As we face another winter, this month we will re-cap how important good food and traditional methods of cooking and eating as well as many common herbs and spices can make a massive difference to your immune system.
It seems our ability to fight infection is directly related to adequate sleep, while increased stress levels also depresses our immune response. Trials have shown that 20 minutes of meditation helps fight infections, so relax and get plenty of sleep if you’re run down. Recent studies on type 2 diabetes have found that eating sugar has a measurable decrease in immune function, so keep sugary foods to only a treat, not every day.
Supplementation to boost immunity depends on what you take when, vitamin A (think carrots), C and E work best when taken prior to getting a cold. This includes cod fish liver oil for the kids (eg.Hypol), eating sardines, salmon etc, butter and eggs are rich in vitamin A and D that is vital for immune function. Astragalus is a Chinese herb that has shown real promise in clinical trials in boosting immune cell count, as does Shitake and Reishi mushrooms. Zinc and selenium are important for fighting infection and is effective taken as a preventative as well as when you have a cold. Echinacea has shown repeatedly to be most beneficial when taken during the early phases of a cold, as well as Koran ginseng, while both are useful to take as winter takes hold to boost what we know of in Chinese Medicine as your ‘defensive Qi’.
Food is the most important daily medicine. Research shows that one of our most common vegetables is very important. Carrots that have been boiled for around 15 minutes release in an absorbable form high levels of interferon that interferes with viral replication. Soup is the easiest way then to boost your immunity daily. During the research for this article there were many articles on Science Direct and Google Scholar that showed immune boosting aspects to many herbs and vegetables. Very prominent herbs/foods include, sage, thyme, oregano, celery, cinnamon, barley and Gou Ji Berries. Warm soups are clearly an ancient remedy that is fully supported by research.
Try and avoid raw foods as they are difficult to digest when your body is adjusting to a colder season and cold drinks also put cold in our tummies while the body is trying to keep warm so drink warm water, hot teas and lots of healthy soup. Keeping yourself warm inside and out is paramount as it enables your immune system to resist the invasion of pathogens so adding warming spices such as a good sprinkle of cinnamon on your brekky each morning really boosts inner warmth. Ginger is also warming, a digestive aid and helps your body’s immune function. Add a few fresh slices with lemon and honey as a tea, and add ginger to your stir-fries and curries and pumpkin soup. Turmeric, chilli, garlic and black pepper are all very warming and assist in fighting cold and flu. The trick is to eat these things daily in which-ever way takes your fancy. Stewed fruit is an easy way to incorporate warming spices, a great excuse to eat warming apple crumbles with cloves nutmeg and cinnamon or poached pears and cinnamon and ginger are really lovely ways to get that inner cosy going.
Remember antibiotics do nothing to viruses, only bacterial infections, while they kill your good digestive bacteria which has been clinically shown to assist in immune function. Anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen suppress the immune system and thus allow viruses to sink deeper into the body so avoid them and use simple cooling methods such as tepid water and lavender as a compress and peppermint/chrysanthemum tea to cool a fever. Aspirin can be used for pain and is also an anti-coagulant so may be a better choice if you catch Rona! With a cold damp winter that we are having so many people are struggling this year with Flu etc, so boosting your intake of leeks, onions, spring onions, garlic etc are very good for warming lungs and clearing phlegm. These are best in soups such as chicken vegetable or minestrone or add to a stew. So get into some immune boosting herbs now, and remember to talk to your health professional for more specific advice.
Until next time
Dr Angie Palmer