First, of all, don’t panic. We can’t avoid being exposed to various pathogens. Whether it’s a virus, bacteria, fungus, parasite, mold, whatever, it’s out there. You can be exposed by your coughing co-worker, the sneezing person next to you at the store, or the kids bringing things home from school, daycare, soccer practice, or dance class. What can you do to make sure your body is ready to fend off a pathogen it’s been exposed to?
In addition to these common-sense ideas on keeping your immune system ready to fight, here are a few ideas specifically for when you’ve been exposed to some kind of infection, especially one that may affect your respiratory system.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, immunocompromised, or have other health issues, talk to your healthcare provider about these suggestions to help decide if they are for you.
Vitamins and Minerals
- Zinc: Historically, zinc has been found to help the body resist infection. A recent study showed that children with respiratory infections recovered faster with no adverse effects when zinc was added to their treatment. Some studies estimate that about 30% of American adults are deficient in zinc. Zinc is generally safe to use as a supplement as long as you use a reasonable amount, under 40 mg of elemental zinc daily.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D boosts your body’s ability to fight infections by supporting the white blood cells that fight off pathogens. It may also minimize inflammation, raising your immune system’s ability to function correctly. According to a recent study, about 41% of US adults are deficient in Vitamin D. The best way to increase your Vitamin D is to spend some time out in the sunshine with no sunscreen each day. Be sure to add a non-toxic sunscreen after about 10-15 minutes of exposure.
- Silver: From ancient times, silver has been used to combat infections, especially in the period before antibiotics were developed. Recent studies have reinvestigated silver as a low-cost alternative for use in developing countries, as an alternative or complementary approach to use for antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogens, and as a possible anti-viral compound. Using colloidal silver long-term can cause negative effects, such as argyria (“blue man syndrome”), but according to a manufacturer, if you use a silver sol, you can avoid these issues.
If you prefer a homeopathic approach, some experts recommend the following homeopathics taken 4 times a day, each at a 6C dilution:
Plants and Herbs
Many plants and herbs have been used throughout time to ward off infections and other ailments. Here are a few that are known for helping in general along with a few that are specific to a respiratory issue:
- Elderberry: This fruit is high in many of the nutrients and antioxidants that your body uses to keep your immune system healthy. It has been shown to reduce the length and severity of viruses such as colds, and it has also been shown to be especially helpful with respiratory symptoms. It comes in capsules or liquid form, but you can also get it fresh or dried (just be sure to cook it in a tincture or tea before you consume it). For an immune booster, add a tablespoon or so of this elderberry concoction to your favorite beverage. Adjust the below to suit your needs or what ingredients you have on hand.
- ½ cup dried elderberries
- ½ tablespoon rose hips
- 10 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Juice of ¼ lemon
- 1 quart of water
Bring to a boil, then turn heat off and let steep, covered, for 8 hours or overnight. Pour through a strainer into a container and refrigerate.
- Turmeric: There are tens of thousands of articles out there that show clinical successes and other benefits of using this colorful spice and its main component—curcumin. This relative of ginger has been used in Asian cuisines and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years—the science is just beginning to catch up. It has been shown to boost the immune system and provide some antiviral benefit. You can find turmeric in just about any grocery store, but be careful—that beautiful golden color can stain! Turmeric is one of the main ingredients of Golden Milk. It’s easy to add this drink to your bedtime routine. Don’t leave out the black pepper—it boosts the turmeric’s effects. Mix up the following, and heat gently to the desired temperature.
- ½ cup of milk or your favorite milk substitute (unsweetened)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup (or don’t sweeten at all!)
- Garlic: Another plant that’s been used throughout history for its immune-supporting benefits, garlic has been shown to promote immune system function and provide anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also delicious! And easy to add to many dishes. Fresh is best—it’s the most flavorful and retains the mechanisms you need to fight off pathogens.
- Oregano, Basil, Sage, and Rosemary: These herbs have all been shown to have some infection-fighting qualities. Use them fresh in your favorite recipes or to brew into a tea. You can also use them dried as a rub or to sprinkle in your favorite foods. Or put them in an herb butter (add garlic, too!) as a flavor and health booster.
Did you get hungry reading this? Good! As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Our “medicine” can be yummy and easily incorporated into our daily diet. Use these herbs, plants, vitamins, and minerals to keep you healthy any time of year. What are your favorites?