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Previously, I discussed the ways in which viruses can make you sick. In this report on natural treatments to protect against viral illness, I want to focus on plants that boost immunity.
The plant world is bursting with an abundance of protective compounds that have been used for millennia to help people stay healthy and to treat viral, bacterial and fungal infections.
Modern science is exploring these compounds and revealing their multidimensional properties in addressing the health of the whole person and combining immune enhancement, antimicrobial activity and general health benefits. It’s no surprise that these plants are so helpful: Their compounds have evolved to protect plants from extremes of weather and attacks by fungi, bacteria, viruses and natural predators. We can harness the value of these compounds to support our own health and better harmonize us with the rhythms of nature.
Foods As Medicine
Let’s start with the foundation of health: your diet. The phytonutrients found in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables can offer powerful protective effects. For example, a study by researchers at Tufts University isolated dendritic cells, known to activate infection-fighting T-cells. The cells were treated with wolfberry (also known as goji berry) concentrate and incubated for one week. During that time, researchers observed that the maturity and inflammatory activity of the dendritic cells had increased, suggesting an improved immune response. They also took a group of older mice with weak immune systems and administered flu vaccines along with feeding them wolfberries.
The wolfberry-fed mice had a higher antibody response and better protection against the flu. Since the flu vaccine is only about 40 percent effective in protecting older adults compared to younger people, this simple addition to the diet is good news. Berries in general are full of protective phytonutrients and are actually low in sugar, making them ideal for immune and anti-inflammatory support.
A 2011 review article evaluated a number of herbs used in traditional medical systems such as traditional Chinese, Japanese and Ayurveda (traditional Indian healing system). The review authors found many herbs with specific antiviral activity as well as immune enhancement properties:
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Stimulates immune cells called macrophages, stops viral replication of influenza and inactivates the virus. Use it in the form of deglycerized licorice if you have any blood pressure issues.
- Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): Has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity and stimulates the immune system.
- Garlic (Allium sativum): Has shown antiviral activity against influenza and common cold viruses.
- Coconut (Cocos nucifera): Contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) with potent antiviral activity.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Indian gooseberry, aka amla, (Phyllanthus emblica): Has immune-strengthening and antiviral activity.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis): Has potent antiviral properties as well as immune enhancement activities.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): Activates infection-fighting capacity for faster recovery and reduction of symptoms when taken at the first sign of cold or flu.
Many of these herbs are common spices that you can incorporate into your daily meals and beverages.
Using coconut products is another easy and delicious way to add an antiviral and overall health boost to your daily faire. Many coconut products are now available including coconut oil, coconut butter (similar to peanut or almond butter), shredded coconut and coconut milk — a wonderful substitute for dairy.
Mushrooms: Vital Immune Support
Mushrooms have a long and revered history because of their multiple beneficial properties, including immune-enhancing and antiviral benefits. Varieties like reishi, cordyceps and phellinus linteus stimulate the immune system and provide direct antiviral activity. They contain minerals known to be essential to proper immune function including zinc and selenium. They also possess 1,3 beta glucans, a type of carbohydrate shown in numerous studies to modulate the immune system. Research shows these mushrooms can enhance the immune response to influenza vaccines.
I recommend a unique mushroom formula grown on a blend of immune-enhancing herbs that further supports the mushrooms’ benefits. This formula combines six specific mushrooms: coriolus, reishi, agaricus, cordyceps, umbellatus and maitake, together with extra beta 1,3 glucans for a powerful immune-supportive regimen.
In addition to a nutrient-dense, whole food diet, a few well-chosen mushroom supplements and herbal extracts, along with a food-based multivitamin/mineral, can provide extra support during this vulnerable season. By harnessing the power of nature, we can bathe our cells in protective phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins that have powerful beneficial properties. Add in a bit of extra common sense, like frequent hand washing, and you just might find yourself sailing through the season without even a sneeze.
For more in-depth immune health information, download a copy of my free immune wellness guide at http://www.dreliaz.org/wellness-guide/cold-and-flu/.