Herbal Medicine & Supplements To Support The Immune System
herbal medicine & supplements
to support the immune system during (and after) COVID-19
Article at a Glance
• Much of the science on COVID-19 is very new, and, unfortunately, there aren’t many studies being done when it comes to plants to support the immune system.
• This post does not suggest that supplements will cure or prevent you from getting sick. It does however propose that plants can support your immune system during and after a pandemic.
• In this article, I share podcast interviews, studies and other resources from Chinese, Naturopathic and Functional doctors. I invite you to listen to and read the research as well as talk to your health advisors before starting a supplement regimen.
It’s good to know that, even (or especially?) during a pandemic, there’s a potent, trusted, efficacious medicine we can turn to: plant medicine.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was already using plants, tinctures and supplements to support my body, mind and skin on my journey to glow. But little did I know that herbal remedies and supplements were about to take a central and crucial role in protecting my health.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many experts on the topic of plant medicine, supplements and Chinese Medicine, and the truth is, plants are powerful allies that should not be overlooked or dismissed. “Natural” can be quite effective; in fact, most drugs developed in a lab try to copy what a plant does naturally. (Why take the synthetic version when you can get the real deal from plants? I’m opting for the real deal, thank you very much. Less money for big pharma and better for my health.)
In case you’re curious and would like to dive deeper, we have some incredible podcast episodes that dive into the magnificent healing power of the plant kingdom:
JTG #29 Herbs & Plants to Support Skin Health with Herbalist Rosalée de la Forêt
JTG #47 Adaptogenic Mushrooms to support The Immune System with Mycologist and Herbalist Danielle Ryan
JTG #24 Chinese Medicine for Clear skin with Toni Balfour
We also have several episodes on the topic of supplements such as:
JTG #23 Naturopathy to Heal Acne, Rosacea & Skin Conditions with Naturopathic ND Lynne Racette
JTG #25 Functional Nutrition to Clear Acne with Sara Korzeniewski
Much of the science on COVID-19 is very new, and, unfortunately, there aren’t many studies being done when it comes to plants to support the immune system, especially as it pertains to COVID as it all happened so fast. (There aren’t many studies done on the beneficial effects of plants in general because A. it’s very costly to do a proper study and someone needs to pay for it and B. big pharma has no vested interest in this kind of research or in people being healthy for that matter — who’d buy their drugs if we were all healthy? — but that’s a topic for another day.)
When it comes to figuring out which supplements or herbal remedies help support the immune system to fight off and recover from coco (short for coronavirus), it can feel a bit overwhelming.
Personally, when looking for guidance, I turn to functional and naturopathic doctors that draw on years of experience and clinical work, experts who can guide me on making the best choices to support my immune system during this pandemic.
Here, I’ve gathered information on herbal medicine in the form of supplements, and I’m sharing who and where I’m getting my information from because not all information on the world wide web is trustworthy, my friend. (What do I always say? Do your research!)
I’m also sharing some of the most reliable podcasts I found on the topic as well as webinars with Functional, conventional and Chinese Medicine doctors who generously share their wisdom and expertise on supplements + lifestyle habits to support the immune system during COVID and beyond.
My intention is for this article to be a resource for you to come back to (I’ll be adding to this post, so feel free to bookmark it) and offer practical, actionable steps to help you protect your immune system.
Of course, you should always consult your health care provider before embarking on a supplement regimen or making changes that may affect your health.
This blog post and suggested supplements below does not constitute medical advice, nor do they claim that supplements can prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19 infections. Some links below are affiliate links. (Affiliate links are one of the ways I pay for my time and create free content for Journey To Glow, so I thank you for your support.)
Herbal Medicine & Supplements
To Support The Immune System
Prior to COVID, I had never heard of quercetin. Turns out, it’s an amazing ally to have in our supplements arsenal!
What Is Quercetin?
Quercetin belongs to the flavonoid class of antioxidants commonly found in apples, onions and citrus fruits. Its use has been widely established, particularly in Europe, for the treatment of a variety of ailments including allergy symptoms, diabetic complications, and cardiovascular concerns, all thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects.
In 2007, Korean researchers were able to demonstrate how quercetin can reduce the production of inflammatory signaling processes in the body, which were associated with chronic inflammatory conditions.
Quercetin is effective in reducing the ability of numerous viruses to replicate. In an Italian study, researchers demonstrated that they could use a quercetin-rich extract to up-regulate the antiviral response of the immune system in response to infected cells.
How does it work?
Quercetin is a bit of a badass when it comes to fighting viruses. It acts as a zinc ionophore, the same mechanism that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have, and it does so by helping zinc pass the cell wall where it can halt viral replication.
Basically, quercetin disrupts viral docking and penetration into the cell. (SAY WHAT?!)
Researchers have been applying computer modeling techniques to identify molecules with structures that could conceivably block the “ACE2 receptors” on cells to which the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 attaches, much like a key fits into a lock. Once the virus enters a cell, it hijacks the cellular machinery and uses it to reproduce and crank out more viruses. Based on its molecular structure, quercetin could be a “key” that fits the lock and blocks other “keys.”
There are apparently also trials going on in the US and China on using quercetin for COVID-19. I’ll be on the lookout for those studies. Bookmark this post so you can come back to it as I’ll update it in the near future.
Lastly, I came across this research from McGill University on quercetin that I feel is worth linking here.
I also found this article and Dr. Molly’s notes on supplements to take during COVID-a9 to be very helpful. Read them here.
There are so many benefits to curcumin. (Type “curcumin” in Google Scholar, and hundreds of studies will pop up.)
For my research on supplements to boost the immune system and protect against a viral infection, I searched “curcumin antiviral,” and again, hundreds of studies came out.
This is SOOOOO exciting as, finally, we’re shining a spotlight on a plant that absolutely deserves to take center stage and flaunt its many benefits. (I won’t link any specific study as there are too many, but feel free to Google Scholar it yourself and go down the rabbit hole!)
Curcumin, a key component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory actions and antiviral effects, making it a great ally not only during this pandemic but in our everyday life.
To reap curcumin’s maximum benefits and increase its bioavailability (ability to be absorbed and utilized by the body), you’ll want to pair it with bromelain (a digestive enzyme found in pineapple) or black pepper.
N-Acetyl-l-Cysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the dietary amino acid l-cysteine, a precursor to glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant, and helps promote optimal detoxification. NAC is heavily researched for its role in optimizing lung health and is also used for rapid recovery after workouts
NAC has a high affinity for lung tissue, which it supports through mucolytic and antioxidant action. In her supplements for immune support document, Dr. Molly notes that “NAC disrupts disulfide bonds and thins mucus,” so it’s something to consider during this COVID-19 pandemic.
NAC is a powerful free radical scavenger and therefore supports the body’s natural defense system. It also supports tissue levels of glutathione, a key component of the antioxidant defense system.
NAC is also beneficial for protection against normal exposure to heavy metals, which is why, personally, my naturopath had recommended this supplement. (Have you read Liver Rescue by the Medical Medium Anthony Williams? Williams explains that skin conditions are almost always a result of pathogens feeding on heavy metals in the liver, which creates dermatoxins appearing as acne, rosacea, eczema…)
When the news broke out that coronaviruses appeared to be susceptible to the viral inhibitory actions of zinc, zinc supplements started to fly off the shelf!
How does zinc work?
According to Dr. Molly Maloof, zinc may prevent the coronavirus entry into cells and appears to reduce the coronavirus virulence. She also adds that zinc supports the effective function and proliferation of various immune cells.
I found this very interesting article from McGill University on the beneficial effects of zinc in the fight against cold symptoms and to support antiviral activity in the body.
I personally searched long and hard to get my hands on zinc when I finally landed on Global Healing.
I was also happy to see that there is zinc in one of my all-time favorite products from JS Health Vitamins!
A Note on Zinc & Skin Health
I came across an article written by a french pharmacist passionate about natural skincare that highlighted the link between skin conditions and zinc deficiency.
These are the symptoms she links to possible zinc deficiency:
–> A deterioration in the quality of the skin (dryness, rough skin)
–> Hair (dry, brittle, hair loss) and / or nails (streaked, brittle, stained)
The article mentions the anti-inflammatory properties and anti-bacterial properties which can be beneficial in clearing acne and reducing redness in the case of rosacea.
Something to investigate on your journey to glow!
Astragalus came up on my radar when listening to a fascinating interview with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald (host of one of my favorite Functional Medicine podcasts) and her guest Dr. Chen, who’s both a conventionally trained doctor and traditional Chinese medicine doctor.
If you have ever doubted that plants and herbs could provide the treatment or cure for a virus, such as SARS-COV-2, this episode is a MUST listen. In his conversation with Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Chen praised the benefits of astragalus and recommended we add it to our farmacy as an immune booster.
Astragalus is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and it has many purported health benefits, including immune-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects.
Astragalus is believed to prolong life and is used to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as fatigue, allergies and the common cold. It’s also used against heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.
I was happy to discover that one of my favorite herbal supplements company, St-Francis Herbal Farm, has included astralagus in their powerful Deep Immune formula.
After researching supplements for this article, I discovered a new found gratitude for our ol’ reliable friend, vitamin C.
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in skin health thanks to its potent antioxidant properties that are said to neutralize free radicals as well as help prevent and reverse cellular damage. Vitamin C also keeps your skin healthy by boosting collagen production, helping the skin serve as a functional barrier to keep harmful compounds from entering your body.
But did you know that Vitamin C also contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system?
I also found this information on the Harvard Health Education website:
“Vitamin C is a cofactor for many enzymes. It enhances the function of many enzymes all over the body by keeping their metal ions in the reduced form. It also acts as an antioxidant, limiting inflammation and tissue damage associated with immune responses. RCTs evaluating the effectiveness of vitamin C have been conducted among soldiers, young boys, and older people in the US, the Soviet Union, the UK, and Japan. In these studies, vitamin C supplementation was shown to significantly reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections.”
We all know that Vitamin D is essential for those of us who live in a less than sunny climate. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt “blue” from the lack of sunlight?!
Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself in several ways from fatigue to depression, sluggishness… So it’s a good idea to get our vitamin D levels checked whenever possible and to supplement accordingly.
Evidence from several clinical trials and pooled studies show that vitamin D supplementation lowers the odds of developing acute respiratory tract infections (most of which are assumed to be due to viruses) by 12% to 75%. These studies included both the seasonal and pandemic flu caused by H1N1 virus in 2009.
The beneficial effect of supplementation was seen in patients across all ages, and individuals with pre-existing chronic illnesses. Among those who were infected, flu symptoms were fewer and recovery was earlier if they had received doses of vitamin D greater than 1000 IU. The benefits were relatively greater in individuals with vitamin D deficiency than in those who had adequate levels of vitamin D.
Lastly, if you’ve ever wondered how much sun you need on a daily basis for your body to produce vitamin D, this app will tell you. I’ve installed it on my phone and was not surprised to see that here, in Quebec, it’s extremely difficult to get enough sun on a daily basis to produce vitamin D, especially in winter where it’s nearly impossible.
Our immune system works hard to keep our body healthy by identifying and fighting off potential threats such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
As it so happens, Selenium plays an important role in the health of our immune system.
How does selenium work?
This antioxidant helps lower oxidative stress in your body, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity.
Studies have demonstrated that increased blood levels of selenium are associated with enhanced immune response.
On the other hand, deficiency has been shown to harm immune cell function and may lead to a slower immune response
Learn more about the benefits of selenium on the immune system in this video by David Perimutter, M.D. and this study by Laurent Hiffler which came out in April 2020. Also worth mentioning is this NCBI article.
podcasts, webinars & articles
A functional approach to COVID-19 with Dr. Mark Hyman read the article
Dr. Molly Maloof supplements guide
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald’s interview with Dr. Chen TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for COVID19
Q&A Webinar on Functional Medicine for COVID with Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Hanaway
JTG #47 Adaptogenic Mushrooms & Plants To Support Your Immune System with Clinical Herbalist & Mycologist Danielle Ryan
Essential Radiance: My Top 5 Essential Oils For Radiant Skin
get the (free) guide
As a green-beauty junkie, I've been on a my mission to find non-toxic, natural products that are high performing AND fit my skin’s unique needs.
After spending thousands of dollars on products but not seeing improvement with my skin, I started researching essential oils.
I discovered 5 that targeted my skin's dehydration and inflammation, so I immediately put them to the test.
After 2 weeks of testing 100% certified pure essential oils, I noticed a huge improvement on the texture and hydration of my skin.
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