In the United States alone, viruses account for more than 1 billion colds every year. And up to 20 percent of Americans also get the flu. These viruses replicate in the body and can take over—unless they’re stopped or prevented. Attacking these illnesses isn’t just about vitamin C anymore and it’s no longer just a seasonal concern. Here are some tested and proven botanicals and minerals you can turn to for the armor you need to emerge strong and healthy, no matter what the season brings.
Zinc interacts with at least 300 enzymes and reactions in the body, including white blood cell activity known to fight off dangerous health threats. That makes zinc a critical mineral for the immune system. Yet many people are deficient in zinc, which sets back their ability to fight off colds, flus, and other serious viral infections. How well does zinc work? Three clinical studies found zinc cut the duration of colds by 42 percent when compared to a placebo. But the secret to zinc’s efficacy is to start taking it as soon as an illness starts. The researchers noted that, while zinc was still useful when taken at any time, starting it at the first sign of the sniffles—preferably with the first 24 hours—gave the best results. For the best absorption, choose a zinc supplement chelated to the amino acid glycine (zinc bisglycinate). This amino acid helps shepherd the mineral through the intestinal wall, allowing it to be readily used by the body. To make this critical mineral even better, consider combining andrographis, melatonin, selenium, and zinc to bolster your immune defenses.
Melatonin is commonly known as a sleep aid, which it is. But thinking melatonin is only for sleep is like looking at the tip of the iceberg and missing the massive story happening underneath the surface. Able to work with both the innate and adaptive immune systems, melatonin is capable of protecting against the bacteria and viruses that we encounter on a daily basis. It does this by unleashing small proteins called cytokines that, in the right amount, can stop viral invasions. However, we need a carefully calibrated response from the innate immune system. Too chaotic of a response and we’re likely to suffer what is known as a “cytokine storm.” This is triggered by our innate defenders as they try to work out a solution to the disease. Enter melatonin, which helps to balance these aspects of the immune system very effectively, helping to rapidly shut down viral infections. This is why some European researchers recommend its use to help battle dangerous viruses like influenza and possibly even COVID-19.
Propolis is a material collected by bees from nearby trees and flowers for the construction of the hive. It has strong antibacterial properties and has long been regarded as a source of powerful compounds that can boost immune defenses. The prevalent overuse of antibiotics has set the stage for bacterial resistance and the creation of “superbugs” that are often resistant to conventional treatment. One of the toughest superbugs to date is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This bacterial menace has caused serious issues following surgery, especially when a person’s immune system is already weakened. The good news? Research shows that propolis can stop it. For example, one study at Heidelberg University tested a propolis extract against a variety of disease-causing bacteria, including MRSA, Candida albicans, and Streptococcus pyogenes. Within just six hours, propolis stopped the activity of S. pyogenes, the cause of strep throat and hard-to-stop skin infections. The study showed propolis also had a high degree of antibacterial activity against all tested MRSA strains, and inhibited Candida as well. Other studies have found similar results. In fact, Scottish researchers discovered that propolis possessed strong antibacterial activity against a range of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Additional studies confirm that propolis not only inhibits dangerous S. aureus, but Escherichia coli bacteria and Candida albicans as well. Propolis also helps to fight everyday issues like cold sores. Research at Heidelberg University pitted a propolis extract against herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1)—the virus that causes cold sores—and found it reduced the formation of viral plaques (the areas of cell destruction) by 98 percent.
A good propolis supplement can provide all these benefits. But because raw propolis found in a hive is mixed with unsuitable substances like dirt and bee’s wings, it’s important to choose a supplemental form that supplies a clean powdered source of plant flavonoids. The best extracts come from sources with a controlled environment where the hives are well managed so both bees and humans can benefit. Look for a product that pays special attention to the longevity of the bees while providing this powerful, natural medicine to your wellness arsenal.
Andrographis. Revered in Ayurvedic tradition, andrographis offers balance throughout the body. That’s important when it comes to fighting infections without causing an immune over-response. For viral infections such as the flu or a common cold, andrographis can effectively ease symptoms. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, andrographis relieved the intensity of cold symptoms in just two days, including fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, and the sleeplessness that goes with a cold. By the fourth day, the study participants also experienced a significant decrease in all symptoms, including headache, earache, phlegm production, and the frequency and intensity of coughing spells. Another clinical study of individuals with upper respiratory tract infection showed comparable results. In this case, 223 patients received either andrographis or a placebo. By the third day, there was a dramatic difference in cough, headache, sore throat, and disturbed sleep among those taking andrographis. People in the placebo group, however, noticed no improvement. In fact, some symptoms got worse.
In addition to relieving the symptoms of viral infections, andrographis can stop the growth of dangerous bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus. Andrographis also protects and strengthens the body at a microscopic level, boosting the activity of glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and Nrf2—all powerful cellular defenders. The result provides better odds against everyday bacterial and viral threats.
Andrographolides, the key compounds in andrographis, are highly responsible for the herb’s effectiveness. Because a consistent dosage makes a significant difference, choose a supplement standardized to provide a minimum of 80 mg of andrographolides. Need another reason to rely on andrographis? Stress and age can play a role in your immune cells becoming weaker and more vulnerable to attack. But andrographis also acts like an activating switch to reduce cellular degradation and the premature aging of tissue—a plus to protecting the body no matter what threats come its way.
What do viral infections—such as the flu, respiratory illnesses, or shingles—all have in common? The answer is a compromised immune system. Another commonality? Conventional treatment often falls short as these illnesses progress. A fast way to reverse a viral illness is to hit it hard for one or two days with elderberry. This dark purple berry disrupts viral attacks, restoring the body’s ability to fight back without the side effects or drug resistance caused by prescription antiviral medications. This botanical has been found to be effective against 13 different pathogens, including S. pyogenes and E. coli. Elderberry is also useful when you know you’ll be exposed to viruses through situations like travelling. In a study of 312 passengers flying from Australia to overseas destinations, half received an elderberry extract while the other half received a placebo. When the passengers were surveyed for cold and flu symptoms before, during, and after their flights, the elderberry group had fewer illnesses compared to the group who took the placebo. Among those in the elderberry group who did get sick, the duration of their illness was cut by one third and their symptoms were less severe than the travelers in the placebo group.
Elderberry is especially potent when combined with vitamin C and zinc, and that’s true for both adults and kids. Studies show that elderberry is a safe and effective choice to help prevent or treat influenza and upper respiratory symptoms in children over age four. To make sure your supplement is kid-friendly, look for a formula that allows flexible dosing to accommodate children ages 4 to 17. Since adulteration can be common in some products, it’s also important to purchase an elderberry supplement from a company with a proven and reputable track record to ensure potency and purity.