Over the last few weeks I have been in plenty of discussions around the fear of what to expect for the upcoming ‘cold and flu season’. We’ve all relaxed a bit this last month, as restrictions eased off and we enjoyed all that glorious summer had to offer. But with back to school and work decisions, sports and other extracurriculars gradually resuming, and the cooler weather on the horizon many are feeling their stress levels creep back up.
So many times I had the same conversations with people throughout this pandemic and that was always to point out that nowhere in the narrative did most of the ‘health experts’ tell people to get plenty of quality sleep, exercise, eat healthy foods, and be proactive in ensuring their immune system and overall health was at its best. So, if you haven’t been these last months, now is the time to be proactive.
So, what does this mean from an herbal medicine approach? It means doing what you can to boost your innate immune system’s ability to naturally fight off any illness that comes your way. This is your body’s first response to any foreign invaders so it makes sense that it be one with iron-clad defense! The aim is to ensure that your body is balanced and healthy with daily support from a type of herb known as adaptogens. These incredible plants do just as their name suggest – they help your body adapt to whatever comes its way, regulating and balancing all your body systems so that they can function at their best.
To officially be called an ‘adaptogen’ an herb must be able to raise the overall performance of the body without any adverse side effects. It will also have to work independent of other conditions. This is what makes an adaptogen different from something like caffeine, which we know gives your body that quick fix of energy, but you eventually deflate, depress your metabolic pathways, and then need more caffeine to achieve the same effect. An adaptogen does not have a specific action and does not target a certain area of the body but instead it has a positive benefit to the body as a whole, being able to respond to any influence or stressor that it needs to.
These herbs come backed by plenty of research and modern application, and centuries of traditional use! Some my favourite adaptogens for immune support include the following:
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) - this mushroom helps to lower the effects of stress and modulate the responses from the immune system. Reishi is just one of many great immune boosting mushrooms that contain polysaccharides to support the body. It is a deep immune tonic, useful in combatting bacterial and viral infections. Add some mushroom powerhouses to your soup or bone broths to help with tissue repair, healing, hormone and energy production, and immune balance.
Eluethero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – Also called Siberian ginseng, it was traditionally used in Russia to increase stamina in soldiers and athletes, this herb will boost overall health improving physical and mental performance under stress. Eleuthero helps the body cope better with stress by reducing the output of stress hormones. It is the most researched adaptogen of modern times containing active chemical components called eleutherosides that appear to inhibit the stress response by lowering the activity of the adrenal cortex. Eleuthero works to balance serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine. Its effect on these mood-determining brain chemicals makes it a great mood stabilizer. Eleuthero is also a powerful immune booster that helps the body to balance, heal and instill an overall sense of wellbeing.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) – boosts immunity of both the innate and adaptive (more specific, targeted attacks) for a strong defensive system. This herb increases the amount of anti-stress compounds our bodies use to prevent and repair stress-related damage. By lowering the ability of stress hormones like cortisol to bind to receptors, astragalus boosts immunity and protects the body from the effects of stress.
The key to a successful fall and winter ahead is to be prepared. Along with exercise, consuming healthy foods, and good quality sleep, incorporating daily herbal tonics that help to balance the body and support the immune system will give you the protection and strength your natural defenses need to keep you healthy.