Barbara Roberts, Homeopath

Prevention of Winter’s Respiratory Ailments

The weather has definitely cooled down so it is time to think about winter and preparing for the viruses that are more prevalent over this time. 

It’s also flu vaccine season- I keep hearing ads for this, and there are other options if you want to support your immune system without a vaccine. 

First of all, let’s talk about the fundamental building blocks for health and wellbeing: lifestyle, what we eat and how we treat our bodies. 

*nutrition is the first cornerstone of health. If you have a diet high in processed foods, or with restrictions on what you eat you may be lacking in micronutrients. Sugar and processed foods can also be inflammatory and impair your immune system. 

*water/fluid intake is also really important – every cell in our body needs water, and dehydration impairs their ability to work well, making them more vulnerable to attack. Exercise will increase the amount of fluid you need to drink, and some foods, particularly juicy fruits will help with your fluid balance. However, fruit juices are high in sugar so should be drunk in moderation, if you don’t like plain water, try a herbal tea, or sparkling water instead. 

*sleep is vital for good health, it’s how our body rests and repairs. Most adults need an average of 8 hours sleep at night, and children need more than this. Sleeping less does lower your immunity and make you more susceptible to respiratory viruses. 

*exercise also supports immunity, improving blood flow and reducing inflammation. Keeping active also helps with stress management, and sleep, both of which are also important pieces of the puzzle to stay well. 

*stress lowers immunity, so keeping stress to a minimum, and working on actively managing the stress you cannot get away from will support your immunity. Some of this is taking time for the things above- eating well, keeping well hydrated, exercising and sleeping- and you can also use techniques like mindfulness, breathing, and journaling, and spending time with friends and family (as long as they are not the cause of your stress!)

What else can you do? 

Supplements can be useful, particularly at times of higher need, whether you know you have been exposed to someone who is sick, you have unavoidable stress, or you have something coming up so that you cannot get sick. Please note: if you would like advice about supplements and herbs please see a qualified practitioner such as a Naturopath or Medical Herbalist. 

This post is about prevention, but there are many products that overlap with treatment of respiratory viruses. Generally there is a low dose that you take for prevention, then you increase this at the first sign of illness. 

Because different brands combine ingredients differently I am focusing on what the ingredients do here, instead of the individual products. You will need to read the backs of each bottle, but it also means you will understand more about why you want a particular herb or supplement. 

*Vitamin D supports the immune system and a low level of Vitamin D has been shown to increase the risk of respiratory infections. People who are at risk of this are the elderly, those who do not get enough sunlight, and those with darker skin who need a longer time in the sun to convert sunlight to vitamin D. While we should get plenty of opportunity to make Vitamin D in New Zealand, a survey in 2008 found that 25% of NZ adults had levels below normal(1) so would benefit from supplementation. The over-the-counter dose for Vitamin D in NZ is 1000iu daily, and this will be sufficient for most people. 

*Vitamin C is a really important vitamin for the immune system, supporting the defences of the body to kill viruses and bacteria. However, in most cases it will not prevent respiratory viruses, but regular supplementation may reduce the severity or length of illness. It is effective for treatment taken in high doses as soon as symptoms are felt. 

*Zinc supports the normal functioning of every cell – and we get in our diet in seafood, meat and poultry, and to a lesser extent in seeds, legumes, and greens. Like Vitamin C it is useful for treatment of colds and will reduce how severe the cold is and how long it lasts, but there is also evidence that it works to prevent viral illness (2). 

*Elderberry is one of my favourite antivirals, as it is safe for children and pregnant women, and is generally easy to give to children as it tastes sweet like blackcurrant cordial. Elderberry has been shown in labs to be active against multiple strains of influenza, but is more effective when used preventatively and then increased at first sign of symptoms (3). 

*Echinacea is an immune modulator, meaning it supports the immune system to work more effectively. It can be used for both prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections, although the evidence from trials is mixed (4) there is a lot of empirical evidence for its effectiveness. 

*Olive Leaf is an antiviral and also works as an anti-inflammatory in respiratory infections (5). It can be used for both prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. 

It is likely that there are other herbs also that can be useful, and some of the products that you can find in health shops and pharmacies will be combinations of these and other nutrients and herbs. 

I like to use Homeobotanicals, which are combinations of herbal remedies prepared homoeopathically. These can be used preventatively as well as for treatment, and combinations can be tailored for you as an individual. I will often add a blend for stress, as this is often the trigger for illness. 

Now let’s talk homeopathy. 

The best protection from illness is a resilient constitution – and this can be supported by an individual constitutional remedy. This will be different for each person, so it is not possible to narrow this down to a few therapeutic remedies. Your best way of determining this, particularly if you are dealing with recurrent illnesses and need support is to see a Homeopath. 

When we are talking prevention of illness that is the field of Homeoprophylaxis. You can use well indicated homeopathic remedies, that are the match for the symptoms of the circulating illness, or nosodes, remedies made from the virus or bacteria itself. 

Finding the remedy that is most indicated for the current influenza or cold is known as the genus epidemicus. This is usually discovered by the collaboration of Homeopaths who look at the common symptoms for remedies, and also comparing notes from cured cases, which remedies have been effective against the disease. This remedy can then be used for prevention and treatment, however without a crystal ball, it is not possible for me to tell you now which remedies will be useful for this coming winter. 

Our other option is using a well indicated nosode. There are a couple of common ones that are often prescribed as Homeoprophylaxis:

Oscillococcinum, also known as Anas Barb, is a remedy made from the duck, and has been in use since the 1920s. It is commonly used for prevention of respiratory infections like influenza.

Influenzinum, which is made from the influenza virus. This can be made from the latest influenza virus, but like vaccination it can be a guess on what is the current virus. However, homeopathy works on the principle of “like cures like” so you do not necessarily need the most up to date version of the remedy. 

Briegers nosode is a combination remedy developed by a British Homeopath, Johanna E.G. Brieger, and contains Influenza A and B, Bacillinum, Streptococcin and Staphyloccocinum. In this article, first published in 1977, discusses how effective she found it for preventing respiratory tract infections (6). 

In general, if I am using these remedies for prevention I will give them fortnightly, or if there is a high risk, such as viruses in the community that you are exposed to, I will increase this to weekly.

Please contact myself or another Homeopath if you are having recurring illnesses, or a Naturopath if you would like support with lifestyle or supplements for your immune system. 

References

(1) https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/vitd-status-nzadults.doc

(2) https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/11/e047474

(3) https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/blog/elderberry’s-anti-viral-activity-update

(4)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0965229918312585

(5) https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/12/6/1140

(6) https://www.homeopathy.ac.nz/archive-articles/winter-nosodes-to-prevent-colds-and-influenza/ 

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