How to Boost Your Immune System with Herbs
The coming cold and flu season is only one of the hundreds of reasons that immune function should always be at the top of your list of health priorities. The immune system doesn’t just keep sniffles away—it also is the body’s best defense against potentially deadly diseases, such as H1N1 flu, and well-known killers, such as cancer. Your daily habits, including the foods you eat and your exercise and sleep routines, have a significant effect on your immune function. And even if your lifestyle choices are exemplary, environmental toxins, emotional stress, and the wear and tear of aging all conspire to weaken immunity.
How to Protect Your Immune System
The most complex system of the body, the immune system includes the thymus gland, the spleen, bone marrow and a vast network of lymph nodes that are scattered throughout the body. The immune system also maintains a variety of white blood cells: Natural killer cells eradicate cancer cells and large white blood cells called macrophages gobble up diseased or damaged cells. In addition, specialized immune compounds, such as interferon, stimulate white blood cells to destroy cancerous cells.
Your immune system never rests—24 hours a day, every day of your life, your immune system is searching for cells that show signs of infection or cancerous changes. To support and protect your immune system, try to follow these lifestyle suggestions:
• Choose immune-boosting foods. A diet of refined, processed, sugary foods is a recipe for lowered immunity. To build strong immune function, eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, which provide a wide range of essential antioxidants and nutrients. The immune system also depends on high-quality proteins and healthful fats, especially monounsaturated fats, such as those found in extra virgin olive oil, to repair tissues and create healthy immune cells. Studies show that adding a daily serving of yogurt with live beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, strengthens immune function. It’s also important to reduce your intake of all types of sugars (including concentrated fruit juices) because even one serving of sugar significantly lowers immune defenses for several hours.
• Exercise—but not to excess. Science has proven that regular exercise—at least 30 minutes most days of the week—increases immune function. Moderate exercise increases the numbers of all types of white blood cells and makes natural killer cells become more active and effective. But interestingly, excessive exercise regimes, such as running a marathon, can temporarily hinder immune function.
• Reduce stress. Emotional stressors, such as depression and anxiety, stimulate the secretion of adrenal hormones, which suppress the activity of the thymus gland and white blood cells. Luckily, there are several easy ways to reduce stress in your day-to-day life. In addition to its immune-boosting effects, regular exercise is a potent stress reliever. So are meditation, deep relaxation exercises, and massage. Researchers have even found that the simple process of journal writing about stressful incidents improves immune function.
• Sleep more for better health. Lack of sleep negatively affects immune function in a few major ways. First, without enough rest, the body slows its production of disease-fighting white blood cells. Lack of sleep also impairs the activity of natural killer cells and macrophages. And finally, during deep, restful sleep, the body releases powerful immune-enhancing compounds, such as interferon. Make every effort to get enough sleep so that your body is rested and can perform these vital functions.
• Treat infections promptly. Lingering infections, such as respiratory or gum infections, tax the immune system and can significantly impair immunity. Treat infections promptly with immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea (Echinacea spp.) and garlic (Allium sativum). Whenever possible, avoid using antibiotics, because they ultimately weaken immune function. Save antibiotics for infections that cannot successfully be treated with herbs.
• Avoid toxins. Toxic chemicals impair immune function and trigger the formation of cell-damaging free radicals. Toxins are everywhere in our environment these days. Avoid as many as you can by choosing organically grown foods, as well as meats and dairy products that are produced without antibiotics or other chemicals. Use natural alternatives to toxic products in your home, garden, and workplace. Whenever possible, avoid exposure to radiation, including x-rays unless absolutely necessary, because radiation damage is cumulative.
Treating Infections Naturally
Cover courtesy of Healing Arts Press
This chapter demonstrates how to use natural antibiotics with specific examples. To do this, we will touch on around fifty of the most common infectious diseases. These afflictions are classified in accordance with the organ system to which they belong. We will start with the infections of the digestive tract and then move on to those of the respiratory tract and the ear, nose, and throat region, the urinary tract, the genital organs, and the skin. The last group will pull together the general infections that are not confined to one organ system but strike the whole body.
If some infectious diseases are not discussed here, this does not mean they cannot be treated with natural antibiotics. On the contrary, because of the broad spectrum of action that most of these antibiotics have, there will always be several that could be helpful. Which one should you choose? Because natural antibiotics have a predilection for organ systems, rather than diseases, determine which organ system the disease in question affects, and then choose an antibiotic whose primary sphere of action includes that system.
As for the choice of essential oils, I would like to point out that the most effective ones for a specific illness can be determined with precision thanks to an aromatogram. This test is performed like an antibiogram but with essential oils instead of conventional antibiotics. First, the germ responsible for the illness is sampled (extracted from a urine or stool sample or a throat scraping) and cultivated in a laboratory, and then it is put in contact with a wide range of essential oils. Depending on whether the germ’s growth is greatly or weakly interrupted, we can learn which essential oils are most active against it. This test is performed in specially equipped analytical laboratories.
Warning: Improperly treated infectious diseases can have very serious consequences for your health. While the therapeutic treatments suggested here are very effective, they cannot take the place of the informed counsel of a medical professional. In serious cases, you should always seek the assistance of a trained physician.
The Treatment Structure
Each treatment described in this chapter includes a definition of the disease, a list of the natural antibiotics that are effective against it, and one or two examples of how to use those natural antibiotics to treat the disease in question.
The definitions of the diseases—in italics—are brief and only paint a general picture. They aim only at recalling the diseases’ primary manifestations and origin (bacteria, virus, fungi, or parasite). In any case, they are not detailed enough to be used to establish a diagnosis.
Recommended Natural Antibiotics
The natural antibiotics indicated for each illness are divided into three groups: essential oils, mother tinctures, and “other” (that is, all other preparations). Within each group, the remedies are listed according to their value in treating the disease in question. That means that the first remedy in each list is generally considered the most effective for that particular disease, but keep in mind that infections work differently in different people, and different people respond differently to the remedies, so you must learn for yourself, from trial and error, experience, and observation, which remedies work best for you in any given situation.
For the essential oils and mother tinctures, I note that these are the principal options. In other words, they are the ones that are most often recommended and have proven effective in treating the disease in question. I have excluded from this book those natural antibiotics that are tricky to handle or can cause serious side effects. Our selection is therefore necessarily limited, incomplete, and subjective. Numerous other essential oils and mother tinctures can be used to your advantage.
Most treatment examples call for combining an oral remedy with a topical one. The purpose of this combination is to introduce the maximum amount of active constituents into the body. A sufficiently high dosage taken only orally can sometimes cause digestive discomfort or digestive distress. Separating part of the dosage into a topical application allows the dosage to remain high without overwhelming the digestive system.
For most of the diseases discussed in this chapter, you will find that at least one of the treatment examples avoids the internal use of essential oil. Some people simply have no tolerance for ingesting essential oils; these rare individuals find them too strong, too stimulating, or too aggressive. Even people who tolerate oral doses of essential oils may, after several days of treatment, begin to find them irritating, and in that case, they can switch over to a different treatment.
Often several essential oils or mother tinctures are recommended for a specific disease. If you like, you can blend these natural antibiotics, so long as you do not exceed the normal recommended dosage. For example, instead of 3 drops of thyme essential oil, you can take 1 drop of thyme essential oil, 1 drop of niaouli essential oil, and 1 drop of savory essential oil. The total dose remains 3 drops, but you can take advantage of the particular strengths of all three natural antibiotics.
Using Natural Antibiotics Orally
To take a mother tincture internally, you can simply dilute it in a little water. But the same is not true for essential oils. Because they are insoluble in water, they float to the surface of the liquid (as do all oils) and the bulk of the remedy remains glued to the wall of the glass. Thus, to take essential oils orally, you must take them with support, such as honey, which acts as a carrier, or with a dispersant. These products are all the more beneficial because they keep the delicate mucous membranes of the mouth from having direct contact with the essential oils, which, being quite concentrated, can be irritating to the tissues when undiluted.
Supports for Essential Oils
A wide variety of supports for taking essential oils orally is available. The most important quality for supports is that they thoroughly coat the essential oil so that the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach are not irritated by direct contact.
The most commonly recommended support is honey. Mix the recommended dosage of essential oil with 1 teaspoon of honey, then swallow the mixture as is or diluted in a bit of warm water.
Other support substances are equally suitable. Among them, we find crustless bread, white cheese or yogurt, pureed potato, and whey.
You can also ask your pharmacist to put essential oils into 50-milligram capsules.
Dispersants for Essential Oils
Dispersants are emulsifying products specially manufactured for aromatherapy (brands such as Springfields). Made entirely from plant substances, they disperse the essential oil into billions of microscopic particles and coat them. This causes them to lose their irritating character and makes it easy to blend with water. You add the essential oils to the dispersant, stir, and then add a little water. The mixture then looks like a milky liquid, and it’s ready to drink. The proportions of the blend vary depending on how strong the essential oil is:
• Gentle essential oils (tea tree, basil, eucalyptus, lavender, niaouli, palmarosa, ravinsara): Add 1 drop of essential oil to 10 drops of dispersant.
• Strong essential oils (oregano, savory, thyme): Add 1 drop of essential oil to 20 drops of dispersant.
Using Natural Antibiotics Topically
Some essential oils and grapefruit seed extract are too irritating, or even caustic, to be applied directly to the skin. Depending on an individual’s sensitivity, they can cause painful tingling and even burns, with blisters.
It is therefore essential to dilute these substances before applying them to the skin. While water is enough to dilute grapefruit seed extract, oily support is required for essential oils. Sweet almond oil is the most commonly recommended, but any oil can be used: sunflower, olive, canola, and so forth. One teaspoon of oil is enough to dilute 4 to 6 drops of essential oil. If you need to make enough ointment for a large surface, like the thorax in the case of bronchitis, or the lower belly in the case of cystitis, you would dilute 10 to 15 drops of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of sweet almond oil.
Three essential oils are particularly gentle and can usually be applied undiluted (though hypersensitive skin may sometimes still react to them). These three are ravinsara, lavender, and palmarosa. All the others should be diluted, and most especially the essential oils of oregano, savory, and thyme, which are particularly irritating.
Note: Topical applications are intended only for the skin and not the mucous membranes (the nose, eyes, genital organs, and so on). These areas are too sensitive for treatment with essential oils. Great care should be taken to avoid them when applying preparations of essential oils to the neighboring skin surfaces.
Natural Antibiotic Dosages
Natural remedies are not prescribed in fixed dosages, as is the case for conventional antibiotics and other pharmaceutical medications. Their dosage is always individualized and adjusted to the patient being treated. The dosage is increased or reduced in accordance with the patient’s temperament and vitality, the progression of the disease, and so on. The dosages indicated in the treatment examples are therefore only averages. Nevertheless, they should be increased only with caution.
The treatment examples do not always indicate the duration of the treatment, as the duration will depend on the development of the illness. As a general rule, treatment is always limited to a certain period of time, especially for treatments based on essential oils, which range from three to four days to around two weeks.
The sole essential oil treatment that can be extended over a period of several months is for fungal infections like Candida albicans. Eradication of this fungus requires long-term action. The dosages are adjusted with this in mind—that is, they are relatively low so that they can be continued for months. If you begin to feel antipathy or disgust for the remedy during the course of a long-duration treatment, it is best to stop taking it; you could replace it with mother tinctures, plant infusions, propolis, or grapefruit seed extract. Grapefruit seed extract, in fact, can generally be taken without any problems for very long periods, from several months to an entire year.