Archive for Prevent Winter Infections

Effective Everyday Actions to Improve Immunity

Reduce Stress

Close your eyes. Count to ten. Whatever you do, stay calm. Stress can weaken the immune system transiently but significantly. Employ a number of different stress reduction techniques to help you stay healthy and vital:

  • Abdominal breathing
  • Meditation classes
  • Read books focusing on positive thinking
  • Go out for a walk or jog
  • Hang out with people you love and whose company you enjoy
  • Think of something pleasant that makes you happy! Laugh a lot.

Sleep

Even a moderate lack of sleep can put you at greater risk of infection. In one study, adults who consistently had less than 7 hours of sleep per night were three times more likely to experience a respiratory infection. 

Exercise

It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise, especially in winter, but think about this. Even short bursts of exercise give your immune system a temporary boost.

When 500 adults were tracked for 12 weeks, those who were the most physically active had only half the number of days sick with a respiratory tract infection, compared to those who were not active.

A word of caution

Over-exercise can deplete immunity. Your exercise regime needs to be right for YOU. Moderate exercise is always best.

Ageing

Like most parts of the body, the immune system weakens with age. That is why older people are more susceptible to infections, are more likely to get cancer and other chronic conditions. You can’t stop yourself from growing older but that doesn’t mean you have to just sit there and take it! There is much you can do to improve immunity and slow down the ageing process with herbs, nutrition and lifestyle choices.

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Herbs and Nutrients for Optimal Immune Function

Overall good nutrition is essential for general well-being, including a healthy immune system. However there are a number of herbs and nutrients that stand out for their role in supporting immunity.

Until relatively recently we thought that the role of vitamin D was limited to ensuring healthy, strong bones. However, we now know that it has many, more diverse functions including protection from some cancers. It also plays a vital role in immunity and helps protect against autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin D is hard to get through the diet. We rely predominately on sunlight on the skin, which initiates the production of vitamin D from cholesterol. Even in very sunny climates, such as Queensland, vitamin D deficiency is very common.

Vitamin C appears to protect against infection and can reduce many symptoms of colds such as runny nose, sore throat and improves recovery from an infection.

An essential mineral, zinc is vital for an efficient immune system and is often deficient in our diet.

A number of B Complex vitamins are also important, as is sufficient protein. Many of the infection fighting cells in the body, such as antibodies, are made from protein. So a diet deficient in protein can lead to reduced immunity.

Out of all the immune herbs I use in my clinic, Echinacea is probably the most important. One of my colleagues describes Echinacea as immune ‘insurance’ because it is so good at priming the immune system so that it is ready to fight invading infection. So, it is best taken as a preventative and if an infection does occur the immune system is more efficient at fighting it.

Echinacea has been used in Western herbal medicine since the late 19th century, when the Native Americans introduced it to the early settlers. In their culture it was considered to be “a remedy for more ailments than any other plant”. One of their prime uses for Echinacea was for the prevention and treatment of any type of infection.

There are two species of Echinacea used in herbal medicine, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea, and it is the roots of these plants that appear to have the strongest effect on the immune system. The Native Americans told the early settlers, “When chewed the root, if of good quality, imparts a persistent tingling sensation.” We now know from modern science that this tingling is caused by the major active constituents called alkylamides, and it is indeed an instant indication of strength.

There are a number of studies showing that Echinacea is effective for both preventing and treating respiratory tract infections. Most people will also have heard of studies showing that Echinacea is not helpful – these are the ones that get the most publicity in the mass media. However, many of these studies were done before we had a good understanding about how the constituents work and on close inspection we see that many studies used Echinacea products that contain NO alkylamides. It is not surprising that it did not work!! So, what this tells us is that Echinacea has to be of high quality and prescribed in the correct dosage to have its immune enhancing activity.

Andrographis is another wonderful herb that is very effective in supporting immunity. It is traditionally used in the ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of medicine.  There are a number of clinical studies showing its effectiveness in treating respiratory tract infections, particularly common cold and tonsillitis, including in children.

Holy Basil is a beautifully fragrant herb from the Ayurvedic tradition of medicine. It is considered as sacred and is often grown at the entrance to houses and temples. Clinical trials support its use in respiratory tract infections, including in children.

Pelargonium is a native of South Africa and was introduced to Europe by Charles Henry Sevens, an Englishman who experienced relief from tuberculosis whilst visiting South Africa in 1897. There are many clinical studies supporting its use for the treatment of many tupes of respiratory infections including acute and chronic bronchitis, common cold, sinusitis and tonsillitis including in children.

Other herbs that are very effective include Cat’s Claw which improves immunity and Elder Berries that have an anti-viral activity.

It is important to use the correct combination of herbs at the appropriate dosage. This varies between individuals depending on the state of their immunity and the symptoms they experience. The treatment also often changes during the course of treatment as symptoms change.

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Treat Flu Symptoms

If you have a cold or flu infection you need to take precautions that will prevent its spread and reduce its severity and duration.

  • Speak to your healthcare practitioner at the very earliest signs of an infection. If you begin taking the appropriate herbs and nutrients immediately, you can often prevent the infection from taking hold.
  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and warm water.
  • Always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
  • Avoid close contact with other people as much as possible and avoid crowded places.
  • Take time off, rest and stay warm. This gives the immune system a good chance to deal with the infection quickly and efficiently.
  • Include in your meals nutritious foods and plenty of fluids. Homemade soups with plenty of vegetables, ginger and garlic are great. They are very nutritious but do not take lots of energy to digest, leaving more energy for the immune system to do its job.
  • Avoid cold drinks and foods, fatty foods and foods containing sugar and artificial additives.
  • Excessive dairy foods may increase mucus production.

If you feel feverish make a cup of Flu Tea, rug up and sweat it out. You can repeat this as often as needed until the feverish symptoms have passed. A hot bath can also help to induce sweating.

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Avoid Winter Infections

Avoid Winter Infection

It is inevitable that an unexpected strain of influenza will occasionally hit our shores. A few years ago it was SARS. This year it is swine flu which is caused by type A influenza (H1N1). Swine influenza is usually confined to pigs and until recently human infection with the virus was rare (limited to 3 people). However, in March 2009 human cases of swine flu began emerging in Mexico and in some areas of the United States, mainly affecting healthy young adults. More than 100 people have died from the virus in Mexico. The infection is not limited to the Northern Hemisphere. In New Zealand 10 students returning from Mexico have tested positive to swine flu and suspected cases in Australia are being monitored.

Prevention
Queensland Health has stated on their website that the seasonal influenza vaccine is unlikely to offer useful protection against swine flu. So what can you do?

The very best protection against infection is a healthy immune system. If your immune system is healthy it has a very good chance of fighting any type of infection so that illness does not occur or, if symptoms do occur the severity will be reduced. As always prevention is easier than cure and it is necessary that we go into winter as healthy as possible. This means having a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of rest and relaxation. These lifestyle factors are fundamental to optimal immune function. Adequate levels of vitamin C, zinc and many of the B Complex vitamins are necessary for healthy immunity.

Immune Enhancing Herbs
Apart from these fundamental necessities, there are many herbal medicines that can help to improve the immune system, thus avoiding or minimising infection. Perhaps the best known of these is Echinacea, which is one of the most commonly prescribed herbs by health professionals around the world. However, not all Echinacea products are the same. Patients will often say, “I have already tried Echinacea and it didn’t work”. What has to be asked in such situations is “which Echinacea product was used and how much was taken?” It often turns out that the patient was unknowingly taking a cheap low quality product or an ineffective dose.

The quality and dose issues are best illustrated by a clinical trial conducted in the USA. The product used was made from the roots of 2 Echinacea species, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. These are considered to be the most active species and their roots are the most potent part. Several doses were used in the trial, but it was found that only when the dose exceeded 2000 mg per day did regular use of Echinacea significantly prevent colds.

Apart from Echinacea there are many other herbs that are very beneficial for the prevention and treatment of winter infections. When treating winter infections, each individual’s requirements differ and in some cases a combination of herbs may be more beneficial for the prevention and treatment of winter infections.

Once a viral infection has taken hold it is often necessary to use a combination of immune enhancing herbs to bring about a quick recovery. Herbs such as Andrographis, Cat’s Claw and Sacred Basil can be very beneficial for the treatment of acute infections. As already discussed for Echinacea, quality of the herbs has to be high and the dosage needs to be correct for the individual and the type of infection.

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