Viruses are exceptionally interesting creatures as they are considered beings at the edge of life: In order to reproduce and replicate they require the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of the host organism. Most viruses are extremely susceptible to the state of the immune system of the host organism; the weaker the immune system, higher the chances of experiencing the symptoms of a viral infection. However, the opposite is also true: the more functional and healthier the immune system, the less chances for the virus to infect the body and cause an illness. This rule also applies to the Coronavirus COVID-19 that has started to spread panic among the World's population. As individuals, the most effective actions that we can engage with to improve the global circumstances are to strengthen our immune system, alongside adopting proper sanitary precautions.
The following paragraph is entirely dedicated to describe how to integrate in our diet and lifestyle specific nutrients, supplements and herbs with beneficial effects on the human immune system:
A very well-known essential nutrient, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is naturally found in most fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C plays a key role in ensuring proper functioning of white blood cells with phagocytic action (microbe-swallowing cells) especially neutrophils (1). In addition, vitamin C degenerates at high cooking temperatures and is not stored in the body, so it should be obtained through the regular consumption of raw plant food or supplements.
Foods rich in vitamin C: berries, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables.
Best supplements: Vitamin C in the form of calcium ascorbate (better known as Ester - C). This is a non-acidic form of Vitamin C which has shown to exert its benefits on the immune system for longer time compared to standard supplements.
Daily dose: 1,000 mg
Most of us probably know vitamin D for being the sunshine vitamin; this vitamin is in fact manufactured by the skin following a series of chemical reactions initiated by direct sunlight. Vitamin D is important for immunity as it has a crucial role in the development of specific white blood cells which live in the lymphatic system called lymphocytes. These cells have receptors for vitamin D on their membrane and their activities is strongly connected to the presence of an adequate amount of vitamin D in the blood (2).
Suggested supplementation is 3000 IU if the exposure to sunshine during winter months is scarce. The supplement company called BetterYou manufactured a sublingual spray containing vitamin D which has shown to replenish the body quicker compared to other oral supplements.
Zinc is the most crucial mineral in terms of immunity. Zinc plays a fundamental role in the growth, development and behaviour of some white blood cells such as neutrophils, natural killer cells and T lymphocytes (3)
Zinc-rich foods: red meat, seafood, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. Note: Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are more at risk of having a zinc deficiency
Supplements: Zinc Picolinate. Daily dose: 15 mg to be taken on a full stomach and away from tea or coffee.
PROBIOTICS AND FIBRES
Our gut is home to an exceptional number of bacteria which is two to three times larger than the sum of all the cells that make up the human body. We evolved establishing a wonderful symbiotic relationship with our gut bacteria (which are called the microbiome) and our health and wellbeing heavily rely on them. One of the main roles of our microbiome is to nourish and regulate our immune system; gut bacteria in fact are responsible for providing nourishment to lymphocytes that thrive in a specific lymphatic tissue found in the intestine called Peyer’s patches (4)
Foods that promote the microbiome: Sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, yogurt, chia seeds, ground flaxseed, Jerusalem artichokes
Supplements: Probiotic supplements are a great way to ensure a regular turnover of heathy gut bacteria without relying on consuming fermented foods; these supplements are also highly recommended to individuals wo have been on antibiotic more that once in the last three years. The rule of thumb with probiotic supplements is ‘the higher the number of bacteria and the number of strains present in the supplement, higher the chances to re-colonize the gut quickly and effectively’. In addition, eating soluble fibres such as chia seeds, ground flaxseed, Jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, onions, garlic, etc. nourishes the intestinal flora, promoting its growth and health.
A qualitative supplement usually contains 30+ billion bacteria divided in 5+ strains per dose. To be taken on an empty stomach.
FOOD and SUPERFOODS
Common foods and spices have been shown to support the immune system as they exert antiviral, antibacterial and immuno-stimulating properties. Some examples are garlic, ginger, turmeric, black cumin, cumin, sage, oregano, lemon balm.
More recently the so-called superfoods have become a trend and can be found in almost every supermarket. They are mostly foods of exotic origin with a high nutritional content. Some of them have proven to exert beneficial effects on the immune system:
1) Single cell algae (chlorella and spirulina).
They contain a high content of polysaccharides that have shown to increase the number and activity of natural killer cells (5)
2) Medicinal mushrooms (Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps, Chaga)
Medicinal mushrooms, like to the monocellular algae, contain a high number of immune-stimulating polysaccharides in various proportions. Consumed regularly in capsule or powder, these medicinal mushrooms improve remarkably the quantity and quality of several immune factors (6)
There is a plethora of herbal medicines that can boost the immune system or act as a strong antiviral in the circumstance of an ongoing infection:
1) HERBS WITH IMMUNO-STIMULANT PROPERTIES
Regular consumption of the following remedies in the form of powder, tincture or decoction / infusion as shown to reinforce the immune system and improve the non-specific resilience of an organism to a stressor:
Reishi(Ganoderma lucidum), Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), Licorice, Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera ), He-shou-wu (Polygonum multiflorum).
2) HERBS WITH STRONG ANTIVIRAL PROPERTIES
These remedies are to be consumed in large quantities in form of powder, tincture, syrup or decoction / infusion in the circumstances of an active viral infection:
Oregano, lemon balm, sage, elderberries, thyme, echinacea, andrographis (Andrographis paniculata), liquorice, ginger, garlic, phytolacca (pokeweed decandra), chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). (7)
WHAT TO DO IN BRIEF
In the previous section there have been discussed a lot of information, so at this point one would probably wonder how to practically apply all these notions.
The following paragraph is dedicated to explaining how to achieve an optimally functioning immune system by following just three simple steps.
STEP 1 - DIET
Ensure a regular consumption of foods high in vitamin C, zinc, fermented products and, if possible, spend at least an hour a day exposed to sunlight during the hours of late morning - early afternoon (to boost vitamin D). In individuals of 50+ years, is recommended to take supplements as described in the previous paragraph. In addition, if suspecting a deficiency, tests for levels of zinc and vitamin D can be requested at your GP’s surgery
STEP 2 - SUPERFOODS AND HERBS
Integrating progressively in your diet nutrients and superfoods diet that enhance the immune system may require some dietary adaptation but is a target easily achievable. Spices and herbs (lemon balm, thyme, garlic, ginger, oregano, sage, turmeric, black cumin, cumin, etc.) can be used in flavouring everyday dishes, while the superfoods and immuno-stimulating herbs (especially chlorella, medicinal mushrooms, astragalus , licorice, ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola) can be taken daily in capsules, tablets, tinctures or be used as ingredients for a smoothie. These remedies are readily available online, in health food stores, herbal medicine apothecaries or even in pharmacies.
STEP 3 - ACUTE REMEDIES
In the case of experiencing the symptoms of an acute viral infection, having at home the proper remedies can be a game changer. The most effective and easily obtainable antivirals are:
- Syrup / tincture (alcoholic extract) / tablets of elderberries
- Syrup / tincture of thyme
- Syrup / tincture / tablets of licorice
- Syrup / tincture / tablets of echinacea
- fresh garlic
- fresh ginger
Other effective remedies are:
- Tincture / tablets of andrographis
- Tincture / tablets of garlic
- Tincture / tablets of Chinese skullcap
For additional information about the amount, quality, brand of herbs, superfoods or supplements or any other enquiry you can contact me on www.blueginkgotherapies.com
1) Anitra C. Carr, Silvia Maggini (2017) 'Vitamin C and Immune Function', Nutrients, 9 (1211), pp. 1-25.
2) Cynthia Aranow (2012) 'Vitamin D and the Immune System', J Investig Med, 59 (6), pp. 881-886.
3) Sabina Khanam (2018) 'Impact of Zinc on Immune Response', Curr Immunol Res, 2 (103), .
4) Yasmine Belkaid, Timothy Hand (2015) 'Role of the microbiota in Immunity and inflammation', Cell, 157 (1), pp. 121-141.
5) Hyun Jung Kwak (2012) 'Beneficial immunostimulatory effect of short-term Chlorella supplementation: enhancement of natural killer cell activity and early inflammatory response (Randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial)', J Nutr, 11 (53)
6) M. Powell (2014) Medicinal Mushrooms: A clinical guide, 2nd edn., Merthyr Tydfill: Mycology press.
7) SH Buhner (2013) Herbal Antivirals, 1st edn., North Adams, MA, USA: Storey Publishing.
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