For millennia, physicians and herbalists have found medicinal uses for all parts of the elder tree, including its wood, leaves, flowers, and berries. The branches of this native European plant were believed to cast off evil spirits. Leaves were used in ointments to heal wounds. Flowers and berries were used to make wine; infusions were a common treatment for colds and rheumatic conditions. Today, herbalists and holistic physicians commonly recommend elderberry for its immunity-boosting properties.
Elderberries are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids that act as antioxidants and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that elder extracts may inhibit the replication of viruses.
Elderberry syrup is made from an extract of elder fruits. Lozenges are often prepared with zinc and other herbs. Both are commonly used to help tame colds, coughs, and relieve flu symptoms. Syrups and lozenges are available on the market, but always check with your personal wellness practitioner to be sure it is a quality product and you are taking an appropriate dose.
Important caution: Unripe berries are not safe to eat nor are the other parts of the elder plant. Since elderberry stimulates the immune system, it is not recommended for people with autoimmune conditions.
- Duke, J. A., et al. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2002. 267-268.
- Johnson, R.L., S. Foster, T. Low Dog and D. Kiefer. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2012. 71-73.
Next to iron, zinc is the most common mineral in the body and is found in every cell. It has an important role in the workings of the muscular system, reproductive systems in both men and women, and proper insulin and thyroid function. It is one of the main minerals I recommend to boost the quality of sperm in my fertility patients. Zinc is also a catalyst for the vitality of the skin and wound healing. However, zinc is probably best known for supporting the healthy functioning of the immune system.
Several studies have shown that zinc lozenges or syrup reduced the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms. Studies also show that taking zinc regularly might reduce the number of colds each year, the number of missed school days, and the amount of antibiotics required in otherwise healthy children. New studies are also looking at how the body uses zinc and whether or not taking zinc can improve the treatment of celiac disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
There are several forms of zinc, but not all are easily absorbed or appropriate for every person. The two best forms are zinc gluconate, and zinc citrate. According to the National Academy of Health Sciences, the need for a zinc supplement varies based on age, gender, pregnancy status, and other health factors. Zinc can interfere with the actions of some medications and can even affect the utilization of other minerals, such as copper. It’s best to first consult with your wellness practitioner before taking zinc.
Though we recognize zinc as an immune stimulant, care needs to be exercised as too much zinc may actually inhibit immune function as well. Zinc can be dosed orally, taken through lozenges, or at times we place zinc in IVs to boost a patient’s immune system in times of sickness.
- Hulisz, D. “Efficacy of Zinc Against Common Cold Viruses: An Overview.” Abstract. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 44, no. 5 (2004). http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/491043_6
- National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc.” Report. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001. http://natural-health-academy.com/natural-health/minerals/
- Seaman, A. “Zinc May Shorten Common Cold but Side Effects Common.” Reuters website. Accessed July 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/07/us-zinc-commoncold-idUSBRE8460RG20120507
- University of Maryland Medical Center. “Zinc.” Reviewed June 30, 2011. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/zinc#ixzz3evGpAKAn
Immunity Boosting “Better than Chicken Soup”
This immunity-boosting soup is made with a virtual garden of powerful ingredients (in bold) that contain beneficial nutrients for your immune system:
Turmeric adds a subtle flavor and a beautiful yellow color. The active ingredient is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant.
Black pepper also has antioxidant properties.
Cayenne pepper can clear congestion due to the main active compound capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in vitamins and minerals and contain unique phytonutrients that contribute to good health.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
- 4 cups low-sodium mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups finely sliced kale
- 1 cup cubed butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 6 slices astragalus root (optional)
- 1 fresh lemon, Juice of
- 1 teaspoon miso
- In a sauce pot over medium-high heat, add oil and cook onion and garlic, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
- Stir in turmeric and mushrooms, and cook 2 minutes more.
- Add broth, kale, squash, ginger, cayenne, and astragalus. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool slightly, add lemon juice and miso. Cover and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
Nutrition Information per Serving: 90 calories (5 from fat), 0.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 160mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate (6g dietary fiber, 5g sugar), 2g protein
- Whole Foods Market Recipe http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/better-chicken-soup
When it comes to cold and flu season, prevention really is the first line of defense. To keep your body’s defense system–the immune system–in peak condition, follow our immunity-boosting tips to help your body fight off the bugs looking for a host. And, for times when you are feeling ill, the second set of tips can help ease your symptoms and support a quick recovery.
Cold & Flu Prevention Tips
Your immune system is at work 24/7! The best approach to supporting immune function is a healthy lifestyle that includes stress management, exercise, whole foods, nutritional supplementation, and the use of plant-based medicines. On a daily basis, you can take the following steps to help your immune system keep you healthy:
- Wash your hands regularly to help prevent transfer of bacteria.
- Stay clear of people sneezing or coughing. Avoid shaking hands or other close contact with anyone whom you know to be sick.
- Make sure your home and work space are well-ventilated. Even on a cold day, open a window for a few minutes to clear out stale air.
- Follow a consistent sleep/wake schedule so the immune system can repair and recover.
- Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and veggies, which contain antioxidants that help the body neutralize cellular damage.
- Rest. Sometimes the body’s only way of getting your attention is to force you to slow down by getting sick. Don’t push through fatigue. Honor your body and sleep/rest as needed to promote healing. Reduce activity at home and at work as much as possible.
- Increase fluid intake to include water, diluted vegetable juices, soups, and herbal and green teas.
- Eat light meals and eat more soup. Whether you choose a vegetarian broth or a heartier bone-broth, soups for healing should be loaded with a variety of herbs and veggies.
- Manage stress. Even just 10 minutes of meditation a day has positive effects on the immune system and promotes a positive mindset.
- Laugh–it truly is good medicine. Patch Adams was onto something when he brought humor to his patients’ bedsides. Read a funny book. Watch stand-up comedy. Share jokes with a friend or your kids. Laughter lowers the stress hormones and elevates your mood–both are good for healing.
Vitamin, Mineral, and Botanical Support for the Immune System
There’s no panacea, but a growing body of research has shown that certain vitamins, minerals, and plant-based supplements can help prevent/curtail the symptoms of colds and flu. Some that you may want to include are listed below. Talk to your practitioner as these suggestions must be tailored to your specific needs and health status.
- Multivitamin and mineral formula
- Vitamin C
- Bioflavonoids, 1000 mg/day
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D, 2000 IU/day
- Zinc, 30 mg/day
- Echinacea, elderberry, and astragalus (tea, capsule, or liquid extract) help prevent common cold and viral infections. Physician-scientists continue to study the immune-enhancing effects of these and other botanical remedies.
- Balaji, P. A., S. R. Varne, and S. S. Ali. “Physiological Effects of Yogic Practices and Transcendental Meditation in Health and Disease.” North American Journal of Medical Sciences 4, no. 10 (October 2012): 442–448. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482773/
- Besedovsky, L., T. Lange, and J. Born. “Sleep and Immune Function.” Pflügers Archiv European Journal of Physiology 463, no. 1 (January 2012):121-137. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What You Should Know for the 2015-2016 Influenza Season.” Accessed July 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2015-2016.htm
- Kachko, R. “A Pillar of Optimal Health: The Immune System.” American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website. April 14, 2015. http://www.naturopathic.org/article_content.asp?article=1010
- MacDonald, C.M. “A Chuckle a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Therapeutic Humor and Laughter.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services 42, no. 3 (March 2004):18-25.
- Gaby, A. (2011). Nutritional medicine. Concord, N.H: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
- MedlinePlus. “Chicken Soup and Sickness.” Accessed July 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002067.htm
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. “Natural Medicines in the Clinical Management of Colds and Flu.” Accessed July 2015. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/ce/ceCourse.aspx?s=ND&cs=&pc=12%2D108&cec=1&pm=5
- Pizzorno, J. E. and M.T. Murray, eds. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 4th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier Science, 2013. 516-524. http://www.rhc.ac.ir/Files/Download/pdf/nursingbooks/Textbook%20of%20Natural%20Medicine-2013-cd.pd