple, radishes, rose hip, spinach, strawberries, swiss chard, tomatoes, turnip greens, watercress, parsley, thyme.
It is important to stay hydrated for our mucosa. Mucus traps microbes and foreign particles. Ensure you are sipping water and herbal teas throughout the day so that your mouth and throat are always moist. Never drink chilled water. Water should be at least room temperature. Add a slices of lime/lemon/orange/grapefruit to your water, makes teas from rose hips, parsley, thyme, nettle, cleavers, lemon balm, lavender, to name just a few.
Vitamin D is important for immune health. The best source of vitamin D is from the sun. Vitamin D can be found in fish liver oils, fatty saltwater fish (especially mackerel), dairy products and eggs. It is hard to get enough from diet alone so supplementation is required in countries that don't get a lot of sunshine.
Zinc plays an important role in many immune system reactions. Zinc is also required to maintain adequate levels of vitamin E (an important antioxidant). Sources of zinc include egg yolks, fish, brewer's yeast, liver, broad beans, legumes, mushrooms, oysters, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sardines, fennel seed, nettle, rosehips.
Essential Fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response to infections and damage in our body. It is well known that the long chain omega-3's support inflammation balance. Linseed/flaxseed, walnut oil, hemp oil and fatty fish are great sources of omega-3s. Oils need to be refrigerated so that they do not turn bitter and rancid.
Modern medicine completely ignores the importance of the thermoregulatory system that opens and closes the pores of the skin, mucosa, and internal or serous membranes. This, however, is the basis of traditional and herbal medicine. The theory is: warm the centre, thin the fluids, keep the pores of the surface open to discharge healthy secretions onto the epithelial surface not, as one would suppose, to close them. A kitchen herb that is warming, thinning/expectorating, and opening is fenugreek.
Make a tea from fenugreek seeds. One heaped tablespoon of seeds per cup of hot water. It will help to loosen and expel excess phlegm in the head, sinuses, lungs and respiratory tract. It's also a digestive herb and nutritive tonic. A lot of research is emerging now on its ability as an immune modulator and stimulant.
LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT HEALTH
70% of the immune system is in our gut so a healthy digestive system is key to good immune health.
Challenge yourself to eat a rainbow of foods every day. Different coloured foods contain different antioxidants and nutrients so it is important to keep our plates colourful so that we take in a variety of nutrients and support our gut health. Focus more on vegetables, aim for 8 servings of colourful vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day.
Don't overeat. Eat light, nutritious meals and give your body plenty of time to digest before eating again. Don't overburden the digestive system.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria normally present in the digestive tract. They are vital for proper digestion. Probiotics help maintain the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are found in cultured and fermented foods. These foods include buttermilk, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, umeboshi, kombucha and plain yogurt. Probiotics are fed by prebiotics. Good sources of prebiotics are chicory, oats, garlic, onion, leeks, and asparagus.
It is very simple to make your own kimchi or sauerkraut. There are many recipes online.
Garlic is known as nature's antibiotic due to its antiviral and
Garlic helps protect against infection by enhancing immune function.
Garlic is warming and helps to thin excess mucus.
Garlic was used against the plague in the 1600's and in the First World War garlic oil was used in poultices placed directly on soldiers wounds. This helped to save many lives and limbs.
Garlic can inhibit many bacteria and viruses and also stimulates the immune system and can help break up lung congestion. It also contains inulin which is an important prebiotic (prebiotics are food for probiotics). Eating 1-2 cloves of garlic a day is a delicious way to obtain the many health benefits garlic has to offer. Crush and then chop the garlic, leave for 10 minutes and then add to your food. If you want to use garlic to help with a cold or flu then eating it frequently throughout the day will give the best results. Combine with other foods especially oils so as not to feel nausea.
Onion and horseradish are also good for the immune system and to use for thinning excess mucus and respiratory tract infections.
Fire Cider is an easy to make remedy that is brilliant to take at the first sign of infections. It is made with unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, garlic, horseradish, onion, chillies and ginger. There are many recipes online.
Mushrooms are one of the most underrated foods. They contain compounds that are anti-inflammatory and help strengthen the immune system. Mushrooms of all kinds, even the little button mushrooms, contain the beta glucans that modulate immunity. Reishi mushroom is an excellent immune tonic which has powerful ant-inflammatory effects and is rejuvenate to the lungs. Other good immune supporting mushrooms are shiitake, turkey tail and maitake. Try and include mushrooms daily in your diet. Add to food or make mushroom broths.
Bone broths: Bone marrow is extremely nutrient rich, nourishing, anti-inflammatory and easily digested. It also promotes good gut flora that increase health and supports immunity. Add unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, garlic, onions, mushrooms and any other vegetables and kitchen herbs and spices that you have available. If you don't have bones then make a broth of ginger, onion, garlic, mushroom and whatever vegetables, warming herbs and spices that you have to hand. This is also a good way of nourishing someone who is ill or has been ill and is unable to eat much.
Herbs and spices can help strengthen digestion,
can be anti-microbial and anti-viral,
are high in antioxidants, can support the nervous system
and the immune system.
Add herbs to all of your food. Turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, cumin, coriander, mustard, cayenne, fennel, garlic, ginger, parsley, peppermint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, rose, lavender.
Extremely useful kitchen herbs and spices for immune and the respiratory systems are nigella and fenugreek. Nigella sativa also known as black seed and black cumin: has a long history of use in traditional medicine. In Middle Eastern traditional medicine it is known as, 'Blessed Seed'. It is said that it can cure all illness except death by just taking 7 seeds a day. Science is often slow to catch up on traditional medicines that have been used effectively for thousands of years. Now scientific research shows that nigella contains thymoquinone which boosts the immune system. Nigella is effective for colds, flu and upper respiratory infections. It can help clear and expel mucus from the upper respiratory tract. 7 seeds of nigella daily is simple and easily accessible.
Fenugreek: Another wonderful herb that has been used for thousands of years but science is only just discovering its immune benefits. Fenugreek improves digestion and elimination which is extremely important for good immune health. Fenugreek is moistening to mucus membranes yet reduces excess phlegm. It can also be used as a nutritive tonic and restorative for recovery from chronic respiratory illness.
Echinacea: Sold out in most places now but this is a fabulous herb to start to take as soon as you know you have been exposed to infection or feel something coming on rather than taking continuously.
Astragalus: Wonderful to take to support the immunity and lung health as a preventative. Discontinue use as soon as symptoms appear.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOU EAT
• Try to leave a long fasting period overnight between your last meal and your breakfast • Aim for 8 servings of different vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day
• Ensure lots of fibre. Add ground flax seeds to oats
• Rotate foods so that you are not eating the same things daily. It is important to obtain a wide range of different nutrients from different food
• Drink plenty of warm water. The body is 60% water, we also need water to remove waste from the body and to keep our mucus membranes moist
MOVE THE LYMPH
Moving in general stimulates the flow of lymph fluid, giving a tremendous boost to the immune system. One reason why sedentary lifestyles are so bad for us. Our lymphatic system is a network, consisting of lymphatic vessels and nodes that remove waste from the body. Additionally lymph transports immune cells around the body, where they patrol for anything untoward. However, when the lymphatic system is congested as a result of stress, sedentary lifestyle or poor digestion, its ability to circulate and fight infection can be adversely affected.
• Rebounding: The up-and-down movement from bouncing on a mini trampoline facilitates motion in the lymphatic system. The gravitational pull from the bouncing causes the one-way lymphatic valves to open and close, moving immune cells all around the body.
• Contrast Showers: Lymphatic vessels contract when exposed to cold and dilate in response to heat. A hot and cold shower at home is a handy way to stimulate the lymphatic system at home.
• Dry Skin Brushing: The gentle pressure and movement of the bristles may also help stimulate lymph flow to gently detoxify the body. Use long strokes to gently scrub the dry skin, from feed to head, including the front of the body, arms and neck, moving inward towards the heart.
REST AND SLEEP
The active immune system is energy-dependent, and changes in hormone levels during sleep enable our body to take extra energy from the muscles and utilise it for building up and maintaining a healthy immune system. During sleep, the immune cells come out of circulation, settle in the lymph nodes, and start getting ready for the next day of work. Without enough sleep, the body won't have the time to work through this full cycle, leaving your immune system depleted.
POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE
Don't get carried away with fear or panic. Limit time on social media and don't watch the news nonstop. Remember, this too will pass.
When we're stressed, the immune system's ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections. Mindful practices such as yoga, pranayama breathing (YouTube for video guidance) and meditation are very effective at easing nerves and modulating stress response. Now there are so many free or very cheap online yoga, meditation and breath work classes to participate in.
• Laugh – watch comedy and funny films
• Put on your favourite music and dance around the room
• Video call friends and family
• Make teas from lavender or lemon balm or chamomile to calm anxiety and stress. Passionflower tea is extremely relaxing and promotes restful sleep. You will find it is herb shops
• Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants plus it is also relaxing. Boil milk (boiling makes it easier to digest) add a teaspoon of turmeric, pinch of black pepper and a teaspoon of fat to aid absorption (ghee, coconut oil, butter)
• Rescue remedy helps to calm and reassure
• Sesame seed oil massage is a lovely self-massage that is very beneficial in aiding relaxation, reducing stress and promoting sleep. The sesame seed oil is very nourishing to the nervous system. - gently warm a little sesame seed oil over a bowl of hot water and massage the oil into your entire body for at least 20 minutes. Put on some old clothes and relax for an hour or wash the oil off in a warm shower If you don't have time for a full body massage then just massage the oil in to the soles of your feet. Put on some old socks and relax.
IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS
There is a more detailed version of this article on my website, with more detailed information on boosting your immunity should you develop symptoms of the Corvid-19 virus
Siobhán Cosgrave Herbalist & Naturopath
07789 766 228