We all want to live better and be "healthy". But how often do you think about what that actually means? For some it's about eating more vegetables, doing more exercise, getting more sleep, cutting down on alcohol, or avoiding certain foods.
All of those things are reasonable steps because your body is a living thing with moving parts, internal systems that need maintaining, and a series of interconnected organs that operate in harmony to keep you feeling your best.
The immune system is probably the best example of this delicate balancing act. It's made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together to fight off external invaders. When it's operating at peak performance, you probably don't notice it much.
In this guide we're going to take a closer look at the immune system and learn about the different ways we can maintain its performance and support its constituent parts.
We're going to take a look at the following questions:
- How can you support your immune system and combat common COVID19 symptoms?
- Which natural products can ease congestion?
- Are natural cough syrups effective?
- Which herbs can be taken to combat a fever?
- Which natural products soothe headaches?
- Can you take natural supplements to maintain strong immunity?
- Which lifestyle changes can support the immune system?
- What is the relationship between meditation and immunity?
Our team of medical herbalists has put together this natural health immunity guide, with advice on which of our products you can turn to if you’re struggling with specific symptoms, insights into how meditation can support your immune system, and practical steps you can take to stay well for the long term.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below, our herbal medicines - which include teas, supplements and tinctures - can help.
Supporting Immunity and Easing Covid-19 Symptoms
We'll start with one of the most pressing reasons people are concerned about immunity at the moment: COVID19.
Our team of medical herbalists have formulated a range of immune-boosting products that can support your body and ease Coronavirus symptoms.
In fact. there our two ranges within our Immunity collection that can help: Defend and Recovery.
As the names suggest, our Defend products aim to support your immunity for the long term, with a powerful combination of nutrients to bolster your immune system. They include:
Recovery products are intended to help you get over illness faster. They contain a number of broad-spectrum antimicrobial herbs to support the body in dealing with and fighting bacterial, viral and fungal infections. They include:
So that's natural products for broad immunity covered. How about specific symptoms that come with feeling under the weather?
Herbal Products to Fight Congestion
Feeling congested? From decongesting teas to respiratory supplements, we’ve got a range of herbal medicines to assist with these symptoms.
Our Breathe range contains, along with other important respiratory herbs, Plantago lanceolata, (Ribwort Plantain). Plantain is used for reducing excessive nasal mucus secretions, helping to clear mucus congestion in colds, catarrh and sinusitis. It contains mucilage, which soothes and protects mucous membranes and is antimicrobial, making it effective against bacterial and viral infections.
Herbal Products to Ease Coughs
If you have a lingering cough, try our Cough Syrup.
It's made with Thyme, Licorice and Marshmallow.
Syrups are soothing in nature. Thyme is antispasmodic, a relaxant and expectorant - which means it helps your body get rid of phlegm. It’s useful for dry, irritating and chesty coughs.
Marshmallows and Licorice are demulcents: this means they relieve irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth by forming a protective film. They work by soothing mucous membranes in the throat and the oesophagus to ease dry and tickly coughs.
Natural Fever Relief
If you are suffering from a fever, it’s a sign your immune system is mounting a defence against infection. Our Recovery Tea contains a blend of Peppermint, Yarrow and Elderflower. This combination aids the body through the process of fighting fever, as each of the herbs are diaphoretic in action. This means they disperse heat by increasing blood flow to the skin. In doing so, they assist the body to enhance the efficiency of its natural defence mechanism (your fever) against invading pathogens.
Note: If a fever does not get better or becomes more severe above 103 F (39.4 C) for adults or 101 F (38.3 C) for children seek medical attention.
Herbal Products to Ease Headaches
Our Balance Collection is packed with adaptogens and nervines to help the body cope with stress and support the nervous system. These products are designed to assist the endocrine system to deal with and ‘adapt’ to both internal and external stress.
These products contain Tulsi (Holy Basil), an adaptogen and nervine that increases the body’s resilience to stress. Tulsi also has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. These work to inhibit inflammatory pathways and make it an important herb for colds, fevers, and stress-related conditions such as anxiety and headaches.
Natural Products to Soothe Muscle aches
If your muscles and joints are aching as a result of fatigue or fever, try...
Our Joint & Muscle collection contains anti-inflammatory herbs that reduce aches and pains in the muscles and joints. Turmeric root is an inflammatory mediator, which means that it works to reduce the aches and pains caused by inflammation without compromising the body’s ability to heal and repair itself. It’s also immune-enhancing and antimicrobial, making it effective for muscle ache caused by viral infections.
The Big Picture: Maintaining your Immunity
If you are feeling run down and want to support the health of your immune system, try…
Our immunity product range contains immune-boosting herbs such as Echinacea, Olive, Andrographis and Tulsi. This range is designed to give your immune system a boost whilst also normalising immune system function. We recommend this combination as a preventative measure to keep you healthy.
Stress too can affect the normal and healthy functioning of the immune system. That’s why our Immunity tincture, which includes immune-boosting herbs, also contains Tulsi, an adaptogen and nervine which nourishes and supports the nervous system and improves resilience to stress.
Our Echinacea and Elderberry syrup also works to enhance immune system function. Both Echinacea and Elderberry have been shown in clinical trials to have immune-stimulating and anti-viral properties. Together they work to enhance our immunity and decrease the length of time it takes to recover from illness.
Getting Better Sleep
Having a good night sleep is of paramount importance for maintaining a healthy immune system. Our Deep Sleep range consists of a tea, tincture, and supplement capsules. All contain a blend of herbs to assist the body with getting a night of deep and restful sleep.
Our Night Time formula includes Skullcap, a nervine containing nutrients to support a healthy nervous system. It is also sedative in action, making it useful for people who struggle with falling asleep and those who find it hard to stay asleep.
Passionflower is another useful nervine and sedative to aid deep and restful sleep. It is also hypnotic (sleep-inducing) making it particularly useful for chronic insomnia. Other key herbs included in the Night-Time formula are calming Peppermint, Chamomile and Vervain.
Stress can affect the normal and healthy functioning of the immune system, leading to increased frequency of colds, flus and infections, as well as a higher likelihood of more serious stress-related conditions.
Our adapt range contains adaptogens, which are plants that assist the body in regulating the hormonal system in order to maintain its homeostasis (balance) regardless of external and internal stressors. Adaptogens are key allies for people juggling the multiple competing demands of modern life. Our Adapt range contains Tulsi (Holy Basil), along with other nervines to nourish and support a resilient and healthy nervous system.
Fighting Fatigue with Natural Supplements and Herbs
When we are ill, one of those familiar feelings is our lack of energy. As the immune system works to fight the infection, we don’t have the get up and go to carry on as normal. To support your energy levels, try our Energy Supplements and Energy Tea.
Zen Maitri’s Energy range contains a blend of adaptogens to promote healthy energy levels by supporting the hormonal axis of the body, nourishing the adrenals, normalising immune system function, and reducing excess cortisol to promote deeper sleep. By normalising immune system function and maintaining healthy energy levels, our Energy range increases the body’s resilience to illness.
General Immunity Advice From a Medical Herbalist
What is immunity? How can immunity be improved? Can herbs boost the immune system? Here's what Zen Maitri's medical herbalist Alex Dover has to say...
What is Immunity?
You can think of the immune system as the body’s defence response. It essentially protects us against disease and potentially harmful foreign bodies (pathogens). It’s clever, complex and involves many organs and tissues, including the Thymus, Spleen, Lymph and Bone Marrow.
All of these work together to constantly watch for and attack immune threats. We have two main types of immunity: learned immunity (also called acquired or specific immunity) and non-specific or innate immunity - immune responses that we are all born with.
Innate immunity includes physical and chemical barriers. We’re talking familiar things like phlegm, the trusty cough response, skin, enzymes (in tears) and stomach acid.
Acquired immunity involves things like white blood cells and proteins, which attack foreign bodies and then adapt to be more prepared for that foreign body in the future.
Low immunity can be caused by a number of factors. More often than not it’s down to one or more of these: a lack of adequate restful sleep, nutritionally poor diet choices, excess alcohol, increased stress and weakness in the wake of a viral illness.
So why do we tend to get ill during the colder months?
Well, people can be particularly prone to colds and the flu in the winter because we tend to keep our doors and windows closed and our homes warm. There is also less ultraviolet light to kill bugs.
Warmer homes dry the mucus in our noses, which is one of the first defences against these bugs, and we spend more time indoors sharing germs. All of which adds up to the ideal circumstances for bugs to grow and spread.
How do medical herbalists approach the diagnosis of weak immunity?
Our approach to immunity is to discover the cause. This includes taking your lifestyle into account and examining where any imbalances might cause weak immunity. This means we look at everything from nutrition and digestion, to sleep or relaxation, smoking, alcohol and caffeine intake, and stress.
What are the symptoms of weak immunity?
Symptoms of weak immunity include frequent infections, such as catching coughs and colds regularly, fatigue, digestive issues including bloating, pain and inflammation, skin disorders, slow healing wounds and swollen glands.
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, we’d aim to support your immunity with immune-boosting nutrition advice and herbal medicines to treat and prevent infections.
Which herbs and herbal medicines tackle weak immunity and prevent colds and flu?
Herbs for fighting infections include Echinacea, Elderberry, Olive Leaf and Vitamin C rich herbs such as Rosehips. These herbs help support the immune response because they contain natural antimicrobial compounds such as phenols and, in the case of elderberry, a purple pigment called anthocyanidin that blocks viral attachment and prevents its ability to spread. A less well known but potent antiviral is the Indian herb Andrographis.
Andrographis is a herb originally from India but also used in Chinese medicine. Research has shown it’s effective at blocking the flu and it’s being trialled in GP surgeries across the UK as an alternative to antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections. So far, the results are promising.
This progress is welcome. According to research, at least 20% of antibiotics prescribed in primary care in England are inappropriate, while the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses a significant threat to future generations.
What else can you do to support your immune system?
Aside from herbal medicines, there are a number of things you can do to support your immune system.
First, get plenty of rest and good quality sleep. Second, make sure you exercise enough and get plenty of fresh air and sunlight exposure. Third, make sure you’re eating healthy, nutritious whole foods, including plenty of mushrooms, garlic and colourful fruit and veg.
Finally, make sure you take the time to unwind and relax. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research that points to a correlation between high stress and weak immunity.
If you’re looking for ways to unwind and support your immune system, look no further than our rolling meditation courses, which focus on stress, sleep, and more.
Practical tips to support immunity at home and on the go
there’s never been a better time to take steps to boost your immunity. Here are a few simple, practical things you can start incorporating into your daily routine to maintain your health and wellbeing.
One of the most simple ways to support your family’s immunity is to air your home. Open windows and doors for a while each day to reduce the lurking bacteria and virus count.
If you’re worried about the cold, consider getting a good indoor air filter. These physically trap bugs and some even have UV lights to kill bacteria, too.
From a personal perspective, nasal sprays keep our nostrils moist and many contain a physical gel barrier made from seaweed, which acts against bugs. Alternatives include natural ointments such as HayMax, which can be applied inside the nose.
Repeat after us: an open window each day (and a little nasal spray) keeps the doctor away. Catchy!
Lifestyle changes you can make to support immunity
There are a few simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to support the proper functioning of the immune system.
For starters, sleep is vital for immunity. Aim to get enough restful sleep. This helps your body recover, repair and keeps your immunity in top form. Most people do best on 7 to 9 hours sleep per night, although everyone is different and some are fine with 6 hours or less.
Stress reduction is equally important for immunity. This can be achieved very effectively through meditation and exercise. Studies show that 20 minutes of each daily is the minimum sufficient ‘dose’. Both meditation and exercise reduce stress hormones and increase our immune cells.
Feeling stressed? Come along to one of our meditation classes or courses. Find your calm, support your immunity.
Supporting immunity with herbal medicine & dietary changes
Herbal medicine can be immensely helpful for supporting our immunity. Powerful herbs can be taken every day to prevent infections and keep the immune system fighting fit, and if you do fall ill, more frequent doses can be taken to help fight them off and relieve symptoms.
Examples of preventative herbs are Elderberry, Olive Leaf and Vitamin C rich herbs such as Rosehips. These support the immune response because they contain natural antimicrobial compounds such as phenols and, in the case of Elderberry, a purple pigment called anthocyanidin that blocks viral attachment and prevents its ability to spread.
A less well known but potent antiviral is the Indian herb Andrographis which can be taken every day to prevent infections and fight symptoms. Andrographis is a herb originally from India but also used in Chinese medicine. Research has shown it’s effective at blocking the flu and it’s being trialled in GP surgeries across the UK as an alternative to antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections. So far, the results are promising.
In terms of your diet, good food choices are key if you want to keep your immune system working at 100%.
Aim for whole foods with fibre, as these retain the most nutrients and are the least processed. Fruit and vegetables are your allies here, so long as they’re roasted, baked or steamed rather than fried to retain the best possible nutritional values.
Aside from colourful vegetables, mushrooms are another potent immune booster to add to your arsenal. Plenty of citrus fruits will also top up vital Vitamin C levels.
Keep sugar, caffeine and alcohol to a minimum as they can suppress immunity. Sugar can interfere with white blood cell function, which are key defenders against bugs. It’s easy to get into a vicious cycle, as a lack of sleep and excess caffeine can increase our stress hormones, in turn increasing our appetite and result in more sugar cravings.
Want to get to the bottom of your immunity concerns? Our medical herbalists are available throughout the week for in-depth consultations. They’ll go through your lifestyle, medical history and personal challenges and prescribe a herbal medicine based on your needs. Find out more and book yourself in for a consultation today.
Can Meditation Support your Immunity?
Next up, we’re talking about meditation. We’ll do a bit of myth-busting, share some of the powerful (and scientifically backed) benefits of regular meditation practice, and then explore exactly why meditation is so good for your immune system.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation doesn’t mean clearing your mind of all thoughts. Actually, that’s nearly impossible. Instead, it’s helpful to think of meditation as a particular kind of concentration; instead of struggling to silence all that mind chatter, you can settle into a state of focus on one thing and allow everything else to become a little quieter.
Human beings are born with curious and very active minds. Right from the start we’re asking questions, assessing risk, and contemplating the meaning of our existence in this world. It’s our superpower. But it can also be our Kryptonite. It’s one reason why we get so stressed and so sad. It can even lead to physical illness.
Different meditative practices throughout history have made space in our heads to soothe all that busyness. There’s a wide range of meditation techniques and philosophies. Some, like Vipassana (insight meditation) and Maitrī (loving kindness) are rooted in Buddhism, while others — including the moving meditation of yoga — have developed from the ancient texts that inform Hinduism. But all of those practices are essentially secular; you don’t have to believe in any higher being in order to meditate.
You’ve almost certainly heard of Mindfulness, a meditation practice that’s spread like wildfire through Western cultures in recent years. It comes from Buddhist practices of observing and sitting with thoughts and sensations, but it’s often taught without reference to Buddhism or other spiritual traditions. This makes it more accessible to many, and has allowed mindfulness to bring meditation into the mainstream.
Which is great because, to put it bluntly, meditation makes our lives better. Today, the pursuit of wellbeing and peace is becoming a central focus for lots of us; even (or especially) in big, busy, stressful cities like London.
More people want to experience more depth and meaning, to connect with who we are at our core. As a society, we’re waking up to the huge benefits of meditation for body and mind.
The Benefits of Meditation
As meditation has become increasingly popular, more researchers across different fields — from psychology to neurology, cardiology and sociology — have started to pay it more attention. The result is that hundreds of studies have taken place over the last decade; and they’ve proven, again and again, that meditating affects us in lots of different (all positive) ways.
- Studies have shown that meditation can do lots of good things for our bodies, such as reducing blood pressure and reducing pain.
- Meditation can also help us sleep better, improve our cognition and memory, and improve our ability to concentrate.
- Meditation helps to balance stress hormones in the body, which makes us less likely to become ill as a result of stress. At the same time, it helps to build the psychological tools we need to regulate our emotions, change our perspective, and approach stressful experiences differently. We learn to witness our mental and physiological reactions, and become more present and aware.
- Our relationships benefit from consistent meditation practice. People who meditate regularly show more empathy towards themselves and others. That means they’re better equipped to understand and manage emotions, and respond to difficult situations from a place of love and thoughtfulness.
But some of the things meditation helps us with are harder to measure. The reason so many people start meditating is because they’re seeking clarity and peace of mind. And it really does work. You gain a sense of deeper awareness and steadiness that helps you move through daily life without sweating the small stuff so much.
Meditation and Immunity
The relationship between meditation and immunity is complex, and all of the benefits noted above play into this intricate dance. A study published in the journal Translational Psychology shows that meditation doesn’t just make us feel better; it makes our immune systems more efficient at protecting against illness, and even changes our molecular structure.
The study found significant changes in the gene expression of frequent meditators, which enabled them better able to fight viral infection, heal wounds, and reduce inflammation. They also had increased levels of an enzyme that protects again chronic illness, especially as we get older. And there was an improved ratio of two forms of amyloid proteins which, when imbalanced, have been linked to depression and dementia.
Basically, what this means is that the benefits we get from meditation are not only psychological. Regular practice causes changes in our bodies that can be measured empirically — and the main outcome of those changes is a stronger and more efficient immune system.
Why? The researchers behind the study suggest that meditation acts as a restorative activity, giving our immune systems much-needed relief and allowing our bodies to rest without stress. In turn, this means we can combat illness more easily and grow older in a healthier way.
Supporting Your Immunity From Multiple Angles
As we've seen, the immune system is a complicated one. It's impacted by many aspects of your health and wellbeing and encompasses two things: staying well and recovering once you fall ill.
There are a bunch of lifestyle changes you can make to support your natural immunity. There are also a range of herbs with powerful effects: some on youe natural immunity more broadly and some that can ease the everyday symptoms of coughs, colds, flus, and infections.
Whether you need in the moment support while you're fighting illness or want to supplement your natural immunity in the long term, take a look through our Immunity collection and explore our Defend and Recovery products to find what suits you best.