Updated: Apr 1, 2020
A Naturopath's Medicinal Gems!
Contracting the common cold is pretty much a certainty these days with the average adult experiencing between 2-4 colds each year. Winter-time is when most of us experience sickness and although symptoms are usually only mild, they are still unpleasant and inconvenient, adversely impacting our day-to-day activities and often leading to several days off work. Colds can be caused by over 200 different viruses, however most are a form of Rhinovirus, which generally affect the upper respiratory tract.
The combination of a suppressed immune system due to colder weather and favourable environmental conditions for viral and bacterial infections to thrive results in a nightmarish microbiological cascade. To make matters worse, the initial viral infection often leads to bacterial sinus infections that frequently turn chronic, as the inflamed sinus tissue creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to flourish. This in turn leaves us even more susceptible to further viral infections so the common cold can often feel never-ending. Symptoms such as an unshakeable cough is a sure-sign of a nasal infection affecting the sinuses.
In order to effectively combat the condition, the bacteria, virus and sinus tissue must all be targeted simultaneously. Ideally, we should begin to strengthen our immunity with prophylactic measures before the onset of the cold season (“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!). As well as good nutrition, regular exercise and quality rest; certain immune-strengthening and antimicrobial vitamins and herbs can be very effective at preventing illness from occurring in the first instance. They are also very effective at reducing the duration and severity of infections if they do strike. Signs of reduced immune function include fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, apathy, frequent colds or other sickness, poor skin and hair health, allergies, insomnia, mood disorders and inflammatory conditions.
My preference for treating the body is always through the diet as I believe it is the most natural and sustainable option. Increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables, broccoli, capsicum, tomatoes, kiwi fruits and bone broth, as well as fermented foods and drinks such as plain yoghurt, miso, kefir and kombucha are a great way to boost the immune system. For additional support, I recommend taking high-quality vitamins and herbal medicines for their immune-enhancing, antimicrobial and antiviral effects. Herbs such as Elderberry, Echinacea, Thyme, Elderflower, Baical Skullcap, Garlic, Astragalus, Ginger, Licorice Root and Golden Seal are very effective for treating colds and flus, and can be taken as infusions, teas and tinctures.
I’d highly recommend including these herbs in your Home Medicine kit (see my previous post 😊), and preferably under the guidance of an experienced Naturopath or Herbalist. Real herbal tinctures are only available for dispensing by qualified practitioners, who will also advise on the appropriate dosing instructions and any contraindications or drug interactions.
* 3 Key Immune-Boosting Nutrients *
#1 Vitamin C
With strong antioxidant effects and several important roles in the body, vitamin C offers numerous health benefits including immune-boosting, detoxification, skin repair, adrenal support, cardiovascular health and cellular energy production. As an essential vitamin, vitamin C cannot be produced by the body so must be consumed in adequate amounts, which shouldn’t be too difficult as it is one of the most abundant nutrients in our food, with good sources including broccoli, kale, kiwi fruits, red pepper, tomatoes, berries and guava.
Short-term supplementation of high-quality (and sugar-free) vitamin C is also safe at high levels (up to about 3000mg/day). Just make sure you split the dosage throughout the day e.g. 1000mg with each meal to maximise your absorption of the nutrient and to prevent any digestive discomfort.
Another essential nutrient and great antioxidant, zinc is required in numerous biochemical reactions and functions in the body including immune health, digestion, skin health, protein synthesis, growth and development, fertility and particularly male reproductive health. Foods high in this important mineral include beef, chicken, pork, oysters, yoghurt, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms and lentils. Vegans and vegetarians are often deficient so supplementation may be required.
As a supplement for therapeutic purposes, the recommended dosage is 30-50mg per day however these amounts should only be taken short-term to prevent any disruption to the body’s delicate zinc-copper balance. There are also many forms of zinc such as zinc citrate, zinc carnosine, zinc gluconate and zinc picolinate, all serving different functions in the body so I would suggest seeking advice on the best form for you. Take zinc supplements with food to prevent any digestive upset.
#3 Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an excellent immune-modulator, which means it balances the immune system, making it great for both boosting the immune system when needed and for controlling the immune response such as with autoimmune conditions. Sunlight is by far the best source of vitamin D so with our significantly reduced sunshine in the northern hemisphere in Winter, supplementation is often required. Good food sources include fatty fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon), liver, egg yolks and mushrooms.
For therapeutic supplementation, a daily dosage of up to 4000IU vitamin D3 is safe for most adults and often indicated during the darker winter months. As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D3 should be taken with food. Note that the reference range most doctors use for vitamin D levels is low so supplementation may be recommended from a naturopathic perspective if your levels are towards the lower end of the reference range.
* My Special Cold & Flu Herbal Mixture *
To further support the immune system or to help treat a cold or flu, herbs really are the best option as they directly target unwanted symptoms while also fighting off infections and supporting the immune, respiratory and digestive functions.
I offer shortened Naturopathic consultations (30 minutes) if you just require treatment for a cold or flu, and I can provide you with a bottle of my special cold & flu herbal tincture, made from high-grade practitioner-only herbs. There is also a special formula available for kids!
As well as centuries-worth of traditional healing, these particular herbs are also well supported by scientific research, confirming their efficacy for several functions in the body including:
· anti-viral activity against cold & flu viruses
· anti-bacterial activity for both the respiratory and digestive systems
· reducing mucous production
· reducing sinus congestion
· soothing sore throats
· supporting lung + digestive function
#1 Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)
As a traditional Chinese medicine, Baical skullcap has been used for centuries to treat a range of conditions from diarrhoea and insomnia to respiratory infections and inflammatory conditions. The potent antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties lend this herb perfectly to inclusion in any cold and flu treatments. It is also great at reducing nasal passage inflammation which helps to relieve nasal congestion and related breathing difficulties.
#2 Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea + Echinacea angustifolia)
A very well-known herb and a powerhouse for the immune system as well as for the lymphatic system (making it perfect for it’s original use as Native American snake bite medicine!) As a lymphatic herb, echinacea is very effective at reducing swollen glands and helping to relieve congested sinuses. Most scientific research however has focused on echinacea’s ability to increase immune-cell activity and stimulate the immune system. Echinacea is an excellent choice for general immune support, the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections, with both a long history of use and robust scientific evidence. Beware the resultant tingling sensations after a swig!
#3 Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberry is packed with several antioxidants and important vitamins, so has been used for centuries (since the Ancient Egyptians!) to treat colds and flus, urinary tract infections and allergies. The anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a great option for boosting the immune system, treating colds/influenza and soothing sore throats. Several research studies have proven the significant antiviral activity, particularly with upper respiratory tract infections.
#4 Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)
From the same plant as Elderberry, Elderflower is a very effective upper-respiratory astringent/ expectorant, meaning that it effectively relieves nasal congestion and runny noses. As an excellent anti-inflammatory, Elderflower also reduces nasal passage inflammation associated with nasal breathing difficulties, and the diaphoretic activities help to relieve excessive fever.
#5 Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Probably my favourite herb! As well as offering a whole host of amazing medicinal properties (considered a ‘cure-all’ by the Ancient Egyptians!), it’s also really yummy so is a great addition to any herbal mix. Licorice is especially beneficial for the digestive and respiratory systems, as well as during times of stress and fatigue. With anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and anti-tussive properties, the herb is great for relieving symptoms such as coughs and fighting infections.
#6 Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
As well as being an absolute gem for culinary purposes, the herbal extract form of thyme (which is extra potent!) makes an excellent medicinal herb. A favourite of Roman Emperors (!), Thyme provides strong antibacterial and antifungal properties for the respiratory and digestive systems. Being rich in plant phenols, the herb is a powerful anti-spasmodic and cough suppressant, and the herb’s expectorant qualities thin sticky mucous and soothe the respiratory tract. Thyme is now an approved medicine in Germany for the treatment of bronchitis, whooping cough and upper respiratory inflammation.
* Honey Lemon Ginger Tea *
Offering lots of medicinal properties, this simple immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, naturally soothing and hydrating tea really is as easy as brewing some hot water, grating a chunk of fresh ginger, squeezing a lemon and adding a spoonful of raw honey!
#1 Ginger: as well as the well-researched anti-inflammatory properties, ginger’s bioactive compounds, particularly the gingerols and shogaols have been shown to effectively treat sore throats, exert antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal effects and offer potent antioxidant properties to help the body fight infections, strengthen and heal.
#2 Honey: as a natural nectar made by bees, and used in natural medicinal remedies for centuries, honey is naturally soothing and contains numerous powerful nutrients, antioxidants and enzymes that help to boost the immune system and heal the body. As well as offering anti-bacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, honey is also great for soothing sore or itchy throats as well as reducing mucus secretions and coughs.
Always choose raw, unpasteurised honey rather than standard processed/filtered versions, to ensure that your honey contains these nutritional benefits as the refining process removes and destroys most of the important health-promoting properties.
#3 Lemon: as well as being rich in vitamin C, lemons are also full of pectin, an important prebiotic fibre, and flavonoids, which are powerful anti-cancer compounds that also support the beneficial anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties of lemon.
As well as helping to fight off colds and flus, clearing blocked sinuses and soothing scratchy throats, this yummy and warming tea also aids digestion and detoxifies the body!
For maximum effects, repeat every 4 hours until your symptoms subside.
Ø 1 cup hot water
Ø 1 cube fresh ginger root (grated)
Ø 1 tbs lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
Ø 1 tbs raw honey (unpasteurized)
Instructions: Steep the grated ginger in hot water for 3 minutes, then add the lemon and honey. Add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or turmeric at the end for some added spice (and goodness!)
Enjoy 😊 x