What You Will Learn in This Article
- The Importance of Social Distancing and How Viruses Spread
- Diet Changes to Strengthen Your Immune System
- Herbs to Boost Your Immune System
- Which Vitamins and Minerals Strengthen Immunity
- The Perils of Antibacterial soaps and Hand Sanitizers
- My Top 3 Alternatives to Antibacterial Products
- How to Use Essential Oils to Support Immunity
Shortage Notice: At the time of writing this article, many of the products mentioned in this article are now out of stock in the online stores. You may want to check out your local health stores (I’ve found some things still in stock) or subscribe to get online notifications when they are back in stock.
We live in unprecedented times. I thought SARS was bad when I lived in Hong Kong. The current pandemic has sent us to another level of contagiousness, awareness, fear and reflection.
In this article, I want to offer you sound, well-research solutions that will help you:
- Boost your immune system
- Offer you safe cleaning and disinfection options
Many of us are feeling really fearful now. I hope that by reading this article, you will be empowered by knowing that the virus isn’t going to get you so easily if you do things right.
The Importance of Social Distancing and How Viruses Spread
The Italians were mocking the government when they were first told to stay at home. Now, the entire country is under lockdown.
One of the peculiarities of this virus, that sets it apart from the typical flu, is that the onset is highly asymptomatic. This means people who contract it don’t know they have it. According to the CDC, the virus incubation period is 5.5 days. This means that many people who feel perfectly fine are walking and traveling around unintentionally spreading it. So, saying “I feel fine and therefore I will go out and play” is not only dangerous to you but also irresponsible to other people.
A reframe I want to offer you during time of social distancing is: Use this time to do things at home that you may normally not have the bandwidth for. What would it be for you? Reading a stack of books by your bed? A replanting project? Decluttering a room? Finally going over a program you got from us but haven’t had the time to start?
In this wonderful article, The Guardian collected mobile phone videos of Italians playing national songs in their balcony windows. I hope it puts a big smile on your face.
Diet Changes to Strengthen Your Immune System
Please don’t skip this section – it can be as important, if not more important, than supplements and herbs alone. After all, food is the biggest part of what you put in your body. As a jumping off point, check out my 31 Recipes to Strengthen Your Immune System.
Reduce Sugar Intake
Sugar, in all forms; added as well as naturally occurring, is a big immune system suppressant. The biggest culprits that jack up sugar intake in your diet are: Juices (for example, Odwalla contains 40 grams of sugar = 9 teaspoons), smoothies, energy bars, ketchup, protein shakes, coffee lattes, chais.
For easy reference: 4 grams of sugar is 1 teaspoon (to be precise, it’s actually 3.8 grams = 1 teaspoon but it’s easier to remember it as 4 grams). For example, According to their website, an 16-oz Starbucks Mocha Frappucino contains 52 grams of sugar which is 12 teaspoons of sugar.
My belief is that part of the reason why so many people have a weak immune system is due to the amount we consume (unknowingly), or are addicted to.
During this stressful time, it’s tempting to have a glass of wine or two. Maybe a cocktail. Ethanol, like sugar, is a big immunosuppressant. I recommend to either lay off or limit your alcohol intake to no more than a glass of wine per day.
When you reduce inflammation, your immune system gets a break too and is better equipped to fight any pathogens, viruses included. Many people immediately think of taking heaps of anti-inflammatory supplements such as turmeric or boswellia. However, modifying your diet will create a more impactful shift. Getting off gluten, dairy and any other foods that you know don’t agree with you, as well as sugar and alcohol, will be the most effective way of lowering your inflammation. Many women find that removing eggs, corn or soy from their diets have the biggest impact.
It is also a good idea to start following an Elimination Diet (that is free of the most common food triggers). Cooking for Hormone Balance is based on the Elimination Diet – if you have not implemented what I teach there, I highly recommend that you do now.
Herbs to Boost Your Immune System
The reason why modern medicine has a fairly good handle on bacterial infections is because of the invention of antibiotics (although that’s changing now as people are developing antibiotic resistance to a number of strains). When it comes to viral infections, western medicine is helpless because there are no drugs readily available to fight the virus, and vaccines take over a year to develop. By that time, the virus mutates and the vaccines won’t work. Just the way your flu vaccine won’t protect you from the virus.
This is where herbalism can play a huge role. Note, I don’t mean to say that there is a single herb that can fight the virus (at the time of writing this article, there isn’t one).
Strengthening your immune system is the best way to fight off viral infections so that you can both lower your chances of getting it and/or can easily fight it off. This is why young people, who have stronger immune systems, don’t contract the virus as much when compared to the elderly.
The way herbalists look at using herbs is the way a gardener prepares the soil for her crops. Any experienced gardener will tell you that when the soil is rich, varied, and fortified with microbes, there are less pathogens in the soil and stronger plants that are better able to fight off parasitic infections. The same thing happens in the human body – strengthen your terrain and you will be able to fend infections with more ease.
You can take the below herbs on a daily basis and use them as a prevention, not just treatment (with the exception of astragalus – don’t take it when already sick).
If you are pregnant or lactating, please contact your ob-gyn or herbalist – it’s a specialized area and I’m not an expert here.
So, what herbs can help?
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)
To be clear: I’m not saying that the andrographis cures the virus. There have been some articles going around the web claiming this but it has not been proven. The importance of identifying strong antiviral and immune-boosting herbs goes back to what I said earlier: Strengthen your immune system – just like a gardener prepares the soil.
Andographis is a popular herb in Ayurveda and has earned the title of “Queen of Bitters” because it truly takes bitterness to the next level.
Based on Andrographis’ ability to help acute respiratory conditions, Chinese and Thai researchers have already been exploring the efficacy of this herb as a potential treatment for the virus. I repeat: It’s not a cure (as yet).
You might find this citation promising: “Apart from its anti-inflammatory effects, andrographolide also exhibits immunomodulatory effects by effectively enhancing cytotoxic T cells, natural killer (NK) cells, phagocytosis, and antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). All these properties of andrographolide form the foundation for the use of this miraculous compound to restrain virus replication and virus-induced pathogenesis. The present article covers antiviral properties of andrographolide in variety of viral infections, with the hope of developing of a new highly potent antiviral drug with multiple effects.”
The way you can use it, especially if you suffer from frequent respiratory issues, is to add it to your daily herbal protocol.
The best form I recommend as an herbalist is in tincture form. I got mine from Herb Pharm.
Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus)
The astragalus root (also known as “huáng qí” in Mandarin) has long been used as an herb in traditional Chinese medicine. It is adaptogenic, antioxidant, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, diuretic, and hypotensive. This potent herb also shows anti-tumor activity, protects against white blood cells drops during chemo, has hepatoprotective (means: liver-protecting) properties, and promotes tissue regeneration,
You can get the root and add it to bone broths (both stove and pressure cooker methods work). It has a mellow and sweet-ish taste so it won’t drastically alter the taste of your bone broth.
I buy my organic astragalus root from Starwest.
Alternatively, get it as a tincture, I like the one from HerbPharm.
Caution: Do not take astragalus when you are already ill or feel like you are coming down with something, as this potent herb could make you feel worse.
Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis)
This is one of my all-time favorite herbs. In Chinese, it’s called the five-taste berry for its complex taste. Much of it grows in Siberia and northern parts of the world. Plants that grow in harsh environments often pass on the properties of resilience and strength to us when we consume them. This is why schisandra can help generate strength and improves fatigue. It can help immune deficiency or dysregulation including the Central Nervous System, AIDS and autoimmune disorders. It restores the adrenal cortex and detoxifies the liver.
In Russian, schizandra is used in fall and throughout the winter as an immune-boosting berry; added to soups, teas and used as a tincture.
You can also get it as a tincture (which helps to be consistent) – I like the one from Nature’s Answers because it uses glycerine, making it delicious.
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)
I first heard about lomatium from an herbalist in Utah. The Native Americans called the lomatium root “the Dortza” which means “heap powerful medicine.” The herb came to prominence during the flu pandemic of 1917-1918 when the root was extensively used by two Native American tribes near Carson City, Nevada. A physician who was assigned to these tribes was amazed to find that these tribes suffered no respiratory illnesses and no deaths from the influenza virus. During this time, both Native Americans and White Americans were dying throughout the region. The physician used it on his white patients and famously declared: “They just stopped dying.”
The herbalist gave me a bottle and said to take it at the onset of a cold or flu. Lomatium is a staple in my house now and I reach out to it the moment I don’t feel 100%. I’ve been sharing it with many friends and team members, they report quick results – some even say that they feel better within a couple of hours.
Caution: If you are autoimmune compromised, highly toxic or sensitive to herbs, there is a (slight) possibility that you may develop “lomatium rash” which is a detox but isn’t pretty and can be scary and itchy. It will go away though after 2 to 3 days. If it happens to you, add dandelion root and vitamin C. It’s best to start lomatium in a small dose of a few drops only to test how your body is tolerating it.
The Lomatium I get is from Planetary Herbals.
Do not dismiss garlic and onions just because they are so common. Raw garlic, in particular, has incredible anti-microbial properties. Do not take it in supplement form because desiccated or cooked garlic loses its antimicrobial properties.
The application is simple: Crush a clove of garlic and serve it on top of a gluten-free toast.
In Poland, especially back in the day, there was limited access to medications and people generally frowned upon antibiotics. Natural, folklore remedies were easier to get a hold of and these remedies had been passed down for generations.
Here is one such application: In a juicer, juice a red onion and a whole head of garlic. As a preventative, drink 1 tablespoon per day. If sick, drink a tablespoon every 2 to 3 hours. I find it’s easier on your stomach to have a light meal before chugging down this pungent concoction.
These small powerhouses of nutrition are immuno-modulators. This is due in part to their high levels of beta-glucans, which help activate macrophage and natural killer cells that are pivotal to your immune defense.
Beta-glucans not only protect you against viruses like colds, they also inhibit the growth of cancer tumors. Research from the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism found that when firefighters (who suffer many respiratory issues due to smoke exposure) were given beta glucans daily, they experienced 23 percent less colds.
That’s good reason to add some mushrooms to an omelet, green smoothies or dishes like salads, soups, and stews.
Eating one 4-ounce serving of shiitake mushrooms every day boosts the function of immune-boosting gamma delta T-cells and also reduces inflammatory proteins that increase the risk of disease, shows research from the University of Florida.
This fan-shaped mushroom has traditionally been used to support the immune system, boost energy and reduce allergies. In one study, daily intake of reishi was shown to boost gut immunity while also reducing inflammatory chemicals like cytokines and C Reactive proteins to lower inflammation.
In China, this mushroom is used to reduce phlegm. Studies show it is high in proteoglycans, which can lower inflammation and also act as signaling molecules, triggering crosstalk amongst receptors that help the immune system work more effectively. As a source of the compound polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), research shows that turkey tails not only restore day-to-day immune function, they can also help fight diseases like breast cancer. As this mushroom can be a little leathery, most people brew it with hot water to make an immune-boosting tea.
You can get a nice combination of these mushrooms from Host Defence (the founder, Paul Stamets is a world-renowned mycologist) called Stamets 7.
Which Vitamins and Minerals Strengthen Immunity
We all know Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is essential to our health, yet most people are highly deficient in vitamin D3.
Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity and an increased susceptibility to infection.
Functional medicine practitioners recommend healthy people have vitamin D levels of 60 to 80 ng/ml, especially so for people with a family or personal health history of cancers and autoimmune conditions
If your levels are below 60 ng/ml, functionally trained doctors recommend a dose of vitamin D3 in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 IU per day. It may take 3 to 4 months to get into a healthy range. You can then switch to a maintenance dose of 2,000 IU per day. You can easily get a blood test done to confirm it.
For people with Hashimoto’s Disease (and any autoimmune conditions), it’s very important for your vitamin D levels to be in the upper ranges of 60.
To supplement your vitamin D3 levels, try our D3 Maximus, a pleasant tasting liquid formula with three synergistic ingredients. The formula contains highly bioavailable vitamin D, which is accompanied by vitamins K1 and K2. Each dropper full contains 2000 IU of vitamin D, 250 mcg vitamin K1, and 25 mcg of vitamin K2
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and potent antioxidant, making it ideal for boosting your immune system.
Vitamin C contributes to immunity through cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. It supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress.
To supplement your vitamin C levels, I recommend our Vitamin C Burst. It’s rich in vitamin C (from a mixture of ascorbic acid and acerola fruit) and plant bioflavonoids (hesperidin, rutin, quercetin and mixed citrus bioflavonoids), known for their immunoprotective properties.
In addition to supporting healthy immune function, these nutrients have been used historically for applications such as maintaining healthy veins, capillaries, skin, hair and nails by supporting normal collagen production and repair.
How do you know your proper vitamin C dosage? You should take it at the level that your body best tolerates, so go up until you experience loose stools. Research shows that for viral protection, 2000mg per day is most effective – try that dose but if you get loose stool, back off until your stool is well formed again.
Zinc is an essential trace element that’s found and used by every cell throughout your body.
This critical metal is only needed in tiny amounts, but if you don’t get enough zinc, the consequences can be grave. This is because your body relies on zinc for growth, maintenance, and numerous biological functions – including hormone creation and balance.
More than that, zinc is a major boon to your immune system, especially when partnered with vitamin D3 and vitamin C which we’ll cover next. There are many signs of zinc deficiency, but one common tell-tale sign is white spots on your nails.
To ensure your immune system is functioning at its best, try our Zinc Complete. Our superior chelated zinc product is enhanced with vitamins B2 and B6, molybdenum, taurine and malic acid for optimal zinc supplementation.
These nutrients work with zinc to provide exceptional utilization for our bodies to perform vital enzymatic reactions and functions. You shouldn’t exceed 50 mg a day.
The Perils of Antibacterial Soaps and Hand Sanitizers
In the midst of the outbreak, I went to work out with my personal trainer. The first thing I noticed is an antibacterial hand sanitizer and gel to clean all of the equipment. After that, I headed to my bank, where antibacterial soap was the only option available in the bathroom. Aggrrr….
It’s almost impossible to avoid antibacterial soaps and sanitizers in public – like Dettol, Purell, Dial – but so many people have no idea what it does. I recommend you skip these products – here’s why.
The Problem with Antibacterial Products
The biggest problem with antibacterial soaps and sanitizers is that they create bacteria resistance, leading to superbugs resistant to antibiotics. This can be deadly – imagine getting a serious bacterial infection which no antibiotic can kill.
Secondly, antibacterial agents have shown to cause staph to attach to the skin with much higher strength and become resistant to treatments. Anyone who had a staph infection knows how serious this can be.
Furthermore, according to the FDA, antibacterial soaps simply don’t work: “…there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven.”
The very conservative FDA has taken over 14 years to accept that triclosan should be removed from antibacterial soaps, because it creates more problems down the road, including negative environmental impacts.
So, if you can’t use antibacterial products, what should you use to keep yourself clean and healthy?
My Top 3 Alternatives to Antibacterial Products
Good Old Soap!
Simple logic here: We’ve used good ole’ soap for generations and it works.
Antibacterial soap may cause more harm than good, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon proper hand washing habits and the use of soap. Just opt for a classic soap (I prefer liquid over a bar, so you don’t touch it – more of a mental thing).
Healthier Hand Sanitizer
If you’d like to use a hand sanitizer, I recommend Dr. Bronner’s again. Or, try EO brand. They both contain over 60% ethanol to adequately kill germs.
If you’d like to DIY your hand sanitizer, you can, just be sure you use over 60% ethanol, or else it won’t work per the CDC’s recommendations. Here’s a DIY hand sanitizer recipe I love.
Essential oils are helpful to add, but they won’t work alone. Try adding oregano, clove, lemon, sage, and thyme essential oils. Contrary to popular belief (or marketing of it), tea tree oil isn’t the most effective disinfecting oil.
Still, many of us are struggling to find the ingredients to make hand sanitizer at home, or can’t find a clean brand in stock. That’s why I launched Wellena Hand Sanitizer.
Our hand sanitizer is simply 70% ethanol (10% higher than the CDC minimum requirement), plus glycerine and xanthan gum to prevent separation – and nothing else. These ingredients are so safe that you’ll also see them in food products like stevia glycerite and gluten free baked goods. When you use this sanitizer, you can rest easy, knowing that you are using something that is free of hormone-disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals. After all, if you’re using a hand sanitizer or sanitizer as often as recommended, you’re putting large quantities of whatever is in it into your body. The skin, as we know, is wonderfully absorbant, and whatever goes on your skin goes into your bloodstream.
Home Cleaning Solution: Water and Vinegar (or Ethanol)
Don’t just ditch the antibacterial products you use on your body, but ditch all the antibacterial solutions in your home as well. This includes cleaning products.
A few months ago I attended an infections workshop, and I was blown away by how powerful white vinegar and water solution is as a cleaning product. I use this all-purpose combo in my home, and my cleaning lady has noted that her allergies have greatly improved since I made the switch.
After sending out the below water-vinegar recipe, we were bombarded with emails that vinegar won’t kill the virus. I never said it would. I’m offering a cleaning recipe that is simply safe, antimicrobial and won’t compromise your microbiome and immune system the way commercial cleaners would. You can use ethanol if it makes you feel safer.
To make your own DIY all-purpose cleaner, combine water with white vinegar in a 2:1 ratio. You can also use ethanol (contains 95.6% alcohol) and water in a 3: 2 ratio. Keep it in a glass bottle. You can add some essential oils, see below.
How to Use Essential Oils to Support Immunity
I’m not a fan of multi-level marketing companies and their stories of how essential oils will save the world and reverse every other disease. It’s preying on people’s lack of knowledge and rather frankly, laziness. Many people start using EOs in lieu of medications which is fundamentally wrong. Many don’t want to make diet, sleep or lifestyle changes but would rather look for that “miracle” oil to resolve all medical issues. Please do not do that.
Essential oils are helpful to add, but they won’t work alone. Essential oils with the highest antimicrobial profile are:
- Clove (I like YL’s Thieves)
Contrary to popular belief (or marketing of it), tea tree oil isn’t the most effective antimicrobial oil.
You can add them to your antimicrobial soap, hand sanitizer, all-purpose cleaner, or simply diffuse them for a while.
I hope you find this article helpful and find at least a few solutions that will work for you. Being prepared will give you a peace of mind.
Lastly: We will get over this!