Seasonal Super Supplements As the cold rolls in, it’s time to give our bodies a boost. So from Astragalus to Zinc here are some of our favourite winter helpers.
Astragalus is classed as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress. Astragalus raises white blood cell counts and influences many areas of immunity. As an anti-viral, Astragalus is a great herb for treating the common cold, especially if you’re feeling generally worn out and fatigued.
B5 - Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid has been given the nick name the anti-stress vitamin. This is because it is a primary nutrient for nourishing the adrenal glands. These glands are part of the hormonal system and are responsible for producing, amongst other things, the corticosteroids – stress hormones. Like most of the rest of the B complex, B5 is involved in energy production. This is the principle behind taking a B complex supplement if we are run down or stressed. Some companies produce a B complex that has a higher amount of B5 in it (for its adrenal support) for use specifically as a tonic at times like these. A B Complex coupled with an adaptogenic herb such as Rhodiola or Ashwagandha can work wonders during times of physical, mental or emotional strain.
Beta Glucans - Specifically Beta 1,3 1,6 glucans has a very interesting effect on our immune systems. When ingested the 1,3 1,6 glucans make their way through the stomach and on to our small intestines where special areas of lymphatic tissue known as Peyer’s patches take them in. Cells such as macrophages that are part of our immune system can be found in these tissues. Macrophages sweep about the body, ‘eating’ invaders, making them a very useful part of our defences. Macrophages actually have receptors or ports on them that allow these glucans to attach. Once present 1,3 1,6 glucans seem to have a strong immune priming effect, switching our macrophages onto a higher level of alert and making them more effective enemy scavengers. So unlike many other herbs and supplements that would be considered immune ‘stimulating’ or possess specific and direct antibacterial or antiviral ability, these helpful fibres have an immune ‘modulating’ effect- they take what we have and supercharge it!
Vitamin D - Vitamin D is vital for the development of healthy bones and teeth, a strong immune system and the maintenance of normal muscle function. Recently, studies have also linked the ‘sunshine vitamin’ to the prevention of colds and flu. So, it’s easy to see why we all need it. The major function of Vitamin D is to regulate Calcium and Phosphorus blood levels. Vitamin D is involved in the resorption of calcium to the kidneys and bones and the absorption of calcium from the intestines. This facilitates the healthy calcification of skeletal tissue. It is well known that a deficiency in Vitamin D causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Rickets is characterised by softening of the bone tissue leading to bowed legs, slowed teeth formation and bone malformation etc. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with musculo-skeletal pain. Supplemental high doses have been used to provide anti-inflammatory benefit and relieve pain.
Elderberry – The leaves, flowers, berries and bark have all been used as medicines. The elderberries are anti-viral, anti-catarrhal, anti-allergic and immune boosting. I have a bottle of Elderberry syrup on hand all through the winter. Firstly because I find it really can make a difference when I'm feeling under the weather and secondly, it actually tastes quite pleasant. Useful when you’re dealing with those who are very fussy about the tastes of what they take – you know who you are! The flowers make a lovely tea for catarrh and fevers.
Gingko Biloba - As a support to peripheral circulation Gingko can be helpful for those with poor circulation of the hands & feet, Raynaud's and chilblains, often exacerbated by the cold weather.
Ivy - An excellent remedy for coughs. Ivy acts as a mucolytic and anti-spasmodic agent - relaxing spasms at the same time as encouraging the break down and expectoration of mucus from the lungs.
Olive Leaf – No doubt you’re familiar with the fruit of this plant but have you ever used the leaves as a medicine? Olive leaf is considered to be a potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitical and anti-fungal. This makes Olive Leaf a prime remedy in the treatment of colds and ‘flu as well as herpes, shingles, ear infections, urinary tract infections and fungal infections such as candida. Much like olives themselves, the leaf has demonstrated cardio-protective effects such as dilation of the arteries, lowering blood pressure and inhibiting the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you suffer from chronic infections I would certainly recommend this herb as its effects are broad yet potent.
Zinc - Zinc is involved in almost all aspects of immunity including white blood cell production and thymus (master immune system gland) function. The thymus gland produces a hormone called thymulin. Zinc has been used to boost levels of this hormone which can be useful to all people but is especially beneficial to the elderly as levels of thymulin tend to decline with age. Zinc also possesses a direct anti-viral action which accounts for its popularity in lozenge form for targeting common colds and sore throats.