Back to School and Immunity

Who can believe that we are approaching the end of August? And who else feels like we are experiencing a collective deja vu of last year? With kiddos going back to school, and variants taking over, we thought it would be nice to give a little recap of some tips and herbal remedies that we love for keeping ourselves in tip top shape. 

A friend of mine who has been isolating for the last year and a half came to me with the realization that it seems inevitable that we will all end up getting the virus eventually, and studies are confirming that Coronavirus is here to stay, and that we need to learn how to live with it. In other words, Coronavirus will become endemic and just like the common cold, sooner or later, we will all be exposed and will build natural immunity to it. Besides masks, vaccines and isolating, what more can we do? I have been taking herbs consistently and feel confident knowing that I am building up my internal terrain to be at its best and to trust that my body knows what to do.

The French chemist Antoine Béchamp was a rival to the great microbiologist Louis Pasteur, In the 1800s, Louis Pasteur popularized the germ theory, proposing that microorganisms are the cause of most diseases. Béchamp, on the other hand, argued that microbes became dangerous when the health of the host—its “terrain” or environment—deteriorated.

The germ theory prevailed for many many years and paved the way for antibiotics—which kill both good and bad bacteria—and vaccines—which seek to prevent single diseases as a way of treating and preventing infectious diseases.

Unlike the germ theory, the terrain theory explains why some people get sick while others, when exposed to the same pathogens, do not. Scientists studying the microbiome are now realizing that Béchamp was onto something and that healing the terrain can make it inhospitable for viruses and pathogens to invade and thrive.

Think about it. Microbes cover everything and intrude everywhere. They flourish at the bottom of the cold sea and in the vents of boiling hot springs; bacteria can even survive in radioactive waste. Between one to ten percent of the mass and half the cells in animals are microbiota. Sterility is also undesirable. Symbionts provide metabolic capabilities lacking in animals, such as vitamin B synthesis in termites and the digestion of grass in cows, and they modulate cellular signaling networks that regulate functions necessary for animal health, receiving in return nutrients and protection. Many plants are equally dependent on microbes: peas, clover, soy, and beans have nodules on their roots that host bacteria, fixing nitrogen from the air in the plant. In payment, the plants feed their commensal friends with sugars.

You, too: Your cells have around 20,000 to 25,000 genes, but your microbiome boasts 500 times more. Your microbiota are mostly harmless, but many are functionally important to you also, crowding out more harmful microbes, teaching your immune system to recognize enemies, and influencing behavior like your appetite. One third of human milk is composed of sugars called oligosaccharides, but babies cannot digest them; the sugars are food for microbes, which furnish infants with essential nutrients that grow their brains and proteins that seal their guts.

We can only understand animals and plants by comprehending how they interact with the communities of microorganisms that live within and on their surfaces. But this insight was originally Béchamp’s; he understood that what we now call “dysbiosis” was just an imbalance or maladaption of the microbiome.

“Germs seek their natural habitat – diseased tissue – rather than being the cause of diseased tissue.” - Antoine Béchamp.

Both theories are, in fact, important. Because of poor soils and the prevalence of toxic chemicals and metals in our foods, air and water, today's bodies are generally weaker. Add to that the stress, insufficient diets and fast food, radiation and electromagnetic fields (EMFs), it is important that we have medicines to help us combat invading microbes if our bodies do not have a strong enough immune system to deal with them naturally. Taking precautions to protect yourself from catching the latest sickness like the Coronavirus is important such as frequent hand washing and avoiding large crowds. But what is more important, is working on the 'terrain', the body's inner environment making it inhospitable to viruses and pathogens.

“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” - Hippocrates

COVID-19 has led many to get their health in order.  There is actually a lot you can do to strengthen your immune system, and it doesn’t just work for Coronavirus.  It works for all infectious diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and degenerative diseases.

Eat real food. At first, it can take a change in mindset and then an adjustment in one’s taste buds to eat good, healthy, local food. Like all other living human cells, immune cells are powered by mitochondria, which require oxygen, vitamins, minerals, and fat. Chemicals and refined sugars will actually paralyze white blood cells. It only takes a few days without sugar for a person to discover how good real food tastes when artfully prepared.

Micronutrients. Even organic food is deficient in micronutrients unless these are added to the soil prior to planting.  Most laboratories measure levels of micronutrients in the bloodstream.  What’s important is not what is floating around in your bloodstream, but what’s actually in your cells. Functional testing tells us whether you have enough of each micronutrient for your cells’ needs.  Of particular importance to immune function are Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.

Maximize oxygen delivery to your cells. Immune cells convert oxygen into ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and free radicals to destroy harmful microorganisms. Anything that reduces the oxygen that reaches those cells makes them less-effective scouts and warriors. Tobacco smoke is particularly effective at diminishing cellular oxygen.

Get adequate unmedicated sleep. Modern research has demonstrated that sleep is not only essential for proper brain function, but also for healthy immune function. Unfortunately, a variety of factors impair healthy sleep in our society. Lifestyle changes, in combination with identification and treatment of underlying causes of insomnia, can often free people of the need for chemicals to knock them out at night.

Exercise in moderation. Studies demonstrate that appropriate amounts of exercise enhance your ability to fight off infection in a number of ways.  Physical exertion increases oxygenation of all cells, mobilizes white blood cells, increases autonomic balance, reduces stress, increases healthy cytokines (immune messengers), and more.  But more is not always better.  Recent cases of Coronavirus in high-profile athletes remind us of the well-documented fact that excessive physical activity actually impairs immunity, thereby increasing infection risk.  Short of that, getting out to exercise in nature, especially with friends or family, can be very beneficial to your immune system.

Optimize your vitamin D status. If you are looking merely to prevent rickets and osteomalacia, the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation of a minimum vitamin D level of 30 is adequate. If, by contrast, you are concerned about preventing infectious disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, pregnancy complications, and other diseases, you want to find the dose of vitamin D that keeps your blood level much higher, while at the same time avoiding going too high. Numerous studies have documented multiple roles of this hormone in improved immune function and resistance to infections, specifically respiratory infections.

Take liposomal colostrum. It is not by accident that the first milk a baby receives is colostrum. In its new environment, the newborn is suddenly barraged with microorganisms that its immune system has not seen before. Colostrum is full of antibodies, growth factors, repair factors, immune messengers, and immune stimulants.

Balance your autonomic nervous system. This system takes care of the business you don’t want to have to think about, like breathing, pumping your heart, digesting food and absorbing nutrients, controlling your blood pressure, and repairing damaged tissues. When you are asleep, the parasympathetic system is dominant. When you are in peril, excited, or need a lot of energy fast, the sympathetic system dominates. Other than that, they should be in a state of balance.

Aside from all of the above, I also take elderberry syrup as a preventative medicine, I add lots of onion, garlic and ginger to my food, I alternate my teas daily to get a nice mix of herbs, and I focus on supporting my detox pathways (liver and gallbladder) with herbs like milk thistle and dandelion. I support my lymph with dry brushing, massage and herbs like calendula. I support my nervous system and bring down stress with movement, good sleep and herbs like lemon balm, chamomile and tulsi and I keep tinctures and teas on hand. Here are some of my favorite antiviral herbs, which many of you may have stocked in your pantry such as oregano, ginger and garlic. I also love making fire cider every fall and taking a spoonful at the onset of a cough, sore throat, or any other cold symptoms (find the recipe below).

Antiviral herbs are herbs that inhibit the development of viruses. Many of the best antiviral herbs boost the immune system which allows the body to attack viral pathogens. This can be even better than attacking specific pathogens, which antiviral drugs are designed to do, because pathogens mutate over time and become less susceptible to treatment. Not only do antiviral herbs fight viral infections, boost the immune system and work as natural flu remedies, they have a number of other health benefits, such as being cardio protective, liver protective, brain protective, digestive aids, rich in antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory tonics. 

These are just some of many excellent herbal medicines that assist with immune protection. Many of these plants are nutrient dense powerhouses that not only assist the immune system, but tackle different aspects to body-mind protection.

CATS CLAW - The bark and root of cat’s claw have been used by Central and South Americans for centuries to treat health problems including fevers, stomach ulcers, digestive conditions and dysentery. Cat’s claw is used as a natural arthritis remedy and may treat ulcer symptoms as well. Cat’s claw has antiviral properties, and it can help get rid of herpes. Early studies are researching its effects on HIV as well. This powerful herb is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-fungal. It’s used to treat digestive problems such as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and leaky gut syndrome.

CALENDULA - Calendula flower has been shown to fight viruses like rhinovirus and vesicular stomatitis by reducing their multiplication. It can heal inflammation, infections, ulcers and even ear infections! Calendula  is also recognized as a cleansing herb that helps treat chronic infections and reduces inflammation, as well as helping heal ulcers and eradicate ear infections.

GINGER - Ginger root is an excellent remedy for nausea and upset stomach that often comes when fighting a virus but, it also wages war against the virus itself. It does this by blocking the attachment of viruses to areas that are commonly infected first, like your airways. Keep in mind that many of the studies showing ginger’s effectiveness use fresh ginger rather than dried.

GARLIC - From ancient India to the medieval streets of Europe, garlic has a long history of use when it comes to infections. Some of these uses included using garlic as a treatment for leprosy, parasitic infections, and as an antibiotic for infectious diseases. Today, garlic’s reputation as a potent antimicrobial is well-known. Studies have shown that it has the ability to combat the flu virus, the common head cold virus, HIV, and pneumonia, just to name a few.

ASTRAGALUS - A very popular adaptogen used since ancient times for its highly protective and immune protective properties. More modern research has revealed Astragalus to contain natural antiviral properties suggesting that it may help prevent colds and similar viral infections. Astragalus is also used within Traditional Chinese Medicine to increase endurance, and resistance to a wide range of stressors(biological, chemical, physical, mental, etc.) helping the endocrine system directly curb the damaging effects to a variety of pathogens.  

ELDERBERRY - If you’re suffering from a cold or flu, elderberry is a must. Studies have shown that people infected with influenza virus A and B experienced 91 percent improvement after taking elderberry for seven days, while also reducing their fevers and increasing their feelings of improvement. It’ll boost your immune system while eradicating the virus. Elderberry is commonly taken alongside echinacea to boost and protect the immune system. 

ECHINACEA - Echinacea is one of the most popular antiviral herbs on the market when it comes to fighting viruses and bacteria- and for good reason. Not only does it have the ability to boost your immune system by stimulating the production of cells to help fight infections, but it also contains phytochemicals that fight and help reduce infections once they occur. We love using both the Echinacea purpurea, and Echinacea angustufolia as they both have different actions when tackling ailments, and together create the perfect harmony.

MILK THISTLE - We’ve all heard about milk thistle being an excellent liver and gallbladder tonic, yet this powerfully thorny plant has quite the handful of healing abilities. The silymarin, one of the main active compounds, of milk thistle when extracted in alcohol is known to have antioxidant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

REISHI - The Chinese name Ling-Zhi represents a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality, and is regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency,” symbolizing success, well-being, divine power, and longevity. Reishi (G. lucidum) is unique in that its pharmaceutical rather than nutritional value is paramount. The health benefits of Reishi include control of blood glucose levels, modulation of the immune system, hepatoprotection (liver protection), bacteriostasis, and more. And it’s standardized extracts of the broken cell wall mushrooms have shown to have the highest absorbable rate of its bioactive compounds, including increasing its antiviral and antimicrobial activity.

ST JOHN’S WORT - is more well-known for its ability to treat depression and neuralgia but it also has potent antiviral chemicals called hypercin and pseudohypericin that proactively fight off viruses that thrive by imitating existing cells through “cloaking”. These viruses that masquerade as human cells include Herpes, HIV and Hepatitis C. 

OREGANO - Specifically oregano essential oil contains significant antiviral properties. Studies show its active component, carvacrol, can deactivate viruses like human norovirus (sometimes referred to as the “vomit bug”) within one hour of contact. In addition, Mexican oregano oil has been shown to be effective against viruses like acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus type 1 and human respiratory syncytial virus.

 

FIRE CIDER RECIPE

A delicious immune-boosting health tonic using classic pantry staples such as fresh horseradish, ginger, garlic, onions, cayenne pepper, raw apple cider vinegar and honey. If you're missing some of these ingredients, not to worry it's absolutely adaptable and easy to switch out some of the seasonings and herbs.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup freshly peeled and grated ginger root

1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish root

1 medium onion, chopped

10 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped

2 organic jalapeño peppers, chopped

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 Tablespoons dried rosemary leaves

1 Tablespoon turmeric powder or 2 Tablespoons freshly grated turmeric root

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup raw honey, or to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1 Add ginger, horseradish, onion, garlic, jalapeño peppers, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, turmeric and cayenne powder into quart-sized glass jar.

2 Pour apple cider vinegar in the jar until all the ingredients are fully covered and the vinegar reaches the top of the jar. You want to be sure all the ingredients are covered to prevent spoilage.

3 Use a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal, or use a plastic lid if you have one.

4 Shake jar to combine all the ingredients and store in a dark, cool place for 4-6 weeks, remembering to shake the jar a few seconds every day.

5 After one month, use a mesh strainer or cheesecloth to strain out the solids, pouring the vinegar into a clean jar. Be sure to squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. This stuff is liquid gold! The solids can be used in a stir-fry or you can compost/discard them.

6 Add honey to the liquid and stir until incorporated.

7 Taste your fire cider and add more honey if needed until you reach your desired sweetness.

8 Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator or in a cold, dark place.

9 Drink 1-2 Tablespoons when needed.