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Immunity and winter

Immunity and winter

Thanks to Artemis' Education Manager and Medical Herbalist Skye Macfarlane for these tips and advice on using the power of plants to help you in fighting winter-related illnesses. You can find out more about Artemis here and their products are available from all good Life and Unichem pharmacies.

Immunity and winter

Winter is fast approaching already we have noticed the shortening of the days and the cooler temperatures (well in the South anyway!).

As we move forward into the cold season it is important to start thinking about boosting our immunity now. Focusing on prevention is always best, as once you are sick there is not too much you can do to reduce the time you are unwell.

Traditional plant medicine however is something you can incorporate into your daily lifestyle simply and easily.

Plant Medicine for Prevention

Just like nutrient-rich whole foods, whole-plant medicines contain a wide variety of nutrients and unique phytochemicals which support the immune system. For true prevention, take immune-boosting plants daily during the cold and flu season. If you are prone to getting sick, take them all-year round.

It’s important to understand your dose. The same plant medicine combination can prevent and treat, changing the dosage to suit the severity. A low dose works well as a preventative. Whilst a higher, more regular dose, can deal with acute symptoms.

Medicinal plants to boost immune resistance:

Thyme

  • For the common cold, catarrh (stuffy nose or sinuses), bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma
  • A powerful natural antimicrobial: thyme’s essential oils fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections 
  • Expels stubborn phlegm
  • Great for both dry and wet coughs
  • Clinical trials indicate it is as effective as Bromhexine (a common pharmaceutical expectorant) for coughs. 
  • Other research shows that thyme is effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and also improves the efficacy of antibiotics against resistant bacteria. 

Elderflower

  • For the common cold, feverish conditions, sinusitis and catarrh
  • Dries up runny mucous (acutely or in post-nasal drip)
  • Shortens recovery time in colds and influenza
  • A great source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants which modulate the innate immune system 

Plantain

  • Antiviral, antibacterial, immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory
  • Plantain’s soothing and healing properties make it great for sore throats and colds 
  • Ideal for coughs as it soothes the mucous membranes, calming the coughing reflex

Echinacea

Hydrate and Eat Well

This may not seem like ground-breaking news, but you really are what you eat! In the case of your immune system, certain nutrients are required to produce the cells and molecules and ensure everything is working optimally.

Antibodies, for example, are protein compounds. We need enough protein in our diet to keep our muscles working properly and keep our immune system charging. Eat a small amount of protein with each meal or snack. Good sources include nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, eggs, fish, and meat and poultry (organic is best).

Nourishing foods high in vitamins and minerals will help keep the immune system working well. Vitamins A and C and the minerals zinc and selenium are just a few of the nutrients required for a healthy immune system. 

The best way to get these nutrients is to eat a wide variety of brightly coloured plant foods.  The different colours in fruits and veg indicate that they contain different nutrients and phytochemicals such as anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting antioxidants. Some of our favourite immune-boosting foods include carrots, capsicum, kumara, broccoli, leafy greens, citrus fruit, and kiwifruit. Zinc is found in pumpkin seeds and oysters. The best source of selenium is Brazil nuts.

Reduce refined sugar in your diet (as opposed to naturally occurring sugars that are found in fruit) to help keep your immune system healthy. Some studies show that sugar can reduce the function of your white blood cells. Also, some pathogens (eg, the fungus candida) feed on sugar. Eating too much can cause an overgrowth of these bugs.

Fluids are vital. Fluids help to flush out infective microbes. When our mucous membranes in our throat, nose, and sinuses are moist, they act as a physical barrier against infections.

Move More and Rest More

Adequate excercise and rest are vital for a healthy immune system. Exercise helps to modulate the innate immune system, and improve the immune response. However, moderation is the key! Extreme or long-term, strenuous exercise can actually deplete your immune system for a while after the exercise .

Good rest and sleep are also necessary for your immune system. Sleep is the optimal time to repair and heal the immune system, as you are not using your energy for other bodily functions.

Stress Less

Chronic stress is detrimental to our immune systems. While short-term stress is a vital protective mechanism, long-term stress can suppress or alter our innate and adaptive immune responses.  It can promote chronic, low-grade inflammation, which is linked to many prolonged immune conditions, including autoimmune diseases and cancer.

While we can’t always control the stressful situations in our surroundings, we do get to choose how we respond to them. Importantly, our bodies react the same whether the stress is real or perceived.

References

Barry, A., Cronin, O., Ryan, A., Sweeney, B., Yap, S., O’Toole, O., Allen, A., Clarke, G., O’Halloran, K., & Downer, E. (2016). Impact of exercise on innate immunity in Multiple Sclerosis progression and symptomatology. Frontiers in Physiology, 7(194). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4889582/

Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2010). Herbs & natural supplements: An evidence-based guide (3rd ed.). Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Craft, J., Gordon, C., Tiziani, A., Huether, S.E., McCance, K.L., Brashers, V.L., & Rote, N.S. (2011).  Understanding pathophysiology.  Sydney, Australia: Elsevier

Daly, J., Reynolds, J., Sigal, R., Shou, J., & Liberman, M. (1990). Effect of dietary protein and amino acids on immune function. Critical Care Medicine, 18(2). Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/ccmjournal/abstract/1990/02003/effect_of_dietary_protein_and_amino_acids_on.2.aspx

Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Nielsen, H., ├Şktdalen, O., Opstad, P., & Lyberg, T. (2016). Plasma cytokine profiles in long-term strenuous exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016. Doi: 10.1155/2016/7186137