By Donna Easto C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator
In the last article, we looked at the downside of the role of supplements and herbs during this time of the pandemic. There are no supplements or herbs presently known to prevent or treat COVID-19. Research doesn’t suggest that boosting your immune system will prevent or mitigate the illness’s severity if you get sick. However, some nutrients and herbs are generally safe and proven to be useful in the prevention of colds and flu.
Zinc lozenges help prevent respiratory infection and may reduce upper respiratory symptoms in colds. One lozenge of 10mg/day is usually enough. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need lower doses, which may already be in their prenatal vitamins. Zinc can be tough on the tummy, so take with a meal. Don’t take it if you’re on antibiotics; it can interfere with absorption. Check with your health care provider before taking Zinc if you have thyroid problems, use diuretics, or take Rheumatoid Arthritis medications.
Vitamin D has an essential effect on immune function and the body’s ability to fight infection. A recent study found that a deficiency of the vitamin was common in folks who developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a complication of COVID-19. People deficient in the vitamin reap the most benefit from supplementation. For maximum absorption choose D3, a safe dose is 1000-2000IU/day. Foods containing the vitamin include salmon, tuna, mackerel and cheese.
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the length and severity of colds in adults who supplement vitamin C (up to 2000mg daily for adults) regularly. Vitamin C supplementation is contraindicated if you have a blood disorder. Oranges, grapefruits, red and green peppers, kiwi fruit, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe and baked potatoes are good food sources of the vitamin.
Echinacea is safe for most people and shows some benefit in decreasing the severity and length of the common cold. Echinacea is available as a tincture, spray, tablet, or tea. If you have a systemic autoimmune condition such as lupus, are on immunosuppressive medications or have tried it previously and experienced a symptom flare, avoid echinacea.
Elderberry has had a lot of press lately, sometimes being linked to cytokine storm. It is highly unlikely that elderberry used for prevention, or even during infection could cause cytokine storm. However, if this is a concern to you, don’t use this herb.
Elderberry (Sambucus) is considered a herbal “go-to” in treating the flu during the first 72 hours. At the first sign of symptoms, take up to 1 tablespoon of syrup 3 times daily for adults, 3 teaspoons a day for children over two years. Elderberry is often combined with zinc in lozenge form at the onset of a cold. Elderberry has not been shown to be useful in preventing either colds or flu.
Garlic is a classic herb used to prevent and treat upper respiratory infections. It is more effective against bacterial than viral infections. At the first sign of infection, start eating one raw garlic clove daily, or use concentrated allicin extract. Garlic lemonade: chop three garlic cloves, place into a large mason jar, cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes; add lemon and honey to taste. Drink hot up to 4 cups/day. Garlic may interact with blood-thinning and HIV medications, check with your doctor before taking garlic.
Gargle, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, gargling with plain warm water 3X/day may have some benefit for preventing upper respiratory tract infections.
A healthy approach to life is the best way to ensure immune health. Follow a diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits daily, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, fish and eggs. Exercise as you can. Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Seek inner quiet, laugh often, love well, be optimistic, be kind, stay in touch with family and friends, and put out your beloved seasonal decorations early this year.