I hope this finds you all well and safe during this stressful time in which the world is dealing with COVID-19. As we all adapt to the social distancing we have learned many important steps of hygiene to help to contain the spread of this virus. Many people also want to know further steps that they can take in their own personal life in order to build up their immune system so they can avoid infection or minimize the negative effects of any infection that may occur. As an herbalist, I wanted to share how you can support your immune system with herbs and nutrition.
Our skin and our mucus membranes are our first line of defense in protecting us against infectious organisms. Mucus membranes line our mouth, nose, lungs, eyelids, bladder and digestive tract.
1) Contain lysozymes which break down the integrity of infectious organisms and their cells walls.
2) Contain secretory IgA which prevents microbes from attaching to mucosal cells (this is controlled by adequate amounts of vitamin A in the body).
3) Contains lactoperoxidase which helps to kill microbes.
4) Helps mechanically remove microbes out of the body.
Wow, mucus is really important to our immune system! Unfortunately, when people get sick many reach for antihistamines and OTC medicines that actually dry out their mucus membranes. Let’s explore steps we can take to promote healthy mucus membranes.
Steps to Promote Healthy Mucus Membranes
1) Drink plenty of water.
2) Make sure you are getting fatty acids in your diet (fish, grass-fed beef, supplement with high quality omega 3 fatty acids and make sure you consume healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil, etc).
3) Use a steam humidifier in the winter to keep your tissues moist.
4) Take inventory of your mucus membranes – Do you feel dry (dry lips, skin, mouth, eyes)? Do you drink water when you are thirty or do you ignore your sense of thirst? Is your tongue dry – It will appear dry and may have cracks on the surface. These are all signs you need to moisten your body.
5) Use moistening herbs to strengthen your mucus membranes. The following herbs can be taken as an tincture or a tea to help – Aloe, Solomon’s seal, marshmallow leaf, violet, pleurisy root, licorice, plantain, and mullein.
Nutrients for Immunity
It is important to really make sure you are eating healthy and avoiding a lot of sugary foods. We want to be getting as much nutrition from food as possible to keep us strong. Aim for a large serving of vegetables with each meal as well as several servings of fruit daily. Pick the most vibrant fruits and vegetables for the biggest impact.
Nutrients to Consider Taking as a Supplement
1) Vitamin D – This helps modulate our immune system and too many people are deficient in this. Your blood levels should be between 50-100 ng/mL. If you live above the 29th parallel line you will not get enough from the sun in the winter. Supplement with 2,000-5,000 IU.
2) Vitamin A – This has a direct effect on production of T cells which help attack viral microbes and foreign matter. Since beta-carotene is very difficult to convert into vitamin A, I suggest using actual vitamin A and not beta-carotene. I like A-Mulsion from Genestra.
3) Vitamin C – Eat a few servings of fruits and veggies daily to get your requirement of this. If you still feel like you need to supplement – 500 mg daily is sufficient.
4) Cod liver oil will give you a balance of vitamin D, A and omega 3 fatty acids and is very economical if you can stand the taste.
5) B2, B6, folate, selenium and zinc are also important. If you eat a Standard American Diet (SAD), consider supplementing with a good multi. Brazil nuts are high in selenium (3 per day are sufficient).
Herbs for Immunity
Medicinal Mushrooms – Reishi, Cordyceps, Shitake, Maitake, and Chaga are all tonic fungi that are potent immune amphoterics which help to modulate the immune system. They contain beta-glucans which increase natural killer cell activity by up to 400%. It is important to remember to get these immune enhancing benefits these must be soaked as this makes the beta-glucans available in the mushrooms. You can do this by simmering them for 1-2 hours on the stove or in a crockpot or by cooking them in soups. I love cordyceps especially because it is a lung strengthener. You may find some encapsulated forms that are steam extracted would also work for building the immune system.
Astragalus – This Chinese herb enhances immunity by stimulating white blood cells and increasing production of antibodies and interferon. Take this to build up your immune system. This is not to be taken during an active acute infection. Put 1-4 slices of the root in soups or plain water and simmer for one hour. Drink 1-3 cups daily. You may also take this in tincture form.:
Dealing with stress is so important at this time.
1) Schedule in 7-8 hours of sleep nightly.
2) Exercise – We all know how important this is both for building immunity and combating stress. Take a walk with your family while practicing social distancing.
3) Mindfulness – Focus on the blessing of the moment instead of all the chaos of the day.
4) Nervines – I can’t begin to tell you how herbs can have an impact on helping us to modulate the stress response. Take them as a tea or in a tincture form (1-3 mL 3-4 times daily). Here are a few favorites: Skullcap, Linden (a delicious tea), Chamomile, Passionflower, Damiana, Lavender, Motherwort.
5) Adaptagens – Adaptagens help to balance the HPA axis (this balances stress hormones) which brings a sense of calm groundedness. I love to use non-stimulating adaptagens such as the medicinal mushrooms mentioned above. Another favorite is ashwagandha, which can be made into a tea or used as a tincture.
Many of these herbs can be found in your local health food store or online. If you have any questions or would like a formula made specifically for your needs, please let me know and I can help you with this.
I want you to know this is really not complicated. Let’s just summarize this:
1) Make sure your mucus membranes stay moist.
2) Eat a lots of fruits and veggies and limit your sugar.
3) Supplement with missing nutrients.
4) Pick an herb to build your immune system.
5) Reduce stress as much as possible with the above recommendations.
I hope this information opens up new windows for you to nourish and nurture yourself and your family during this difficult time. I love helping people and am here for you if you need to reach out for more a specific protocol for your own needs. I am currently helping clients via personal consultations through zoom or facetime.