Your Winter Medicine Cabinet

by Tracey Loiterton, Naturopath.


With winter upon us it is often a time when we can succumb to opportunistic illness. It is important time to support and nurture the immune system with essential immune boosting nutrients and plant based medicines. Nurturing yourself with good nutritious food and ensuring to get plenty of rest will also keep your body strong through the winter months. Below are some of key supplements to keep on hand during these colder months. No medicine cabinet should be without them!

Echinacea – This is one of the most widely used herbal therapies. Echinacea profoundly enhances the functioning of the immune system. One of the ways it works is by increasing the production of immune chemicals that activate macrophages. Macrophages are like the ‘pac men’ of the immune system that engulf invading pathogens. Echinacea also exerts a direct anti-viral activity and helps to prevent the spread of sickness throughout the body.

A recent clinical study (2012) has shown that as a result of taking Echinacea (standardized extract) as a prophylactic for a 4 month period not only reduced the total number of cold episodes, but also significantly increased the recovery time of illness. Those taking Echinacea also required less pain-relief than those who weren’t taking the Echinacea, potentially attributed to its anti-inflammatory properties. The report also noted that Echinacea inhibited virally confirmed colds and especially helped to prevent enveloped virus infections. Echinacea showed maximal effects on recurrent infections, and preventive effects increased with therapy compliance and adherence to the protocol.

Andrographis – Andrographis is a herb which has a potent effect on the immune system. It has shown an ability to reduce inflammation (heat) and fight viral infections. In one Chilean study, the herb had a significant drying effect on the nasal passages of cold sufferers who took 1,200 milligrams of andrographis extract daily for five days. A systematic review of several randomized controlled trials also suggested the herb alone may be an appropriate alternative treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infection. If you get a cold or flu, this is the first thing worth reaching for.

Zinc – It is estimated that close to 80% of Australian women and 60% of Australian men have sub-optimal levels of zinc. Zinc plays a vital role in many systems within the body and activates over 200 different enzymatic processors. Zinc is necessary for growth and development and the high rate of proliferation and differentiation of immune cells necessitates a constant supply. A 2009 review explored the role of zinc and immune function, the outcome displayed that even a marginal deficiency may contribute to declining immunity in the elderly population.

A more recent meta-analysis (2012) of randomized controlled trials assessing zinc in the treatment for the common cold found that those given oral zinc formulations had a shorter duration of cold symptoms.

We can easily test for zinc levels at the clinic.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D plays an integral role in the functioning of the immune system and is a very prevalent vitamin deficiency. Patients with low levels of vitamin D have an increased susceptibility to influenza as well as upper and lower respiratory tract infections.  Getting some sun exposure and consuming pastured eggs and butter can offer the body vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements are also available.

Glutamine – This is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. The cells of the immune system and the gastro-intestinal system rely heavily upon it as a fuel source. If bodily stores of glutamine are not adequate it will impair immune function.

Vitamin C – This is a water-soluble vitamin that the body fails to store therefore it is required to be consumed through the diet on a daily basis. Vitamin C favorably enhances the cells of the immune system. Vitamin C is one of the most important water-soluble antioxidants and is a natural anti-histamine. Vitamin C is widely used to both prevent and treat upper respiratory tract infection. Studies have shown that in times of illness the immune system’s requirement for vitamin C is drastically increased.

Other Factors To Consider:

1. Stress Management

Poorly managed stress can have a profound impact upon how the immune system can defend itself against invading pathogens. When we are stressed our body releases a hormone called cortisol, high levels of cortisol can suppress the immune system. Regular exercise can help to minimize the burden of daily stressor and has beneficial effects upon not only the immune system but can also elevate mood and improve general wellbeing.

2. Adequate Rest

Ensuring adequate sleep is also an important part of maintaining good health. A recent sleep study has found that the human body requires a minimum of 8 to 8 1/2 sleep per day for a truly restorative sleep.

3. Diet

When preparing soups and stews and casseroles during winter be sure to add in plenty of chili, onion, shallots, garlic and turmeric to help build the bodies immune defenses.