Several clinical studies show that viral infections are a major trigger for autoimmunity as well as other health ailments. It's important to get ahead of any type of virus if you do come down with one. Here are some top herbs to provide support in fighting colds, flu, and coughs...
Overuse of antibiotics is a real issue these days resulting in, among others, gut damage impairing digestion and absorption as well as, paradoxically, also causing damage to our immune system located in the gut. It’s estimated around 90% of the immune system is found in and around the gut.
Fortunately, there are a number of herbs, plant compounds and foods that are beneficial natural ‘antibiotics’ and antiviral remedies. These can be taken with no side effects often experienced when using synthetic drugs.
They can prevent, lessen the impact and/or duration of bacterial and viral infections such as flu and colds, or simply keep you healthy throughout the cold season and during unexpected outbreaks of the flu.
Here are a few examples of better known natural ‘antibiotics’ and flu remedies for you to consider having in your home health kit.
You may not know this but there are three species of Echinacea that are used medicinally: E. angustifolia, E. purpurea and E. pallida. Flowering tops, aerial parts, root and whole plant are used in herbal preparations. The root is the most active part.E. pallida is considered to be the least effective of the three species. Therefore when considering taking Echinacea, its quality and type of species are used in a herb preparation will determine your results or lack of.Echinacea root contains the highest levels of the immune stimulating alkylamides thus Echinacea root preparations should be used when strong immune modulating / immune system strengthening activity is required.The herb has many applications including for preventing and shortening duration of colds and flu, fever, bronchitis, blocked sinuses, aches and pains. It’s a true natural ‘antibiotic’! It is considered safe to take unless you know you have reacted to it before or are allergic to the daisy plant family.Herbs are powerful medicines and it’s best to consult a herbalist before taking Echinacea in greater quantity or for a long period of time.
Elderberry is a powerful herb with strong immune-stimulating properties and it is one of the most potent antiviral remedies known to man. I use elderberry liquid extract or capsules, especially in the treatment of flu, influenza, sinus infections and other viral infections. At present, the traditional use of elderberry is being supported by clinical studies which demonstrate its effectiveness for the treatment of influenza A and B.Research indicates that elderberry has antiviral activity and immune enhancing activity. Researchers have found that compounds in elderberry bind to the flu virus, inhibit its replication and prevent the virus from penetrating cell walls. See my detailed Elderberry post for more information and tips.Elderberry is a powerful anti-viral flu remedy available over the counter as well as a herbal extract from qualified herbalists.
Thyme (fresh or dried) – this herb is strongly antimicrobial and kills the pathogenic bacteria quickly and efficiently. It’s great for sore throat (laryngitis and tonsillitis as a gargle), bronchitis, it also eases any cough. A true natural ‘antibiotic’, Thyme helps with coughs by facilitating clearing out the lungs and respiratory passages faster.The herb is best used fresh in a tea: make a thyme herbal tea by steeping 2 teaspoons of finely cut fresh thyme in a mug of boiling-hot water for 10 minutes and then add a bit of honey and lemon juice to taste. Drink hot, sip slowly and really feel it going through the respiratory tract and the gut doing its magic!You can also use thyme essential oil for inhalations: add a few drops of thyme essential oil into a bowl of hot water, lean over covering both your head and the bowl with a towel. Breathe in the steam for 5 minutes.
Garlic (fresh or supplements) – excellent remedy for colds and flu, all respiratory infections especially chronic bronchitis and recurrent colds. It is a ‘broad spectrum’ natural ‘antibiotic’ that has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and antiseptic actions. Garlic thins mucus in the respiratory system and sinuses. Amazingly, it targets the “bad” bacteria in the gut but spares the “good” ones.To avoid the garlic breath, mince the garlic cloves and drink them down in some water or green juice. Alternatively put the minced garlic into organic yoghurt or sour cream. Start with 1 clove and increase to 2-3 per day, if your gut allows it. Don’t overdo it, garlic is strong stuff!Caution: don’t eat raw garlic or take supplements in quantity if you have stomach ulcers or are taking anticoagulants (blood thinning medications).
Oregano oil – is strongly antimicrobial, especially helpful for congested sinuses, nose and ear infections. It is effective against a wide range of microbes: bacteria, viruses, fungus as well as parasites. It helps ease coughs and is antispasmodic by relaxing the respiratory system which helps with mucus movement and excretion. Another potent natural ‘antibiotic’ that’s been used for a long time!How to use it: at the first sign of a cold or flu, take 1-2 drops every few hours diluted in warm water or juice throughout the day and before bed. Be mindful that it’s a powerful compound and it’s best taken for a short period of time (1-2 days).Quality is important so use therapeutic grade wild oregano oil as the preferred form to achieve better results. Talk to your naturopath or herbalist about the right form and dose for you.
Eucalyptus oil – for topical use only. Eucalyptus oil is strongly antimicrobial and it can be inhaled, added to hot baths or sprayed into the air indoors to kills the germs. It’s very good for blocked nose, congested sinuses and headaches during cold or flu.Please note that eucalyptus oil has a number of contraindications and/or cautions to know about: it should not be used topically with children under 10 years old or if pregnant/ nursing.If you are on any medications or have a medical diagnosis, please consult with your health practitioner prior to use because it can interact with some medications.It should always be diluted in a carrier oil when used topically (check the label or find out about the safe concentration when used with a carrier oil).
Propolis – a resin produced from flower nectar collected and processed by bees. It can be used internally as a tincture or as a lozenge or gargle. It has strong antiseptic properties and it works well for respiratory tract infections of any kind, sore throats (as spray or lozenges) as well as mouth ulcers.
It has special affinity with the thymus, lungs and throat and it’s thought to be one of the best natural substances to strengthen the thymus gland, an integral part of the immune system. Propolis is readily available from most good health food stores and some pharmacies.
Naturally, doses and the quality of foods and supplements are important and will impact your results. Talk to your Naturopath or Herbalist before taking any of the natural antibiotics mentioned in this post in order to select the most effective ones for you and your health needs.
Other key antiviral nutrients and supplements
The immune system function is strongly influenced by the intake of nutrients. These five nutrients/ compounds are, in my experience, essential for the good function of the immune system.
One of the most effective immune system boosters of all known nutrients. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. In turn, infections significantly impact on vitamin C levels due to enhanced inflammation and metabolic requirements. Furthermore, supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. Our bodies are not able to manufacture vitamin C, therefore food intake as well as supplementation are very important at any time, but especially during any infections. Read more about how the immune system works and the role of vitamin C in immunity form the Linus Pauling Institute.
Absolutely essential for dealing with immune system disorders including infections, colds and flu, or cancers. Deficiency of vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to any infection. It has numerous effects on the immune system cells, they can manufacture and respond to vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D deficiency is common in autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Hashimoto’s disease. Read more about the wonderful vitamin D HERE and determine your level by doing a self-assessment questionnaire. More information on vitamin D as an immune booster HERE and another fully referenced PubMed article on vitamin D and influenza.
Known as the “anti-infective” vitamin, vitamin A is able to prevent all types of infections. It improves the immune system response to viral, bacterial and parasitic infections. I find vitamin A deficiency is quite common these days, importantly it also impacts the status of a number of other essential nutrients especially zinc and protein (necessary for a well functioning immune system).
Essential for a normal immune function, zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It’s crucial for normal development and function of immune cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells. The ability of zinc to function as an anti-oxidant and stabilize membranes suggests that it has a role in the prevention of free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes.
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Disclaimer: The above material is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your health practitioner or doctor to learn if herbs or supplements mentioned here are appropriate for your circumstances.
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