The Best Herbs & VitaminsMichael Vertolli, RH October 1, 2011
To Bolster Your Defences
A major health concern that has come to the forefront in the last decade is the evolution of new varieties of viruses. It is believed that some of these viruses could potentially contribute to epidemics that would be life-threatening to some individuals. The media has been full of stories about the spread of West Nile Virus, unusually virulent strains of influenza, and many others.
The news isn’t all bad. There are simple solutions to this problem. The unfortunate thing is that most of the approaches taken by our health care system and governments are expensive, only marginally effective, and don’t address the root of the problem.
A number of factors have led to the increased prevalence of new and more dangerous strains of viruses in North America:
- There is evidence that the overuse of some pharmaceutical drugs encourages the mutation of viruses.
- Increased global travel is an obvious avenue for viruses to spread into regions where they formerly did not exist.
- Global warming has resulted in milder winters in temperate regions. Colder winter temperatures tend to decrease the spread of infectious diseases.
- Habitat destruction, especially in tropical countries, can create conditions which increase the likelihood that viruses jump from other species to humans. This can result from exposure of human populations to viruses that were formerly confined to remote regions, and because viruses may be encouraged to mutate and jump species due to declining populations of their traditional host species, another result of habitat destruction. The presence of non-human species of primates in tropical regions increases the likelihood that this will occur, as it’s generally easier for a virus to jump to a more closely related species. But this is not essential. For example, many ‘flu viruses have been known to jump between less closely related species such as recent outbreaks of avian and swine flu.
New viruses from other regions and species are not the only concern. Many common viruses that were traditionally found in North American populations are mutating into new varieties that are more difficult to overcome. A common example is a cold virus that seems to go through its normal progression and then turn into a persistent cough that may last for months.
DRUGS, VACCINES & PESTICIDES
The conventional approach to treating these kinds of health concerns has been through the use of drugs, vaccines and attempting to destroy intermediate host populations such as mosquitoes. None of these approaches are very effective. There are few effective antiviral drugs and those that are available tend to be very expensive and associated with significant toxicity and side-effects. Viral infections are often treated with antibiotics. Not only are antibiotics completely ineffective against viral infections, the misuse of these drugs promotes the development of more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria which are the pathogens for which these drugs are used.
In my opinion, vaccination programs such as influenza shots are generally a waste of money. Most of these viruses mutate so fast that new strains can evolve within a couple of months. So vaccines, if they are going to work at all, are usually only effective for a few weeks or months.
Public health professionals tend to ignite fear amongst the general population in order to justify their expensive programs. They often portray the risks as being many times greater than they really are. The truth is that the majority of people who are exposed to these viruses will not get sick. Most of those who do will only experience mild to moderate symptoms. Only an extremely small minority of the population is likely to develop serious complications. Rather than handing over billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies to pay for ‘flu shots, it would make more sense to identify the high risk populations and address the reasons why they are at risk.
The major reason for the variability in response to infection among the general population has to do with immune function. Those who are most likely to develop more severe symptoms are people who have under-developed or compromised immune function such as infants, seniors and the chronically ill. If we focus on identifying and remediating those factors that lead to weakened immune function, we can put together an action plan that will lead to an increased resistance to these viruses, both in the general population, and in higher risk groups. There are also many herbs and other natural health products that, if used correctly, can help to optimize immune function. The major factors that lead to compromised immune function primarily result from poor lifestyle choices.
Compromised Immune Function Factors Include:
- Poor diet, especially the overconsumption of processed, chemically laden foods.
- Exposure to chemical pollutants in the environment, workplace and home such as chemical solvents, laundry detergents, air pollution, and household cleaning products.
- Regular use of social and pharmaceutical drugs. This includes cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, hard drugs and pharmaceuticals.
- Lack of exercise. Most people should get at least one hour of mild to moderate exercise per day (such as walking) and a minimum 20-30 minute aerobic workout at least three to four times per week.
- Insufficient sleep. Most adults need about 8 hours per day, teenagers and children require more.
- Too much stress. Exercise and sleep can help here, but in our stressed out society a stress management program such as tai chi, yoga or meditation is essential for some people.
- Negative emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, envy and hatred. What we need more of is happiness, contentment, compassion and love.
- Vaccinations. This is a very controversial subject. Although childhood vaccinations may provide some protection from the viruses that they are derived from, there is growing evidence that they may lead to depleted immune function. This can increase the likelihood of infection from other illnesses or the development of chronic and autoimmune conditions later in life. Part of the problem is that the immune system of infants and young children simply isn’t developed enough to be able to handle the onslaught of large amounts of viral antigen being injected directly into their blood.
I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t vaccinate your children, only that you should carefully weigh the pros and cons before you make a decision. Let the facts guide your decision, not the hysteria that is propagated by extreme factions on either side of the argument. One thing I do recommend, however, is that those who decide to vaccinate put it off until your children are four or five years old. By that time their immune system will be a bit more developed. I would also recommend following up vaccinations with some of the immune enhancing protocols mentioned in the following paragraphs to reduce the potential side-effects of the vaccinations. (1)
ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS FOR STRONG IMMUNE FUNCTION
Now let’s look at some of the supplementary protocols that you can use to increase your resistance to viral diseases. Keep in mind that although herbs and other natural health products are valuable health-promoting aids, they are not a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If we don’t address the underlying causes, the effectiveness of these protocols will be limited and eventually they won’t work well at all. Many essential nutrients are directly or indirectly important for proper immune function.
Nutrients to Boost Your Immunity
- B vitamins are especially important for helping us deal with stress. They should be taken along with a good mineral supplement.
- In the mineral department, especially important are calcium, magnesium and zinc.
- Antioxidants are very useful as well. They include vitamin A, C, E and the minerals selenium, zinc, manganese and copper, which are components of antioxidant enzymes that the body manufactures.
- Vitamin D is also important for immune function.
- There are many non-essential antioxidant nutrients that support immune functioning. These include the carotenes, flavonoids, and quercetin, along with other polyphenols such as catechins and anthocyanins found in extracts of green tea, grape seed and pine bark, along with coenzyme Q10.
- Vitamin and nutritional supplements should be taken with meals. It’s preferable to take lower doses more often in the day rather than larger doses less often.
HERBS FOR STRENGTHENING IMMUNE DEFENCES
Immune stimulants can boost immune functioning in the short term. They may also be used to treat infections in progress. Some of the most versatile immune stimulants include purple coneflower herb and root (Echinacea spp.), pot marigold flowers (Calendula officinalis), elecampane root (Inula helenium), plantain herb (Plantago spp.), black elder flower (Sambucus nigra), and boneset herb (Eupatorium perfoliatum). To support immune function, these herbs should be taken three to four times per day for one to two week intervals. For best results, repeat this once or twice after a one or two week break. If you are already sick, increase the frequency of the dose to four to six times per day until you are better.
There are many herbs which attack viruses directly that can be used together with immune stimulants by people who already have an infection. These include purple coneflower, pot marigold, black elder and boneset mentioned above, as well as yarrow herb (Achillea millefolium), blue vervain herb (Verbena hastata), hyssop herb (Hyssopus officinalis), lemon balm herb (Melissa officinalis), heal-all herb (Prunella vulgaris), oregano herb (Origanum vulgare) and marjoram herb (Origanum majorana).
Immune tonics are deeper acting but take longer to work. They include Chinese milkvetch root (Astragalus membranaceus), North American ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius), Siberian ginseng root (Eleutherococcus senticosus), reishi mushroom (Ganoderma spp.) and chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus). These herbs tend to be antiviral as well. They should be taken three to four times per day for one or two months at the start of ‘flu season (or before). Immune tonics are not suitable for treating infections in progress.
Herbs should always be taken on an empty stomach, preferably 20-30 minutes before meals, and again before bed. They are best taken in tincture form, especially tinctures made from fresh herbs. However, many of these herbs are almost as effective when used as a tea.
If our healthcare system were to invest even half of the money that is wasted every year financing vaccinations for the ‘flu into proper health education and other preventative measures, the result would be a significant decrease in the impact of viral infections and improvement in the overall health of all sectors of the population. This would lead to significant savings in health care costs and the quality of health care in Canada would increase with a net reduction in costs. It’s time that governments started looking at the big picture instead of spending money on expensive band-aids.
Fortunately, we have the ability to educate ourselves and take our health into our own hands instead of waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us. It requires an acceptance of our personal responsibility, to ourselves, our families and our environment. We are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to make these choices and the resources to implement them. Use them wisely!
(1) To learn more about the controversy surrounding vaccinations, including research and personal experiences involving asthma, autism, SIDS, and diabetes, visit the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network website at http://www.vran.org
Michael Vertolli is a Registered Herbalist practising in Vaughan (just north of Toronto). He is the Director of Living Earth School of Herbalism, which offers in-class and online general interest courses, certificate, and diploma programs. For more information: 905-303-8723. Visit his website: www.livingearthschool.ca Blog: michaelvertolli.blogspot.ca