With the winter season on the way this can only mean one thing for some, an increase in colds and flu. Whether cold and flu season is real or not, the jury is still out. One thing for sure though is that many don’t make it through the winter period without getting sick, this is likely due to multiple factors some including the increased stress of Christmas, overindulgence of food and alcohol, too many late nights and lower Vitamin D levels.
In this article we are going to list some of the best natural methods to keep your immune system in tip top shape so you can enjoy the festive period with health and vitality.
Medicinal Mushrooms are well researched for there numerous health benefits, one in particular being there potent immune system boosting properties. Medicinal Mushrooms contain Polysaccharides and polysaccharide-protein complexes which have been shown in studies to stimulate and modulate the immune system. Not only that but many mushrooms such as reishi, cordyceps and chaga are also adaptogenic thus supportive of the adrenal glands which play a role in the immune system health and warding off the adverse effects of stress.
A medicinal mushroom known as Chaga(Inonotus obliquus) or Cinder Conk contains a compound known as Betulinic Acid which has potent researched anti-viral properties. The amazing benefits of Chaga and Betulinic Acid don’t stop there with research showing antioxidant, anti-malarial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular disease reduction, diabetes aid, immune boosting and possibly even anti-tumor/cancer properties.
Here at Amla Berry we sell a variety of top medicinal mushroom products such as Mikei Red Reishi Capsules, Immortality Quest Chaga Capsules and Surthrival Chaga Tincture. We also sell a great blend of 12 medicinal mushrooms by Jing Herbs STR-12.
Immune System Herbs
The medicinal mushrooms i talked about above are some of my favorite for strengthening and modulating the immune system but there are also many other great herbs that you can use to support immunity.
The adrenal glands are thought to be the primary regulator of immunity, whilst the thymus is referred to as the master gland of the immune system. Both glands can be supported with foods rich in Vitamin C or herbs such as amla.
All three of the herbs above i.e astragalus, schizandra berry and jiaogulan are considered to be “adaptogens” or adaptogenic and in turn support healthy adrenal gland function.
If you do get struck down with a cold or flu one of my best herbs is Andrographis, which has shown in studies to significantly reduce the duration of colds and flu. Andrographis is an ayurvedic herb which research has proven to have immune boosting and potent anti-viral properties.
When you hear about herbs for the immune system or for colds and flu you will no doubt be told than Echinacea or Goldenseal are the best. In fact many formulas contain both of these herbs. The jury is still out whether Echinacea is effective at reducing the duration and symptoms of cold and flu. Some studies have reported a beneficial effect from Echinacea whilst others have reported little to no benefits, this can be alot to do with what part of the plant and the dosage used in the studies. In my opinion there are better choices when it comes to supporting the immune system as talked about above.
The main problem with Goldenseal is that it contains an alkaloid known as Berberine which can kill off the gut flora. Our gut flora is thought to account for as much as 80% of our immune system, so you can see why killing off the good bacteria is not recommended if you want to keep immunity strong.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in the United Kingdom with research showing that over half of the adult population have less than ideal levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body manufactures the vitamin after being exposed to sunlight. But as the winter months come in the sunlight simply isn’t strong enough for the body to manufacture vitamin D. This is why incidences of Vitamin D deficiency tend to increase over the winter months.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked and implicated in a variety of illnesses such as auto-immune diseases, bone disorders( osteoporosis and rickets), depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, influenza, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and weakened immune system. Higher blood levels of Vitamin D have been associated with reduction of various cancers and other degenerative diseases.
Vegans are at a higher risk of developing deficiency because there is no reliable dietary plant source of Vitamin D. Fortified foods such as cereals are usually not vegan either. Vegetarians are also at risk being that oily fish is one of the main dietary sources of Vitamin D. Those with dark pigmented skin, the elderly, who use sunscreen excessively, suffer from mal-absorption disorders and people who stay indoors often or cover up when going out are also at an increased risk of deficiency.
Pregnant women, growing children and breast-feeding women also have increased need for Vitamin D because it is required for growth.
We now have the first 100% vegan active vitamin D3 spray in stock. This particular vegan vitamin D3 spray has been approved by the Vegan and Vegetarian Society. Here is the link – Vitashine Vegan Vitamin D3 Spray
Stress & Immune Health
Stress has a very adverse effect on the immune system and at this time a year with Christmas, it can be a stressful time for many. The best thing you can do to support your immune health is avoid stress as much as possible.
The are many great ways to reduce stress such as exercise, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, meditate, take a sauna or doing something you enjoy. Other than a diet rich in nutrients to keep your body nourished, there are some great ways to support the body in times of stress. I talked a little about adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms above which increase the bodies resistance to stress as well as support the adrenal glands. Chronic stress, stimulant use, some medications such as steroids are the most common factors that can weaken the adrenal glands, which play an important role in the immune system and how well one manages the effects of stress.
Some examples of good adaptogen herbs and mushrooms include ashwagandha, schizandra berry, licorice root, jiaogulan, siberian ginseng, reishi, cordyceps, maca root, suma root and astragalus. A nutrient rich diet can also support healthy adrenal gland function, the two most important being Vitamin C and the B Complex Vitamins(In particular Vitamin B5). Magnesium is also important in that emotional stress can deplete and increase our needs.
Gut Flora & Maintaining Stomach Acidity
Research has estimated that roughly 80 percent of immune function is dependent on a healthy gut, thus it is important to maintain health intestinal flora balance.
There are many factors which can effect healthy gut flora balance such as antibiotic use, stress, medications, alcohol, poor diet low in fiber and even some natural supplements have been shown to kill off the good bacteria.
Alteration in gut flora balance has been linked to numerous conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohns and Colitis, Candidiasis, small bacterial overgrowth(SIBO) and many more diseases. The gut flora is one of the most important aspects in keeping opportunistic pathogens such as Candidiasis at bay, it is the various acids and natural anti-microbial compounds that the gut bacteria secrete that keep these pathogens at bay. In candida’s case in its harmless natural yeast form rather than fungal hypal tissue penetrating form.
Fermented foods such as water kefir, cultured veggies, miso and kimchi help repopulate the gut flora with good bacteria. As do probiotic supplements such as acidophilus, Lactobacillus GG and other good bacteria strains. There are literally thousands of different strains of gut bacteria and you can only replace so many, this is where prebiotics come into the equation. Prebiotic fibers help stimulate the activity and feed the gut bacteria which in my opinion is the most important aspect of maintaining and supporting the gut flora. Some examples of good prebiotics include rice bran, oat bran, seaweeds, chicory, artichoke, garlic, leek, onion and many other foods contain these non-digestible carbohydrates that encourage growth of the flora.
Maintaining stomach acidity is also an important part of keeping the immune system strong. Many nutrients involved in immune function are acid dependent for absorption such as zinc and iron. Low stomach acid also puts you at risk of food-borne and opportunistic pathogens such as candida. Some symptoms of low stomach acid include belching, gas, bloating, heartburn and undigested food in the stool.
A diet rich in nutrients is one of the best ways to nourish your immune system. Deficiencies in essential nutrients can impair the immune response and increase your chances of infection and other diseases. Excessive intake of certain vitamins and nutrients can also have the same effect which is why im not often keen on using synthetic nutrients unless necessary. So if you aren’t already increase your intake of wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes to increase the nutrients in your diet. Try to get a variety of different foods and colors so that you are exposing yourself to as many different nutrients and phyto-nutrients that you can.
High blood levels of Vitamin C have been associated with an enhanced immune system as well as reduction of several degenerative diseases. Vitamin C helps increase the production of infection fighting white blood cells. Good sources of Vitamin C include berries, kiwi, oranges or if you are looking to supplement with a natural source then the herb amla, camu camu, acerola cherry or rosehips are good choices. The Vitamin C found in amla has been shown in studies to be 12 times as strong as synthetic Vitamin C.
Zinc is a mineral which is essential for normal functioning of the immune system. Zinc deficiency has been shown to cause alterations in the immune response leading to increased susceptibility to infection. Pumpkin seeds are the richest plant source of the mineral Zinc.
Selenium is another essential mineral which plays a role in immune system health and is commonly low in diets. Brazil nuts are the best dietary source of Selenium and as little as one a day can meet the recommended daily allowance(RDA).
Seaweeds like mushrooms also contain polysaccharides which as said above stimulate and modulate the immune system. Not only that but many species of seaweed such as Dulse have strong anti-viral properties. Seaweeds are also the best source of minerals and trace elements we have access to, so you can help replace any missing from your diet.
There are many natural foods that have immune boosting and anti-microbial effects such as garlic and onions. Garlic stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. Onions also contain a flavonoid called Quercetin which has potent anti-histamine and anti-viral properties.
If your diet is lacking in nutrient dense foods or you just like to supplement with a little extra then in my opinion natural wholefood sources are best. Enerfood Green Superfood Powder is a great supplement consisting of nutrient rich algaes, seaweeds, cereal grasses such as wheat/barley grass as well as other greens.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and as such shall not be construed as medical advice implied or otherwise. No claims are made with respect to treatment of any physically diseased condition and no attempt is ever made to dissuade individuals from seeking medical treatment for any condition. In addition, this equipment, technology and products have not been evaluated by the FDA, nor are they intended to treat, cure, mitigate, diagnose or prevent any illness or disease.