As the flu season approaches, especially this year with predictions that it may be wide-spread, it is wise to do everything in one’s power to prevent getting sick. Besides the common sense good hygienic practices, enlisting the help of essential oils, herbs, and stress reduction will greatly reduce the odds of getting sick. Part 1 of this article will focus on the anti-viral properties of essential plant oils, followed by next months feature on stress reduction and adaptogenic and anti-viral herbs.
Essential oils, which are the concentrated volatile essence distilled from plants, possess anti-viral properties which few other preventative or treatment options, natural or pharmaceutical, can offer. Anti-viral properties mean that the oils, when vaporized in the air or applied to the body, make viral cells less potent or destroy them. They also detract viral cells from penetrating beyond the surface of the skin when repeatedly and liberally applied. Effective applications of essential oils for this purpose would include diffusion, massage, in foot or full baths, hand washing, and direct inhalation. A daily self-massage of essential oils diluted in a good quality carrier oil such as sesame or grapeseed oil after bathing will penetrate the epidermis and enter the bloodstream, providing not only anti-viral benefits, but circulation enhancement and healthier skin too. Additional applications throughout the day to the hands, arms, and neck with an essential oil infused lotion will layer the effect.
It is important when considering these applications to purchase pure essential oils and high-quality, cold pressed carrier oils to reap the most benefit. Ideally these would be mixed by hand, using 5-20 drops of essential oil per tablespoon of carrier oil, depending upon the particular plant oil used, and the age of the person. Cinnamon and clove oil, for example are much stronger smelling and can be a skin irritant if used at the twenty drop ratio, whereas eucalyptus or lemon volatilize very quickly and can be more liberally applied. A very young child or the frail elderly should also use the lower ratio. Good anti-viral oils include: rosemary, tea tree, thyme, sandalwood, clove, cinnamon, lemon, basil, and eucalyptus.
Because of essential oils quick evaporation rate, they will be most effective when applied or inhaled several to many times a day. Another viable application particularly suited for home or office use is diffusion, which sends their small molecules airborne. This will help destroy airborne viruses and bacteria, and freshen the air without the use of chemical sanitizers, which often have an unpleasant odor. An example of diffusion could be adding essential oils to a spray bottle of distilled water and routinely spraying the air. This solution could also be used to sanitize surfaces. An electronic diffuser is another option, which will disperse the oils in a timed manner. Essential oils are very unlikely to provoke allergic reactions in people because they evaporate quickly and don’t linger in the air, and also because they are naturally and not chemically derived.
Another important consideration to remember is that influenza is a virus, not a bacteria, so hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps, while effective against contagious bacteria, will not ward off the flu. Diligent hand washing will, however, and adding essential oils to a mild hand soap will make this practice that much more effective. A simple combination of lemon and tea tree would be an effective combination that is mild enough for even sensitive skin.
During the Black Plague a group of opportunistic robbers would enter wealthy plague victims homes and rob the helpless victims blind. By covering their bodies with essential oils, and washing their hands with vinegar and essential oils after leaving, they managed to stay well despite repeating their crimes in infested homes. When they were finally caught, they exchanged their secret for a lighter sentence. The mixture of essential oils they used: rosemary, cinnamon, clove, lemon, and eucalyptus, was analyzed by Weber State University and found to have a 99.96% effectiveness against airborne bacteria.
The first half of this article focused on the anti-viral properties of essential oils and how they can weaken or even destroy viral cells. We will now explore how stress reduction is a major component of a healthy immune system, and ways one can mitigate the negative effects of stress on the body.
The body doesn’t recognize good stress from bad stress, but the results are essentially the same- muscle tension, poor sleep, more of a tendency to use nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine, which deepens the stress cycle by secreting more excitatory chemicals; poor digestion, shortened temper, and a weakened immune response. Whether this stress is caused by planning a wedding or opening a business (positive events, but stressful), or by losing a job or a home, the effects on the body will be the same. Stress in the short term can be perceived as useful, because it provides the body with quick energy through the release of glucose and adrenaline, to help accomplish the task at hand. Long term stress however can result in elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure; chronic muscle tension, and an overtaxed immune system that will be unable to tackle an invading virus with the efficiency that could prevent the illness.
Massage therapy, warm baths with salts and essential oils, careful attention to one’s diet, and adaptogenic herbs can all help restore the para-sympathetic nervous system in times of stress. This branch of the nervous system in the anti-thesis of the burnout syndrome as it governs the secretion of calming and balancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and nor-epinephrine, encourages healthy digestion so that one may receive the optimum energy from food and therefore be less likely to overeat, and promotes deeper sleep.
Adaptogenic herbs are tonic herbs that essentially help the body adapt to everyday and chronic stress, both internal and external. A three month period of taking adaptogenic herbs should promote a healthier immune response, more energy, and better cognitive function. Individuals with auto-immune and/or inflammatory conditions may benefit from a longer course of these herbs, with guidance from a qualified practitioner. Examples of adaptogenic herbs include many of the medicinal mushrooms: reishi, maiitake, shiitake, and turkey tail; as well as Siberian ginseng, astragalus, and schizandra berry. All tonic herbs should be discontinued during the course of an acute illness as they are considered preventative and strengthening. To take these herbs while one is sick may strengthen the energy of the virus itself. Chinese medicine refers to this as “trapping the robber in the house.”
There is no reason to feel helpless as the numbers roll in of more flu cases. Common sense precautions, combined with some help from mother natures allies, and reducing stress can go a long way to keeping ones health not only intact, but full of vitality.