Herbs for Winter Defense
As the first waves of cold winter weather sets in, the winter berries begin to ripen and the last of the Fall leaves let go. A chill goes through my body when I step outside to find the temperature has dropped significantly overnight. I return inside to dig through my drawers for sweaters and my heavy socks. Now that I am nice and warm, I grab a few Allergy Lung formula before leaving the house – this is my cold weather friend.
Seasonal Allergy formula (formally called ALJ) has been a staple in my herbal medicine cabinet for more than 25 years. Most people think of using this formula to help their body deal with allergens in the air, and I am no exception. I keep Allergy Lung formula on my counter all during the spring blooming season. However, upon studying the herbs in the formula, I discovered that this is a wonderful formula for boosting the body’s defenses when cold weather sets in.
The first herb in the Seasonal Allergy formula is Boneset –this herb gets its name directly from its traditional use of helping the body fight off the flu. The flu’s original name was “break-bone” fever because of the achy bones that came with the onset of the symptoms. The herb Boneset was found to help get rid of the aches and pains associated with the flu. Boneset has traditionally been used to help the body overcome cold symptoms, to induce sweating and relieve achy joints, and fever. The herb Boneset also has expectorant properties which help to loosen and dissolves mucus – which is why it is so helpful with spring allergy symptoms.
The next 3 herbs in the formula are interesting: Fennel, fenugreek and horseradish which are all spicy aromatic herbs, which have warming properties in the body. These herbs act as expectorants to loosen and dissolve mucus. In addition, these herbs help to improve digestion and may help break up gas and relax intestinal spasms. The herb fenugreek also helps to soothe irritated tissues in the sinus and digestive tract. Since the body’s response to sudden cold weather tends to create a lot of mucus, these warming spicy herbs are a real blessing. The last herb in the formula is Mullein – this is a cooling mucilaginous herb which means it is soothing to mucus membranes. Mullein also has natural expectorant properties like the other herbs in the formula. The cooling effect of the mullein helps to calm the energy of the other spicier herbs to bring balance to the formula.
On days that I feel really cold I will often take a capsule of Capsicum, this herb increases circulation and pushes the body warmth to the extremities. You can also empty a capsule in a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of honey. It burns the throat a bit going down, but it warms the body nicely. Capsicum is very healing to the mucus membranes of the throat and stomach and was an old remedy for stomach distress.
The Immune system and Viruses
We have all had those days when we start to feel achy, our heads get a little stuffy or we start to sneeze we can just tell we are “fighting off a virus”. Although we all use that term few of us have given much thought to what a virus is or how to defend against it. A virus is not classified as a living thing for they cannot reproduce on their own. They are made up of genetic coded material of DNA or RNA wrapped in a protein coating to protect and hide them. When you walk through a grocery store there are literally billions of viruses in the air all the time. Billions – wow, shouldn’t we all be sick all the time? Viruses are dormant when in the environment, they activate once they get inside a host’s cell. This is probably why there are so many of them just floating around all the time, just waiting for the right opportunity to come along. The best analogy I can think of for a virus is that they are like computer programs which get into your cells and take over. Once inside your cells they high jack your cellular structure and turn your cells into virus replicating machines. Once enough virus particles are produced inside the cell, the host cell may burst, which releases the virus into the bloodstream. At this point we call this a virus infection, as it now enters your bloodstream and travels in the body.
- Some viruses create full blown infections such as a flu virus, the body’s responds to this with coughing, sneezing, or diarrhea. This allows the virus to leave the body and make its way back into the environment to spread further.
- Other viruses travel to other cells in the body and can hide there for years or decades, activating when your immune system gets run down, such as a herpes virus or shingles virus (chickenpox).
So how do we protect ourselves and fight such a weird insidious invader?
The body is highly intelligent and has several mechanisms to defend against viruses. When your cell is infected by a virus it puts out a warning signal to your immune system and to other cells “help I’m under attack,” to send this message the cell produces special proteins called Interferons which are a type of cytokine (signaling cell). Interferons interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate; they do this by warning the other cells about the presence of the virus. The interferon also triggers the release of immune cells such as T-cells and natural killer cells, this helps the other cells protect themselves from the virus and inhibits its ability to spread. My favorite anti-viral supplement is NSP’s Nature’s Immune Stimulator I keep this powerful immune activating formula in my natural medicine chest all the time. The herbs and supplements in this formula help your body to produce interferon and cytokines and activates the virus fighting immune cells. Normally I take 2 capsules 2-3 times a day, when I feel like I am run down and may be susceptible to a virus. It helps to activate my immune system while I adjust in my lifestyle and diet to regain my body's vital energy.
Special Note: The Corona virus is quite different from other viruses because it blocks the body's ability to produce interferon (to help the body recognize the invader) and increases the cytokine production which results in too aggressive an attack by your immune system. This results in too much inflammation in the body, particularly the lungs (in the case of the Corona virus). If you feel you have been exposed to the Corona Virus, then you should stop taking your Immune Stimulator formula. I would switch to herbal blends that help reduce the inflammatory response in the body and have an affinity to the lungs, such as Garlic, LymphoMax, and Olive leaf. Curcumin might also be a good choice as it is being studied for its helpful attributes with fighting this virus and reducing inflammation.
Prevention is the key - so, I have been taking a variety of immune strengthening or "anti-viral" herbs on a regular basis. This term is a bit misleading since a virus is not a living thing, you are not killing off the virus. Anti-viral herbs help activate the part of your immune system which protects against viral replication and helps the body recognize the virus. Formulas I really like are Chinese Lung Support, Chinese Trigger Immune, Echinacea, High Potency Garlic, Olive Leaf, LymphoMax, Defense Maintenance, vitamin D3 with Elderberry and Zinc. I do not take all of these every day, but I have them all in my herbal medicine chest. During times that I feel run down or under stress, I take several of them daily. I rotate the formulas often; I might take some echinacea for 3-5 days and then switch to olive leaf if I feel I still need support. I let my intuition guide me as to which ones my body wants each day, just like you might crave a salad one day and an apple the next. I also keep formulas like Seasonal Allergy formula (formally ALJ), Marshmallow/Fenugreek, and Fenugreek and Thyme on my shelves as well. If I start to develop too much mucus in the sinus or lungs these types of herbal formulas help thin mucus and soothe irritated mucus membranes. The reason I keep the variety of formulas available is twofold: 1). In a family of 4 people, different formulas work better for different individuals. For instance, my body tends to like Marshmallow/Fenugreek while my husband likes Fenugreek and Thyme.
2). The herbs in these formulas have slightly different properties so one formula might work better in each situation over another.
Viruses and bacteria do not like high temperatures - the body often produces a fever to deactivate them. Viruses are typically deactivated at temperatures above the normal body temperature. Our eldest son has a great immune system, if he starts to get sick his body immediately raises his temperature, he goes to bed and in 24 hours he is all better. Not all of us are so lucky to have this efficient a system. You can mimic this effect in the body by taking a hot ginger bath to raise the body temperature and induces sweating may be a useful tool for knocking out a virus.
Ginger Bath - fill bathtub with very hot water (to your comfort level) add:
o 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, or 1 tsp of ground ginger (empty ginger capsules if you like)
o 1 cup of Epsom salts and a ½ cup baking soda to help relax the muscles, alkalize the body and releases toxins.
o 20 drops of NSP’s Essential Shield oil blend or other anti-viral essential oils like tea tree oil, eucalyptus, clove, lavender, or lemon balm (very relaxing), Soak for 20 minutes
Get out of the tub and wrap yourself in a sheet or bathrobe and get under the covers to encourage sweating.
Essential oils can also help improve your immune function some of my favorites are NSP’s Essential Shield, oregano oil, lemon oil, eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil. Diffuse or wear these oils when you feel you are fighting off a virus.
The first and foremost protection is to not let the viruses in to the cells in the first place. Remember those billions of viruses floating around? The reason everyone is not sick and fighting them off every day is because they need a key to get into your cell. There is a lot of technical stuff on how they do this, but what we want to know, is how do we block this action so their “key” does not fit? The answer lies in having a healthy cell membrane. A healthy cell membrane blocks the entry of the virus into the cell.
1.) Antioxidants like those in Defense Maintenance are key for this.
2.) Providing essential fatty acids for healthy cells membranes, which creates a barrier to keep out viruses.
3.) eating foods which contain electrolytes and trace minerals (greens) which charge the cell membrane (I like Ultimate Green Zone, alfalfa, or Spirulina for this) and eating a diet high in glycol nutrients (fresh sun ripened fruits and veggies).
There are many key supplements which protect the cell permeability from viruses:
· COQ10, EFA (fish oils,) and Evening primrose – protects cell membrane from the virus getting into the cell.
· Ionic minerals, alfalfa, and greens for trace minerals and to activate enzymes. Enzymes break down the protective coating around the cells, in which viruses can hide.
· Green Foods, organic foods, real foods – turns on disease fighting DNA and keeps the blood alkaline – viruses thrive in an acidic environment.
· Get plenty of Antioxidants - I like Defense Maintenance formula for this (contains, Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc, and Selenium in a base of plants which have high antioxidant properties). Antioxidants protect the cell membranes from free radicals which damage cell membranes.
· Support stress with extra B-Complex – High stress creates free radical damage which leaves the cells open to a viral attack. Nutri-Calm is my favorite B-Complex because it also includes herbs to feed and balance your nervous system, as well as some vitamin C to strengthen your adrenal glands. I add the formula Adrenal Support when I get run down.
· Calcium is important in stopping virus replication. Note: Nature’s Sea Calcium is a plant-based calcium which also contains magnesium and all 77 trace minerals. I like this form of calcium for daily intake and use a manmade calcium only when I want higher concentrations.
· Clean up the diet, no white sugar or white flour products. No processed foods.
· Keep active and practice breathing exercises – this is important as viruses do not thrive well in an oxygenated environment. Qi Gong is the best exercise to oxygenate the blood.
I pray this inspires you to take steps to build your health. May you honor your body, and the food from the earth, and live a healthy vibrant life.
Blessings, Valerie Greguire, CH, Natural Health Consultant
Disclaimer: Supplement recommendations are not designed to treat a disease condition. Discussions are for educational purposes only. Supplements should be used to nourish and strengthen the natural function of the various body organs and systems so that they will have a greater capacity to heal themselves. It is not intended to replace your doctor's recommendations. Any questions or concerns that you have regarding existing medical conditions, or the use of medications with supplements, should be discussed with your nutritionally oriented medical doctor.
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