All year round, you need to keep your immune system in the best possible condition so it can work at its very best to keep you well. But at this time of year – when bugs seem to be flying around and our immune system can be challenged by getting chilled at a freezing bus stop, or simply running on empty after Christmas – it’s very easy for the immune system to take a dip, and for us to wind up in bed. So this month, we’d like to share some tips from our book The Green Beauty Bible, to help you stay well through the year’s early, health-challenging months.
1. Take astragalus Top of most experts’ lists is this Chinese native herb used by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years – as part of the wonderfully named Jade Screen – to support and enhance the immune system. Astragalus is taken to prevent and treat common colds and upper respiratory infections, as well as for heart disease, chronic hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. According to the American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Therapy, which is researching the herb’s effects on the immune system, it ‘s considered safe for most adults (although it may interact with drugs that suppress the immune system so always check with your doctor). When to take: as a three week course in the winter or if you have been unwell; repeat if you feel run-down or tired. Try Astragalus Extract by Swanson.
2. Get (magic) mushrooming Dr Andrew Weil, the world’s leading practitioner of integrated medicine, recommends taking a supplement providing five or more kinds of Asian mushrooms (such as maitake, shiitake, cordyceps, reishi, hericeum and enoki), which have powerful immune-enhancing benefits. He also takes astragalus (see above) if it’s a bad flu season or he is travelling.
3. Remember zinc… Your immune system won’t function properly if there isn’t enough zinc in your body. It’s often deficient in the diet, especially in older people, and a two-year double-blind study suggested that zinc and selenium (another trace mineral), taken together, can reduce the number of infections. Recent research shows that including manganese can also help with. Each day, take Mega Mineral Complex by Lamberts. This supplement contains 7.5mg zinc, 50mcg selenium and 2mg of manganese, plus other minerals. Take one to two tablets daily (depending on how good your diet is).
4 … And vitamin C Research suggest that taking vitamin C regularly can help prevent colds Taking it when you have a cold or flu may help reduce the symptoms and the time they last. (Vitamin C is also vital for the body to manufacture collagen, a key protein in our skin and connective tissue, cartilage and tendons.) Try a supplement such as Ester-C by Lamberts, which provides buffered vitamin C and has very high absorption rates.
5 Have a spoonful of Chywanaprash Ayurvedic tonic This delicious organic paste is a great immune-boosting, vitality enhancing remedy containing fruit, spices, herbs and honey. Eat one to two teaspoons in the morning, on toast, mixed with warm full-fat organic milk or straight from the spoon. Children love it and it’s a good general tonic. (Legend has it that it was created by a sage Chywana who decided to start a family at 80 years old and so created this jam or ‘prash’…) Chywanaprash
6 Eat spices Herbalist Michael McIntyre recommends flavouring food with medicinal spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, also ginger, horseradish, garlic and onions. Ancient Egyptian records suggest that the slaves who built the Pyramids were given onions and garlic for strength and to ward off infections. Try blending equal quantities of fresh peeled garlic and ginger, keep in the fridge and use to flavour soups and stews.
7 Drink fresh juices Fresh vegetable and fruit juices are supercharged nourishment. The concentration of antioxidants and other essential vitamins and minerals flooding through your system stimulates your immune system as well as detoxing your body. Always sip your fresh juice as soon as it’s made for maximum goodness. Naturopath Roderick Lane recommends juicing equal amounts of washed carrots, celery, winter cabbage (or broccoli) and apples with ginger to taste (try a one-inch peeled chunk of ginger root for each batch).
8 Think positive and laugh! While excitement and challenges in your life are good for your health, too much pressure and too little support can lower your immunity to illness. Immune expert Dr Alex Concorde believes the key is preventing stress, rather than the popular concept of stress management; ‘it’s helpful to dissipate stress when you have it but to safeguard your immune system, you need to stop yourself getting stressed in the first place.’ Her tip for busy people – in addition to being organised – is not to focus on the relentless demands on your time but rather on what you can achieve by your actions, whether that’s at home (creating a loving stable environment, say), in your profession (being successful) or in a voluntary organisation (helping other people and/or the environment). Also, try to do things in a way that’s fun – both for you and others. Laughter has been shown to help the immune system, as has optimism – so share a joke and think positive!
9 Take action Regular moderate exercise (at least 30 minutes a day of fast walking, for instance) can give substantial benefits to your immune system; it also helps you relax, which is vital. Yoga has also been shown to improve the immune system.
10 Keep warm and eat comfort food. Up to 40 per cent of body heat can be lost if your head is bare so make woolly hats a style statement! Keeping warm and dry in the winter – with hats, scarves, layers of clothing, thick tights and boots – stops cold-related stress, according to the Center for Disease Control in America. According to traditional Chinese medicine, we should eat warm food too, so tuck into those hot soups and stews. You might consider a couple of sessions of acupuncture to tune up your system for the winter (for qualified local practitioners in the UK, visit www.acupuncture.org.uk).
This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.