Alternatively Speaking: Striving for immunity

Alternative medicine expert Natalie Marx answers your questions: Are there any herbs that can help prevent getting the flu this winter?

The flu (photo credit: Wikicommons)
The flu
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Q. Dear Natalie, are there any specific vitamins or minerals I should be taking now that winter is approaching?
A. Yes indeed, winter months can require some special attention to specific vitamins and nutrients. We need to make sure we consume enough vitamins to support a healthy immune system that can fight off the germs in the cold and flu season.
The best way to ensure you are taking enough vitamins during the winter is to eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. We are usually more inclined to want heavier carbohydrates during the winter rather than salads. Make sure to add plenty of vegetables to soups and casseroles.
Perhaps the most important vitamin in winter is Vitamin D. Although Vitamin D is found in some foods, the more beneficial type of Vitamin D is made in the body with the help of sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency can be particularly widespread in countries where the sun shines less in the winter. Our bodies require Vitamin D for building healthy bones and teeth.
When spending time in the sunlight is not an option, Vitamin D is found in salmon and tuna, eggs and cheese.
Vitamin C is an excellent water-soluble vitamin that works to protect our bodies against infections and viruses. Making sure we get enough Vitamin C can shorten the symptoms of the common cold. Orange juice, Kiwis and broccoli are all high in Vitamin C.
Zinc is also an important mineral that helps boost the immune system. Women are required to have 8 mg of zinc each day and men approximately 11 mg. Keep the immune system strong during the winter by consuming a daily zinc supplement. If you suffer from the flu, zinc lozenges will help reduce symptoms and help you recover quickly.
Our immune systems use Vitamin E to help protect it from infections. The ideal amount is 15 mg per day. During winter carrying around a packet of almonds or sunflower seeds to snack on can help boost Vitamin E levels. I usually always recommend to my clients to begin taking a multivitamin during the winter months. Make sure that selenium (trace mineral) is included in your multivitamin mix. Selenium is a trace mineral which works as an anti-oxidant to fight off chronic diseases.
Q. Dear Natalie, are there any herbs that can help prevent me from getting the flu this winter?
A. There are plenty of herbs which can help prevent getting the flu and provide relief from symptoms.
One of the more popular herbs I use as a preventative for flu is slippery elm. It produces a soothing film along the lining of the digestive tract, which protects and heals damaged tissue. It protects the throat, esophagus and the lining of the intestines, providing excellent nutrition to boost the immune system. It can also be taken at the first signs the flu to prevent it from developing. You can find it available in a throat lozenge or in dried form.
Another, more commonly known wonderful remedy to have at home during the winter is Echinacea. Echinacea is the perfect treatment for flu and other viral illnesses due to its immune boosting properties. If you begin to suffer from symptoms of the flu, it can reduce inflammation and pain also speeding up your recovery.
Elderberry extract is another herb that can protect the respiratory tract in particular. Elderberry extract is an immune system booster and can be consumed as a tea all through the winter months. It can also reduce pain in the muscles, lower temperature and sooth sore throats. If you start to feel signs of the flu, I suggest taking elderberry extract  purchased in a liquid tonic to prevent or even lessen the severity of the flu.
The Chinese herb Chrysanthemum is a fantastic immune system builder. It is used primarily to clean toxins from the blood and by drinking chrysanthemum tea regularly it can help resist an acute outbreak of flu. By keeping our system clear of waste materials it enables our immune system to become stronger. To make chrysanthemum tea, place the dried herb in water and boil for five minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then allow it to cool.
Last but certainly not least, every home during the winter should have Garlic. Garlic is nature’s magical way to enhance the immune system and fight both viral and bacterial infections. Garlic can be used in many ways, however I suggest taking powdered garlic supplements throughout the winter.
Q. Dear Natalie, can Yoga strengthen the immune system? If so, can you suggest any particular yoga postures I can practice to boost my immunity?
A. Nearly all forms of exercise decrease the levels of stress hormones released by the body, thereby boosting immune system activity. Practicing yoga also decreases feelings of anxiety, depression and even reduces the risk of catching a cold by boosting the immune system.
Regular yoga practice will improve blood flow and circulation throughout the body. It is this improved circulation which helps the cells of the immune system travel throughout the body to areas where they are most needed. This circulation allows antibodies and white blood cells the ability to respond faster to viruses and bacteria that can cause illnesses.
Yoga focuses particularly on the importance of correct breathing. This increased rate of respiration helps the lungs remove airborne bacteria and viruses that can cause infection and increases activity in our immune system. By increased sweating through a yoga practice, our bodies excrete viruses more quickly and Yoga can therefore reduce the duration and severity of the winter flu.
Despite the number of different styles and varieties of Yoga, the single most commonly practiced posture, one that you will find in all schools of Yoga, is the Downward Facing Dog Pose. The downward-facing dog pose improves immunity by stimulating the circulatory system. By increasing blood flow to the sinuses, it can help us recover faster from the common cold. Begin on your hands and knees. Press your hands, and feet into the floor to lift your buttocks towards the sky, making an inverted V-shape with your body. If you are flexible enough to do so, press your heels into the floor, otherwise you can bend your knees slightly. Remain in this posture for five deep breaths.
Most inversion postures in Yoga help to improve the circulation of the lymphatic system, helping to defend the body against infection.  Lie down next to a wall and roll onto your back, swinging your legs around and resting your heels on the wall with bent knees. For support, place a bolster under your lower back. Slowly straighten your legs to the ceiling and relax your arms on the floor. Keep your buttocks close to the base of the wall. Remain here for ten deep breaths. Yoga's relaxation benefits as a physical meditation can reduce ones stress levels thereby supporting your immunity.

This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
Natalie runs a clinic both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offering a wide range of natural treatment, including a women’s clinic every Wednesday. To make an appointment please email [email protected].
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer, email Natalie with your question at [email protected]
Someone Once Said: "The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it." - Maimonides