Feeling helpless? If you watch the news or social media, fear can easily overtake you. It feels like there is little you can do in the great battle against virus’. As a naturopath of over twenty years I am excited to share with you the many things you can do to support your natural immunity. A healthy robust immune system is your best friend if it is in good working order. So, how is yours? Keep reading to find out how to reduce infections, foods you can eat to support your body and the all important herbs and nutrients with a bundle of research to back them up. If you are looking for ways to help yourself, keep reading!
Top Tips to Reduce Infection Spread
The most common way to spread a virus is from direct contact from an infected person to another and often it’s the little things that we don’t think twice about that can be contributing the most. Mask up, wash your hands & social distancing helps.
There is increasing research surfacing that is showing that regular, moderate intensity exercise can boost the immune system. This is as a result of increased circulation of immune cells throughout the body resulting in an increase in the production of macrophages; the cells that attack bacteria and viruses.
Drink Plenty of Water
The body needs water to remove waste from the body and to transport minerals in and out of the cells. When the body lacks water it has to work twice as hard to get oxygenated blood to the cells, this can result in the organs and us feeling fatigued and exhausted.
Care should be taken during this time to avoid over-consumption of convenient foods and our attention should be turned to consuming healthy, nutrient rich foods. Sweet potato and carrots contain betacarotene which can be converted to vitamin A to help prevent and fight off infections by enhancing the actions of white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. Onions contain flavonoids, particularly quercetin which is a powerful antioxidant that is also a natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory compound. Onions and garlic are both rich in sulphur-containing compounds which can add to their anti-bacterial health benefits. Foods such as soups, casseroles and stir fries are great dishes with plenty of nutritious vegetables and herbs can be easily added.
Reduce your risk factors
What are your health risk factors associated with Coronavirus? You may have heard of these as co-morbities. There are a high percentage of people who end up in hospital with these issues. Many are modifiable with diet and lifestyle modification. Now is a great time to look at ways to improve your whole body health.
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Health
- Diabetes or poorly regulated blood sugar levels
- Obesity and excess weight increase ACE receptors and inflammation
Top Foods to fight cold and flu
Garlic induces white blood cell activity, stimulates the release of important cytokines and stimulates the proliferation of lymphocytes and the activity of natural killer cells. It has also been shown to act against viral infections including rhinovirus and parainfluenza virus.
Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Shiitake, Enoki, Maitake and Oyster are just a few of the readily available mushrooms that you can add to your diet. These medicinal mushrooms contain long chain polysaccharides called beta-glucans which have been found to be potent immune enhancers. Beta-glucans stimulate white blood cells of the immune system involved in breaking down bacteria, and have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Red, Yellow & Orange Vegetables
Rich in antioxidant nutrients, lycopene, betacarotene and vitamin C, the red, yellow and orange coloured vegetables are a great support to immune function. Red capsicum contains almost 3 times more vitamin C than oranges and can be used in a wide variety of dishes! Other great nutrient rich vegetables include pumpkin, sweet potato, squash, beetroot, radishes, red onion, chillies and carrots.
Berries are a rich source of proanthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants. One berry in particular, Elderberry has been found to inhibit viral binding to cells and reduce the severity and duration of viral infection such as influenza. It can be eaten when fully ripe and traditionally has been made into jams and as an addition to pies! Other berries such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackcurrants also contain cyanidins. Blackcurrant has been shown to inhibit influenza virus in in vitro testing and blackberries protect against inflammation of the lung pleura.
Green Tea contains catechins and theanine which have been found to reduce the incidence of influenza infection amongst aged care workers. Green Tea catechins may affect enzymes found within the virus responsible for its binding and replication capability. When selecting Green Tea look for organically produced teas.
Top Nutrients to support your battle with virus’
Vitamin C may help to prevent infections, including those caused by bacteria and viruses. Regularly administered vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of colds, and higher doses of vitamin C during an illness can also act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. Vitamin C accumulates in phagocytic cells, such as neutrophils, and can enhance chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species, and ultimately microbial killing. Supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. Vitamin C has been used in hospital ICUs to treat COVID-19 infection.
Quercetin has been shown to have antiviral effects against both RNA (e.g. influenza and coronavirus) and DNA viruses (e.g., herpesvirus). Quercetin has a role as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, modulating signalling pathways that are associated with post-transcriptional modulators affecting post-viral healing.
- Scavenges free radicals and inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus supporting the gastrointestinal tract and the cardiovascular system
- Stabilises mast cell membranes, which in turn can decrease the release of histamine
- Supports various immune cells that are necessary for an optimised immune response
N-acetylcysteine promotes glutathione production, which has been shown to be protective in rodents infected with influenza. In a little-noticed six-month controlled clinical study enrolling 262 primarily elderly subjects, those receiving 600 mg NAC twice daily, as opposed to those receiving placebo, experienced significantly fewer influenza-like episodes and days of bed confinement.
- Supports the upper respiratory tract and immune system health
- Has a high affinity for lung tissue which it supports through its mucolytic and antioxidant actions
- Protects the kidneys from toxic insults
- Stimulates the synthesis and activity of glutathione
- Supports liver detoxification
Zinc contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. There is also evidence that it suppresses viral attachment and replication. Zinc deficiency is common, especially in those populations most at risk for severe COVID-19 infections. Supplementation with zinc is supported by evidence that it both prevents viral infections and reduces their severity and duration. Moreover, it has been shown to reduce the risk of lower respiratory infection, which may be of particular significance in the context of COVID-19.
Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is one of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system. Numerous studies have shown that it helps reduce the risk of colds and flu. It is an immune system modulator that reduces the expression of inflammatory cytokines and increases macrophage function. Vitamin D also stimulates the expression of potent antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which exist in neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells, and epithelial cells of the respiratory tract. Evidence suggests vitamin D supplementation may prevent upper respiratory infections.
Evidence is accumulating for vitamin D and zinc deficiencies increasing COVID-19 severity. For instance, COVID-19 prognosis is poorer in patients with conditions associated with vitamin D and zinc deficiency, such as advanced age, obesity, hypertension and metabolic disease. A preliminary investigation of zinc status in COVID-19 patients found decreased fasting zinc levels upon hospitalisation. Patients with zinc deficiency were over five times more likely to develop COVID-19 complications, and the degree of their deficiency positively correlated to prolonged hospital stays and mortality risk.
Probiotics contain “good bacteria” that not only support the health of the gut but also influence immune system functioning and regulation. Studies have shown that probiotic use can decrease the number of respiratory infections, particularly in children.
Top Herbs to support your battle with virus’
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has widespread historical use as an anti-viral herb. Based on animal research, elderberry is likely most effective in the prevention of and early infection with respiratory viruses. Elderberry may be a safe option for treating viral respiratory illness, and there is no evidence that it overstimulates the immune system.
Astragalus membranaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries. Astragalus is well-known for its antiviral activity and for its anti-inflammatory properties for priming the innate immune system and for reducing NLRP3-mediated inflammation. In addition, the plant alkaloid swainsonine inhibits the glycosylation necessary for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to attach to human cells. Astragalus has been shown in a double blind, placebo controlled trial to support the immune system and improve resistance by the activation and proliferation of immune cells. These include B cells, splenic lymphocytes, macrophages and particularly CD8 and CD4 T-cells.
Andrographis is traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to relieve the severity and duration of colds and flu.]Both in vitro and in vivo models have shown that andrographolides can reduce the infectivity of influenza A viruses (H5N1, H9N2 and H1N1 strains) by binding to viral hemagglutinin and blocking entry to host cells. Andrographis paniculata to fight against and assist in the recovery of common cold infections and illness. Andrographis supports antiviral immunity, with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Recent studies show that andrographis extracts restrict inflammasome activation and IL-1b concentrations in tissues and Andrographolides are also shown to beneficially regulate proinflammatory cytokines IL-2, IL-4 and IFN-g.
In December 2020, andrographis was approved by Thailand Health Ministry for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19. Preliminary investigations confirmed that commencing with 180 mg extract daily (with unspecified andrographolides content) within 72 hours of a positive test result, supported symptom improvement within three days without complications. This has resulted in the recommendation of andrographis treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients between 18 and 60 years of age.
Artemisia annua and its phytocompounds have a rich history in the research and treatment of malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other diseases. Artemesia annua constituents may impede the SARS-CoV-2 attachment, membrane fusion, internalization into the host cells, and hinder the viral replication and transcription process. Artemesia annua may modulate the host immune response to better fight the infection.
Hawthorn is supportive of heart health. Hawthorn is an adaptogen for the heart. With many people experiencing covid having long term effects on their heart, Hawthorn is an essential for reducing heart damage. Hawthorn is loaded with antioxidants, may help reduce inflammation and reduce blood pressure.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza species) inhibits viral replication blocking the ACE2 receptor promoting the activity of Th1 cells and inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines, prostaglandins, and nitric oxide production. Licorice has been use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) formulations against SARS-CoV-1 and H1N1 and reviewed for its effects on SARS-CoV-2. Two positive human trials have been performed against SARS-CoV-1 using a TCM formulation containing licorice.
Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), a herb with antiviral properties against enterovirus 71 infections. Dan Shen is a leader for all things associated with Corona virus. It has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of systemic diseases including supporting heart health and reducing impact to heart health. It promotes blood circulation, and reduces inflammation and cytokine levels.
Feeling ready to use nutrients and herbs for your immune health?
Remember herbal and nutritional medicine should always be prescribed by a qualified practitioner to ensure the safe administering of the right dose for you. All herbs and nutrients carry some cautions and contraindications so if you are on any medications it is important to complete a safety check.
Do you need help with immune support?
Cindi Young is a leading Gold Coast/Mullumbimby Naturopath with over 20 years experience helping people live happier, healthier lives with a special interest in weight management including the Metabolic Balance Program, hormone and fertility. Available by appointment for online, or face to face appointments at The Cycle of Life, Robina, Gold Coast, QLD and in Mullumbimby, NSW. Book your appointment today.
Stay tuned for my next blog post on Post Viral syndrome.