People stocking up on food, medication and household supplies has been ongoing in the Lower Mainland for more than two weeks.
Undoubtedly, the stores’ shelves started emptying as a result of Canada’s Health Minister advice to get prepared for a potential COVID-19 crisis, which might require self-isolation in cases of illness, despite the announced “relatively low risk of contracting the disease in Canada”. Nevertheless, it appears that the initial frantic buying is maintained (and possibly fueled) by a psychological phenomenon called informational social influence; namely, other people’s behavior leads us to conform because we see them as a source of information to guide our behavior.
We conform the most when situations are ambiguous (ex. Experts cannot predict to what extent and where the coronavirus would spread) and when we find ourselves in a crisis – getting panicky prevents us from thinking rationally, while we naturally look at how others are responding (ex. If everyone is filling their carts with toilet paper that would last them for a year we should do the same).
In a time of globalization when people can reach the other end of the world within a day, mass media is even faster and more accessible than ever. So even if you missed the Health Minister’s advice to stock up on supplies, it is very likely that within minutes someone that you follow on social media posted about it and thus informed you about the danger of the coronavirus. Being exposed to similar news feeds by different (not necessarily objective) sources over a continuous period of time contributes to our perceived inability to cope with our negative feelings and beliefs – in other words stress.
The body’s immediate response to stress is to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine along with activating the so called HPA axis, which eventually leads to an elevated cortisol (i.e. stress hormone) in the bloodstream. On a physical level the experience of stress might include increased heartbeat, headaches and migraines, nausea, muscle pain, indigestion, and weakened immune system – the irony then being that the more we stress about the outbreak, the more susceptible our bodies become to the coronavirus (or any other virus for that matter). In addition, the physical symptoms of stress tend to be accompanied by behavioral symptoms such as unhealthy eating and/or substance use, changes in the sleeping patterns and social withdrawal to mention a few; and by emotional symptoms that range from inability to focus and increased irritability, to mood instability and anxiety.
I originally wrote this article on March 11th – the day when the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 is now officially a global pandemic. As I am editing on March 17th, BC declared public health emergency in view of the 83 new COVID-19 cases (out of 186 total) in the province, while BC Education Minister announced that K-12 classes have been postponed indefinitely. Given the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus many worry that the tragedy currently experienced by thousands of Italian families could come our way, while others start expressing concerns about having to care for their children and pay bills in a climate of job insecurity, or about a potential economic crisis.
I get it – it’s scary! And just like all the frantic shoppers, parents, people with elderly relatives, owners of closed down businesses, laid off employees and of course like all humans out there I worry too. First of all, let me remind you that fear is one of the six universal emotions, and is normal to experience it in a situation of emergency; in fact, the role of fear is to prompt our fight or flight response in order to help us survive. Since fleeing is definitely not an option, I’d like to share with you some strategies that might help you fight for your wellbeing – in other words cope with the spread of the novel coronavirus and its consequences on your lives.
When we feel distressed because what’s happening is out of our control, radical acceptance might be a healthier path to take in order to experience less fear, anxiety, sadness or anger.
One useful therapeutic tool to keep in mind is the acronym A.C.C.E.P.T.S.
A stands for activities that we could engage in to keep our focus on what we enjoy (ex. hobbies, postponed projects, working out at home).
Contributing to someone or something other than ourselves could be beneficial in that it gives us a sense of purpose when all seems uncertain. I find it inspiring to see people unifying as a result of this pandemic, and I’ve recently witnessed some great contributing examples like someone getting the groceries for an elderly neighbor.
The second C stands for comparisons; although it might seem counter-intuitive we could compare our circumstances to those that are worse (ex. there are 31 506 confirmed cases in Italy, which has a territory twice smaller than that of BC).
E is for emotions – simply put, do something that would elicit the opposite emotion of what you’re feeling.
Pushing away our concerns and negative beliefs can be therapeutic when we get them out of our minds – like writing them down on a piece of paper and then throwing it away (as a symbolic freeing of our burden).
On the other hand, when our emotions take over, we can try to focus on our Thoughts. If you notice that you become anxious when reading social media posts related to COVID-19, you could instead identify a trusted source like BC Centre for Disease Control, where you can get answers to some of your questions (ex. “How can I protect myself and my family”). Finally, engaging each of our Senses could help us distract ourselves from negative thoughts and emotions.
Think of this as a great excuse to enjoy a scenic view (i.e. vision), listen to music that you like (i.e. hearing), get a massage (i.e. touch), treat yourself something you’ve been craving for (i.e. taste), and smell the blooming magnolia flowers or diffuse your favorite essential oils, which might have anti-viral and relaxing properties to contribute further to your wellbeing. Last but not least, I encourage you to engage in deep breathing and I’d like to remind you that even if you can’t solve the pandemic you can talk about your concerns with your friends, family or therapist, so that you can calm your mind and lessen the power of fear.
Bobbie Miteva, MA, RTC
Aronson, E. et all (2007). Social Psychology. Toronto: Pearson (3rd ed.).
Carlson, N. et all (2005). Psychology: The Science of Behavior. Toronto: Pearson (2nd ed.).
Dozois, D. (2015). Abnormal Psychology Perspectives: DSM-5 Update. Toronto: Pearson (5th ed.).
We've all seen the hype! Frantic families darting for the last case of water, civilized people fighting over the last flat of toilet paper, or disinfectant wipes, or face masks. We shake our heads when we see it on the news, but even if we are not actively participating in the pandemic of fear, we are all concerned about the possibility of uncertainty.
As part of our mission statement at Healing House Natural Wellness, we state that as professionals it is of great importance for us to supply information based on facts, science, and tradition. The following information is to assist in disarming fear, and to empower each individual to make informed decisions based off of information offered by the CDC, The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and The World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, you will find information on herbs traditionally used for acute viral and upper respiratory infections, and also those used in traditionally building the immune system along with supplements and dietary recommendations for boosting your state of general wellness.
The Facts: What We Know
The following statistical information is up to date as of March 24th, and has been taken directly from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Website, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Current Situation in BC:
There are currently 472 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia, and there has been 13 deaths associated with these infections.
Risks to Canadians:
COVID-19 is a serious health threat, and the situation is evolving daily. The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is now considered high.
This does not mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there is already a significant impact on our health care system. If we do not flatten the epidemic curve now, the increase of COVID-19 cases could impact health care resources available to Canadians.
There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
It is important for all travellers to:
Do you think you might have COVID-19?
Use the self-assessment tool to find out what to do.
How Canada is Monitoring COVID-19
The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with provinces, territories and international partners, including the World Health Organization, to actively monitor the situation. Global efforts are focused on containment of the outbreak and the prevention of further spread.
Canada's Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is in close contact with provincial and territorial Chief Medical Officers of Health to ensure that any cases of COVID-19 occurring in Canada continue to be rapidly identified and managed in order to protect the health of Canadians.
Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory is performing diagnostic testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. The laboratory is working in close collaboration with provincial and territorial public health laboratories, which are now able to test for COVID-19. A summary of people tested in Canada is available and updated each week day.
How COVID-19 Spreads:
The Viral Source:
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, and others, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses that infect animals have emerged to infect people and can spread between people. This is suspected to have occurred for the virus that causes COVID-19. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are two other examples of coronaviruses that originated from animals and then spread to people.
How Does the Virus Spread?
This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so.
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.
In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Government of Canada/PHAC
World Health Organization
Herbs for Immunity, Acute Viral Infection, and Upper Respiratory Infection:
As each individual is different, please do not consider this article as commentary for self dosing. Some herbs are inappropriate with certain medications and should not be taken. If you have questions about herbs, please contact us at the office directly, or contact your Medical Doctor or Pharmacist to discuss potential contraindications. If you feel you may have Covid-19 or are experiencing symptoms associated with the disease, please contact your local health department for proper diagnosis.
As a clinical herbalist, I am grateful for the knowledge I have in times such as these. That is not to say that I claim to have the answers to Covid-19, however, there are a large number of herbs that are traditionally used to help ease the length of viral infections, to assist in bolstering immunity and lessen severity, and to help the upper respiratory tract during times of acute infection. Below I have mentioned some of the more specific ones that in my opinion may be useful in acute infection.
Traditional Herbs for Immunity, Acute Viral and Upper Respiratory Infection
Baptisia tinctoria (Wild Indigo Root):
Wild indigo has a long standing tradition as quite a powerful anti-microbial herb. Although it is not specifically considered to be anti-viral, it is excellent for secondary infections associated with viral infections. It is considered to be an immune stimulant, meaning it stimulates the immune system to work at its best capacity. It is antiseptic, anti-microbial, and an active anti-catarrhal which means it helps to dissolve and eliminate the formation of mucous and inflammation in the mucous membrane. It is specific in infections with fever, and specific as an herb that is excellent for issues with pneumonia.
Echinacea angustifolia or purpurea (Echinacea Root):
We have often heard of Echinacea being used as an immune booster. However, it does not boost the immune system in the manner we think it does. Unlike other herbs which physically act upon the immune system by helping it function more properly, it is said that Echinacea instead alters the environment in which a microbial infection may thrive. In saying this, it is considered to be an immuno-modulator, it helps to move lymph which is exceedingly important in ensuring that all channels of elimination are open. It is considered to be antiseptic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral, this is excellent because it can help with both primary viral infection, and secondary bacterial infection which can often occur. Like Wild Indigo it is also an anti-catarrhal, but to further the combination it is anti-inflammatory, and a detoxifying agent. It is traditionally used to help build resistance within the immune system and is specific for infections with cough.
Uncaria tomentosa (Cat's Claw Vine):
This herb is native to the Amazon rain forest. The part that is used is the interior bark of the plant. It is a potent full body tonic, but most importantly it is traditionally used as a restorative, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory. It helps to bolster a weak immune system in individuals who have a tendency to infections. Often used for its anti-tumor qualities (traditionally it is used to cut off the blood supply to tumours), this herb is also excellent in viral infections associated with the lungs, or swellings/fluids in the lungs.
Bupleurum falcatum (Chinese Thorowax):
There has been research done in China in regard to this herb and Covid-19. Though there have been no solid clinical trials, there have now been a few case studies done from Traditional Chinese Medical Doctors who have used this herb in formulation with others. Thorowax is used both in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and also Western Clinical Herbalism. It is traditionally used as a general tonic and immune enhancer, and for its anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also considered to be specific in colds and flus and has a tonic effect on the heart and lungs. Most importantly it is used traditionally to improve respiration (breathing).
Lomatium dissectum (Desert Parsley):
Desert parsley is considered to be a full systemic tonic and an immune stimulant. It is also used traditionally for its anti-microbial, anti-viral, and expectorant capabilities. As Covid often has a dry cough, having herbs that help move mucus and decrease inflammation in the mucosal membrane is key. This herb is a powerful ally and is traditionally used for congestion in the lungs, including asthma and specifically pneumonia.
The above are just a sample of the many herbs that can be helpful in situations with acute upper respiratory viral infections. If you have questions or would like to discuss herbal options for your specific needs, please feel free to call the office at 778-866-3320.
The best course of action is prevention. Please continue social isolation in your respective communities, stay home, and stay healthy!
- Petra Sovcov, Clinical Herbal Practitioner
As seen in Home Herbalist Magazine, Fall 2020 - By Clinical Herbal Therapist, Petra Sovcov
As the changing of the season comes, temperatures shift again, days get longer, and the flu and cold season often hits its pique. For many, this is the time of year that families struggle with the flu, coughs, and colds, as with school and spring break travel children are more readily exposed to a variety of pathogens. This can pose a challenge, as various “bugs” are brought home and lovingly shared with family members.
In this month’s article, we will talk about the immune system and break down some of its more important parts. We will briefly discuss the lymphatic system, innate immunity, adaptive immunity, the difference between the two, and discuss the immune response. We will also discuss the spleen and its importance to overall health. Additionally, we will talk about a few helpful herbs for supporting children’s immune systems, along with supplement and dietary/lifestyle suggestions that can be implemented quickly.
As with most of what I write in this article, I will not be implementing a full herbal protocol or complete “how to,” as everyone is different and has their own needs.
If you feel you would like to implement herbal remedies or have questions, please reach out to a clinical/medical herbalist in your area, or you may reach out to me with any firstname.lastname@example.org
Before we begin:
I am not a Medical Doctor, nor are any of the suggestions or recommendations I am about to make meant to be a substitute for advice from your MD, or as a substitute for any prescriptions you may be taking. Any suggestions followed will be the responsibility of the reader and are stated with the intention of interest and education only. If you have a health issue, please see your primary care physician first and foremost.
When we speak about immunity, we often think of the fundamentals, such as killer t-cells, antibodies, and the immune response in general. However, in my opinion, we cannot start a discussion about immunity before we understand the basics of the lymphatic system.
When using skeletal muscles (such as the calves in our lower legs) there is a pump action that takes places. The skeletal muscle contractions compress lymphatic vessels (as well as veins) and forces lymph towards the junction of the internal jugular and subclavian veins.
Secondly, regarding our respiratory system, the “respiratory pump” action is maintained by pressure changes that occur during inhalation (breathing in). Lymph flows from the abdominal region, where the pressure is higher, toward the thoracic region where it is lower. When the pressures reverse during exhalation (breathing out), the valves in lymphatic vessels prevent backflow of lymph. Therefore, keeping active and mobile is so important for general health. A child (or adult) who is sedentary may have more challenges during cold and flu season than one who is actively playing, exercising, and going outdoors.
The lymphatic system consists of a fluid called lymph (no surprise there). Throughout the system there are vessels called lymphatic vessels that transport lymph to structures and organs containing lymphatic tissues. It also assists in circulating body fluids and helps defend the body against disease-causing pathogens.
The lymphatic system has three primary functions:
contrast, red pulp consists of blood-filled venous sinuses and cords of splenic tissue. Within the red pulp, the spleen performs two important immune functions:
Knowing this, when we think about the lymphatic system and immunity in children, there are a few things we may want to consider. First, as mentioned above, making certain that a child is active: that they have time to play and move their bodies (thus moving lymph). Second, being certain that they have a diet rich in nutritious foods so that the lymphatic system can move those wonderful lipid soluble vitamins to places they need to be. And last, when needed, they are given additional support. In this case, since we are talking about herbs, we would want herbs that help gently move lymph and support the liver and spleen, herbs that are adaptogenic, immune-stimulating or immunomodulating. If an illness becomes present, perhaps the use of more specific herbs that can act as anti-microbials, anti-bacterials, or anti-virals may be used. We will visit these herbs later in the article.
When speaking about the immune system, it is important to know that there are two types of immunity: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. These are both complex systems with multiple lines of defense. There is an entire study dedicated to this called immunology whereby scientists study the immune system and its various workings and reactions to pathogens. To give a full explanation of how these functions work would span a complete book, however, I will do my best to capture it in a brief summary.
Can be considered a nonspecific type of immunity. It is what we naturally possess to protect us from the outside world. Innate immunity includes the external physical and chemical barriers provided by the skin and our mucous membranes (consider the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth). Additionally, innate immunity includes various internal defenses such as antimicrobial substances, natural killer cells, and the body’s natural reactions such as inflammation and fever.
Our first line of defense in our innate immunity is our skin and mucous membranes. These provide a physical barrier that actively discourage pathogens and foreign substances from penetrating into our body where they could cause disease. Our skin is made up of many, many layers of closely packed keratinized cells, the outer layer of this is known as the epidermis which provides a sealed barrier against the outside world. Bacteria rarely penetrate the intact surface of a healthy epidermis.
In comparing this to our other first line of defense, our mucous membranes create a fluid called mucous (again, think of your nose, eyes, ears, and throat/airways). Because mucous is slightly viscous (slimy), it traps many microbes and foreign substances. The mucous membrane of the nose and upper respiratory tract has microscopic mucous coated hairs that trap and filter microbes, dust, and pollutants from inhaled air. These microscopic hairs are called cilia. The cilia produce a waving action which propels inhaled dust and microbes trapped in mucous towards the throat. Coughing and sneezing accelerates this movement and expels the trapped microbes out of the body, or in cases where the mucous is swallowed, the pathogens are sent to the stomach where gastric juices destroy them.
Our second line of defense in innate immunity is internal: antimicrobial substances that discourage growth such as phagocytes, natural killer cells, inflammation and fevers (as mentioned above).
There are four types of antimicrobial substances in innate immunity:
A natural killer cell (NK cell or just NK) is a type of white blood cell. NK cells are present all over the body but also in the spleen, lymph nodes, and red bone marrow. Unlike other white blood cells, the NK cells can kill a wide variety of infected body cells and certain tumour cells. They generally attack any body cells that display abnormal or unusual plasma membrane proteins. A phagocyte (as we briefly mentioned above) is a type of cell within the body capable of engulfing and absorbing bacteria and other small cells and particles.
Adaptive Immunity – This is where things get interesting, and very specific. The name itself really offers a clue as to how this type of immunity works; it adapts to how the body needs to react and to the various types of pathogens it comes across. More amazingly, it remembers how it reacted to a type of pathogen, which is why after catching a type of flu, often we do not catch it again until the next viral mutation comes along to impact our immune system.
Adaptive immunity is described as the ability of the body to defend itself against specific invading agents such as bacteria, toxins, viruses, and foreign tissues. This is known as adaptive, or specific immunity.
Two properties distinguish adaptive immunity from innate immunity:
Now that we have a basic understanding of this very complicated system, we can better understand what types of herbal actions we might take to help the immune system. However, since we are talking about children, we need to take care regarding some of our herb choices, specifically concerning the dosage. Children under the age of 12 will not be offered an adult dose of herbs, so please consider this before choosing specific herbs for your children or consult someone who understands how dosage works (A clinical herbal therapist would be perfect for this).
Some Helpful Herbs for Immune Support in Children:
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) – This herb is considered an adaptogen, and is also considered to be antioxidant, immunostimulant, immunomodulator, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, circulatory stimulant, cardiotonic, and increases vitality and energy levels. It is supportive of the immune system, spleen, and liver, and improves immune resistance. It is often used in viral infections and feelings of fatigue. A few things to consider, it should not be used in cases where immuno-suppressive drugs are being used, and it is not considered appropriate in cases where acute infection and high fever may be present.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia) – Traditionally used in snake bites and cases of blood sepsis. Today, echinacea is sold as an immune enhancer. In my opinion this is not an accurate depiction of this herb, however, it does not make it any less potent in assisting the immune system. echinacea is a general tonic and immune stimulant; it is lymphatic, antiseptic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and some consider it to have a slight antibiotic activity. Additionally, it is considered to be anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and to have detoxifying properties. echinacea works not necessarily by attacking the pathogen, but rather, by helping the body to make internal adjustments to change the environment where the pathogen may thrive, thus making it difficult to complete its life cycle. Like astragalus, it is not appropriate where immune-suppressive drugs are being taken, or in cases of some autoimmune conditions.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) – This is a beautiful and gentle lymphatic herb. It is considered to be tonic and somewhat adaptogenic. It is also anti-inflammatory, astringent, and detoxifying. I often use this herb for clients who want to gently detox or keep their lymphatic system healthy without the more aggressive actions of some of the stronger lymphatics that are available to us. There are no known contraindications with this herb, and I could not locate any reported drug interactions.
Elder Berry (Sambucus nigra) – Using either the beautiful berries or the flowers, European black elder is, in my opinion, a must have for a children’s herbal medicine cabinet. It can be taken as a tea (the flower) or even as a syrup (the berries). It is considered a gentle immune supporter, anti-inflammatory, alterative, and antiseptic.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – This beautiful flower packs a punch. Often used as a nervous system tonic and sedative, it is also antiseptic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, digestive, carminative, and antispasmodic. For the immune system, it can be used in the presence of infections and for colds and flus, chest infections, and cough. It can also be used in cases of sinus infection and loss of voice. Its quite broad in its uses and is considered a food-based herb.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Another versatile food-based herb, sage is considered to be tonic, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, astringent, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, digestive, carminative, and antispasmodic. It can be used in a variety of situations with children. For acute infections it can be very helpful and can be used for most colds, flus, and coughs. A few important things to take into consideration, sage should not be given to someone with epilepsy, hematuria, or high blood pressure. Additionally, it is not an herb that should be taken at high doses or for long extended periods of time due to the presence of thujone. Also, it should not be taken if someone is on anti-convulsant drugs, sedatives, or on anti-diabetic meds.
Tasty Immune Supporting Children’s Tea:
Elder Flower 20g
Blessed Thistle 15g
Licorice Root 15g
100grams total (In children’s doses, enough to last through cold and flu season)
- For children under the age of 12, use ¾ teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water, steep for 5 minutes covered, strain and drink one to two cups daily.
- For children under the age of 10, use ½ teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water.
- For children under the age of 5, use ¼ teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water.
- For children under the age of three, consult a practitioner.
Since I do not feel that supplements are always appropriate for children, there is only one type I would suggest. Due to foods being depleted from depleted soils, my opinion is that a good children’s multivitamin is often very helpful. For these I generally suggest Thorne brand or Children’s liquid Intramax by Drucker labs – please consult a practitioner prior to use.
Dietary and Lifestyle Suggestions:
Although many of these suggestions are simple, I find that starting simply is often the best. Complicated products and too many supplements (in my opinion) can’t make up for clean air, activity, and healthy foods.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, and that the richness of our herbal allies has shown once again that for mankind’s maladies, nature has supplied us with a remedy.
In Health and Wellness,
Petra Sovcov is not a Medical Doctor (MD) nor a Naturopath (ND), she is a Clinical Herbal Therapist (CHT) and holds a Doctorate in Natural Medicine (DNM). The suggestions or recommendations made on this site are not meant to be a substitute for advice from your MD, or as a substitute for any prescriptions you may be taking. Suggestions followed will be the responsibility of the reader, and are stated with the intention of interest and education only. If you have a health issue, please see your primary care physician (MD) first and foremost.