It is said that on his deathbed, Louis Pasteur, the famous French microbiologist known amongst other things for his work on vaccines and his ‘germ theory of disease’ stated, “Bernard was correct. The pathogen (germ) is nothing. The terrain (milieu) is everything.” He was referring to Claude Bernard, a brilliant French physiologist and contemporary of Pasteur who wrote about the importance of a balanced milieu interieur or terrain over that of the germ/pathogen in the development of illness. It is probably fair to say however, that an infection is more likely to be the outcome between the strength (virulence) of a pathogen and the adaptive ability (including the strength of the immune system) of the terrain it comes into contact with.
Whether it is for a simple cold or a more complex illness such as Lyme disease, the state of the terrain “allows for” the development or the proliferation of the pathogen. This is why different people react differently to the same bug: some people will get very ill and others not so much or even not at all. In the mainstream allopathic medicine model, Pasteur’s germ theory has led to the primordial use of drugs, such as antibiotics for instance, to “kill the germ” with lesser thought for the terrain or for that matter, the consequences of such drugs on the terrain. We now know that frequent or long-term use of antibiotics can have severe effects on the microbiota which is an essential factor in immunity (amongst other things). This isn’t to say that nothing must be done about the germ alongside the terrain or even that antibiotic use in certain situations isn’t necessary, but focusing on just the germ is like focusing on just the symptom of a disease rather than its actual cause. In this context let’s talk specifically about respiratory infections since it is the high season for them at the moment.
In keeping with the above, in the endobiogenic medicine model, (Upper and Lower) Respiratory infections such as the common cold, the flu or more chronic manifestations like bronchitis are linked to imbalances in the terrain. In relation to colds, flus and similar respiratory infections, there are several important areas of the terrain to be aware of:
- Usually there is a tendency towards congestion. This is due to a relative dominance of certain aspects of the (autonomic) nervous system, as well as an increase in histamines.
- The congestion also gives rise to an increase in your body’s demand for glucose, and therefore the pancreas (insulin and digestive enzymes) is also involved, usually working harder to meet the demand.
- There could be diminished or insufficient immune function being affected by insufficient adrenal (for instance chronic stress impacting on cortisol) and/or thyroid function (more common to see in the fall and spring) – please bear in mind this is relative to the adaptive needs of your body at the moment it is faced with an infection and does not mean that generally your adrenals or thyroid are not working properly.
- Finally there is often also an issue with the ability of your body to excrete toxins properly, especially at the level of the gall bladder, liver, intestines, and the lymphatic system.
Of course, at the end of the day, you might just want a quick remedy for a cold instead of thinking about all of the above. Do remember however before you head straight for the antibiotics, that colds and flus are most often viral and not bacterial, therefore antibiotics are not appropriate unless you catch a secondary bacterial infection (such as bacterial pneumonia) or you have caught a rarer bacterial infection. Flu vaccines are usually limited to a few viral strains and therefore may not cover the pathogen you come into contact with, since these are always evolving. Furthermore they do nothing to strengthen your overall terrain.
So what are the options? If you have read my previous blogs, you might now understand why I go on about ensuring you support your terrain throughout the year. That’s because one of the things you can do is try to keep your terrain strong to increase its buffering and adaptive ability (the ability it has to divert energy/function to an “aggression” before beginning to feel the negative effects/symptoms) in the face of a pathogen or another “aggression”. Another thing you can try is to stay away from the pathogens or sites of infections – but this is not always easy to do in today’s globally connected world.
So more realistically, here are some specific tips about what you can do from home when faced with a respiratory infection, primarily by supporting your immune system and allowing it to do its job.
First and foremost, act as soon as possible (see tips below) when you feel telltale symptoms: scratchy throat, sniffling, headache, sneezing and coughing, possibly some temperature. Catching an infection early is essential in nipping it in the bud. Remember that to support immunity (and your terrain in general) it is essential to ensure generally: sufficient sleep, effective stress management, healthy nutrition and balanced physical mouvement. And don’t forget to give your body a rest when you are ill. Rest and convalescence allows your body to divert its energy to healing and avoid stress responses which weaken the immune response further.
Diet and Supplements:
- For acute infections: eat sparingly and stick primarily to liquid diets, especially meat/bone/mushroom/vegetable and herb broths and light soups (homemade if possible),
- Hydrate: drink lots of herbals teas (instead of regular tea and coffee), green tea in moderate amounts and water. Avoid/limit alcohol.
- Garlic, garlic garlic! Take it particularly in raw form for the anti-microbial actions but you can also add plenty of it to cooked dishes. Try to eat 1-2 cloves raw per day, letting it sit about 10 minutes once crushed before eating because contact with the air allows some of its anti-microbial compounds to be released. It can be eaten spread out through several meals, sprinkled into salads, vegetable dishes and soups.
- Stay off of high fat foods, fried foods, high glycemic index foods (i.e. refined sugars and carbs), hard to digest animal proteins (except in broth form). Avoiding dairy and gluten will also help keep mucous levels down.
- For chronic conditions, avoiding or lowering consumption of dairy and gluten are important to spare the gall bladder and the pancreas (especially if these are weaker areas of your terrain), which are essential in helping the body break down and absorb nutrients, keep glucose levels steady and excrete toxins.
- Taking freshly squeezed, mixed juices or soups of the following vegetables and fruits is helpful during acute phases: black radish, garlic, turnips, kale, cabbage, apples, berries and lemon (not necessarily all together – try different combinations).
- Vitamin C: in the acute phases, take up to 1000mg or to bowel tolerance in the mornings (vitamin C can interfere with sleep so it is better take in the mornings or spread it over the day but not later than 3pm). Bowel tolerance means until it triggers a loose bowel movement (which high doses of vitamin c will do). Basically take just a little less than that level and stay on it for a few days before you up the dose. I like the vitamin C powder from BioCare which you can get here. You can use my practitioner reference at the Natural Dispensary and get 10% off: Terra10.
- Vitamin D: if you haven’t checked your levels since the summer, take a maintenance dose of about 1000-2000IUs/day during the winter months at least (both in acute and chronic states). September time is the best time to get levels checked to see how much of a store you have for the winter and something I recommend you do if you get a blood workup on a regular (even if once yearly) basis. Vitamin D is an essential requirement for effective immune function (amongst other things). I like Viridian’s liquid vitamin D which you can get here.
- Zinc and copper supplement: I like to give these in combination since they work synergistically. Zinc helps with general immune support, recurring infections, tissue repair, clearing viral load through its support of liver function; and copper is anti-inflammatory, it helps the liver in its detoxification work, promotes white blood cell production, it is antimicrobial, and supports general immune system function. I like Cytoplan’s Zinc + Copper which you can get here.
Herbal Medicine is extremely effective in relation to respiratory infections because of plants’ broad spectrum antimicrobial actions. In addition, bioactive compounds of medicinal plants reduce bacterial resistance and can also increase antibiotic/antiviral efficiency. The right plants can modulate the immune response, and have antiviral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory actions as well.
Some of the most powerful herbal products to use for respiratory infections are Essential Oils because of their complexity (which makes it hard for pathogens to create resistance), and because they are continuously adapting to the environment and therefore to environmental pathogens. However, you need to ensure that they are used properly, especially if internally, and that their quality is therapeutic grade, pure and unadulterated. I personally would not recommend buying from some of the big brands coming out of the USA (no matter how pure they say they are) but rather therapeutic grade EOs from France, or UK suppliers who import these. I also value supporting small artisan producers over big commercial productions who often have dodgy quality and even dodgier therapeutic recommendations (the more you use the more they sell). In the UK, I recommend Materia Aromatica, a small supplier whose French owner knows her stuff and only carries quality organic internal-grade essential oils (and other products). In addition, her EOs are chemotyped when relevant. You can access her shop here.
My EO recipe for nipping colds and flus in the bud (avoid, or ask me before giving this to children younger than 4, people with liver problems or those taking conventional medicines, primarily anti-coagulants, immune-suppressants and other powerful drugs).
In a little jar (I use those mini jam jars like the ones you get at restaurants or on the plane) mix well:
30-40 mls of olive oil or raw organic runny honey, with the following EOs of:
- Ravintsara (Cinnamonum camphora): 2 drops
- Thyme, chemotyped linalol (Thymus CT linalol): 2 drops
- Clove (Eugenia caryophyllus): 2 drops
- Eucalyptus, chemotyped radiata (Eucalyptus CT radiata): 2 drops
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): 1 drop – if you have a very sensitive stomach you can skip this one though it also helps terrain manage glucose.
Take 1/2 teaspoon 2-4 times a day at onset of symptoms for no more than 5-7 days. Give half the dose to children under 13 and to people older than 75. You can dilute the honey into a herbal tea (fresh ginger for instance) or if in olive oil, take it neat. Add a squirt or two of propolis tincture as well for some additional antimicrobial actions.
There are many other ways of using essential oils for infections including for inhalations or chest rubs. I’ve been lecturing a lot on their uses lately and if you are interested in a seminar on this or related topics get in touch!
In terms of other herbs to use, the best solution would be to contact me so I can make you a bespoke herbal mix you can have at home as an “emergency” mix when your symptoms first show or as a preventative if you have a tendency towards recurring infections, since this will take account of your individual terrain. But since this isn’t always possible, here are the basic herbals you don’t want to go without for colds, flus and other such respiratory infections:
- Black elder (Sambucus nigra): elder (both the berries and the flowers) has immune-modulating and stimulating actions. It also helps manage fever and is a powerful antiviral. It is generally safe for children. Take 5mls (1 teaspoon) 2-4 times a day depending on your symptoms. You can find some here.
- Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia or purpurea): Echinacea is well known and can also be easily taken as a preventative during flu season or when a flu is “going around”. It is also immune-modulating and stimulating, antimicrobial and it helps move lymph. Getting a quality tincture is important. I recommend you try to get the angustifolia variety (it should be the whole plant or the root). If you find the purpurea variety, I recommend only using the tincture of fresh (not dried) flowers. A good echinacea tincture needs to give a tingling sensation that lingers on the tongue. You need to take a sufficient dose in acute situations, about 5mls, every 2-3 hours for the first couple of days, then 5 mls, 2-4 times a day. The Natural Dispensary has some available but I can’t comment on the quality.
- Eyebright (Euphrasia off.): this plant is particular helpful if you have a lot of congestion and mucous, especially a bad runny nose. 15-25 drops taken together with the plants above or on its own 2-3 times a day should be sufficient. You can get some here.
- Ginger (Zingiber off): preferably taken as a fresh juice or tea. Ginger helps manage temperature especially as it is rising, helps with nausea and is a powerful anti-viral.
- Propolis: Not formally “herbal” but this wonderful bee resin is a powerful antimicrobial that can also be taken seasonally as a preventative. Buy a good quality tincture form and add a squirt or two of it into your herbal teas, tincture/EO mix, or lemon water in the morning. Ask me about it or get some here.
By the way I don’t receive any financial incentive for promoting the particular brands of supplements or EOs – I’m simply passing on information I research and products I may use.
As always, I’m available for specific questions but an individualised consultation is always best! Be well!