Covid-19 series Part 1
The good news is that many vaccines are looking promising; the bad news is that the virus is still spreading—maybe worse than ever, and we won’t know how long it will take to get the vaccines to everyone. The upshot is that this virus will be here longer than most of us anticipated.
Therefore, we are going to offer continued insights into staying well. We will cover herbs to use to stay healthy, to use in case one comes down with the virus (or the flu), as well as herbs to take during convalescence. In addition, we will mention other easy things for you to do to take care of yourself. However, this information is meant to be helpful and is no way a substitute for seeing your doctor.
Human body overview.
What do we have to work with in dealing with this virus? In examining the human body and its defenses, we have many. First are the barriers to entry. This includes our skin and mucous membranes, both in the mouth and nose as well as in the gut. Next we have defensive secretions such as tears, saliva, mucus, stomach acid (so important!). In addition, there are two components to our immune system that we need to make sure are working properly: the innate and the adaptive systems. Finally, we need to keep our stress levels down. High stress levels can negatively impact our immune system. We will talk more in depth about this as well when we get into specific herbs. Bottom line, to stay healthy, we need support and maintain ALL of the above.
Skin. Our skin has natural antimicrobial defenses on it, especially our hands. Still, it is important to keep our hands clean and our skin safe from injury. Thus, tending to open wounds is very important because we don’t want our immune system to have to muster all its strength to tend to a gash in our knee during an epidemic. Rather, we need our immune system to be on “stand by” in case we get struck by this virus or any other virus or bacterial infection.
Mucous membranes in the nasal passage. It is important to keep our nostrils moist to prevent the inhalation airborne disease. To do this, apply sesame, olive or some other natural oil to the nostrils several times a day. This will create a much stronger barrier. Also, avoid mouth breathing and try to keep your tongue on the top of beginning part of the roof of your mouth (just above the front teeth). This tongue position puts the body into parasympathetic mode (think relaxation) and the mouth being closed will prevent airborne pathogens from entering. Finally, to support our defense system in the gut (brush borders, etc.), think probiotics and prebiotics. There is a lot of information on both so I won’t add any but I will say that it is important to take both.
Secretions. Saliva is very antimicrobial and thus we can support it by drinking lots of clean water and keeping our bodies alkaline.
Stomach acid. Hydrochloric acid helps the body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients such as proteins. Its low pH helps to eliminate bacteria and viruses in the stomach, protecting your body from infection. Thus, keeping it strong is important. Many people suffer from hypochlorhydria or too low of stomach acid. Taking an HCL supplement can help to rebalance stomach acid.
When we talk about prevention, I really want to stress how herbs can work with the body’s vital force--it’s vital energy--to improve one’s health and stamina. However, there are times, for instance when one has an infection, where herbs can and should be used as a pharmaceutical substitute. I will cover this in another part of this series , but for now, let’s talk about herbs that can work with the body to keep you healthy.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), root (radix)
Echinacea is the most popular herb sold in this country and is one of the best studied herbs. Both Kevin Spelman, PhD and Kerry Bone, PhD, have done tremendous work on this amazing plant and I encourage you to google them for more information. Traditionally, it is the root of Echinacea angustifolia that has been used in this country, although in Germany, they use the leaves. Echinacea purpurea is also used, but it does not have as much research on it.
Therefore, I will write only on Echinacea angustifolia root, but if you only have Echinacea purpurea, use it. You can buy echinacea in capsules, but it’s much less expensive to buy it in bulk “tea” form, which is what I recommend. If you can’t find it, or want me to blend a tea for you, just email me at email@example.com. Finally, because it is a root, it should be made into a decoction (see below on tea making).
This herb was once classified as an immune stimulant but research over the past decade has shown it to be amphoteric, meaning that it has an ability to help balance out the immune system. So, if one has an overactive immune system, or if one has an underactive immune system, echinacea has been clinically proven to help the immune system both return to balance and strengthen itself (1,2). Overactive immune systems would include almost any auto-immune issue and underactive ones would include people who are prone to catch colds, flus, etc. This by the way, is often due to the body’s inability to handle stress and constants stress can elevate inflammatory markers such as TNF-a, IL-1B, IL-6 and C-reactive protein. So it’s really one big negative chain of events. (If you don’t understand any terms, please google them, thanks.).
Active constituents. The alkyl amides in echinacea have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory affect (reducing the aforementioned markers). They also can bind to certain receptors called cannabinoid receptors (CB2) which causes a subtle modulation of the immune function. They can upregulate dendritic cell maturation which basically. Think of dendritic cells as the sentinel guards for your immune system. Once they are alerted by a virus, bacteria, etc., they can spring into action both on the humoral as well as the innate side of our immune system. Thus, they need to be strong. For a greater explanation on dendritic cells, please see (3). Alkyl amides can also increase white cell phagocytic activity as well as stimulate NK (natural killer) cells which are key parts of our innate immune system. (4).
Dosing. Echinacea has been shown to be safe and efficacious taken daily which disputes a study purporting that it should only be taken short-term (cite) and it refutes another study that said that it should not be taken by those who have an auto-immune disease (cite). In tea form, about 5 grams of tea per day is standard dose. It can be less if mixed with other immune supporting herbs.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Astragalus in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is thought to protect the energy layer just outside our body and was/is used to tonify the blood and spleen. In modern medicine, astragalus is used as an immune stimulant, but it is also known for being a cardiotonic as well as being hepatoprotective.
Astragalus contains flavonoids, amino acids, choline, betaine, saponins, triterpenoids, polysaccharides, fatty acids and trace minerals. With all these great constituents, it’s no wonder it’s been used for thousands of years to support the immune system. Astragalus is thought to be a tonifer (think kidney astringent), and an immune enhancer while the flavonoids and amino acids are thought to offer both restorative as well as liver protection (5).
Astragalus sticks (they look like tongue depressors) can be thrown into soup stocks anytime to give your soup a boost of immune power.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice root is considered to be an arenal tonic or an adaptogen. The way we think it works is that the GAs (see below) in licorice inhibit an enzyme, which catalyzes the conversion of cortisol into its inactive metabolite, cortisone. This results in delayed excretion and prolonged activity of cortisol and thus helping the body adapt to stress.
This mechanism of action also makes it useful as an anti-inflammatory.
Licorice root has been found to be mucoprotective meaning that it increases mucosal blood flow and mucous production in the kidneys, bladder, lungs and digestive tract.
Other noted qualities:
· Expectorant (due to above mucus producing ability in the lungs)
· Anti-bacterial (phenolic compounds have an antibacterial affect on MRSA)
· Anti-viral (studies have shown the GL to inhibit SARS in one study and others in
· Anti-ulcer (do it the mucogenic and anti-bacterial properties)
· Hepatoprotective—studies have shown that licorice protects hepatocytes by inhibiting lipid peroxidation.
Active Constituents. Triterpenoid saponins--especially GL (glycyrrhizin) in the form of potassium and calcium salts, GAs -- glycyrrhizic acid or glycyrrhizinic acid (GA) is about 50 times sweeter than sucrose (common sugar) is the saponins, which are the sweetness.
Due to its immense sweetness, I recommend that licorice root be used in smaller quantities when making a formula—say 10%. Finally, if you are at all concerned about using it with hypertension (even though this dose is quite low), you might want to skip it.
Making a tea.
If you make a tea using all three herbs, make a decoction out of them. This means gently simmering the herbs on the stove for about ten minutes. If you want to add other herbs, add them at the end and then cover and let steep another ten minutes. I like 4 parts of echinacea and astragalus each, 1 part licorice root.
1) Immunomodulators Inspired by Nature: A Review on Curcumin and Echinacea, Published online 2018 Oct 26. doi: 10.3390/molecules23112778
2) Neri PG, Stagni E, Filippello M, Camillieri G, Giovannini A, Leggio GM, Drago F. Oral Echinacea purpurea extract in low-grade, steroid-dependent, autoimmune idiopathic uveitis: a pilot study. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Dec;22(6):431-6. doi: 10.1089/jop.2006.22.431. PMID: 17238809.
4) Sun LZ-Y, Currier N., Miller SC, J Altern Complementary Med 1999; F:437-446
5) Holmes, Peter, The Energetics of Western Herbs, Vol I.
Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, your one stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.