Infectious Diseases and Your Immune System – Boost Your Immune System and Stay Healthy
Our immune system is essential to our health, and even our existence. If our immune system ceased to exist, or if it failed totally, we would very quickly succumb to a host of microscopic invaders.
While most people are aware of their immune system in a general or abstract way, at times of a generalized contagious disease outbreak, our interest in our self-protection mechanisms become heightened.
When a global pandemic occurs, the interest becomes acute. This is understandable and essential. Those most at risk from viral attacks are those whose immune systems have been compromised. This can be due to a variety of causes and factors, such as age and existing health conditions.
COVID-19 is not the first global pandemic, and it almost certainly won’t be the last. However, in terms of numbers affected, it is the biggest and most impacting in living memory.
Health professionals and notable others have warned for many years that our modern society was ripe for a dangerous or deadly virus to devastate human health. The global nature of our advanced world means that isolating and preventing the spread of any outbreak is very difficult.
Viruses are not the only source of transmissible diseases. This guide explains the differences between viruses and other causes, and explains why treatments have to be specific to each.
You will also learn about previous pandemics that have decimated human health, and most importantly, what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from infection.
Importantly, you will learn how you can recognize if your immune system is not at its best; much of the discussion is on what you can do yourself to boost your immune system.
Differences Between Viral and Bacterial Infections
Bacterial and viral infections are different, but they also have plenty of similarities. Both infections are caused by microbes. Bacterial infections are due to bacteria, and viral infections are due to viruses.
Knowing their differences can help you understand how they are diagnosed and treated.
Bacteria vs. Virus
Bacteria are microorganisms with a single cell, and they can live and thrive in different environments. Some bacteria can dwell in extreme cold or hot temperatures. Not all bacteria, however, are dangerous.
Some species live inside the human body (trillions of them), doing various roles to help the body perform its functions, such as in digesting foods, providing nutrients, and fighting off infections.
Viruses, meanwhile, can’t survive on their own. They are tinier than the smallest bacteria, and they need living hosts for them to thrive and multiply.
The hosts include people, animals, and even plants. What they do is attach to the body’s cells, redirecting the host cell’s functions into reproducing the virus.
Transmission and Symptoms
Bacterial and viral infections have similar ways of transmission. The contagion can happen by coughing and sneezing or having direct contact with an infected person, such as by kissing or having sex.
Transmission can also result from touching contaminated surfaces, ingesting contaminated food and drinks, and in some cases having contact with infected animals, including pets, insects, and livestock.
Bacterial and viral infections also have similar symptoms. These include the following:
These symptoms are an indication that your immune system is hard at work in fighting off the virus or bacteria. Bacterial and viral infections can cause a range of health issues, from mild to moderate to severe. Some can lead to serious health complications that are ultimately fatal.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Given the similarities of their symptoms, sometimes it can be hard to distinguish viral and bacterial infections from each other. It is best to consult your doctor if you are ill, and they will be able to determine whether it is due to bacteria or a virus.
They may perform specific tests, such as blood or urine tests, or a tissue culture test to validate their diagnosis. Due to their very different physiology, bacterial and viral infections are treated differently.
Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, which will not work on viral infections. Antibiotics are one of the greatest advancements and innovations in the medical field.
However, overuse or improper use of antibiotics can make bacteria resistant to them at some point. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 2.8 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections in the US every year, and over 35,000 of them die.
The most common bacterial infections include the following:
Viral infections are treated with vaccines. Another huge breakthrough in the medical field, vaccines have prevented many diseases that could otherwise kill or maim millions of people. There are also antiviral medications, but some of these can allow some microbes to become resistant to drugs.
In 2016, about 4.1 million emergency patients were diagnosed with viral infections, and nearly half a million of them were hospitalized, data from the CDC showed.
Some of the most common viral infections are below:
Aside from antibiotics and antiviral medications, you can do a few things to manage the symptoms of both bacterial and viral infections. These include eating soups and drinking warm fluids, taking paracetamol when you’re uncomfortable or have a fever, getting plenty of rest, drinking more water, and taking vitamins and dietary supplements.
As always, prevention is better than cure, and we can’t emphasize that enough. Here are some ways you can help prevent contracting a bacterial or viral infection.
Both bacterial and viral infections can cause mild to severe symptoms. They also spread in various ways, which you can help to manage through good hygiene, getting vaccinated, and staying home to recover.
If symptoms are severe, consulting your doctor is necessary to get a proper diagnosis because treatments for bacterial infections will not work on viral infections and vice versa.
R0 (R-Naught) - Understanding the Rate of Spread
There are many contagious infections and diseases that can spread quickly. How infectious, or the rate of contagion of a transmissible disease is what determines whether or not the disease is an epidemic.
To map the rate of spread, there is an equation used called the R-naught.
As of writing this article, there is a highly contagious virus that is spreading around the world. This new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is bringing the best and the worst out in mankind.
Since starting as an outbreak in December 2019, this virus has infected millions of people around the world, claiming the lives of many people as a result.
Now, you might be wondering, how did it spread so fast? We may not have the answer, but one way to understand the rate of spread is by looking at R0, or R-naught.
What is R0?
R0 is a basic reproduction number, which essentially tries to estimate the average number of people who could get the disease from one infected person. That is in an idealized setting, which is a susceptible community where no one has been vaccinated yet.
For reference, measles has an R0 of 18, which means that for every one person with measles, 18 other persons will likely contract the measles virus.
How Do You Make Sense of The R0 Value?
R-naught can be computed as being the number of new cases divided by the number of existing cases. Experts believe that if the R0 value is less than one, the infection will eventually peter out. However, if it is 1 or more, the virus will continue to spread.
R0, however, may change from time to time. In the case of COVID-19, the average R0 ranges from 1.5 to as high as 5.5. The huge difference is understandable given that we don’t know much about the virus yet, much less have a cure for it.
Our understanding keeps on changing as new data regarding the disease comes to hand.
The factors used in calculating R-naught include the following:
Some infections have shorter contagious periods than others. The longer the contagious period is, the higher the chances of spreading. Consequently, it will result in a higher R0 value.
When the contact rate is high, the R0 is also high. When an infected person gets in contact with a large number of people, the disease will spread further. But if they are isolated, either staying at home or at the hospital, then the spread will be minimized.
Also, there are different ways an infection can be transmitted. Some pathogens can be spread through direct contact with blood, saliva, or bodily fluids. Some are airborne. Airborne infections are more contagious, so this mode contributes to a higher R0 value.
Benefits and Limitations
Even though experts may find R-naught a useful tool in understanding the rate of spread of an infectious disease, there are downsides to using this reproduction number. For one, it can cause panic to the public.
R0 is an average estimation of the potential of a virus or disease to spread. However, many people think that a high R0 means that the disease is going to become a pandemic. That is not always the case, and there is no certainty as to what the future of pathogen would be by solely using R0.
However, R0 helps enable health workers to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. For instance, a super-spreader can infect hundreds of people, which would be a disaster. Knowing that a given disease has a high R0 means that health care providers will be able to proactively set up control measures.
Then, as more people get screened or treated, and experts discover effective protection and treatment, the R0 value will become lower, ideally zero or at least below 1.
What You Can Do to Help Stop the Spread
Contagious diseases will almost certainly always be a part of the human condition, although medicine advancement continues. That said, there are actions you can take to help prevent the spread of pathogens, whether they are new (novel) or not.
The most basic step is to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you eat or prepare foods after you use a public facility or a toilet, and when you come home.
Staying up to date with your vaccinations is also essential to protect yourself. Talk to your doctor about which ones you should get.
When new diseases come out, such as COVID-19, it is important to understand how the infection can be transmitted. That way, you can take the necessary steps to avoid it becoming infected.
This is a trying time for individuals and organizations at every level, and no one should be complacent about any virus. Don’t take your health for granted!
Why is Social Distancing so Important?
Social distancing is a big buzzword due to the coronavirus outbreak. It is one of the strategies employed to help prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19.
What is social distancing, exactly, and why is it so essential?
Social Distancing and Its Importance
The COVID-19 contagion has been going around the globe, with many countries going into lockdown and community quarantine. The need for social distancing is emphasized.
Social distancing means limiting your proximity to other people. Different regulating authorities have different determinations of specific distances and behaviors that they consider constitutes social distancing.
A common recommendation is a minimum of six feet to other people. Why six feet? Because the bulk of the trajectory of a cough or sneeze droplets is often within three feet. The new coronavirus can be transmitted through those droplets, as well as by touching contaminated surfaces.
Other aspects of social distancing include staying at home. That means that work in the office is suspended, and schools are closed. Where possible, you can work from home, and your classes can be done online.
Mass gatherings, such as sports events, parties, religious gatherings, and even weddings and funerals, are also prohibited or have attendee limits in a bid to reinforce the social distancing measures.
Another aspect is self-quarantining, when you are unsure whether you may have had contact with an infected person. This is especially important when you are feeling sick. It means self-isolating for 14 days, which is when the symptoms should show up if you are positive with the COVID-19 causing virus.
Self-quarantine requires that there be no direct contact with other people, no visitors, and no sharing of physical goods that may act as a vector for the virus. You also need to ensure that you practice proper hygiene, especially washing your hands with soap and water, and not touching your face.
Experts say that strict compliance with social distancing will dramatically slow down the rate of transmission of the coronavirus. Doing so will help ease the burden on all those at the frontlines, especially the health workers.
Prevention is currently our best weapon against the spread of COVID-19, given that we don’t know yet of a safe and effective medicine or a vaccine.
How To Follow The Rules Of Social Distancing
Keeping a safe distance from other people is easier said than done. Not because you don’t really want to keep away from them, but sometimes, it is necessary to get close to others so that you can meet your basic needs, such as grocery shopping and buying medicines. Here are some tips on how you can follow the rules of social distancing:
Even if you are healthy and you don’t suspect that you are infected, just stay at home. That’s one of the best things you can do right now as a member of your community.
Just by staying home, you can help stop the spread and even save a life – perhaps your own or a loved one. Aside from protecting yourself, you are also being socially responsible.
If you do need to go out to get your basic needs, how do you protect yourself and others? Efficient and regular hand-washing. Wash your hands before you go out so that you don’t spread any virus to others. Then, after doing your tasks outside and coming home, wash your hands again to protect yourself.
Understandably, staying at home can be very distressing for some people, especially if you are a sociable person. You might not be able to stay inside your room for even just a whole day without losing some of your sanity. We all know that being socially isolated can have an adverse effect on your mental health.
Try to figure out how you can practice self-care, and give yourself some sense of normalcy. If that means going out for a bit of a walk or run, choose the best time when there are few others on the streets. Better yet, do your workout in your backyard.
If you miss your friends and your family, there are many ways to connect with them these days. You can text or chat, call them, and do video calls. When you meet your mental health needs, it’s easier to follow the social distancing rules.
It is a critical time for many people around the world. Social distancing is our best bet at the moment, so do your part to support it. By staying at home, practicing proper hygiene, and self-isolating yourself when the need arises, you are not only protecting yourself but your loved ones and greater community also.
The Worst Pandemics in History
The world remains full of wonders, and there are many natural phenomena that are beyond what humankind can comprehend. As the planet changes over time, the organisms living in it also evolve. Unfortunately, viruses and bacteria also transform and mutate and continue to cause infectious diseases.
In fact, they have been a constant companion of every generation for as long as history has ever recorded. Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic today, you might be wondering how it compares to the previous pandemics our world has seen so far.
Pandemics and Epidemics
Before we look into the biggest and worst pandemics in history, what is a pandemic anyway, and how is it different from an epidemic? These are two terms you hear the most on the news these days, and often, they are mistaken for one another. Epidemic pertains to the event in which an infectious disease is actively spreading.
It is a term that describes a problem that has gone out of control. A pandemic refers to an infectious disease that is currently affecting a whole country or the whole planet. In short, it is the term for the wider geographical spread of an epidemic. Now, let’s take a look at the five biggest pandemics in history.
HIV/AIDS (1981 to present)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was first reported in 1981. It was caused by a virus that came from chimpanzees. Since then, HIV/AIDS has infected 75 million people and killed at least 32 million people worldwide. In 2018, it is estimated that 37.9 million people are still living with HIV/AIDS across the globe.
Plague of Justinian (541–542 AD)
The Plague of Justinian occurred in the 6th century and killed at least 30 million people across Asia, Europe, North Africa, and Arabia. The disease was due to the Yersinia pestis bacteria from rodents whose infected fleas carried the infection to humans. Many believe that this disease was what contributed greatly to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Spanish Flu (1918–1919)
The Spanish Flu is the worst influenza and the deadliest pandemic in recent history, which spread from 1918 to 1919 and killed about 50 million of the world population.
The infection came from the H1N1 virus from pigs, which was novel at that time, just like COVID-19 is today. With no vaccine to kill the virus, the control was mostly isolation, quarantine, social distancing, disinfecting, and good personal hygiene. However, these measures were applied unevenly, so the infections still spread uncontrollably.
Smallpox had been around since the third century, originating from Egypt. In 1520, however, the variola major virus started to spread. It killed 56 million Native Americans in the 16th-17th centuries, which was about 90 percent of their population. Smallpox was widespread in Europe, and in the 1800s, the disease killed around 400,000 people each year.
Smallpox claimed up to 300 million lives throughout its existence of 12,000 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a smallpox eradication campaign across the world in 1959. Finally, in 1980, smallpox was eradicated—the first virus to be eliminated completely to date.
Black Death (1347–1351)
Black Death or Bubonic plague is the worst pandemic in history, which occurred between 1347 and 1351. It claimed the lives of around 200 million people.
The infection came from rodents – the Yersinia pestis bacteria - which spread to humans through infected fleas. It was the same virus that caused the Justinian Plague but a different strain. The virus may have existed in Europe since 3000 B.C., but spread to other continents through trading ships. The outbreak in the 1340s slashed Europe’s population by up to 50%.
Some of the viruses that caused the pandemics in the past may still be out there. Most of them are preventable, thanks to the vaccines that our scientists have developed to kill the virus and stop any outbreak. Improvements in the healthcare industry, including robust response measures, are also of great help in reducing the impact of an outbreak.
However, the risk of re-emergence is still there, so if we are not careful, we may see another outbreak. Or just like what we are going through right now, a new pandemic can break out.
How to Protect Yourself from Viruses
Germs are everywhere. They are tiny creatures that are invisible to the naked eye. They live in your food, water, animals, and plants, and they are in the air. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid them. Fortunately, most of them are not harmful—you even have trillions of beneficial bacteria in your stomach!
What protects you against harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses is our immune system. Some viruses, however, bring illnesses and can be deadly. Many of them can mutate to continue to breach your natural defenses. Can you do anything about it?
Here are some ways you can protect yourself from viruses (and other infections).
Do you know that you touch your face thousands of times every day? In between that, you touch various other things, from doorknobs to your mobile phones to foods. You get the idea - your hands are pretty much the carrier of viruses lurking around.
So, to protect yourself, meticulous hand-washing is necessary. Wash your hands before you handle foods and eat, after you used the bathroom, and when you’ve been out in public areas. Also, avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
When someone around you is sick, respectfully keep your distance. Airborne droplets from their cough or sneeze can make you sick as well. Also, try to avoid crowded places and large public areas. If you’re the one who’s sick, it is best to stay at home and get better. That way, you can stop the spread of the virus, and you also give yourself some rest to assist your recovery.
Many viruses can’t live outside the body of a living host for too long. However, some of them can remain alive on any surface, and how long for depends on the type of material.
The coronavirus, for example, can survive on surfaces for nine days. To protect yourself, you must clean potentially contaminated surfaces at home and in your workplace. Disinfect doorknobs, glass doors, and other surfaces that are frequently touched by many people.
Some illnesses can run their course, and you heal without medicines. However, others need proper medications to help your body fight off the infection. Because of that, it is necessary to consult your doctor when you are feeling unwell, and you suspect that you have an infection.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose the type of infection that you have and prescribe the right medicines. Remember, antibiotics will not work on viral infections, and antiviral drugs won’t be effective against bacterial infections. Taking inappropriate medicines can aggravate your condition.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, your immune system is what keeps you safe against viruses, germs, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens. Hence, it is crucial to have a healthy immune system.
Otherwise, viruses could easily penetrate your system and wreak havoc on your health. To boost your immune system, you must practice good health habits. These include eating foods that are high in essential nutrients, getting plenty of sleep so your body can heal itself, managing your stress levels, and being physically active.
Scientists have developed vaccines against many viral infections that occurred in the past. Many vaccines are given when you are young, but as an adult, you may still need some routine vaccinations or booster shots. Talk to your doctor about the vaccines that you need.
Some infections are highly contagious, and yet many people take them for granted. That’s partly why the coronavirus has become a pandemic. Many people have ignored advisories from experts and authorities, thinking that the virus will not affect them and simply go away. The statistics prove them wrong.
Do your part by practicing social distancing, self-isolating, and following the guidance of the authorities when they implement measures such as community quarantine. Viruses, germs, bacteria, and other microorganisms are a permanent part of our environment.
Unfortunately, they can mutate and continue to infect people. As one doctor has said, health workers are not the real frontliners in “health warfare.” Instead, they are the last line of defense. YOU are the real frontliner. If you do your part to protect yourself from viruses, you are also helping to reduce their spread. Follow the tips above and stay healthy!
Signs You Have a Weakened Immune System
Your immune system plays a vital role in keeping infections and illnesses under control. Every day, you are exposed to germs, bacteria, bugs, and various pathogens from other people, pets, or the environment.
With a strong immune system, you will less easily be infected by a virus or bacteria, or to succumb to a serious or chronic disease.
Due to unhealthy habits, poor lifestyle, and external factors, you might sometimes find your immune system compromised. Lack of sleep, smoking, drinking alcohol, and over-exercising can also weaken your immunity.
How do you know when you have a weakened immune system? Here are the common signs:
It’s normal to catch a cold about three times a year, especially during the cold season. Your body will produce antibodies in three to four days, and you can expect the cold to last for a week, even 10 days.
However, if you catch a cold quite often, and it persists, then your immune system is clearly struggling.
When you experience an emotional rollercoaster or you are put under too much pressure at work or at home, you are likely to experience stress. When you are stressed, your body produces less white blood cells, which fight off infections. When you are often ill, your body is subject to more stress, so the cycle worsens.
Another sign of a weakened immune system is constantly feeling fatigued and tired. That’s because your energy is being diverted to essential maintenance and repair. So, if you’re getting enough sleep, yet you still feel exhausted, you might have to check other factors that could be contributing to weakened immunity.
Around three-quarters of your immunity is based on your gut health, where millions of microbes thrive and help fight off infections. When your immune system is weak, you’ll notice frequent digestive problems. You may have a frequent upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, constipation, etc.
Your skin is your primary physical defense system against outside factors, keeping the germs and bacteria away. When you have a weak immune system, you’ll often notice a rash that just won’t go away easily. You may also experience dry, itchy, and red skin, which are signs of inflammation.
If you tend to suffer from infections multiple times a year, your immune system is most likely weak. You may have urinary tract infections, gingivitis, ear infections, or chronic sinusitis. Some infections may require antibiotics, and if you need them more than twice a year, that means your body cannot fight infections alone.
When you get a wound, your immune system goes hard to work to repair the damaged and infected cells. A small scrape or cut may close immediately after a few hours and heal in no time.
However, if it feels like your wound is taking forever to heal, then your immune system is most likely weak.
How Do You Ensure A Robust Immune System?
Knowing the signs of a weakened immune system is crucial so that you can take the necessary steps to bring it to a healthy level once again. You can take vitamins and dietary supplements to get the nutrients that your body is deficient in, including prebiotics and probiotics.
These will help boost your immune response.
Prevention is better than cure, and there are steps you can take to keep your immune system healthy.
Get enough sleep – your body needs time to rest and repair on a cellular level, which happens when you sleep; lack of sleep can impact the production of white blood cells.
Exercise regularly – exercise strengthens the body and stimulates the release of endorphins, which reduces stress levels, Remember not to overdo it, though, as too much exercise can weaken your immunity, as in when the body needs more effort to repair muscles than it is capable of at the time.
Eat a balanced diet – while you can take supplements, the best way to get the vitamins and minerals that your body needs is by eating healthy foods. Stick to whole foods and strenuously avoid sugary and processed foods and drinks.
Vaccinations – vaccines can help protect you from various viruses and bacteria, which could otherwise be dangerous or even deadly.
Having a healthy immune system is crucial to your well-being. Be self-aware and monitor yourself for any signs of a weak system. Address them immediately to prevent a worse condition.
The immune system is what keeps you protected from infection and illnesses, as best it can. It is a network of cells and proteins that help protect the body from harmful microbes.
You know when your immune system is hard at work when you notice a swollen lymph node, which means that it is fighting off infections. When you have a weak immune system, you are more prone to sickness.
Do you often catch a cold or a cough? Or flu?
There are different ways to boost your immune system. These include getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, regularly exercising, and more. Even with a healthy lifestyle, you may still sometimes feel under the weather, and before you know it, you’re running a fever or nursing a stuffy nose and headache.
One of the quick remedies that your parents or carers might have given you when you were a child is chicken soup. As it turns out, there is a scientific basis for soups in boosting the immune system.
You might want to incorporate hearty soups into your diet, not only to make you feel a lot better when you are sick but also to boost your immune system all year-round.
Here are some soups you should give a try:
Let’s begin with the classic chicken soup. This soup is great when you have a cold. The warm broth soothes the symptoms, clearing up your stuffy nose by thinning the mucus.
Chicken soup is also hydrating, which is essential when you are sick. The added carrots, onions, and other herbs will give you the needed nutrients as well.
Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A, antioxidants like glutathione, and Vitamin C, which are all good for the immune system. This soup also has garlic, turmeric, and ginger, which have antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Aside from relieving the symptoms when you have flu, sweet potato soup can also aid in digestion and keeping the gut healthy, which helps boost the immune system.
Carrot and ginger soup is a staple for many households, especially when virus season comes around. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants, which are excellent in increasing the immune system’s production of T-cells that fight infection.
Meanwhile, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and is also great in relieving nausea and vomiting.
Who wouldn’t fall in love with mushroom soup? Mushrooms have antioxidant and antiviral properties, which makes them an excellent ingredient in soups. Mushrooms are also a good source of selenium and vitamin D.
There are different recipes you can follow to make mushroom soup, depending on whether you want it creamy or as a broth with herbs.
If you’re a vegetarian, loading up your soup with vegetables is a no-brainer. You can use carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and yam, plus ginger, turmeric, and onions and leeks.
Now that’s one homemade soup packed with Vitamin A, C, K, D, B6, and other antioxidants.
If you want to give your classic chicken soup a nice twist, you can go for a Vietnamese Pho. It is an easy-to-make traditional Vietnamese street food made of bone broth with spices and herbs that can naturally boost your immune system.
It is a warm and hearty soup which helps you feel better and recover more quickly.
Soups don’t have to be limited to vegetables and chicken. You can also enjoy some beef by eating South American beef and pepper soup, which is rich in iron and zinc.
These will boost your immune system and help you heal faster from cold or flu.
Egg drop soup is a good alternative to chicken soup, especially because it’s quick to make, which is ideal when you’re feeling lethargic when you’re sick.
This warm and hearty soup originated from China and is packed with anti-inflammatory properties.
It Doesn’t have to be Boring
There’s a good reason chicken soups have been a staple at homes when anyone is sick. But you don’t have to bore yourself with only chicken soups.
Try out the other soups above, which are great for boosting your immunity, whether you are sick or not. You can serve them as an appetizer before the main course, or you can simply have them as a snack.
Does Echinacea Help Boost the Immune System?
The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is currently wreaking havoc all over the world. With no cure developed yet, taking care of yourself seems to be one of the few things that you can do to reduce the impact of infection.
The virus has put the elderly and those with immunocompromised systems at greater risk of complications from infection and even death. That highlights the fact that you need to have a strong immune system to better fight the disease.
As the search for a cure goes on, some people are looking into echinacea, a popular Native American herb with medicinal properties. Can it help boost your immune system and fight respiratory infections?
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a herb that is native to eastern and central North America but is also cultivated in the western part of the States, in Canada, and in Europe.
Echinacea comes from the daisy family and has 10 species called coneflowers. It has tall stems and pink or purple flowers with a cone in the center.
Echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown in laboratory simulations that it can stimulate the body’s immune system. It also has active chemicals that can help prevent an overgrowth of yeast and fungi.
These include alkylamides or alkamides, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and caffeic acid derivatives.
Uses of Echinacea
Echinacea is believed to have been widely used by the American Indians 400 years ago as a treatment for the common cold and other infections, even as a “cure-all.” Its use started to decline in the 18th century following the introduction of antibiotics, but in the 20th century, it gained more traction in Europe.
These days, many people still use echinacea to improve the symptoms of common cold, flu, cough, sore throat, and fever. Many echinacea products can be bought. These come in different forms, such as tea, tablets, or juices.
Aside from common colds, echinacea is used to assist in treating many other illnesses, although there is insufficient scientific proof of its effectiveness.
These conditions include:
Is It Effective?
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, echinacea herbal remedies are still widely used. It appears to be generally safe to consume in the short term and has shown mild protection against upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). In Germany, the use of echinacea is approved for colds, flu-like symptoms, URTI, slow-healing wounds, and urinary tract infections (UTI).
However, echinacea also has potential side effects, which include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, dizziness, dry eyes, and allergic reactions. It can also worsen autoimmune disorders, so if you are suffering from any, don’t take echinacea without medical approval.
Other people who should not take echinacea herbs include those who have the following:
Echinacea may also have an interaction with other medicines, so it is best to talk with your doctor first beforehand. Doing so will ensure that there will be no adverse effects when the herbal treatment is taken with other drugs.
Can Echinacea Treat Coronavirus?
The short answer is no, echinacea won’t treat coronavirus and its complications. Some experts state that rather than being a treatment for common colds and flu, echinacea is best to use as a preventive measure. So, while it can’t treat COVID-19, consuming echinacea may still be able to help boost your natural defense system.
In the meantime, focus on these three habits to protect yourself against infections, especially at this time of a pandemic:
- 1Wash your hands with soap and water to remove germs, bacteria, and viruses
- 2Get enough quality sleep to help your body health and boost your immune system
- 3Quit smoking cigarettes to reduce your risks of suffering more severe complications
Check With Your Doctor
Echinacea has been used for hundreds of years, and those who have incorporated it into their prevention and treatment regime have reasons to believe its effectiveness. As there is a lack of conclusive scientific evidence that would prove the claims, it is best to take precautions and not assumptions.
Consult your doctor first and choose high-quality echinacea products, especially tincture. Herbal medicines come with some risks, just like almost any other treatment. Ultimately, what will boost your immune system are healthy habits, such as eating good foods, quality sleep, and lifestyle improvements.
What Supplements Help Boost the Immune System?
As you might have realized, having a strong immune system can help save you from a deadly virus, such as the coronavirus that is spreading across the globe right now.
At times like this, people think about how they can boost their immune system. You are probably looking at the available supplements in the market.
Let’s take a look at some of the best supplements that can help strengthen your immune system.
Elderberry is a medicinal plant that has long been used to treat various infections, including common colds. It has antiviral and antibacterial properties that can protect your upper respiratory system against infections.
It can also boost your immune response, so you recover more quickly from an illness. Elderberry supplements typically come in capsule or syrup forms.
Let’s not go too from one of the most basic ingredients in our kitchen. Garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties, which is effective in treating infections.
Studies have shown that garlic can also stimulate white blood cells, which are an essential component of the immune system. Today, you can take garlic supplements in the form of a capsule or tablet.
Zinc is an essential mineral for the immune system, aiding in the development of immune cells and playing an important role in the inflammatory response. Zinc has been found effective in treating respiratory infections, particularly common colds, and in helping those who are already sick recover faster.
Zinc is commonly added to supplements and other healthcare products. This is very beneficial, simply because most adults have a zinc deficiency.
Another vitamin block that many adults are deficient in is B complex.
B vitamins, particularly B12 and B6, play a crucial role in immune response, so lacking them can compromise your immune system. Vitamin B6 is essential for biochemical reactions, while B1 (thiamin) helps organs grow and stay healthy.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) breaks down fats, while B3 (niacin) fosters healthy digestion. You can find B complex dietary supplements readily in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Traditional and alternative medical treatments are still around today for a reason. One supplement that has been used since ancient times are medicinal mushrooms, with hundreds of species found to have medicinal properties.
Medicinal mushrooms have properties that can boost the immune system, which is why they have been used to prevent and treat various respiratory illnesses.
These include asthma and tuberculosis. Medicinal mushrooms have been able to reduce bacterial load and inflammation in the lungs, according to a study on tuberculosis.
Of course, let us not forget the vitamin that is almost synonymous with the term “immunity”—vitamin C. It is the most popular vitamin when it comes to strengthening the immune system, given its ability to support the functions of immune cells.
Vitamin C helps protect cells from oxidative stress and clear out old cells to be replaced with new ones. Vitamin C is abundant in many foods, but you can find supplements in the supermarket, in the form of tablets, capsules, or syrups.
Are supplements effective?
While studies have established the effectiveness of various vitamins and supplements in boosting the immune system, some experts still argue that supplements may be doing little to the body.
This can be true to some extent, especially when you are already healthy. Vitamins and supplements will be more beneficial for those who are malnourished or sick, or suffering from a deficiency for some other reason.
Some argue that the best way to get vitamins and minerals that can boost your immune system is through foods, especially fruits and vegetables that are known to be great sources of them. In an ideal world, this would be the ideal solution. However, deficiencies do exist for a number of reasons.
Also, you may have to eat large amounts before you get the needed daily amount, especially when the immune system is compromised or under attack. When their immune system is working hard, many people choose to take vitamins and supplements to meet their needs.
Supplements Are One Part of the Puzzle
There are various supplements that are available claiming to have the ability to boost your immunity. If you are taking them, read the label and choose the right product, one with high-quality ingredients.
If you have certain health conditions, it is always best to talk to your doctor first because some supplements may have a negative interaction with your medications.
Having a strong immune system requires action on many fronts, it is not as simple as taking a vitamin supplement. What will keep your immune system in its best shape is also dependent on your daily habits and lifestyle practices. Eat healthily, wash your hands, exercise, and get enough sleep.
How Can You Boost Your Immune System Quickly?
It is unpleasant when we are sick. It prevents you from doing many things, from your daily routine to the things you love the most. You probably know the simple solution - stay healthy.
Of course, that is much easier said than done. You may know the things you should do to have a healthy body and a strong immune system, but it’s so easy to forget them. That’s especially true when you are busy with work and other responsibilities.
Paradoxically, when you’re almost always all over the place is when you most need to have a strong immune system. Otherwise, you’ll come down with a bad cold (or something worse) before you realize it.
So, before you reach that point, it is best to be mindful of your health and to nourish your immune system.
Why is Having A Robust Immune System So Important?
Every day, you are exposed to many adverse environmental elements, especially when you often go outside. When you commute, you are side by side with many people and pollutants.
Your immune system is what protects you from disease-causing microorganisms out there. It recognizes them as foreign objects that shouldn’t be in your body and fights them to keep you safe.
What To Do To Boost Your Immune System As Quickly As Possible
There are times, however, that viruses, bacteria, and germs can get into your body successfully. Frequent colds, fatigue, upset stomach, persistent infections—these are some of the signs that you have a weak immune system.
Simply put, your immune system can become both depleted and overwhelmed by constant attacks. So, you must act fast to restore it to a healthy state. Unfortunately, most things take time, including boosting your immune system. So it is important to be proactive all the time.
Here’s what you can do to make sure you keep your immune system is ready to respond promptly and effectively when required.
Eating a balanced diet of whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will help ensure that you get the nutrients that your body needs.
Pay extra attention to foods that are rich in immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals such as zinc, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin B-complex. Avoid junk foods, particularly those that are high in sugar and artificial flavors.
Water does many essential things for your body, so it is important to keep yourself hydrated properly. Water helps your systems to function by carrying oxygen to your cells. It also flushes toxins from your body. Drinking more water when you are sick is even more essential when your immune system is hard at work fighting off any infection.
Next to water, we can’t emphasize enough why having a quality sleep is important. Your body works hard during the day, so it needs time to repair at night. When you sleep, your body heals the cells, organs, and muscles. It is also when chemicals that support your immune functions get circulated throughout your system.
Smoking can weaken your immune system, given the toxins it brings. When your defense system is compromised, your body is more prone to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that can lead to sicknesses.
When you drink too much alcohol, it weakens your immune system. Because your body is intoxicated, your immune system is busy trying to detoxify it, so other regular immune responses are compromised. When that happens, you are more prone to illnesses, and it takes longer for you to recover.
Exercise not only makes you physically stronger, but it can also help boost your immune system.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which reduce stress levels. Physical activities enable your body to be more vital so that it can rapidly distribute immune cells where they are most needed.
Your body needs adequate nutrients to support various functions, especially the immune system. While it is important to get them by eating fresh foods, sometimes they are not enough, or not readily available. Taking supplements can help you supply your body with the vitamins and minerals that it is lacking.
Some situations trigger your body to produce cortisol, a stress hormone, which allows you to respond accordingly. However, chronic stress can lead to persistent levels of cortisol, which prevents your immune system from doing its job.
Keeping your stress levels at a minimum, or learning techniques to reduce your stress response is a must so that your immune system will not be compromised.
These tips sound simple, but admittedly, they are so easy to overlook or be given a low priority. If you’re feeling stressed, always tired, and often get sick, it’s essential to start paying attention to keeping your immune system healthy.
As you have read, infectious diseases are an almost unavoidable part of the human condition. Microbes, including viruses, bacteria and fungi, have an innate determination to replicate themselves, and sometimes we are the vector of choice.
That doesn’t mean we should readily allow it to happen! In the interest of the health and safety of ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and humanity as a whole, we should do what we can to limit the spread of disease.
Natural immunity is a great thing, and so-called ‘herd immunity’ may be part of a long-term solution. However, in the case of novel or new virus outbreaks, the risks are many and not fully known, and medical treatment can be limited in both knowledge and availability.
In dealing with a health crisis such as a pandemic at the personal level, there is no one silver bullet solution.
What is important is to prioritize the factors that will have the greatest impact and effect in terms of both avoiding the contagion, and then getting through it if you do.
Exercising ‘best practice’ in our health care is essential for the protection of ourselves, our loved ones, and the greater community.
Don’t disregard any of the health advice given by experts. Any area of neglect increases the risk of succumbing to infection, or being more profoundly affected by it.
There are many things we can do as individuals to lessen our risk of both transmission and consequence, but it is in everyone’s best interest to not neglect our built-in last line of defense – our immune system.