Category Archives: Herbs

Boosting Immunity in the Time of Coronavirus

What can we do to boost our personal immunity in addition to following all public health guidelines? I interviewed Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to find out how to strengthen our immune systems against pathogens in general, not only the coronavirus. But no matter your health condition, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider about the following suggestions. You should ask about possible contraindications with respect to medication, and also about activities or herbs that might compromise cardiovascular problems or joint and muscle pain.

Trained and board-certified in the US in internal medicine, and European Natural Medicine in Germany, Dr. Fleckenstein is the author of several books on health and healing. Here are her six recommendations for boosting immunity.

1-Slim down. This pandemic has shown that extra weight puts you at higher risk for COVID-19. The risk comes from triple inflammation: Excess weight causes inflammation in your body, the Coronavirus causes more inflammation, and the immune system, as it gears up to fight COVID-19, adds still more inflammation. This can end in the so-called cytokine storm– the over-the- top reaction of the immune system that is thought to have killed millions of people during the 1919 Spanish Flu. “Inflammation in your body damages healthy cells, tissues, and organs which can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, internal scarring, and the development of many diseases. In normal times, our biggest concern is cancer. But now it is COVID-19,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “We used to think that chubbiness was just a beauty problem. In reality, it is an inflammatory disease of the whole body.” A body-mass index of higher than 25 is considered overweight, higher 30 is obese, and over 35 is called morbidly obese. Dr. Fleckenstein advises not losing more than two pounds per month, as keeping your lower weight is more important than rapid weight loss.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: CHECK WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TRYING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE SURE THEY WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR MEDICATIONS OR HEALTH CONDITION.

2-Try a daily 20-second cold shower after your warm /hot one. Research supports that cold water on the skin primes the immune system into normal function– avoiding overreaction as well as underperformance. Contraindications are: uncontrolled high blood [pressure, acute infection, arterial disease, arterial diseases like Raynaud’s, and frailty. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, Health2 0, shows you how to use cold showers, which not only boost your mood and your immune system, but do so much more for your health. Recent research, reported in the US National Library of Medicine, supports the benefits of regular cold water on the skin:

“Notably, cold water immersion had significant and positive effects on metabolic and catabolic processes, neurotransmitters and hormones, immune parameters [my emphasis] as well as on more global markers of health, such as sick-leave and quality of life. Also, cold showers have been proposed to be of use in the treatment of depression and there are anecdotal and uncontrolled reports as well as news coverage on taking cold showers – usually in contrast to warm or hot water – showing positive effects for skin and hair. For example, cold water tightens and constricts the blood flow which gives the skin and hair a healthier glow and decreases transepidermal water loss contributing to better skin hydration, while hot showers can lead to dried out skin. Noteworthy, none of these studies reported negative events related to cold water treatment as well as no negative long-term effects.” [Source: 2019 study reported by the US National Library of Medicine, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04130126]

(Note that it takes a few weeks to build up your immunity and reap these health benefits, so if your healthcare provider approves, why not start immediately?)

3-Get enough sleep. “Spend less time at the screen and go to bed before midnight, “says Dr. Fleckenstein. “The earlier the better.” Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, mood, learning, and other vital functions.”

 

4-Nutrition. Drawing on her experience and training in European Natural Medicine, Dr. Fleckenstein focuses on the true powerhouses of health: vegetables. Especially beneficial are roots such as turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, carrots, radishes; squashes, including winter squash; and leafy and bitter greens such as kale, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, and cabbages. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, The Diabetes Cure, puts these ideas to work to overcome diabetes, but they work for other health problems too.

Dr. Fleckenstein cautions us, however, to avoid “nightshades”–tomatoes, colored peppers, and eggplants–which are technically fruits, not vegetables. Nightshades produce “lectins,” especially in their fruit, which make them hard to digest and contribute to inflammation–not what we need in a pandemic.  Potatoes, which also belong in the nightshade family, are tubers, not fruit. Therefore, they contain far fewer lectins and are safer. Of course we should also avoid dairy, sugar, and simple (white) carbohydrates.

Even as we focus on healthy vegetables, we are also omnivores, says Dr. Fleckenstein, and need a bit of high-quality meats, fish and eggs in our diets as well.  To fight infections, chicken soup has been shown to have wonderful antiviral properties, just as Grandma said! And for fun, great taste and even better immunity, you can add black seeds (Nigella sativa) to beans, stews, or muesli (unless you have an allergy).

5-Movement. Dr. Fleckenstein recommends any kind of daily movement to strengthen the immune system (plus your bones). Walking is the easiest and cheapest. Aim for 5,000 steps per day; ideal is 10,000. If you can’t leave the house during the pandemic, devise a course of your own with Jumping Jacks, squatting, Burpees (a type of exercise you can find on the Internet), and so on. Or find tai chi, chi gong, Yoga, and aerobic workout online classes to do at home. They are often free now. “But if you can, get outside,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. Moving in green nature gives an added layer of health, and emotional stress reduction and peace.” Swimming or floating in – preferably natural – water are also therapeutic.

photo of assorted herbs

Photo by alleksana on Pexels.com

6-Herbs: Nature’s pharmacy. Our bodies evolved for millions of years in concert with the herbs and plants of our planet. Natural, plant-derived medicines therefore provide ancient healing mechanisms that our bodies “know” how to use. As one herbal expert said, “If you take a vitamin A pill, your body keeps looking all day for the rest of the carrot.” So, of course, take whatever pharmaceuticals you are prescribed, but also consult with your healthcare practitioner about adding some healthy, immune-boosting herbs as well, as long as they don’t interfere with your other medications (such as anticoagulants) or your health condition.

For every day health-nudging benefits drink green or herbal teas: The old staples such as peppermint and chamomile are a good way to start the relaxing habit of drinking wholesome teas. Gymnema and holy basil have long histories of healing behind them, in their respective countries of origin, China and India. Stinging nettle is the plant most highly praised in European Natural Medicine. Sarsaparilla, licorice root, ginger, hops make good teas, too. In reality, it does not matter which herbal tea you are drinking – they all have healing qualities. Just don’t drink the same-old-same-old tea all the time. Rotate and explore! Every plant offers something different. These are all not specific teas against Coronavirus, just teas to improve your overall health.

For cooking, spice up your meals, along with your immune system, with turmeric and/or cinnamon, and preferably fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, sage, lemon balm, garlic, onions, chives, ginger, oregano, mints, and parsley. The “five defender” mushrooms (reishi, shitake, maitake, chaga, and turkey tail) help your immunity too. In addition to herbs, consider adding zinc, vitamin D, and low-dose vitamin C and to your regimen.

If you have an autoimmune disease, however, use caution with immune boosters and always consult your healthcare practitioner about their use.

Before you go: consider one more thing: For years, I have been participating in Laughter Yoga classes, which have now switched to be online, so you can do them wherever you are. When you laugh with others, laughter is contagious –in a good way. It relaxes the whole body. It triggers the release of endorphins, promoting an overall sense of well-being. When combined with yogic breathing, laughter truly becomes the best medicine, providing extensive health benefits. https://laughteryoga.org

 

 

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July 10, 2020 · 2:29 pm

H1N1 Pandemic: Boost Your Immunity

The World Health Organization has determined the H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic.  That in itself is not a measure of the severity of the so-called “swine flu” – just of its dispersion now into Australia, too. I asked Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to comment about ways to protect oneself. Here is her advice—which should, of course, never replace a consultation with  your doctor or health care professional. Always check before taking any over-the-counter or herbal supplements to make sure they are right for you. In addition, there are several ways  to use water, including saltwater rinses, to protect yourself from viruses, explained here.

So far, the swine flu has been mild – lethality does not even reach that of “normal” flu outbreaks which kill more than 30,000 people every year. The unfortunate people, who die, usually have underlying diseases which compromise their immune systems. The fear is that this flu might mutate like the 1918/19 flu did, and come down on us the second time around with a vengeance. Normally, mutations are such that the virus dies out–and it would be an extremely rare event that it would mutate into a much stronger strain. Nevertheless, that is the thinking behind taking the swine flu seriously now–mostly to observe it evolve (or perish).
Advice From Dr. Alexa (but always check with your doctor first)
Meanwhile, get enough sleep, take your herbs, eat plenty of vegetables, drink warm water and/or herbal teas. And it is never too late to start challenging your immune system with daily cold showers – unless you are already coming down with something.
Another anti-viral concoction I want to share with you is the Chinese Jian Qiao Jie Du Pian or Isatis 6, also called Honeysuckle-Forsythia Detoxifier. It might be a good idea to have some of those pills at hand when you get sick (get them from a reputable source). During the next H1N1 outbreak – or any seasonal viral disease that might come along.

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Filed under cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Herbs

Foxglove: History and Medicinal Uses

There has been a great deal of interest on this blog lately about the foxglove plant, so I asked herbal expert and integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to give us some background. Here is what she wrote:

Foxglove is a beautiful plant in the garden – it likes a moist soil. The pinkish bells on graceful spikes cheer me up. Moreover, it self-seeds when it likes its home – carefree summer joy. It seems.

Foxglove is also one of the deadliest plants when ingested. The powerful medication digitalis has been derived from the plant to help ailing hearts. The story goes that William Withering (1741-1799) became aware of people self-medicating the “dropsy” (body swelling from what we now call congestive heart failure) with this plant; he then searched for the “active” ingredient and found it in digitalis.

Digitalis is safer than the mother plant because in a plant it is difficult to gauge the poisonous quantity the patient is ingesting. Even with digitalis, we physicians rely on a blood test to tell us whether the patient is receiving a safe dose. We say the therapeutic margin is narrow – which means it is but a small step between digitalis helping the heart and digitalis killing the patient.

For these reasons, I would not recommend adding foxglove into your home herb chest. Better to rely on herbs that are safe. With my patients I rely on herbs that have a large therapeutic margin. It is close to impossible to kill yourself with peppermint, for instance (don’t try at home – because, as Paracelsus knew, every single agent in the world can become poisonous if we ingest a large enough dose of it; sugar is a prime example; even water!).

How do we know an herb is safe? Often, they have been tested through centuries or millenniums of use. One person who developed a list of about one hundred safe herbs was Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897). Better known for his “cold water cure,” Kneipp had learned about plants from his mother, who was the herbalist of the little village in Bavaria where he grew up. He tried to get away from the cold water (a long story, which I will tell you another time!), and therefore systematically searched for herbs that people could use for themselves, experimenting on himself for safety. Nowadays, science has better tools to examine an herb. Of the about one hundred herbs Kneipp had deemed safe, only abut three were removed from the list by the famous Commission E (which studies herbs for safety and efficacy in Germany).

The “safe” herbs can – and should – be used for everybody. And they should be taken whole – in a reputable tincture or a tea – and not manufactured and put into a pill. Because the plants have evolved with us over millions of years; their biochemistry fits into our physiology like a key in its lock. The many different compounds of a plant work in “synergy” (all for the same purpose – or: The sum is more than its parts. If you are interested in herbal synergy, I have written about it in my book).

Beautiful as it is, foxglove is an example of an unsafe plant – it belongs only in the hands of an experienced herbalist or your doctor. So content yourself with admiring the lovely foxglove flowers, and make yourself a nice cup of soothing herbal tea. Try lemon balm!

More about “the power of the flower.”

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Filed under Health, heart arrhythmia, Herbs, Sebastian Kneipp, Uncategorized, Water

Weeds for Health: Live from Your Garden!

The summer solstice is a wonderful time to harvest nourishment from your garden. I caught up with herbal expert Alexa Fleckentein, M.D., just coming in from her garden with an armful of grapevines (vitis vitifera), considered a bad weed here in the Northeast. “I used to swear and mutter when I pulled them out,” says Dr. Alexa. “Now I delight: A study has shown that grape leaves are even higher than red wine in resveratrol, a phytoalexin known to prolong life and prevent cancer.” The Greeks have been making little dolmades from grape leaves—stuffed with rice, herbs and pine nuts – for thousands of years. Dr. Alexa’s cooking method is simpler: She adds the grape leaves to her vegetable stir-fry (recipes in her book), and freezes them to use all winter long. “Simple, cheap, and healthy,” she says.

If you live in the South, advises Dr. Alexa, you might substitute kudzu (pueraria montana). “Kudzu has some marvelous properties too,” she says. “It is high in vitamins A and C, and also contains calcium. It comes in handy as an anti-inflammatory food (and is a much better source of calcium than inflammatory dairy products). Everybody in the South complains about this obnoxious weed. How about eating it as a revenge?”

And when you are done with your stir-fry, enjoy Dr. Alexa’s famous Garden Tea, described in her book and in this article. “I throw all the other edible weeds in my garden—as well as many plants and flowers—into my daily Garden Tea, which is filled with the healing properties of Nature’s pharmacy,” says Dr. Alexa. “Everything that’s not poisonous can go in there – from kitchen herbs to dandelions, from rose petals to pine needles. But REALLY: You have to know what you are doing and what to avoid. One hundred percent!!” Details are in her book, but she strongly advises taking an herb course to be sure you know what NOT to include!

The first time I made Garden Tea, for example, I proudly threw in a hydrangea flower—it was so pretty! Then I called Dr. Alexa while it was steeping to check on whether this was OK to include. “Throw the whole tea away!” she commanded at once. “Hydrangea leaves and flowers are poisonous.” I was sad to see it go, but I head learned my lesson: When in doubt, throw it out!

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Filed under Cancer, Healing, Herbs