With winter just around the corner, it’s time to plan ahead so you and your family stay fit and healthy. It doesn’t matter whether you always tend to get sick over the winter months, have an ongoing respiratory complaint or just want to take a preventative approach, there are some important herbs and nutrients that really come into their own at this time of year to support respiratory tract and immune health.
Your 1st line of defence: immune system
Staying healthy during the colder winter months can be a challenge when you’re surrounded by sick family and friends or even just travelling to work on public transport. The immune system is your first-line surveillance system that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, constantly monitoring and protecting your state of internal and external health.
A strong healthy immune system can quickly detect and destroy potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi or other substances that appear foreign or harmful. An unhealthy immune system is not able to mount an effective immune response, leaving you and your family more vulnerable to infections and illness generally.
Your 2nd line of defence: respiratory tract
Both the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, sinuses and throat) and lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchial tubes and the lungs) can be affected during the cooler months with colds and flu, upper respiratory tract infections, allergies or other existing respiratory conditions.
Strengthening the lungs and supporting your respiratory tract generally will help to reduce the risk of developing respiratory difficulties. Many of the herbs and nutrients used to support respiratory tract health also have the added benefit of providing symptomatic relief for many respiratory conditions, including colds and flu.
Our top 5 picks for immune & respiratory tract health are
- Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Shiitake, Turkey tail and Cordyceps are highly nutritious and all provide potent antiviral activity with a long traditional use in maintaining a strong healthy immune system. Reishi also provides antiallergy activity and Cordyceps helps to protect respiratory health. These medicinal mushrooms also help to relieve symptoms of colds, flu and mild upper respiratory tract infections.
One of the best-known herbs for many chronic respiratory complaints. Adhatoda dilates the bronchial tubes and reduces respiratory spasms to assist breathing and to relieve chest tightness, breathlessness, non-productive cough and wheezing. Adhatoda is also an effective expectorant that helps to clear mucus from the respiratory tract, relieve coughs and reduce inflammation associated with allergic responses.
Traditionally considered one of the best herbs for lung complaints, it also helps to strengthen the lungs and sustain the strength of those affected by chronic disorders of the respiratory tract. Elecampane is used in traditional herbal medicine for pulmonary, lung and chest complaints and to assist expectoration and to relieve respiratory difficulties, such as shortness of breath.
- Vitamin C
Important for enhancing and balancing immune function. Low levels of vitamin C have been linked to increased susceptibility for infections. Vitamin C is an antioxidant important for lung health and to support respiratory health and pulmonary function.
Probiotics are dynamic, living micro-organisms that benefit your immune system, both in the digestive tract and systemically, by helping to maintain balanced, healthy intestinal flora, inhibiting the growth of unwanted intestinal flora and helping to re-establish friendly intestinal flora.
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- Braun, L & Cohen, M, 2010, Herbs & Natural Supplements: an evidence-based guide, pp. 710-717, Elsevier, Australia.
- Culpepper, N. (1880). Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. W. Foulsham & Co: London.
- Grieves, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from botanical.com.
- Nutrient References for Australian & New Zealand, Australian Government of Health & Ageing.
- Pizzorno, JE & Murray, MT, 2006, Textbook of Natural Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, St Louis, Missouri.
- Powell M (2010), Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide, East Sussex, Mycology Press.