Nutrition and Herbs for Immunity
I was actually out of the country while the pandemic first started spreading globally. (Disclaimer: It was a wonderful trip and I got to enjoy lots of awesome quality time with my family!)
I don’t want to be a part of the hysteria or fear mongering, especially since being fearful and stressed is actually known to LOWER our immunity (1) – but I think it’s important for us to feel empowered and proactive during this time of uncharted territory.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not giving any kind of “end-all-be-all” solutions here (it’s all just based on what I know about immunity and the lungs) – but for too many years, prevention and complementary alternative medicine (including the role of gut health, nutrition and herbs for immunity) have been seriously minimized and brushed off.
If something has potential to help, and it can’t hurt when safety considerations are followed, why not?
Why I’m sharing this
I stand by my conviction that we have a plethora of safe resources available to us in nature (and in abundance) that have an incredible amount of potential to really, really help us.
But before I start…
I’m not a doctor, and there’s no guarantee this will prevent or cure anything related to the pandemic. There are so many variables and we are still learning, and of course none of this should REPLACE hand-washing, sanitizing, social distancing etc.) All direct medical advice related to COVID-19 needs to from from officials like the CDC and front-line medical doctors.
Okay! Here we go…
Take care of your gut.
60-70% of our immune system lives in the gut, and many people with compromised immune systems also have digestive disturbances (2). Bone broth/meat stock and probiotic foods are two great ways to support your immune system at a root level!
Get more sleep if you can!
Sleep is hugely correlated with immune function (3, 4, 5). Speaking from personal experience, before I started taking herbs and healing my gut to support my immune system, I got sick multiple times a year.
Luckily now I use herbs to strengthen my resilience and it’s kept me in the clear so far (knock on wood) when I don’t get enough sleep… but ideally we don’t want to be burning the candle at both ends!
Nutrition for immunity
I could write an entire book on this and what you see below is the tip of the iceberg!
This is not news to most people but it’s something we can get very complacent about. I’m an advocate of getting our vitamins mostly from real food, but when our immune system is actively combating a virus we need a lot more vitamin C.
If you don’t have kidney disease**, I’d say at least a thousand milligrams of vitamin C daily would be helpful (that’s like 13.333 oranges in a day… no thank you!).
- **If you have kidney disease, consult a dietitian to get some custom vitamin C & fruit guidelines based on your labs!
Food sources of Vitamin C
Fresh fruit (berries, citrus, pineapple) is great, but for additional support, assuming you don’t want to eat 13.333 oranges everyday (or probably ANY day), try supplementing.
Vitamin C supplementation
Radiant Life Catalog has some great vitamin C options if you would like to avoid the chaos at your local market, and also get your vitamin C from a natural supplement (versus ascorbic acid, which is actually derived from corn)!
- If you’ve got a hankering for fresh fruit, dietitian Jenna Bradock of Make Health Easy has an orange mango ginger smoothie recipe. It will leave you feeling energized with a nice natural and refreshing burst of vitality, resilience and of course vitamin C!
An anonymous MD and former professor of pathology at University of California San Diego recommends:
- “Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.”
Herbs for immunity
Elderberry has been my go-to for preventing the cold and flu viruses all year round). But like everything else, one size does not fit all! Elderberry is great for some people, but can be harmful for others. (November 2020 update: We talk about elderberry syrup in-depth in my Herbal Potions for Immunity recipe e-book, which was just launched!)
Fire cider is made in a base of raw apple cider vinegar and loaded with anti-inflammatory herbs including primarily garlic, ginger and horseradish. It’s a great option for people with autoimmune disorders interested in incorporating herbs for immunity, as long as the vinegar does not upset your stomach!
- Garlic cloves (cooked from fresh, or infused from raw in fire cider/raw honey) – garlic is proven to modulate the immune system and has anti-viral activity in humans (7, 8). It thins the blood so avoid and check out other options if you’re on blood thinning medication.
- Ginger root (fresh in tea, tinctures, syrups and/or added to soups) – proven to strengthen the immune system and have anti-viral actions in humans (9, 10). Like garlic, ginger thins the blood so avoid and check out other options if you’re on blood thinning medication.
ADAPTOGENS are a class of herbs that help to MODULATE (balance) the immune system. They also reduce the stress response in the body and have lots of other amazing health benefits (you might enjoy my adaptogen chai tea recipe!).
Ginger Webb (my awesome herbalist teacher, founder of the Sacred Journey School of Herbalism in Austin, and owner of Texas Medicinals), is an advocate of using astragalus root for preventive purposes but advises us not to take astragalus once we are ill:
- “Astragalus is an important adaptogen for people to use right now while they are maintaining wellness… Astragalus has a lovely sweet rooty taste and makes me feel really well-nourished. The addition of the chai herbs adds a nice aromatic spiciness with anti-microbial effects!”
Herbs for Lungs
- Chamomile flowers and/or valerian root make great tea infusions/decoctions as well as anti-spasmodics which may help reduce the degree of damage once someone comes down with a cough.
- I have personally been making an herbal cough syrup which includes mullein leaf, wild cherry bark and horehound (potent lung herbs) and will be including the cough syrup recipe in my Herbal Potions for Immunity E-Book ($9.97)!
I hope you stay safe, strong, well and empowered through all of the chaos happening right now. Let’s support one another and this too shall pass!
- Rosenburg, Jaime. (2017). The Effects of Chronic Fear on a Person’s Health. American Journal of Managed Care. Retrieved March 4, 2020 from: https://www.ajmc.com/conferences/nei-2017/the-effects-of-chronic-fear-on-a-persons-health
- Thaiss, C., Zmora, N., Levy, M. et al. (2016). The microbiome and innate immunity. Nature 535, 65–74.
- Bryant, P.A., Trinder, J., Curtis, N. (2004). Sick and tired: Does sleep have a vital role in the immune system? Nature Reviews Immunology, 4, 457–467.
- Irwin, M., McClintick, J., Costlow, C., Fortner, M., White, J., Gillin, J.C. (1996). Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune responses in humans. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, 10, 643–653.
- J Born, T Lange, K Hansen, M Mölle, H L Fehm. (1997). Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on human circulating immune cells. The Journal of Immunology, 158 (9) 4454-4464.
- University of Sydney. “Elderberry compounds could help minimize flu symptoms, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190423133644.htm>.
- Arreola, R., Quintero-Fabián, S., López-Roa, R. I., Flores-Gutiérrez, E. O., Reyes-Grajeda, J. P., Carrera-Quintanar, L., & Ortuño-Sahagún, D. (2015). Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of immunology research, 2015, 401630. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/401630.
- Nantz M. P., Rowe C. A., Muller C. E., Creasy R. A., Stanilka J. M., Percival S. S. Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Clinical Nutrition. 2012;31(3):337–344. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2011.11.019
- Chang JS1, Wang KC, Yeh CF, Shieh DE, Chiang LC. (2013). Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol, 145(1):146-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.10.043.
- Imanishi N, Andoh T, Mantani N, Sakai S, Terasawa K, Shimada Y, Sato M, Katada Y, Ueda K, Ochiai H. (2006). Macrophage-mediated inhibitory effect of Zingiber officinale Rosc, a traditional oriental herbal medicine, on the growth of influenza A/Aichi/2/68 virus. Am J Chin Med, 34(1):157-69.