Last week, I gave you my most potent tips for enhancing the flow of lymph fluid through your body.
This week, I'm going to continue where I left off and give you 11 more ways to support your immune system, keep colds and flus at bay, and recover faster from sickness.
Enjoy, and I hope this article not only keeps you healthier and happier as we enter a season so fraught with sickness but also makes you think twice about needing to get a flu shot.
11 Ways To Shorten Duration Of Colds And Flus & Build An Unstoppable Immune System.
There’s this old tale of four thieves back in the 15th century. During the time when the bubonic plague was running rampant through Europe and Asia, these four thieves became notorious for robbing infectious dead bodies of all their possessions – yet the thieves miraculously never contracted the highly infectious plague. According to ancient lore, after they were caught and charged, the court magistrate offered them a deal: in exchange for a reduced sentence, they could share their secret to immunity from the plague. The thieves took the deal and shared their knowledge of a specific blend of a powerful combination of medicinal herbs they consumed each day – specifically clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. This specific herbal blend that they had created, concocted from aromatic herbs, turned out hundreds of years later to be proven in research as a potent way to kill airborne bacteria, enhance the activity of white blood cells, and increase lymph fluid circulation.
Whether or not the story is true, the “four thieves” remedy is based on an ancient herbal formulation originating somewhere in Europe between 1413-1722. Due to its touted protective benefits, herbalists have passed along its recipe for hundreds of years, and it typically involves a combination of various herbs, most often cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary, clove, and lemon.
There have been several variations of this formulation passed down through the years. Thomas Jefferson was said to have fancied a version that consisted of vinegar spiked with lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood, rue, mint, garlic to keep his Presidential body infection free. In contrast, the Scientific American Encyclopedia of Formulas cites this herbal preparation as follows:
-4 oz dried rosemary tops
-4 oz dried sage
-2 oz dried lavender
-5 oz fresh rue
-1 oz camphor dissolved in vinegar
-¼ oz sliced garlic
-1 oz bruised cloves
-1 gallon strongly distilled wine vinegar
“Digest for 7 or 8 days, with occasional agitation: pour off liquor: press out the remainder, and filter the mixed liquids.”
Regardless of the exact identity of the blends commonly used to make Thieves, there are multiple research-proven benefits of this concoction, including:
-Cleaning the air of microbes and molds via diffusion
An experiment was done to see if the aerosol use of essential oils could alleviate some of the microbial causes of sick-building syndrome. The researchers used a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus radiata, and rosemary. It was found that this blend did exhibit inhibition of certain microbes at various percentages. The researchers concluded that:
“Thieves, can significantly reduce the number of aerosol-borne bacteria and may have application in treating air for enclosed environments and preventing transmission of aerosol-borne bacterial pathogens.” A follow-up field study also found diffusing this same blend of essential oils decreased airborne black mold.
One key ingredient in Thieves, Eucalyptus Oil (EO), is well known for its respiratory support via inhalation or oral route. One review article in Alternative Medicine Review states:
“Application by either vapor inhalation or oral route provides benefit for both purulent and non-purulent respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There is a long history of folk usage with a good safety record. More recently, the biochemical details behind these effects have been clarified. Although other plant oils may be more microbiologically active, the safety of moderate doses of EO and its broad-spectrum antimicrobial action make it an attractive alternative to pharmaceuticals.”
In another study, another species of eucalyptus, eucalyptus globulus was tested for cytotoxicity and antibacterial activity against common pathogens linked to respiratory infections. The study demonstrated that the bacteria were very susceptible to EO, including influenza, pneumonia, Staphylococcus, Klebsiella, and adenovirus. Cinnamon bark oil has also been shown to inhibit gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria associated with various infections58-62 as well to be “fungitoxic” to various fungi related to respiratory tract infections.
Probably one of the most famous uses, besides their aromatic applications, are these essential oils ability to work against microbes. Essential oils antimicrobial effects are vast. The Journal of Biological Chemistry explains that the mechanism of the toxicity of cyclic hydrocarbons such as aromatics, terpenes, and alicyclic on bugs is likely due to a direct effect on the cell membrane on certain bacterial species. The authors report:
“The impairment of microbial activity by the cyclic hydrocarbons most likely results from hydrophobic interaction with the membrane, which affects the functioning of the membrane and membrane-embedded proteins.”
For example, one study tested the antimicrobial activity of the essential oils from clove and rosemary. The authors reported the results as follows:
“Minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) against three Gram-positive bacteria, three Gram-negative bacteria, and two fungi were determined for the essential oils and their mixtures. Furthermore, time-kill dynamic processes of clove and rosemary essential oils against Staphylococcus epidermidis, Escherichia coli and Candida albicans were tested. Both essential oils possessed significant antimicrobial effects against all microorganisms tested.”
An another in vitro study that tested the anti-bacterial activity of twenty-one selected essential oils against six bacterial species (Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Bacillus subtilis, and Staphylococcus aureus), the authors found that 19 of the oils showed antibacterial activity against one or more strains of the microbes tested. They reported:
“Cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange and rosemary oils exhibited significant inhibitory effect. Cinnamon oil showed promising inhibitory activity even at low concentration, whereas aniseed, eucalyptus and camphor oils were least active against the tested bacteria. In general, B. subtilis was the most susceptible. On the other hand, K. pneumoniae exhibited low degree of sensitivity.”
The oils in the Thieves blend have been shown in many studies to prevent microbial infections of the gut and there is evidence that any disturbance of the microbiome or “killing of good bacteria” is unlikely due to their immune modulating effects. This article gives a comprehensive overview of essential oils for digestion. A 2012 review article provided support that essential oils can work in synergism with probiotics to have complementary antimicrobial effects with practically no side effects.
I first fell in love with Thieves when I personally used it with great efficacy on a problematic MRSA infection I had, though, since I'm not a physician, I technically can't say it “cured” me. Just a few other suggestions I have for the use of Thieves include:
– Apply a few drops to open cuts and wounds to prevent infection and promote healing.
– Mix with a tablespoon of water, gargle and swallow for a sore throat.
-Put a drop on your thumb and apply to the roof of your mouth for a headache.
-Breathe in the vapors when you have lung congestion.
-Put a few drops in any oil pulling oil to maintain healthy teeth and reduce cavities.
-Apply a drop or two to gums and teeth for pain relief from toothaches.
Mix 1-2 drops with a tablespoon of raw honey for cough relief.
-Breathe it via an essential oil nebulizing diffuser for sinus headaches.
-Buy a “FLO” pen and vape Thieves (or any other essential oil such as oregano, peppermint or lavender) just the same as you would with a vape pen. The FLO essential oil pens are a very unique and effective way to breathe oil compounds into your lungs without the use of a vaporizer.
I learned most of what I know about thieves from my friend and essential oil expert Dr. Sarah Lobisco, and I get my Thieves from Young Living Essential Oils. You can click here to learn more about that specific blend.
Echinacea is, like Thieves, another incredibly versatile immune-supporting compound. It has been shown in research to relieve upper respiratory symptoms such as inflammation, whooping cough, and the common cold, and plenty of tips on proper usage and forms of echinacea, and the fascinating results of meta-analysis study from the University of Connecticut showed that echinacea can cut the likelihood of getting a common cold by over half and also reduce the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days!
But the benefits of echinacea go far beyond the cough and cold. For example, very similar to a regular sauna practice, intake of echinacea increases the expression of heat shock proteins and also boosts white cell counts. Heat shock proteins are typically induced when cells are exposed to environmental stressors, such as heat, inflammation and oxidative stress. They play a role in the assembly and transport of newly synthesized protein within cells, and also remove denatured proteins, and are thus very important molecules for preventing damage and repair after cell injury. They are also important in antigen presentation, and the activation of lymphocytes and macrophages. Antigen presentation is especially important after a viral infection, as it signals to the body that an antigen is “foreign” and “nonself”. It has been proposed that heat shock proteins are part of the body’s adaptive immune response, since their circulation in the bloodstream signals danger to the host.
Echinacea also boosts the immune system by stimulating phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is the process via which white blood cells and lymphocytes attack invading organisms such as parasites and bacteria. Echinacea also stimulates the production of T-cells and macrophages in the bloodstream while enhancing the concentration of interferon, interleukin, immunoglobulin and other natural immune compounds in the blood.
Echinacea intake also provided protection against oxidative damage to erythrocytes (red blood cells). The membranes of the red blood cells contain high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are very susceptible and sensitive to free radical-induced peroxidation, but echinacea can act as a free radical scavenger to protect red blood cells from oxidative damage.
Echinacea is also a proven performance enhancing aid, particularly for aerobic and endurance athletes or athletes competing at altitude (for similar reasons, it is quite good for altitude sickness). This is because echinacea has been shown to stimulate macrophage activity, which can result in an increase in PGE2 (prostaglandin E2) secretion from active macrophages. This PGE2 is a protein that stimulates the production of serum erythropoietin (EPO). EPO, which you may be familiar as a banned performance-enhancing drug (PED) when used exogenously for sport, is a hormone that is secreted from the kidney to stimulate stem cells to develop into red blood cells from bone marrow. In addition, PGE2 has been shown to stimulate granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) release from smooth muscle cells, which causes it to act as a growth factor for new red blood cells.
Currently, the primary form of echinacea that I use, particularly to load with for about two weeks leading up to any competition or adventure I have at altitude, is a blend from the company Biotropic Labs, which combines echinacea with other blood-building compounds such as beetroot, chlorella, desiccated liver extract, blue-green algae, cordyceps, and several others compounds that support both red blood cell production, exercise performance and immunity. You can click here to listen to a podcast that I did with the founder of Biotropic Labs: Craig Dinkel. Finally, you should know that echinacea appears to work best when taken in the earlier stages of a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.
During the cold and flu season, if you see me mumbling with a mouthful of what appears to be a breath mint, it is more likely a zinc lozenge, and it is one of the four to six zinc lozenges that I dissolve in my mouth each day if I’ve been exposed to sickness.
Zinc is a micronutrient, found in many types of food like meat, cheese, and especially in seafood, particularly oysters. If you’re wondering just how important this micronutrient can be, since 1963, scientists have learned of over 300 enzymes and over 1,000 transcription factors that require zinc for proper function. And, not only does zinc modulate cell-mediated immunity, but it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can provide a potent cure for the common cold. However, I wouldn’t suggest simply running out to your local drug store and grabbing a bottle of any old zinc. The type – and the dose – matters significantly.
First of all, I recommend getting high-dose zinc lozenges, as opposed to capsules or tablets. This is because lozenges are dissolved slowly in the mouth, providing a steady release of free ions into the pharyngeal region in the nasal cavity, and therefore can have a greater effect on reducing respiratory and nasal symptoms associated with sickness. In fact, studies have shown that zinc lozenges can decrease the duration of a cold by 5-7 days (if you think about how long a cold usually lasts, that’s almost getting rid of the cold!)
I would also suggest avoiding any lozenges that contain any citric acid, as this commonly added compounds can bind tightly to zinc ions, preventing them from getting released. Instead, look for a form of zinc called zinc acetate, which is twice as effective as zinc gluconate.
Finally, for zinc to actually do its job, you need to start taking it right away – at the very first sign of symptoms, when you feel you’ve been exposed to sickness. That’s because it works by interfering with replication of a virus and keeping it from infecting you. So you essentially only have 2 or 3 days until it’s too late to use zinc. After you’re already sick, it’s too late and the zinc can’t do much to help your sniffles.
In summary, here’s my recommended protocol for using zinc:
-As soon as you realize that you have cold symptoms, pop a zinc acetate lozenge.
-Let it dissolve in your mouth for 20 to 30 minutes.
-Pop a new lozenge every 2-3 hours until symptoms are gone.
One of the highlights of my year is when the old elderberry tree in the forest behind our house comes into full production and creates oodles of elderberries that my wife then collects, ferments and creates into a dark, dense, immune-boosting elderberry wine (see below for her recipe, taken straight from her popular “Healthy Home Workshop“). Elderberry teas, elderberry tinctures, and elderberry supplements are all excellent options to have on hand in your medicinal pantry and combine quite well with many of the other compounds discussed in this article.
The anthocyanins in elderberry have been shown known to have potent immunostimulant effects. In fact, a 2016 study showed that elderberry supplementation can vastly reduce the duration and symptoms of the cold in air travelers). Another study in the Journal of International Medical Research found that when the elderberry extract is used within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, it shortens the duration of symptoms by an average of four days.
Because of its sweet, tart and refreshing taste, elderberry juice is a very good alternative to elderberry wine, especially if you don’t have time to make the wine. Good brands include River Hills, Biotta, Biona and Wyldewood Cellars – all of which have a tart and tannic flavor, with a mild sweetness. An elderberry tincture is another good option.
Jessa Greenfield’s Immune Boosting wine
You can get the immune boosting benefits of elderberry in the form of teas, tinctures, and elderberry supplements. And – like my wife – if you have access to fresh elderberries, you can even make your own delicious wine using the recipe below, adapted from the book “Wild Fermentation”.
1 heaping bushel fresh elderberries (at least 3 gallons, after destemming)
1 packet wine yeast or champagne yeast
10-12 lbs sugar
Step 1: Rinse berries. This is best done by adding berries to a large bowl of water, as ripe berries will sink, while debris and overripe berries float to the top. Skim debris from top, leaving ripe berries. Once separated, destem the ripe berries and place them in a large bucket or pot.
Step 2: Boil 3 gallons of water, and then pour water over berries until completely submerged under water. Cover the bucket/pot with a towel and leave overnight to steep and cool.
Step 3: In the morning, scoop out 1 cup of the berry/water liquid, and put in a separate bowl. Dissolve 1 packet of yeast in the liquid and leave for a few minutes until it appears bubbly and active Then, add the mixture back to the berries and water, stir using a wooden spoon, and cover.
Step 4: Let this ferment for 2-3 days, stirring often (3-5 times/day). The yeast should be feeding on the sugar in the fruit, so you’ll notice the wine getting a bit “frothy”.
Step 5: After 2-3 days, add the sugar. First, pour all 10 lbs of sugar into a large pot and add just enough water to liquefy. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves into a clear syrup. Then cover mixture, remove from heat and let cool. Once cooled, add the syrup to the elderberry mash. You should notice lots of frothing and activity.
Step 6: Let ferment 3-5 days, covered, and stir often.
Step 7: Once the vigorous bubbling begins to slow, strain the wine into a 5-gallon carboy (which it should only partially fill). Place the berry solids in a second container and cover with water. Mash the berries in the water, then strain this water into the carboy. You want it to be full, but not all the way to the top. Leave a few inches of headroom for foam. Then, insert the airlock.
Step 8: Store the carboy at room temperature for the first month, ideally in a large pan in case of overflow.
Step 9: After 1 month, test the sugar content. You can do this by removing the airlock, and sprinkling 2 tablespoons of sugar into the wine. As it sinks, if it does not react dramatically with the wine, the sugar content is right. If a dramatic reaction occurs, add 1 cup more of sugar and ferment another few days to a week. Then repeat the test. Add just 1 cup of sugar at a time, and no more than an additional 4 cups total.
Step 10: After 2 months in a warm spot, siphon the wine into another clean carboy, leaving the sediment behind. Insert an airlock and relocate the carboy to a cool, dark location. Ferment there for at least 9 months. Periodically check to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated out of the airlock, and refill and clean the airlock as necessary.
Step 11: After 9 months (or more), bottle and enjoy your immune-boosting wine!
Ever since I discovered the potent ability of colostrum to keep the gut lining from becoming permeable during workouts and races in hot weather, I’ve been a fan of using this supplement – not only when I’m about two weeks out from a serious competition (especially hard exercise in hot weather, during which the gut can become very permeable, resulting in gut distress and endotoxemia) but also whenever I’m exposed to any type of immune system assailant.
Colostrum, the first secretion from the mammary glands of mammals after giving birth, serves as a form of passive immunity. Passive immunity is the transfer of active humoral immunity in the form of ready-made antibodies. Colostrum provides a substantial dose of antibodies such as IgA, IgG and IgM, all of which help to fight pathogens in the intestinal tract. The growth factors in colostrum stimulate the gut to patch up the leaky gut issues so notoriously responsible for weakening the immune system. As a matter of fact, infants have greater intestinal permeability at birth but that gut lining quickly becomes less permeable due to the intake of colostrum from mother’s breast milk. As a human progress through life, excess inflammation and damage by toxin exposure, glyphosate, processed foods, rancid vegetable oils and other assailants can all cause the gut to become permeable again (especially if you’re no longer breastfeeding). Research shows that colostrum can restore a leaky gut lining to normal permeability levels, and also shows that athletes who pop colostrum prior to exercising in hot weather can completely banish the gastric distress that so notoriously accompanies exercise in the heat.
Colostrum is also fantastic as an addition to the diet of those who are attempting to control the rampant, full-body inflammation and overactivity of the immune system that is so often experienced by those with autoimmune issues and leaky gut. As a matter of fact, one of the best protocols for managing autoimmune conditions is that outlined by my friend and physician Dr. Thomas Cowan in his book “Vaccines, Autoimmunity & The Changing Nature Of Childhood Illness”, in which he outlines a basic protocol of:
-The GAPS Diet (see GAPSDiet.com)
-Low Dose Naltrexone (also known as LDN and one of the most underrated medications in existence for modulating immune system issues – see “The LDN Book” by Linda Elsegood for details)
–Restore (the lignite compound from Dr. Zack Bush discussed here)
–Colostrum (to heal the lining of the gut, since a leaky gut is so often the culprit in autoimmune diseases)
-Glandular extracts (e.g. organ meats, liver capsules, thyroid glandulars, etc.)
Colostrum is also fantastic for muscle building, as it is a potent growth hormone precursor and enhances levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 – compounds that many bodybuilders inject with a needle, but that you can easily get with natural colostrum supplementation. I get my colostrum from an organic goat farm in Western Washington.
6. Bone Broth
While I have many smoothie recipes (including the expensive but highly efficacious longevity blend at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/antiagingsmoothie), I often consume the equivalent of a full cup of bone broth in my morning “Wendy’s Frosty” smoothie. I triple or quadruple my bone broth consumption anytime I’m wanting to boost the health of my immune system, such as during cold and flu season, when there’s nearly always a pot of bone broth on the stove with other immune-supporting goodies thrown in such as Chaga mushroom extract, a bit of the decoction tea you’ll discover later in this article or a dropperful of oregano.
There is a reason why native people have been consuming bone broths for thousands of years, why your grandmother’s chicken soup always seemed to cure what ailed you, and why there’s even a South American proverb that claims “bone broth raises the dead”. Whether bone broth is quite as magical a healing aid as it is touted to be remains to be proven by robust research, but nonetheless, the health benefits of simply drinking the liquid that seeps from the marrow and joint bones of beef, chicken, lamb and even fish that has been simmering for 24 to 48 hours are multi-fold.
Bone broth contains particular substances that are vital to the innate immune system. For example, bone broth contains the amino acids arginine (critical for immune system and liver function), glutamine (which assists with cellular metabolism), and glycine (which aids in glutathione production and sleep quality). The marrow in bone broth contains lipids called alkylglycerols that are crucial for the production of white blood cells. These same alkyglycerols also appear in colostrum and have been shown to control cancer tumor cell growth. According to research by Dr. Matthias Rath, the collagen in bone broth may also prevent cancer tumor metastasis, and the gelatin in bone broth is beneficial for autoimmune diseases related to a leaky gut. The glycosaminoglycans found in bone broth can similarly help to restore a permeable intestinal lining. Chondroitin sulfate, found in bone broth, also has both anti-inflammatory as well as immune-regulatory effects.
Be sure to proceed with caution if you purchased packaged bone broth, as not all bone broth are created equal. Almost every company selling bone broth online – even the ones using grass-fed and organic ingredients – are simply freezing their broth and shipping it with lots of dry ice, harmful styrofoam containers, and slow shipping. Furthermore, many do not even have bones on the ingredients label. If bones aren’t in the label, it won’t contain the nutrients from the bone marrow, such as collagen, immune-boosting alkylglycerols, or omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Most frozen and storebought bone broth is made with bones from non-organic, non-grass-fed cattle and shipped in styrofoam containers (which is terrible for both your body and the environment). I personally prefer Kettle & Fire bone broth. They maintain strict standards to deliver bone broth made from the bones of cattle that are humanely raised, with no antibiotics or hormones, 100% grass-fed and grass-finished.
7. Fermented Foods
If you open my refrigerator, you’ll immediately see that the entire top shelf is chock full of mason jars packed with fermented vegetables – from sauerkraut to pickles to kimchi and beyond, along with plenty of homemade coconut yogurt, kefir, natto, miso and more.
My typical lunchtime salad and side plate at dinner include a heaping tablespoon of sauerkraut or kimchi, a dollop of yogurt, a fermented pickle, a teaspoon of miso and an occasional glass of my wife’s wonderful homemade kombucha. When I began incorporating these type of fermented foods and probiotics into my diet, my frequent seasonal colds suddenly dwindled. I was getting sick once a year, rather than once a month. By supporting my gut bacteria, I was drastically improving my immune system.
It is estimated that 80-85% of the immune system lies in the gut. Indeed, immunity begins with the bacteria in our digestive tract, as these creatures play vital roles in nutrient absorption, mucosal barrier function, support of gut lymphoid tissue, and immune function.
Take lactic acid bacteria, for example, also known as “Lactobacillus paracasei” and found in naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt. It produces the enzyme lactocepin, which is able to destroy immune system messengers called chemokines. In a healthy gut, chemokines normally guide white blood cells to an infection but can exacerbate an autoimmune response in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Consuming sources of lactic acid bacteria can thus reduce autoimmune responses.
Another strain of bacteria, the probiotic Bifidobacteria, secretes gamma-aminobutyric acid. Macrophages, which are immune cells that engulf bacteria and virus-infested cells, contain butyric acid receptors that, when activated by a presence of the acid, can cause a reduction in the production of inflammatory compounds. The cell walls of Bifidobacterium also contain a dipeptide that activates the synthesis of lymphocytes, which are immune cells that produce antibodies and are responsible for acquired immunity. Scientists have also examined the effect of kefir, which is probiotic-rich fermented milk, on the immune systems of rats. The rats were given kefir daily for 28 days and then inoculated with a cholera toxin. The rats eating a daily dose of kefir exhibited significantly higher antibodies to the toxin than the control group.
In addition, I highly recommend combining a high intake of a wide variety of fermented foods with daily use of the supplement “Restore”, which I discuss in my podcast here with the brilliant Dr. Zack Bush. Over the last sixty years, there has been a steady loss of biodiversity in our gut membrane bacterial ecosystem, and a large part of this is due to factory farming, processed foods, and widespread antibiotic use. The subsequent loss of biodiversity has left our gut membrane walls vulnerable. The most potent of the common triggers for the damage to the gut wall in our diet is glyphosate – the most common ingredient in weed killers. Gluten-containing foods that are accompanied by glyphosate-containing foods are the most potent of naturally-occurring triggers for zonulin production in our modern diet.
As the protein zonulin is produced at the gut, it opens the tight junctions, then circulates systemically and can open the blood/brain barrier, kidney tubule systems, and blood vessel walls. Restore is a liquid supplement that delivers specific bacterial metabolites to promote a healthy firewall of tight junctions in the gut wall and blood/brain barrier. It rapidly increases production of the enzymes that break down zonulin. Although I always buy organic, the widespread prevalence of glyphosate toxins, even in organic food, has caused me to make a decision to use Restore several times per day.
8. Decoction Tea
If I ever get a bout of gut issues, one of my first actions is to make myself a big ol’ cup of my friend Dr. John Douillard’s decoction tea. Include how to create a decoction tea from chopped slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root. The combination of these herbs soften and soothe mucous membranes all the way from the throat to the stomach to the small and large intestines, creating an environment allows flushes the lymph system and allows good bacteria to multiply while providing adaptogen like effects that protect the bacteria from stress and environmental irritants.
To understand why this particular tea works so well, it’s important that you understand how delicate the natural environment of the intestinal tract that supports beneficial microbes for optimal health is. For the intestinal villi to function well, they cannot be too dry or too wet (e.g. excessive mucus production).
One therapy that Dr. Douillard has been using successfully in his practice for almost thirty years to antidote both dry and overly damp mucous membranes is a concentrated tea made out of chopped (not ground) slippery elm bark, marshmallow root and licorice root. He recommends sipping this tea regularly to assist with healthy intestinal and microbial function. Each of these herbs used in the tea is naturally slimy, which means that they can soften and coat dry mucous membranes all the way from the throat to the stomach to the small and large intestines. Think of this tea like coating your entire digestive tract with a mucilaginous, microbe boosting layer. When this happens, new intestinal skin can grow, a healthy intestinal environment can be restored, and microbes can repopulate.
When herbs like this are cooked down into a concentrated tea or decoction, the soluble fiber from the roots and barks are released. This soluble fiber is naturally slimy and offers additional support to dried-out intestinal mucosa. The fiber also feeds the intestinal microbes and acts as a natural prebiotic for the microbiome. This is a critical part of the tea’s restoration effect: to create an environment that will allow the healthy microbes to proliferate while restoring the function and environment for the intestinal villi and gut mucosa to digest, detox and assimilate nutrients optimally.
The first ingredient in the tea – licorice – is a classic Ayurvedic herb used as a natural lubricant for the intestinal and respiratory airways. Licorice lubricates and coats mucous membranes and, as an adaptogen, protects them from stress and environmental irritants and pollens. The next ingredient, slippery elm bark has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine for digestive and intestinal concerns because of its lubricating and gut-defending properties. Along with its mucilaginous, protective properties for the intestinal wall, it has been shown to support healthy antioxidant activity in the intestinal tract. Finally, the chopped marshmallow root is perhaps the most slippery of the three herbs in this formula. It has been studied to support the health of the stomach lining by supporting natural stomach acid production and by protecting the intestinal tract from irritants, such as the toxic form of carrageenan found in many packaged foods. It has even been approved in Europe as a clinical technique used for the integrity of the gastric mucosa and of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa.
The key to the success of this tea is to consume these three herbs as a decoction tea for a month or two, in the frequency outlined below. You must source these herbs in a chopped, not ground, form, and you can click here for an Amazon list where you can get each in the proper form (if you use ground herbs, you will basically make a muddy tea and it won’t work).
John Douillard’s Decoction Tea Instructions:
Soak 1 tablespoon of each of the chopped herbs in 2 quarts of water overnight. Boil the mixture down to 1/2 quart in the morning. Strain the mixture through a metal strainer (use a large spoon to push it through. Save the liquid and discard the herbs. Take 1 tablespoon of the liquid every two hours on an empty stomach for one month, sometimes two months if needed.
9. Vitamin C
Although vitamin C is often heralded as a “powerful antioxidant”, the benefit of vitamin C on the immune system is, at first glance, less than stellar. For example, several studies have demonstrated little or no effect on colds from vitamin C supplementation. However, most of these studies involved supplementation at very small doses or supplementation after the onset of colds. Other studies, however, do indeed show benefit from larger doses and from taking vitamin C prior to the onset of illness. Some newer studies confirm the right type of vitamin C (see below) at a supplementation of 1,000 mg per day can shorten the duration and mitigate the severity of colds, while also preventing colds from developing, especially in those with low vitamin C levels.
In addition, many of the negative studies done on vitamin C used a form known as ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is actually a synthetic form of vitamin C that is typically made from genetically modified corn. Synthetic vitamin C also lacks the naturally-occurring beneficial bioflavonoids present in whole food based forms vitamin C. You must also be aware that approximately 80% of the world’s vitamin C comes from China, where the manufacturing and quality controls aren’t as stringent as in the United States. There is even some concern that the Vitamin C we consume so much of in supplement form, and that is often used as an additive in processed food, is tainted with impurities such as heavy metals.
However, contrary to popular belief, there is actually very little difference between the different forms of ascorbic acid as far as bioavailability is concerned. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, natural and synthetic ascorbic acid are chemically identical and have the same effect on plasma vitamin C levels. The same can be said for powders vs. tablets, capsules, liquid or food. It appears that regardless of the delivery or the form, there is no statistically significant different impact on serum levels. So your primary concern should be purity and quality, not whether or not the vitamin C is “absorbed”.
To find a good-quality vitamin C product, look for an all organic food based supplement, or a USP grade vitamin C, produced in a GMP certified facility. A few good brands that fit these criteria include Whole Foods Food Sourced Vitamin C, American Nutraceuticals and OrthoMolecular Buffered C capsules. You’ll find that you likely experience stomach upset if taking an oral form in excess of 500 milligrams at a time. Dr. Mark Levine, Chief of Molecular and Clinical Nutrition at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and author of a research project proposing increased RDA Vitamin C dose amounts in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests: “At 100 milligrams all the tissues are saturated, at 200 milligrams, the blood plasma is saturated, but at 500 milligrams dose, then absorption levels appear complete, and rate of absorption begins to decrease.” Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew Weil, an alternative medicine physician, recently reduced his recommended dosage of vitamin C from 2,000 to 6,000 mg divided into three doses a day to only 200 to 500 mg divided into two doses. He made this change after he examined two recent studies that showed lower levels of ascorbic acid more than adequately saturate the body's tissues, and are sufficient to protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. A review of clinical trials published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that 200 mg a day is the maximum humans can orally absorb, potentially making anything above that level a waste. However, aside from the potential stomach upset, you don’t need to worry if you take higher dosages since vitamin C is water soluble and anything not used by the body quickly passes out. Ultimately, based on all this evidence, I suggest taking 200-500mg oral vitamin C during cold and flu season.
Of course, the best, most natural food sources of vitamin C have a single thing in common: they are all plant foods! Even though most mammals can produce vitamin C in their own livers, humans (and oddly enough, guinea pigs) cannot, but plants make vitamin C to a degree that they provide a rich, highly bioavailable source of this nutrient when eaten by humans. All citrus fruits, including orange, grapefruit, lime, and lemon, are excellent sources of vitamin C. Many non-citrus fruits are also highly rated sources of vitamin C, including papaya, strawberries, pineapple, kiwis, cantaloupe, and raspberries. Green leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are also excellent sources, as is parsley, which provides over half of the RDA for vitamin C!
Finally, should you really want to take things to the next level for Vitamin C intake, then you can do as I do and get a quarterly high-dose vitamin C injection. Every few months, I go to visit the clinic of Dr. Jason West in Pocatello, Idaho, where I receive a variety of high-end medical treatments, including a nervous system reboot of my gut via procaine injections, chiropractic adjustments, live red blood cell analysis, and a ninety minute long 100 gram (yes, that’s 100,000mg!) vitamin C IV. An intravenous vitamin C protocol involves the slow infusion of vitamin C at doses on the order of 0.1 to 1.0 grams ascorbate per kilogram body weight. In the past decade, this tactic has exploded in popularity among functional medicine practitioners and can be used for combating infections, treating rheumatoid arthritis, enhancing collagen synthesis and other autoimmune diseases, and has generated the most interest for its potential use in adjunctive cancer care. Of course, it would be absolutely impossible to consume this amount of Vitamin C orally without severe gastric upset, but very high plasma ascorbate concentrations can be safely achieved with IV infusions.
I remember when I first realized that my father had suddenly begun smelling like a giant Italian pizza. See, when I was sixteen years old, dear Dad read a book by Dr. Cass Ingram called “Cure Is In The Cupboard”, in which discovered a potent herb that he used to heal a fungal infection of his foot. From that point forward, since I would sit at the dinner table and hear him drone on and on about the wonders of oregano, I slowly became well-versed in something called “oil of oregano”, which I later added to my travel and immune system protocol as an absolute must-have for everything from dripping into my mouth before airplane travel to sprinkling on my feet after using the shower at a health club or gym to using on external wounds, scrapes and cuts.
Considered to be the healing “hyssop” alluded to in ancient scriptures, Dr. Ingram in his book claims that wild oregano oil (unlike the standard thyme-based oregano you’ll find in most grocery stores) can help to reverse digestive complaints, boost the immune system, cleanse the body of fungi, yeasts, bacteria, and viruses, and protect people of all age groups from common illnesses, including infants, toddlers, and even pets.
So what makes oregano oil so special? Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is an herb that is a member of the mint family and has been considered a valuable plant commodity for over 2,500 years in folk medicine for treating colds, indigestion and upset stomachs. PubMed lists almost two hundred studies that have been conducted on the beneficial properties of oregano oil, and over 800 studies showing the benefits of carvacrol, one of the primary ingredients of oregano, for bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasites, viruses, inflammation, allergies, tumors, indigestion, candida, small intestine bacterial overgrowth and even helping to reduce side effects from medications and drugs.
This phenol compound carvacrol, along with thymol, are what provide oregano’s antiseptic and antioxidant properties. In addition, the terpenes in oregano, pinene and terinene, contribute to the antiseptic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties. Two long-chain alcohols, linalool and borneol, add additional antiseptic and antiviral qualities. Finally, the esters linalyl acetate and geranyl acetate act as antifungal agents. It is the combination of these components working together that allows for such a potent protective effect of oregano oil for the immune system.
Good uses for oregano include:
-Using it on skin to kill fungal infections or remove warts.
-Applying several drops to wounds or infections externally, including MRSA and staph
-Consuming one to two dropperfuls per day during cold and flu season, or when traveling (if the taste is too overwhelming, dilute in water with a bit of stevia).
-Adding tea tree oil and lavender to oil of oregano, then placing several dropperfuls in a spray bottle to kill household mold.
-Using a few drops on your toothbrush in addition to your toothpaste or when you can’t find your toothpaste.
I recommend that if you add oregano to your immune system arsenal, you look for oregano oil that contains a natural carvacrol level of over 80%. The “fake” stuff at the grocery store or bulk supplement website is typically comprised of thymol or is simply an oil harvested from thyme, which doesn’t give you the same potent effect as an oil high in carvacrol. Finally, should you purchase the 100% pure version of oregano, be very careful: it is extremely caustic and can burn the skin or the mouth, so you must mix it into a carrier oil that both dilutes it and maintains its bioavailability (almond is a good example of an effective carrier oil).
Mushrooms are a nutrition powerhouse, providing B vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, antioxidants and beta-glucans and other bioactive molecules that fight harmful bacteria, viruses and toxins. Many mushrooms are also immunomodulators that stimulate the immune system’s defense mechanisms.
For example, one study found that daily consumption of 5-10 grams of Shiitake mushrooms for four weeks significantly improved immunity and lowered inflammation. Shiitake mushrooms also exert antitumor activity and, when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, have been shown to prolong survival time, restore immunological parameters and improve quality of life. The American College of Nutrition has found that shiitake mushrooms can improve the efficiency of the immune system, improve gut immunity, and decrease inflammation, and lab tests on human cell lines show shiitake mushrooms can prevent malignant tumor growth by signaling tumor cells to lyse (burst) in a process called apoptosis. Lastly, shiitake mushrooms have potent antimicrobial properties, making them effective natural antibiotics. Amazingly, one study showed that shiitake only killed disease-causing (pathogenic) microbes, leaving beneficial bacteria unharmed (in contrast, prescription antibiotics kill off both beneficial and bad bacteria in your body).
Maitake mushrooms are also powerful immunomodulators that stimulate the immune system’s defense reaction through enhanced cytokine production, phagocytosis, and NK cell activity. Cordyceps, which is technically a fungus that lives on certain caterpillars in the high mountain regions of China, also exhibits potent antitumor effects and immunomodulating effects. Studies have shown that Cordyceps can help improve the body’s innate immune function, and is so effective in modulating immunity that it has even shown benefits in studies on people with severe asthma. Evidence also suggests that cordyceps can help autoimmune issues and decrease the number of harmful bacteria in the gut.
The turkey tail mushroom contains bioactive compounds called beta-glucans, which can stimulate the immune system by enhancing macrophage and natural killer cell function. Studies also suggest that beta-glucans can help the immune system slow the growth of tumors and protect the body from the effects of cancer-causing compounds. Turkey tail also contains a high number of prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in your gut, which also supports immunity.
Another little known but highly effective mushroom is the tremella, which is rich in vitamin D, dietary fibers, and contains specific compounds that protect the liver. Research suggests that tremella mushrooms can help the human body fight infections and in ancestral medicine, it has long been used an immune tonic.
Finally, there’s one of the most powerful mushrooms for immune systems – the mushroom known as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms”: Chaga. Chaga has an abundance of beta-glucans, and research has also that Chaga activates immune cells responsible for combating cancer initiation. Chaga increases the production of immune cells IL-6 and lymphocyte, which can help increase the ability to fight pathogens. Other compounds in Chaga help the immune system to differentiate between the body’s cells and foreign cells. Chaga reduces immune hypersensitivity and even reduces the risk of cardiac shock from severe allergic reactions. Chaga mushroom also has anti-viral activities and can help fight off viral infections, including a decrease in the ability of HIV to replicate and a prevention of Herpes and Epstein-Barr viruses from infecting new cells and replicating.
Most of these mushrooms help to regulate innate and humoral immunity by both potentiating and suppressing the immune system in a similar manner than an adaptogen can modulate endocrine and hormonal balance.
My favorite way to get a daily dose of immune-boosting mushrooms is through Four Sigmatic’s 10 Mushroom Blend, which includes a hefty dose of vitamin C (from rosehips), along with chaga, reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, shiitake, maitake and a few other choice immune-boosting mushrooms. You can easily put a teaspoon of this into your morning cup of coffee or tea, especially during cold and flu season.
The fact is, the modern-day immunity marketplace is flooded with supplements and herbal formulas claiming to cure the common cold overnight or to make the human body heavily guarded to illness, but it is quite difficult to sift through the bold marketing and fake supplements. But you’re now equipped with everything you know to defy the odds of getting sick and create an unstoppable immune system via the use of movement strategies that can be employed immediately, stacked with research-proven but little-known supplement, food and lifestyle strategies.
Should your head be spinning with the wide variety of ways you can support your immune system, here’s a simple example of how to weave many of the strategies you’ve just discovered into a cold and flu season protocol:
-Eat a wide variety of fermented foods. Introduce many of the new ones you’ve discovered in this article into your diet (I particularly recommend teaching yourself how to make the wonderful coconut yogurt from Dr. William Davis).
-Supplement each morning with a handful of colostrum capsules, a teaspoon of mushrooms, a dropperful of oregano into a glass of water, or all three. Take a shot of Restore prior to each of your daily meals.
-Have a piping hot cup of organic bone broth with lunch or dinner. This is another beverage that is simple to add additional immune support to by stirring in medicinal mushrooms.
-If you’re exposed to sickness, continue using the strategies above, but also sip on elderberry juice or use elderberry tincture three times a day, along with daily use of zinc lozenges, vitamin C, and echinacea.
-Whether you’re sick or not, don’t stop moving. Try to engage in low-level physical activity, even if it’s just an easy walk in the sunshine or a bit of bouncing up and down on a trampoline. If you’re too sick to move, consider resting with infrared blankets, an infrared sauna or a Biomat to keep lymph fluid circulating.
-Consider a quarterly injection with high-dose Vitamin C from a local functional medicine practitioner.
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me, or your own tips to add? Leave your comments below and I will reply!