The world is in a state of concern given the spread of super bugs. Many people have come to me as a practitioner with questions about what natural strategies might help with fortifying their immune systems to cope better with viral infections.
My advice to many is to keep calm, follow health authority recommendations such as washing hands frequently with soap, not touching your face, eyes, nose and of course sensible social distancing as recommended by health authorities.
However, there are many nutritional strategies to help your bodies internal defenses to cope better with most viruses. The foundation starts with balanced nutrition, emphasizing foods rich in dietary protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and flavonoids.
You see most all nutrients can play a role on immune function. So in addition to keeping your meals balanced with all food groups, taking a balanced multivitamin/mineral will help to fill in any nutritional gaps that may compromise your immunity.
Some super foods that may help the body cope with viruses include onions, garlic, oranges, orange vegetables such as carrots, nuts, and seeds. Other foods showing potentials include foods rich in the naturally occurring flavonoid called quercetin.
According to a study published in Antiviral Research, 2012, Quercetin has been shown in preliminary trials to potentially prevent viral endocytosis, replication and inflammation in airway epithelial cells. In other wards it may help prevent more serious symptoms from developing. Although the research is preliminary at this stage, more clinical trials are exploring its potential benefits.
What I take from this research is to use common sense and try to include more dietary sources of foods rich in quercetin which includes red and green onions, elderberries, cranberries, kale, red apple, and pears. Simply including a few servings of these foods daily in a balanced diet will help build your bodies pool of quercetin along with many other nutrients that support your immunity.
Other natural treatments for viruses with preliminary evidence showing promising potentials includes bee propolis. Bee propolis consists of the waxy substance collected from natural plants by bees to cement and seal bee hive structures. It appears to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
A study published in The Journal of American Science in 2013 has shown that propolis may indeed offer protection. It was found to work better than oseltamivir at reducing viral plaque formation, and improving survival rate of mice infected with H1N1 virus. The authors concluded that bee propolis may be an effective treatment option warranting more studies.
Another favorite of mine is good old honey. Honey tastes great, and helps improve taste of tea, which encourages more fluids for better hydration which is key for dealing with a virus. Honey also helps to soothe inflamed tissues of the throat, and provides relief for sore throats and may even help soothe a cough. In some clinical studies children that were given two teaspoons of honey before bed experienced reduced night time coughing and improved sleep patterns. The effects of honey compared equally with some common cough suppressant medications. It is important to note that honey should not be provided to children younger than 1 years of age due to risk for infant botulism.
Let's not forget about vitamin C, this water soluble antioxidant is considered one of the chief antioxidants within our bodies. It is well known to prevent scurvy, and acts as a precursor for the synthesis of collagen within the body. It also shows strong effects on our immunity. As an antioxidant, proponents of orthomolecular medicine, pioneered by leading nobel laureate Linus Pauling, have suggested that this antioxidant may offer therapeutic potentials for treating complications associated with strong viral infections.
In fact, research in this controversial area are ongoing with advocates claiming optimistic results. Pauling and advocates suggest that with strong viruses, the viral inflammation and its free radical load are at an excessive level, thus overwhelming the bodies endogenous antioxidant systems, potentially leading to severe complications. They propose that therapeutic doses of vitamin C may provide the needed levels of antioxidants to limit the oxidative damage induced by the infection.
Many orthomolecular practitioners have documented case reports of dramatic recoveries with the therapeutic applications of vitamin C, which has fueled their advocacy of this therapeutic approach.
Although the research sounds promising, well designed double blinded clinical trials are warranted to further elucidate these opinions. Until more studies are conducted to confirm these findings, a sensible approach would be to ensure optimal dietary intake of foods rich in vitamin C, in the context of a balanced diet.
Most scientists would likely agree that consuming more vitamin C rich foods like oranges, mandarins, kiwis, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, rose hip tea and or kiwis are indeed very beneficial for health, wellness and immune function. During flu season, for this simple reason I encourage my clients to include plenty of these foods in their daily diet.
Another very important nutrient is that of vitamin D. Epidemiological research has shown that low vitamin D status during the flu season is associated with a greater susceptibility to virus infections. Researchers have proposed that low vitamin D status may be compromising immune function leading to greater risk for severe complications. Vitamin D is considered the sunshine vitamin, naturally produced by our bodies in response to sunlight exposure.
This hormone like fat soluble nutrient plays numerous physiological roles particularly regulating immune activities. This regulatory effect of vitamin D may be offering benefits in preventing viral infections from becoming more severe. Many researchers believe this, but, more studies are warranted to attain conclusive evidence.
Take home message is to be sure to include foods rich in vitamin D to meet your bodies daily requirements. Most foods rich in vitamin D include fortified dairy, or fortified dairy alternates, and cold water fish. For adults we should be aiming for 600 IU to 800 IU daily of vitamin D to meet our daily needs. If you are not meeting your daily needs from foods you should look at sensible supplementation.
Most pharmacies and health food stores have various sources of vitamin D supplements. Also, most multivitamin and mineral supplements contain vitamin D, just read the label to ensure it meets these levels.
So some natural products may indeed show potentials to help support our immunity. However, more research is required to learn more about their therapeutic potentials. In the meantime, better nutrition with sensible use of natural health options, may be used as an integrative approach to supporting our overall state of nutritional wellness, our immunity and ability to potentially cope with the many bugs and super bugs affecting us today.