The pandemic provokes me to emphasize my favorite “P” word – PREVENTION.
A preventative approach to health has always been a guiding principle in my herbal practice, it simply makes good sense. Disease prevention is an important part of my lifestyle and practice.
For many years I focused my prevention efforts on cancer prevention by joining the board of Prevent Cancer Now (PCN) – a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to primary prevention (http://www.preventcancernow.ca/). During that time, I also designed and co-organized the Cancer Prevention Series, an eight-week program that drew together health professionals and other experts from our community to share their approach to cancer prevention. The series ran annually for six years, made free to the public through fundraising.
Both of these experiences highlighted for me the empowerment and sense of purpose that comes through a preventative lifestyle. Also, that the best outcomes are based on a holistic, multi-factorial approach to health.
Prevention is an interesting concept – with cancer, early detection, with the use of medical technology i.e., mammograms, stool samples, pap tests, PSA tests, is considered as prevention by some, versus primary prevention, as per PCN, which is not getting the illness in the first place. As for Covid19, we are all familiar with public health guidelines to wear a mask, wash hands and keep a physical distance to help prevent the spread of the virus; these measures undoubtably help reduce exposure, but they don’t prevent individuals from becoming sick with infection if they are in contact with the virus. What has largely been missing in the mainstream fight against Covid19 is guidance on how to be healthy and support (and not hinder) our immune health.
I recently watched a video by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D in which he stated that “60% of Americans have one chronic disease and 40% have two chronic diseases.” In Canada, 43.7% reported having at least one of the top ten chronic diseases in 2017 (see references for more detail). When our immune system is bearing the burden of distraction by chronic degenerative disease, it is not available in its full capacity to deal with exposure to an infective organism. In my view, the big opportunity with this pandemic is to shift our attention on a mass scale to cultivating good health, free from chronic degenerative disease, which has always been the focus of herbalism and other holistic health professions. As I see it, this strategy would improve general health and wellbeing in our communities, generate greater resilience, against flu and other infectious diseases and reduce the burden on our health care system.
My year-long herbal program, which has had over twenty runs here in the Maritimes, condenses holistic principles into a living format, with the goal of living healthfully with resilience against chronic disease. I would like to highlight a few of these principles, and a selection of herbs, that I have been emphasizing during the pandemic. This is by no means a comprehensive plan for Covid prevention, instead I offer the basics with the hope that you are inspired to formulate a plan for cultivating your own best health. If you want to dive deeper into a herbal and nature based approach to health, I encourage you to join me in September for the next round of my year-long herbal program.
Diet and Nutrition for Disease Prevention
Quite simply, eating a variety of fresh, whole foods provides the foundation for good health.This excludes refined sugars, processed foods and synthetic chemical additives.
There is general agreement among health experts on key nutrients that enhance immune health and our ability to prevent and treat the flu; they happen to be the same nutrients I emphasized during the Cancer Prevention Series. They are the primary anti-oxidants – zinc, selenium, vitamins A, C and E. Other notables are quercetin and vitamin D.
Any research into these nutrients will reveal that they don’t work in isolation; they require co-factors such as other vitamins, minerals or enzymes to activate or facilitate their use by our immune systems. Popular wisdom says that for iron absorption we need vitamin C, and for vitamin C absorption we need bioflavonoids, and the bioflavonoid quercetin is needed for the proper utilization of zinc. Often these nutrients are combined in nutritional supplements, and although supplements are of value, it is important that they be taken within the context of a whole food diet, emphasizing variety, in order to obtain the broad range of nutrients needed to best serve the immune system.
Soups and smoothies are my easiest ways to obtain nutritional variety because I can pack each with many different ingredients. The soup pot and blender are my best kitchen tools.
With the colder weather I am naturally drawn to eating more soup. For each soup recipe I use a bone and vegetable broth as a base along with immune supporting herbs and mushrooms. My current favorites are shiitake, reishi and enoki mushrooms, astragalus, thyme, rosemary, bay, ginger and raw garlic as a garnish. I aim for 5-7 servings of soup per week, ideally one bowl a day.
I am not attracted to fruit and cold food in the winter; smoothies make it easier for me to overcome this aversion, and I add hot water to remove the chill. I include several “superfood” powders known to support immune function; spirulina, rosehip and alfalfa.
Immune Power Smoothie for Disease Prevention
- 1 banana
- ¼ cup frozen blueberries (or mixed berries)
- ½ avocado
- ¼ cup cranberry juice
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp cod liver oil (yes, the flavour is hidden by the other ingredients)
- 1 tsp spirulina powder
- 1 tsp alfalfa powder
- 1 tsp rosehip powder
Combine all ingredients in the blender until smooth. Makes 2 cups.
Herbs for Disease Prevention
I appreciate herbs because, like plant foods, many can be used daily to help form the foundation for good health. Since the pandemic started, I have been including the following herbs on a regular basis. You can access more information on these herbs by downloading my Cold Kicking Tool Kit.
Astragalus – I wrap the chopped root in a muslin sachet and boil it along with marrow bones and mushrooms when making broth, then remove it when the broth is complete. I also make a decoction along with the other herbs mentioned below. I include the tincture of astragalus in my winter tincture blend.
Citrus peel – When I purchase organic oranges and lemons, I keep the peel and air dry them in a basket by the wood stove or in the dehydrator. I add them to tea blends.
Garlic – 1 clove raw, crushed, daily, as a garnish for just about any meal
Ginger – fresh or dry in tea blends, powder added to porridge
Eleuthero, withania – adaptogenic herbs that help reduce the burden of stress, as teas and tinctures
My personal experience, plus 22 years of clinical experience confirms that stress suppresses the immune system. Rest, good sleep, exercise, nature, laughter, human connections and adaptogenic herbs have been my resources for relieving stress during the pandemic.
What are yours?