Winter is synonymous with colds, flus, and other nasties. But it doesn't have to be this way. This winter, boost your immune system's defences - naturally - with a bevy of herbs, nutrients, and nourishing foods.
H E R B S
Herbal medicine is one of my favourite forms of natural healing...you may have guessed by now. These herbs can help fight off infections like the common cold and the flu, but can also help to reduce the length and severity of your symptoms if you do succumb to them.
- A n d r o g r a p h i s is one of my favourite immune enhancing herbs. It gives the immune system a big fat boost, helping to prevent bacterial and viral infections, but also works well in treatment of both acute and chronic infection. I take Andrographis as soon as my glands pop up and I start to feel run down.
- A s t r a g a l u s is used in Chinese medicine to reduce both the length and severity of a common cold. It's another immune enhancing herb, used commonly for infection prevention as well as treatment of chronic immune conditions.
- E c h i n a c e a is probably the king of immune herbs. It both enhances and balances the immune system, preventing and helping to treat both chronic and acute viral, bacterial or parasitic infections. It has been found to improve even the immunity of healthy people. Keep it up! (Our Skin Tea totes contains beautiful echinacea, for optimal health year-round)
- E l d e r B e r r y is an antioxidant, antiviral and immune enhancing herb, indicated in the case of acute infections including colds, flus and sinusitis.
- E y e b r i g h t will become your new best friend if you suffer from a runny nose, hay fever, or sinus complaints. This herb improves the tone and function of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, while reducing the formation of catarrh (aka mucous / phlegm).
- G a r l i c is an antibacterial herb, used in cases of the common cold or flu, bronchitis, sinusitis and hay fever.
- H o r s e r a d i s h is another anti-catarrhal herb, useful in treating sinusitis, sinus headaches, common colds, and any other catarrh-related issue.
- T h y m e is an excellent herb for relieving a cough, hence its value in the treatment of colds, bronchitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis and tonsillitis.
N U T R I E N T S
- V i t a m i n A helps to enhance and stimulate the immune system and its processes, but also helps to maintain the 'host defence mechanism' (the body's protective mechanism against nasty infections).
- C a r o t e n e s are immune enhancing antioxidants. Betacarotene is especially effective in boosting immunity.
- V i t a m i n C helps to boost and stimulate the immune system, but is also an antiviral and antibacterial nutrient. It helps to improve your resistance to infection while reducing the length and severity of of the common cold. Powdered Vitamin C is best, as it is most easily absorbed. I add Vitamin C powder to my water bottle throughout winter to help boost my defences.
- I r o n & S e l e n i u m deficiencies have been linked to immune dysfunction. Keep your levels up, especially in winter, to ensure your immune system continues to run like clockwork.
- Z i n c plays a key role in many of the functions of your immune system, and also inhibits the growth of viruses, including rhinoviruses (which can cause the common cold) and picornaviruses (which can cause hand-foot-and-mouth disease, conjunctivitis, and meningitis).
D I E T
The healthiest possible diet (i.e. one full of whole, natural foods) will support your immune system year-round. Eat lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nuts.
Oh, and keep the refined sugars and fats to an absolute minimum. Increased cholesterol, triglycerides and free fatty acids - the result of a diet high in fried foods and 'bad' saturated fats - will inhibit immune function. And alcohol will increase susceptibility to infection (which is why alcoholics are prone to infections like pneumonia).
A nutrient-rich whole-food diet will ensure that you're keeping up your vitamin and mineral intake too. Vitamin A is found in fish, fish oils, beef livers, sweet potato and spinach. Carotenes in carrots, sweet potato and kale. Vitamin C in citrus fruits, strawberries, capsicum and tomatoes. Iron in meats, seafood, poultry, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Selenium in brazil nuts, chia and flax seeds, shiitake mushrooms, brown rice and broccoli. And Zinc in oysters, red meats, beans, whole grains and nuts.
It's important to support your immune system in both prevention of illness, and when you are actually sick. On top of all of the above, ensure you get plenty of rest (bed is best!), keep up your fluids (drink lots of water, but also herbal teas, vegetable juices, and soups and broths), and cut down your intake of simple sugars (including fruity sugars).
Here's to your healthiest Winter yet!
References: 'The Ultimate Herbal Compendium' by K Bone & 'The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine' by J Pizzorno, M Murray, H Joiner-Bey.