Never before has our immune system come under such scrutiny and never before are there so many unanswered questions regarding our health. How do we stay well? How do we prevent illness? Is it possible to boost our immune systems and if so how? Which supplements should we be taking? These all questions we would like to know right now.
According to immunologist Dr Jenna Macchiocchi, who is on a mission to demystify wellness and disease prevention, there is not one particular ingredient, superfood or supplement that will keep illness at bay. It is more a case of keeping our immune system in balance, “Our delicately balanced immunity is easily compromised by our accelerating pace of life, with its relentless stress, pollution, overconsuming and under-moving,” she says.
This is a view also taken by Margo Marrone, a pharmacist, homeopath and founder of The Organic Pharmacy (theorganicpharmacy.com) “Immunity, mood, energy and sleep are all interconnected,” she says, so it’s highly important we pay attention to all areas of our wellbeing in order to give us the best chance of warding off illness and bugs rather than just going hell-for-leather at the gym or being obsessed with celery juice for example.
Margo’s holistic approach towards wellbeing has always been about stripping things right back to basics and doing the essentials well. Her basic rules for optimum wellness are these: eat organic and seasonal food, 80% of which she recommends are plant-based and wholegrains; cook your food from scratch as much as you can; detox your body at least four times a year; exercise at least 5 days a week to suit your body type, whether that be through yoga, walking, running or cycling. And he doesn’t believe that wellness stops at the neck either and is a big advocate of being mindful about what and how you think, ‘Your thoughts carry energy ‘she warns.
In an ideal world we would all be getting the vital nutrients we need from our diet, but we all also know that this is difficult, especially during COVID-19 lockdown when perhaps not all the foods we need are readily available. It is worth remembering however when you are searching through the thousands of supplements available online, that not all supplements are created equal. Margo’s rules are that they should be plant-based and organic wherever possible because your body is able to absorb them better. “The only exceptions,” she says, “Are the minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium and sometimes Vitamin C for higher does.”
And how do we know what we need to take? Surely we can’t take every supplement we are recommended? “The key is to be in tune with your body , the problems you may have and your lifestyle,” she says, “And to adjust accordingly.” However if you are in doubt she recommends talking to the team of pharmacists and homeopaths within The Organic Pharmacy stores who all offer complimentary advice.
There are however some basic supplements, teas and tinctures that Margo feels we all need in order to keep our systems in healthy balance. We spoke to her during lockdown to find out her essential supplements that address sleep, mood, energy levels, and immunity.
SLEEP AND MOOD
Sleeplessness was at an all-time high even before COVID-19 hit the world, however according to a national sleep survey by the The Sleep Council in the UK, close to half the respondents (43%) are finding it harder to fall asleep due to unease about the situation. COVID-19 is affecting sleep for three 75%, and alarmingly, 77% say that lack of sleep is affecting their ability to function in the day.
And it’s not just the way we behave that’s affected – according to a recent article on Arianna Huffington’s website Thriveglobal.com, getting good sleep is one of the few proven strategies to boost immune systems. Margo too places good quality sleep at the top of her wellbeing agenda. “I feel that as long as we have a good night’s sleep everything else is so much better,” she says. “There is now an abundance of scientific proof that sleep enhances the immune system, confirming the old wisdom that you heal whilst you slumber. In fact the science shows that many of our infection and cancer fighting cells peak whilst we sleep,” she explains. And that’s not even taking into account our energy levels or our mood.
To give yourself a better chance of reaching REM, Margo’s top recommendation is a basic cup of warm chamomile tea before bed. “Creating a bed time ritual can be very therapeutic,” she says “Chamomile is one of nature’s greatest sleep aids. Not only does it reduce inflammation (so also great for hay fever) but also it’s great for relieving anxiety.
Half an hour before bed prepare your tea and start to unwind and relax. As you sip it, do whatever you find most relaxing (reading, listening to music, a meditation post) and just let the chamomile do its magic.” We highly recommend Taylor’s of Comforting Chamomile by Yogi tea, $8 which has great purity and flavour.
if you struggle with sleeping and staying asleep Margo also recommends taking Magnesium, which she says is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’. “Magnesium helps regulate the sleep hormone melatonin and binds to special receptors in the brain to help the body and mind relax. It also helps prevent cramps,” she says. Margo puts Epsom salts in her bath which are naturally high in Magnesium “Soaking in a warm bath for 20 minutes is a great way to absorb the magnesium,” she says. “It does dry out the skin so I like to add a bath oil to this and my oil of choice is The Organic Pharmacy, Jasmine Bath Oil, $49.70. Jasmine itself is high in the molecule called Indole which helps send you to sleep without any drowsiness.”
Of course taking a Magnesium supplement also works so if you opt for this option take 500mg an hour before bed.” We are big fans of Wild Nutrition’s Food-Grown Magnesium $20.31 which is the same type of magnesium found in food so will benefit you in the same way as food sources (and they ship globally).
Energy and Immunity
There are many factors that help to improve energy levels and immunity including a good night’s sleep (see above), less stress, exercise and fresh, nourishing food. However there are also a few supplements that we could all potentially benefit from, especially now.
“Vitamin C is known as the energy molecule,” says Margo, “1000mg each morning is the very basic that I would recommend.” Dr Macciocchi also says that Vitamin C can be effective at helping you to recover when you get sick. Right now, Margo recommends Vitamin C with Beta Carotene which helps keep all the mucous membranes healthy such as the throat, lungs, nose, sinuses and gut. The recommended daily dosage of Beta Carotene is 15 mg per day. We recommend Wild Nutrition’s Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids, $26 which is taken from citrus pulp and contains no artificial flavourings or ingredients.
“Herbs are also excellent to keep our systems in balance and boost energy levels,” says Margo. In particular she recommends Rhodiola, Astragalus and Holy Basil which are three that really help reduce stress (stress also reduces the immune system, causes anxiety and sleeplessness). Margo made a homeopathic remedy with all the above remedies for The Organic Pharmacy called The Super Tonic, $21 which is described on the website as “Dedicated for all superwomen (and men), designed to support the immune system, the nervous system and the adrenal glands all in one.” It also contains Cats Claw (not, btw, the nail taken from a cat’s paw, it’s a plant which Margo says has anti-viral properties) and Elderberry which help boost the immune system too.
Dr Macciocchi is a big advocate of Vitamin D as is Margo who says she’s been advocating taking it as essential for the immune system for many years. Classically known for bone health, Margo explains that Vitamin D goes far beyond that. “A vitamin D receptor is actually expressed on the immune cells, so a deficiency increases our susceptability to infection. Since the majority of the population globally are D deficient, supplementation is important for a healthy immune system and it also has been shown to alleviate depression and regulate mood,” she says. It is important however to take Vitamin D3 which Dr Macchiocchi says is the most bioavailable to us (ie we absorb it better). Margo explains, “D3 is one step closer to the Vitamin D we need. D2 needs to be converted to D3 by the body, so it’s missing this step.” Try Vitamin D3 from Life Extension, $9.75.
St John’s Wort and Lemon Balm
Margo explains that low mood can potentially impact our immune system because she believes that negativity or anger carry bad energy. If you suffer from low mood she suggests St John’s Wort Tincture, $15, although you need to be careful combining St John’s Wort with some other medicines. Margo recommends checking here before taking.
She is also a big fan of Lemon Balm (which she says is best taken as a tea or tincture) which is also anti-viral and mood boosting, “it’s a great one’ she says. We love Herb Pharm Certified Organic Lemon Balm Liquid Extract $15.37
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