Antivirals and herbs to support your immune system
When it comes to dealing with a virus, the best line of defence is a healthy immune system. Unlike bacterial infections which can usually be remedied with antibiotics, there are very few treatments that can kill a virus outright. This is largely due to the fact that viruses do their nasty deeds from inside your cells - taking over the cell's machinery, and replicating themselves exponentially. Fortunately, Mother Nature is always there to offer us a helping hand.
Since ancient times, herbs have been used as prevention—and to potentially speed the healing process of viral infections. However, human research on natural antivirals and herbs is very limited and more work is needed to allow strong conclusion to be drawn about the effects of natural antivirals.
This being said, here are 10 of the most promising natural antivirals and herbs available right now.
Garlic (Allium sativumL) has been prized as a therapeutic medicinal plant for centuries, remedying a wide array of conditions, including viral infections. Its main compounds allicin and alliion are responsible for its reputation as a potent antiviral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.
A review published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine noted that studies have shown garlic extract displays antiviral activity against several different types of viruses, like influenza and rhinovirus. Garlic has also been shown to be especially effective against viruses if chewed raw.
Another study involving 23 adults with warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), found that applying garlic extract to affected areas twice daily, for 1-2 weeks, removed the warts in all of them. Additionally, animal and test-tube studies indicate that garlic provides a boost to the immune system response by stimulating protective immune cells, which may help protect against viral infections.
2.St. John's wort
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is probably better known for its ability to treat depression, but it also has potent antiviral chemicals called hypercin and pseudohypericin. According to Herbal Medicine, researchers believe that these components may alter proteins in viruses, preventing them from fusing with cell membranes. This means the virus is unable to invade cells to imitate them and multiply, thereby preventing infection.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) is one of the most popularly used ingredients in herbal medicine due to its impressive health-boosting properties. Used by the Native Americans to treat viral infections and a variety of other conditions, echinacea is a common go to plant for use against colds and viral bronchitis.
Many parts of the plant, including its flowers, leaves, and roots, are used for natural remedies, and echinacea is widely available as a tincture, spray, or tablet. However, preparations that include both the roots and the flowering tops are the most effective at helping the body resist viruses.
Several studies suggest that certain varieties of echinacea, including E. pallida, E. angustifolia, and E. purpurea, are particularly effective at fighting viral infections like herpes and influenza. However E. purpurea is thought to have enhancing effects on the immune system too, making it doubly effective for treating viral infections.
In an in vitro study published in Virology Journal, echinacea extract was shown to interfere with viral entry into cells. The research noted that the extract may reduce the activity of several different types of viruses too.
Oregano (Origanum vulgara) is a popular herb in the mint family that’s known for its healing qualities. Its primary active ingredient, carvacrol, offers natural antiviral properties and has been shown to break down viruses, reducing their ability to infect their host, according to the American Society for Microbiology.
In a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, oregano oil and isolated carvacrol reduced the activity of murine norovirus (MNV) within 15 minutes of exposure. Oregano oil and carvacrol have also been shown to exhibit antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), rotavirus - a common cause of diarrhoea in infants and children and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes respiratory infections.
Thymol, the other major component of oregano oil, also boasts powerful antiviral properties. In a study that was published in Planta Medica, thymol reduced the activity of the herpes virus by 90% within one hour.
Oregano oil is widely available capsules or tinctures/drops, however many prefer to opt for the capsule form since the oil can have a strong flavour.
Ginger (Zingiber officinaleRoscoe) has many active compounds, including phenols, terpenes, and organic acids, which have been shown to have potent antiviral activity. However, the health benefits of ginger are largely down to its phenolic compounds, specifically gingerols and shogaols, which have been found to inhibit viral replication, preventing viruses from entering cells.
Studies have also demonstrated that ginger extract has antiviral effects against avian influenza and RSV, and in one in vitro study, researchers found fresh ginger stimulated mucosal cells to release IFN-β, a type of cytokine that contributes to counteracting a viral infection.
Another study that involved 60 participants with confirmed hepatitis indicated that ginger extract may decrease the activity of hepatitis C viruses and according to a research review in Foods, numerous studies have shown that ginger has the ability to prevent the growth of viruses.
It is recommended to use fresh or powdered organic ginger and add it to smoothies or other recipes or to use it to make a tea. You can also get more concentrated doses of ginger in supplement form.
6. Colloidal silver
Silver has been used as a medicine since ancient times to treat a wide array of ailments, including the bubonic plague. Colloidal silver is a suspension of pure metallic silver in water, and has been used to dramatically reduce the activity of the HIV virus in AIDS patients and to slow down the ravages of other viruses in general. It works by impeding the enzymes that allow a virus to make use of oxygen, essentially suffocating the virus so it cannot do damage in the body.
The common black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has long been used as a go-to antiviral herb for reducing the length and severity of flu symptoms. By binding to the tiny spikes on a virus protein, elderberry extract is able to prevent the virus from piercing and invading healthy cells, rendering the virus ineffective.
A study in mice, in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry found that concentrated elderberry juice packed a double antiviral punch by not only suppressing the replication pathway of the influenza virus, but also stimulating an immune system response. In addition, in a meta-analysis of research from the journal Complementary Theories in Medicine, which included 180 total participants, elderberry supplements were found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms caused by viral infections.
An in vitro study looking at the influenza virus, published in the Journal of Functional Food, also found that elderberry extract "showed mild inhibitory effect at the early stages of the influenza virus cycle, with considerably stronger effect in the post-infection phase."
Elderberries are available in a variety of products, such as elixirs, pills, tinctures and syrups, however it is most powerful when used at the earliest signs of symptoms.
Most commonly known for its abilities to help with digestive complaints such as bloating, peppermint (Mentha piperita) is also effective in fighting viral infections. This is thanks in large part to its numerous active components (over 40), such as flavonoids, polyphenols, and tocopherols, that play a role in keeping you healthy.
Its main components, menthol and rosmarinic acid, have been shown to exhibit a strong antiviral and anti-inflammatory activity and in one study that was published in Phytomedicine, researchers found that peppermint oil reduced the viral activity of the herpes virus.
Another study form the journal Food Science and Biotechnology also found that peppermint-leaf extract offered potent antiviral activity against RSV and significantly decreased levels of inflammatory compounds.
Peppermint oil can be purchased as a soft gel supplement or is commonly added to teas, extracts, and tinctures to garner its antiviral properties.
Liquorice has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other natural practices. Some of its active compounds include glycyrrhizin, liquiritigenin, and glabridin, which have powerful antiviral properties, reducing the replication of viruses and halting their ability to penetrate and replicate inside healthy cells.
Numerous studies have shown liquorice root extract to be effective against viral infections such as HIV, RSV, herpes viruses, and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which causes a serious type of pneumonia.
Curcumin, the main compound in turmeric, has been used as a medicinal healer as far back as the 18th century.
In an in vitro study published in Antiviral Research, which specifically looked at zika and chikungunya viruses, researchers found that the viruses lost infectivity when incubated directly with curcumin, suggesting that curcumin has the ability to prevent viruses from infecting cells. According to the researchers, curcumin reduces the viruses' ability to replicate, by keeping it from binding to the surface of cells.
In addition, according to a review of current research published in Frontiers in Microbiology, curcumin has also shown antiviral activity against several other different types of viruses.
Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all dose, a review of research published in Food noted that 500 to 2,000 milligrams has been supplemented without any side effects, though it is also possible to cook with turmeric.
When using turmeric, it is recommended to combine it with black pepper, which has been shown to increase its absorption rate. If opting to supplement, check that the supplement also has bioperine – black pepper extract.
For the most effective results when using any of these natural antivirals, it is highly recommended to use at least two or three of these remedies in conjunction in order to stop viruses in their tracks.
As always, consult your naturopathic doctor for advise that is tailored specifically to your body.