The Life of an Urban Herbalist
A collection of musings and some articles with a more scientific approach.
We’ve all suffered the repeated insult of viruses getting their sneaky way over our immune system. They creep in while we’re at low ebb, break into our cells and hijack the cell’s own reproductive mechanism in order to replicate and cause their own brand of mayhem. Next thing you know you have a headache, your glands are swollen and you just know the next step is breathing difficulties and snot
What is a virus?
A virus is a small non-living entity. A microbiologist of my acquaintance recently described them as DNA delivery systems. A cursory search of Google came up with the following definition
an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host
These infective agents break down walls of healthy host cells, hijack their reproductive equipment and then use the cell to replicate their tiny dna fractions. Without a host they can’t reproduce. The symptoms they cause are largely created by the means they use for getting into your cells to replicate, the way they burst the cell in order to get out and find other cells and, of course, your immune system identifying them in order to throw the little buggers out.
A successful virus will make you a bit unwell for a week or two then move on to another host. Only pretty unsuccessful viruses kill their hosts. This is the reason that most severe disease creating viruses tend to be self limiting yet the common cold just rolls on and on.
So what can we do to prevent it happening and if that fails what can be done to minimise the carnage?
The first thing we can do to maximise immune function is to get enough sleep. Our immune systems do most of their work while we’re asleep. This is why, when we are ill, we just want to go back to bed. A good rest really is the best medicine. If you could retire to your bed at the first sign of illness 9 times out of 10 you wouldn’t get ill.
The Kidney unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary had a zero tolerance approach to illness. If you were ill you put the transplant patients on immune suppressant drugs at serious risk so, if you were ill, you were obliged to remain at home. They had the LOWEST SICKNESS FIGURES IN THE REGION. If you are a manager It’s worth considering a similar approach for your staff. That way they don’t bring the filthy bugs to work with them in the first place and they recover more quickly. Working yourself into exhaustion only prolongs the length of time it takes your immune system to repair the damage.
If a couple of good night’s kip won’t do the job then cut out sugar. Research has shown that just 75 grams of refined sugar will depress immune function for up to 6 hours. Doctors will say that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll catch anything but if you’re repeatedly reducing your ability to fight infection you are more likely to put yourself at risk.
So when you start to feel unwell? Cut out the crap! Eat a nutrient dense diet, fish, pulses, nuts, slightly steamed veg, good fats like butter and olive oil and lean meats. Eat fruit with lots of vitamin c and make sure you get plenty of calcium. If you’re craving sugars take a chromium supplement. Evidence shows that chromium deficiency leads to sugar cravings. Making your diet as varied as possible gives you all the nutrients you need to keep your first line immune cells working optimally and reduces the likelihood that a virus will be able to hijack your cells for reproductive purposes.
Once the virus has got you and you’re feeling properly rubbish the above steps will help you get over it more quickly. Do you really have to be at work? Will your workmates thank you for passing on your little visitor? No of course they don’t so stay at home and keep them safe.
Paracetemol does not make you better. It just makes you feel better. It reduces your temperature and gets rid of your headache. Decongestants make it easier to breathe but, if you use them for more than a couple of days, when you stop taking them you will get rebound congestion. There is also some emerging evidence that taking paracetemol or anti inflammatories for any length of time can make your cold last longer. People who never take cold and flu remedies genuinely get better faster.
Your doctor won’t be able to give you anti virals because most anti virals they have access to, like acyclovir, either won’t have any effect on your cold or have long term side effects that do not make it worthwhile. A herbalist or your health food shop however can provide you with some help.
Echinacea is an immune modulating herb. It increases the availability and vigilance of neutrophils, your first line defence. It also steps up your immune response once you become unwell and can help your body quickly defeat the invader.
Elderberry: The humble elderberry has been proven to provide amazing antiviral protection. It prevents haemagglutination the process by which the flu virus enters cells. You can buy Sambucol from the health food shop, some chemists and some supermarkets and there’s good clinical evidence for it. There is also clinical evidence for a simple syrup made with the berries. Of course the drug companies would like you to buy their expensively packaged product…..
Lemon and honey
Folk think it’s an old wives tale those old wives knew a thing or two. A hot lemon and honey drink made with raw organic honey and a couple of slices of real lemon will actually make you feel better. There are anti viral, anti-inflammatory constituents in both. Together they work twice as well.
If you want to boost the anti-inflammatory effect of the mix add a bit of grated fresh ginger root. There is clinical proof that constituents of ginger (gingerols and shaogols to be more accurate) are more effective, weight for weight, than ibuprofen at reducing inflammation.
And finally, if you are loosing the battle against the winter virus, Visit a herbalist. We’re not just there for the life threatening conditions but can help minimise the symptoms of a winter cold and sort out the barking, irritating cough it left you will. Plus, if you think about it in time, a herbalist can help you beef up your immune system so you don’t get it in the first place.