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With cold & flu season just around the corner, Ebola scaring the world, and Enterovirus D68 sweeping across the nation, I have gone into super immune-boosting mode. These last couple winters have been amazing! I have seen first hand how a well supported immune system can hold up when everyone else around me is getting sick. With everything that I have been learning about health, nutrition and our body's immune system, I have realized that health definitely doesn't come in plastic prescription bottles. Health starts from the inside out!
The immune system is the key to staying healthy
Our first line of defense against any bug that comes our way, the immune system is the key to staying healthy while everyone around you is falling ill. There are many health factors that all affect the immune system and if any one of them are disrupted, your immune system can fall causing you to get sick MUCH easier. With a healthy immune system, I am rarely sick and when I do somehow manage to catch someone else's bug, I am sick for a much shorter period of time. Some of the health factors that affect your immune system are:
- Sleep – Failing to get your daily dose of shut-eye can instantly destroy your immune system. During times of illness and when others around you are sick, it is double important to be vigilant about your sleep!
- Diet – Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once said, “let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.” This is a very important quote because the health of our immune system is directly correlated with what we put into our bodies! A diet rich in whole foods is key to maintaining the health of your immune system. Eating fast food, over processed sugar treats, and other synthetic foods do not give the body the nutrients it needs to heal itself.
- Exercise – It is very important to get regular exercise to help maintain the function of all of your organs. A lot of people think that this means vigorous exercise, but regular gentle workouts with yoga, swimming, or hiking are really all that's needed to maintain your body's health.
- Gut Health – One of the most important and often overlooked health factors is your gut health. Gut health has now been directly linked to your immune system and those suffering from what's called a “Leaky Gut” often find themselves sick more often. There are all sorts of things that can destroy your gut's natural bacteria leading to a lower immune system but the biggest culprits are an unhealthy diet (fast foods, pesticides, and over processed foods can all destroy the balance in your gut) and taking antibiotics (they kill ALL the bacteria in your body, the good and the bad!). Taking probiotics daily by drinking kefir (you can either buy kefir from your local grocery store or you can make all sorts of fermented beverages such as this Strawberry Water Kefir, Lactofermented Sparkling Apple Cider, or Apple Pomegranate Water Kefir!) or even drinking Kombucha (You can either buy it from the grocery store or make it yourself. You can even flavor your kombucha with herbs and fruit to make it tastier and more immune boosting!)
- Sunshine & Vitamin D – Vitamin D is essential to your body's immune system because it helps immune cells make new antibodies. Recent studies are showing that people with low levels of vitamin D are at an increased risk for respiratory infections. A 2010 study in kids showed that 1200 IU a day of supplemental vitamin D reduced the risk of influenza A. In the summertime it can be a lot easier to get your daily dose of Vitamin D, but in the wintertime in some locations around the world, you may have to supplement it. Taking fish oil supplements (Nordic Naturals is my favorite pure and sustainable source for all things fish oil) and consuming wild caught fish can help supplement some of the Vitamin D in your diet.
Herbs that help to boost and support the immune system
There are plenty of herbs that help to boost and support the immune system. You can incorporate some of these herbs in your cooking, in tea, or even add them to an immune boosting tincture.
- Astragalus root – Used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus is considered an immune boosting “super herb” that also strengthens the digestive system and aids in adrenal gland function. Studies done in the US have shown Astragalus to boost cancer patients immune system during and after radiation therapy. In addition, studies have also shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it may help prevent colds.
- Calendula flowers – Calendula is widely recognized for its ability to disinfect and heal external wounds and skin irritations. Calendula petals, however, offer tremendous internal benefits as they are anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-tumor! Calendula is great for reducing fevers as well.
- Chamomile flowers – Chamomile has a long history of medicinal use. A study published in the Jan. 26 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that chamomile tea contains compounds that may help fight infections due to colds. It’s natural soothing and anti-inflammatory properties also make it great at helping to soothe all kinds of coughs, headaches, achy muscles, and even help you get more rest.
- Cinnamon chips – Like ginger, cinnamon is a warming herb that helps with circulation, congestion, and boosting immunities which makes it a great addition to any cold and flu remedy.
- Whole Cloves – Used for centuries as a natural anesthetic by Dentists all over the world, to help numb toothaches, mouth ulcers, and sore throats, cloves are highly antiseptic and antibacterial. This warming herb is great with circulation, congestion, and boosting immunities.
- Echinacea root – Used for centuries and clinically studied for years, Echinacea is a very well known immune boosting herb that helps speed up healing and is naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal. Echinacea is one of the staple immune boosting herbs that I always add to my tinctures and syrups.
- Elderberries – Rich in antioxidants and Vitamins A and C, elderberries have been clinically proven to be more effective at fighting the flu than Tamiflu! In one study published in the Journal of International Medical Research, 90% of Norwegian influenza patients who took the elderberry extract were free of the flu virus within three days, compared to six days for the control group who took placebos. I always add elderberries to my immune boosting tinctures and syrups because of this!
- Eleuthero root – This tonic herb, also known as Siberian Ginseng, has some very notable effects on the immune system as well. It’s a powerful, yet gentle herb on the body, which is why research suggests it’s the safest and most efficient immune-stimulant available for children.
- Garlic – Used for centuries as a natural antibiotic, this antibacterial and antiseptic herb is great at boosting immunities and helping get rid of a cold or the flu. Great at fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria, garlic has been known to help with MRSA, yeast infections, viruses, and parasites.
- Ginger root – A warming herb that has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase circulation, boost your immunities, and even help to relieve coughs and sore throats. Ginger is an all around herb that I use in all of my cold related syrups!
- Lemon balm – A naturally antibacterial and antiseptic herb, lemonbalm has long been used to help with digestion and aid in sleep. A tonic herb, lemonbalm also helps induce perspiration helping to break a fever.
- Nettle leaf – One of the most nutritious herbs chock full of vitamins and minerals, nettle stimulates the lymph system to helps the body stay hydrated, boost the immune system, and remove toxins.
- Rosehips – Extremely rich in Vitamin C, rosehips are able to help the body by boosting the immune system and shortening the duration of an illness. I use rosehips in all of my cold & flu care teas/tinctures/syrups.
- Sage leaf – One of the oldest remedies for sore throats, coughs, and mouth inflammations, just gargling and drinking a sage infusion, can bring a lot of relief!Antibacterial and antiseptic, sage is a great addition to any cold and flu remedy.
- Thyme leaf – Thyme is a powerful disinfectant and antiseptic, so it also helps to fight off colds and infections. Thyme has been known to work really well with dry coughs,
When should I start boosting my immunities?
Whenever anyone around you is getting sick or you start to feel even the slightest tickle in your throat, you should start immune boosting! If you start to support your immune system immediately while everyone else around you is getting sick, chances are, it will be much easier for your body to fight off getting sick. If you are going on a trip that requires you to be in an airport, train station, or some other crowded area, start boosting your immunities 1-2 weeks before your trip to prevent illness.
Immune Boosting Tea & Tincture
I like to make the tincture of this because it is much more effective, but I do always keep the herbal mixture on hand for a quick tea! Add some peppermint, cinnamon and/or ginger to the mix for an even tastier tea or tincture! I love to add lemon juice and honey to my teas, both for their antiseptic properties and their yummy flavoring capabilities.
- 1 part nettle leaf
- 1 part calendula flowers
- 1/2 part eleuthero root
- 1/2 part rosehips
- 1/2 part echinacea root
- 1/2 part dried elderberries
- Combine herbs together in a bowl. Store in an airtight container when not in use. Label blend and date made.
TO USE – TEA
Combine 1-2 Tbsp. herb mixture to 8-12 oz. boiling hot water. Allow to steep for 5-15 minutes before straining and drinking. The longer you steep the tea, the more potent it will be.
TO USE – TINCTURE
Following the directions here to make tinctures, fill a wide-mouthed mason jar 1/3 full with dried herbal mixture. Fill mason jar to the top, covering herbs, with 100 proof vodka. Allow to steep in the jar for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily to mix. Strain tincture using a cheesecloth or strainer. At the sudden onset of cold and flu symptoms, begin taking 1/2 tsp. of the tincture every 30 minutes to an hour until symptoms subside. For daily maintenance to keep your immune system strong when those around you are sick, take 1/2 tsp. 2-3 daily. You can make this with vegetable glycerin (a sweet tasting option that is great for children but doesn't have as long of a shelf life as alcohol), or even apple cider vinegar. Tinctures made with alcohol are the most effective.
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