This year the immune system of many people seems to be under terrible attack, irrelevant of age. Viruses are sweeping through schools, public transport and any other public place, grabbing victims on the way and forcing you take to your bed for at least four days (that’s if you were lucky!) with fever, general weakness, coughing and in some cases even vomiting.
Every year, and not necessarily at this time of year, we know that there will be at least one viral flu. Doctors are practically powerless because viruses do not respond to antibiotics. The NHS advertises the flu vaccination in preparation. This is a massive gamble – there is some kind of prediction as to what the virus will be and then a vaccine is produced. Firstly, it might not be the right vaccine for the flu virus that actually shows up. Secondly, it is man made and full of ingredients that personally I would not eat, let alone inject directly into my blood stream! To this year’s vaccine, reactions have been very mixed – on the one hand no reaction at all, on the other full blown flu for at least 3 days. Therefore, if you are one of the unlucky ones, what is the point of taking a vaccine?
Your best mechanism to beat or minimize any flu virus is to ensure you have a strong and healthy immune system all year round. What does that mean? The immune system protects the body against the development of chronic disease. Recurrent and chronic problems, even the common cold is an indication that the immune system is weakened. The immune, like any other system in the body is complex, made up of lymphatic vessels and organs, white blood cells and other specialized cells and chemicals found in body tissue. Your immune is affected by many things, including:
- The mind and emotions which have a strong impact on immune function
- Stress depresses immune function
- Nutrient deficiency is the cause of low immune function
- Obesity is associated with compromised immune function
- Too much sugar in the diet lowers white blood cell activity, therefore weakening the body’s natural defenses.
Nutrient deficiency is the most common cause of poor immune function. Key nutrients are vitamins A, B, C and E as well as iron, zinc and selenium. Supporting the spleen is important to ensuring an adequate supply of white blood cells in order to fight bacterial infections, and engulf cellular debris. The thymus gland is also an integral part of immune function and is susceptible to free radical and oxidative damage caused by radiation, infection, chronic illness and stress. The best way to protect the thymus gland is by eating plenty of antioxidants – carotenoids (brightly coloured fruit and vegetables – blueberries, carrots, broccoli, kale, red cherries, sweet potato). Vitamin C (Citrus fruits, green peppers, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes), Vitamin E (whole grains, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables), zinc and selenium (Fish, shellfish, chicken, whole grains, eggs, garlic). Green tea is also a very effective antioxidant.
Three of the most effective herbs to support and boost the immune are Echinacea (purpurea and angustifolia), Siberian ginseng, and Allium sativum (garlic). These herbs stimulate the body’s natural defense mechanism through antimicrobial and immunological activity. The polysaccharides in Echinacea have anti-hyaluronidase action, thus inhibiting the ability of viruses to enter and take over cells while alkamides are antibacterial and antifungal. Siberian ginseng stimulates immune resistance, helping to prevent infection and maintain general wellbeing. Garlic is a member of the Allium group of herbs which also includes onion. Both contain alliiin, which is a natural antibiotic and antimicrobial, lending itself well to fighting infections such as the common cold and flu, chest infections and earache. On crushing, alliin become allicin, which is the active ingredient. This common “kitchen” herb is a powerhouse of other benefits including removal of parasites, poor circulation - hypertension and artherosclerosis and various digestion complaints.
During an infection:
- Rest, preferably bed rest
- Drink large amounts of fluid, including water, vegetable juices, herbal teas and soups
- Avoid simple sugars, coffee and alcohol
- Eat plenty of garlic and other warming herbs such as chilli, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. (Add to your food during cooking.)
- A high potency multi vitamin (including Vitamin A and zinc)
- Vitamin C up to 500mg every two hours during the illness, then decrease
- Echinacea tincture (may decrease effectiveness of immune-suppressant drugs)
- Siberian ginseng (may decrease effectiveness of immune-suppressant drugs)
Wishing you all strong and healthy immune systems.
Dispensing with Tradition, Anne McIntyre FNIMH, MAPA, Michelle Boudin DipHerb, DipND, MAMH
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier FNIMH
Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine, Michael Murray N.D, Joseph Pizzorno N.D