Our body’s immune system comprises a series of organs, cells and tissues that are constantly working to fight disease and harmful pathogens. I’ve discussed in previous blogs how a balanced diet can provide the ideal ingredients for a healthy and efficient immune system, but what else can we consume that is positive for our immune system? There has been a long established connection between herbs, spices and immunity. In this blog i’d like us to explore which herbs and spices can be beneficial for the immune system, and how best to incorporate them into your day to day life.
The Science Of Your Immune System And Spices
Since the Covid pandemic a few years ago, there has been an increase in people interested in strengthening their immune system. This interest in immunity has spread to the world of herbs and spices with various studies trying to gauge the effectiveness of a plethora of plants and spices in treating Covid 19. Studies showed promising results, which prompts the question: what else could herbs and spices do for our immune system?
Herbs and spices have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Spices and herbs can come in various forms and shapes and offer a wide range of potential benefits to our immune systems and more. Spices such as turmeric and cinnamon have been used to treat illness, boost the immune system and aid digestion for a long time, but modern science has been able to shed a light on why these spices work so well for us. Studies have found that turmeric and cinnamons major chemical constituents: curcumin and cinnamaldehyde, respectively, regulate many biological processes including enhanced metabolic processes.
Which Spices and herbs are the most useful?
The majority of herbs and spices will offer some kind of positive benefit from consumption. However certain herbs and spices are long established as having immune boosting properties.
The root of ginger has been consumed for thousands of years. Over time we have learnt that ginger has a wide range of positive benefits for the body. Not only is ginger rich in vitamin C, magnesium and potassium; it also has antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger also contains antiviral properties that can help your immune system fight and prevent viruses. The beneficial properties of ginger are most potent when it is fresh, so look for the root rather than dried ginger. Ginger can be cooked into meals like curries and stir fries, but can also be consumed in hot tea.
Turmeric is a popular spice originating from the “land of spices”, India. Turmeric is a common ingredient in most curries, but also offers a range of benefits for your body and immune system. Turmeric not only contains curcumin which we already know is great for boosting your immune system, but is also packed with another 300 nutrients including vitamin C, iron fibre and zinc. Turmeric has also been shown to regulate blood sugar, eliminate toxins and contains anti-inflammatory properties. As with ginger, it is available powered or fresh, and offers far more benefits when consumed fresh. Turmeric is commonly used in curries but can also be stirred into a glass of hot milk.
Cinnamon has been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Cinnamons distinct smell and flavour comes from the oils that are packed inside, which happen to be full of cinnamaldehyde. Cinnamaldehyde has been shown to reduce inflammation that is linked to chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Cinnamon can be used as a seasoning in high carbohydrate meals to decrease the impact your meal will have on your blood sugar levels. After you eat a high calorie meal, your blood sugar level rises as your stomach empties, adding cinnamon to your meal can help slow this process down. You can use dried cinnamon as a seasoning in all kinds of food (it pairs well with apples, sweet potato, and grapefruit) but you can also use whole cinnamon sticks to enrich a soup or curry.
Garlic doesn’t just ward off vampires, it’s also great at helping your body combat cold and flu season. Part of the reason garlic is such an effective immune system booster, is because it is full of a chemical called Allium (the same chemical that gives garlic its pungent smell). Allium can stimulate various cells including your T cells that are essential for fighting viruses and infections. Garlic has also been found to have anticarcinogenic properties, and helps to combat high blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol levels which can both lead to wider health problems and immunity compromisation. Garlic can be used in a wide range of dishes and is most potent when crushed or chopped as it releases the compounds that are beneficial to our immune system.
Oregano isn’t just a great herb for pasta sauces and pizza, it can also work as a powerful immune booster. Oregano has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and the ancient Greeks and Romans associated it with happiness and joy. Traditionally used to treat respiratory and sinus conditions, the strong aromatics and antibacterial qualities of oregano target the respiratory tract and have even been said to ward off organisms that lead to the development of strep throat. Oregano is packed with essential oils known for their antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Some studies have even cited Oregano as being effective at treating serious bacterial infections such as E Coli. Although the essential oils that boost your immune system can be found in fresh oregano, oregano oil is a particularly potent way to boost your immune system and ward off nasty infections.
Nature has done a great job of providing us with all the tools we need to boost our immune system and fight off disease. By recognising the beneficial properties of certain herbs and spices, you can begin to incorporate them into your meals and design your meals around any infections that may be lurking. Eating spice rich meals in winter can give your immune system the boost it needs to keep fighting disease and run efficiently. So spice up your meals today and keep infections away!