In part one of this series we talked about the immune system, it’s different parts and how they function in the body.
We talked briefly about how the immune response in the body can “negatively” affect areas of the body that are already weak, or diseased, but we mainly focused on how to support the immune system when it is fighting a foreign invader or pathogen.
In part 2 we will primarily focus on how to support the main systems of the body while it is going through an immune response. As we touched on in part 1, the actions taken by our immune system can exacerbate symptoms in areas of the body that were previously struggling, but aren’t necessarily “related” to the illness itself. For example: while a flu virus isn’t a particular danger to the heart under normal circumstances, and heart issues are not a normal “symptom” of a flu virus; various immune responses in the body such as cytokine levels can greatly increase the chances that any weak or diseased part of the body (including the heart) will experience harmful effects or symptoms. So, in this article, we are going to focus on the first of several main organs in the body, and how to support those organs and their related systems during a viral attack or other immune response.
First, just to re-cap a little; when our immune system gets activated, this ALWAYS results in an inflammatory response in the body. The immune system activates fighter cells, reporter cells, and many other cells it uses to fend off attacks, and as a result of the need for more communication and action, the body sends more blood, more lymph fluid, and more cells to certain areas, and we know this as “inflammation.” As we discussed in part one, inflammation itself is not at all a bad thing, and in fact it saves our lives. However, inflammation can also be a trigger for unwanted symptoms, especially in damaged or diseased areas of the body, and if severe inflammation is left unchecked it can cause serious, permeant damage. For example, a flu bug that causes some overall inflammation in the body due to the immune response, can cause extra inflammation in the heart of someone who is already struggling with congestive heart failure. While a little inflammation of the heart is no big thing for someone with a healthy heart and likely wouldn’t even be noticed, for someone with previous heart conditions it could be very serious. For someone who struggles with inflammatory bowel disease, just a little extra inflammation can cause extreme pain, poor digestion, and a host of unpleasant/dangerous symptoms.
Knowing that the immune response itself, (even when acting appropriately, aka not a cytokine storm or malfunction of the immune system) can cause an exacerbation of a disease or unpleasant symptoms in multiple organs and systems of the body due to high inflammation levels alone, will alert us to the fact that any diseased, damaged or improperly functioning organ or system in our body will need extra support during an immune response.
So let’s begin our talk on how to support each of the main organs and systems in our body through an immune response. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, there are countless excellent plants and natural supplements to support the body, one could write endlessly about all the market has to offer that can help these systems, however I choose in my work and writing to focus primarily on plants that are
Easy to find in the wild for many environments
Herbal remedies which can be grown by most people Or
3. Herbs that are fairly inexpensive to purchase
There are many so called “miracle” supplements that may well also be helpful, but I find simple is better, and the basics are often all that is needed when used properly. I do recommend a few products that are specially formulated for certain actions in certain situations, but most of my recommendations are simple and basic so as to be accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their financial status.
The main systems we will address supporting in the upcoming articles are the:
We will also look at how to best support the body overall during a cytokine storm. (see part 1 for more on cytokine storms, what they are, and how they can negatively affect the whole body.)
Today we will begin by talking about Liver Health, and how to support your liver during an immune response.
The liver preforms a host of vital functions for the body, including processing all the blood that leaves the stomach and intestines. It helps break down nutrients, metabolizes medications, and transforms many compounds into more usable forms that the cells of the body can actually utilize. Many forms of nutrients that we eat in our foods are not actually in a form that our cells can use them, and the liver is the organ that transforms these various nutrients into a form that the body can actually use. Another of the livers main functions is producing bile, and bile production can significantly lower when an illness is present in the body, which we don’t want to happen. Proper bile production allows the small intestine to properly eliminate the waste and harmful pathogens, dangerous compounds etc. that the liver is eliminating, as well as allowing the small intestine to break down and absorb fats during digestion. The liver is also vital for it’s ability to maintain consistent blood sugar levels, and store excess sugar for later use. It also helps the body fight infections by making immune factors and helping filter the blood from harmful pathogens. Because of these and many other functions, the liver is a vital component of the immune system, as well as vital for overall health and wellbeing and is an organ that needs support during times of illness and stress.
Below are some herbs for supporting healthy liver function and reducing stress placed on the liver during times of illness. The herbs listed below are by no means a comprehensive list of beneficial herbs for the liver; it is valuable to note here that almost ALL edible bitter tasting roots, herbs, and greens have significant liver supporting properties. So if you are ever in need and do not have these specific liver supporting herbs on hand, reach for any other bitter food or herb items that you have on hand. Even bitter lettuce growing in the garden can be very helpful for supporting your liver. Cultures all over the world have traditionally included the bitter flavor profile in their daily eating habits, but thanks to our western world’s obsession with sweet, salty and fatty flavors, (and the sad fact that corporations can make a lot more money using these flavors exclusively and eliminating the bitter and umami flavors,) our diets as Americans are sadly lacking in the vital compounds contained in the “bitter” flavor profile. Incorporating bitter flavors into your daily diet is by far the best way to support your liver. A few liver supporting (and digestion supporting) plants that are excellent additions to our diets, and fall into the bitter category are:
Dandelion Root and Greens
Fenugreek Leaves And Seeds
Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)
These bitter plants can add robust flavor to many delicious dishes, along with providing excellent support for both the liver and digestive system as a whole. Changing our diet to include these bitter foods, which once were common place in every diet in every culture, is by far the best way to support your liver both overall, and during an immune response. However, if changing your diet to include these bitter foods isn’t possible right away, there are a few other options you can make or look for locally.
“Bitters” a term used to describe a tonic or tincture made of bitter herbs, intended for digestive health is an excellent place to start. Adding a bitter tonic to your daily health routine, or at a minimum having some on hand to support your liver during illness can make a huge difference. If I had to choose a single herbal product to have for digestion and liver support for the rest of my life, it would be bitters. The miracles I have seen for myself and from working with many clients over the years as a result of using a bitters tonic have thoroughly impressed me. I am a firm believer in the power of the bitterness. Nausea, heartburn, under or over production of bile, constipation, diarrhea, chrones, and diverticulitus, are just a few of the conditions I have witnessed benefit in profound ways from just the addition of a bitter tonic, and no other dietary or lifestyle changes.
One of the most exciting things about bitters is you can easily make your own bitter tonic with herbs (or weeds as some call them) that you can find growing wild in many backyards and gardens such as: Dandelion root and greens, burdock root, and teasel root. If you want to branch out farther with the bitter herbs you can move onto the bitters that may not grow wild in your area, but can be easily grown in most climates such as fenugreek, feverfew, and arugula and sorrel. If you wish to purchase some excellent, fairly inexpensive herbs for a bitter tonic, (or grow them if you live in an environment that will support their growth) ginger, turmeric, and cardamom are a few great ones to add into a bitter tonic. Please always make sure the herbs you are purchasing to make tinctures or tonics for your liver are wildcrafted (by someone knowledgable) or certified organic, because the last thing you want is to add pesticides or toxins from improperly grown herbs to an already stressed liver. We don’t want to give the liver any additional toxins with the herbs, and even wildcrafted herbs if they are harvested near a cultivated field or roadway can be highly toxic. Many of the herbs that aid the liver in detoxifying also aid the land in detoxifying, and grow readily in highly toxic soil. So before your friend says “hey I have a HUGE patch of that growing on my land” or “I know where we can get a whole bunch of that stuff” make SURE it isn’t land that has had recent construction on it where you don’t know what chemicals might have been used, and that it isn’t close to any other known toxins. If you are not up for the task of making your own bitter tonic, you can purchase bitters at most local health food stores, or from most qualified herbalists, but again, quality matters, and even certified organically grown herbs are often mass farmed on anemic (even if it isn’t toxic with chemicals) soil that greatly reduces the active medicinal compounds the plants are able to make. So making your own herbal products with properly wildcrafted or home grown herbs on healthy soil will always give you the best, and most effective product. I’ve had clients in the past tell me they’ve tried bitter tonics from their local health food stores and “they didn’t help at all,” only to find my bitter tonics helped in miraculous ways, simply because the quality was so much better. So keep in mind that all supplements and tinctures are not made equally, and try to get the highest quality possible with whatever is available to you.
Also, remember that receiving with gratitude and asking the plants and tonics to help you in the needed ways is a highly valuable practice. Even some of the “worst” quality medicines when received with gratitude and thanks can have profound effects if that is all you have available at the time. Plants, and their essences and energies are far more profoundly complicated than we can comprehend, and to reduce them to merely chemical compounds is disrespectful and downright foolish
Another great way to get in bitter herbs, as well as amazing immune boosting allies such as chaga, reishi, and other mushrooms is in a hot beverage, prepared as a tea and drank as a black coffee like drink. You can either make your own mushroom and root coffee with such things as: roasted chickory, chaga, shitake, reishi, miatake, dandelion root, burdock root, blackberry root, ashwaghanda, astragalus, and other amazing adaptogenic and liver supporting herbs. Or, if you don’t wish to make it yourself, it can be purchased from many health-food stores or herbal shops. Some are much better than others, both in taste and in quality, so if you try one, and hate it, try another one. There are some amazing blends out there, they just take hunting for sometime.
I love making my own mushroom coffee blend, as many of the ingredients such as chicory root, dandelion root, burdock root, etc., can be harvested on my property. And home roasted roots have a flavor that I’ve never seen matched in commercially available products.
Because of the livers blood purifying work, much of what applies to liver support, also applies to overall support of the blood and vascular system as well. Properly filtered blood is healthier blood overall.
A few other herbs that are extremely helpful when healing/supporting the liver are:
Milk Thistle Seeds (Silybum marianum) have been used for thousands of years to treat bile conditions and help heal and tone the liver. Milk thistle seeds contain a group of compounds including silybin, silychristin, and silydianin which help aid the liver in bile production, and flushing out unwanted toxins. These compounds also reduce inflammation, help promote cell regeneration, and can greatly benefit those with liver disease.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) contains powerful antioxidants that may help protect the liver from damage caused by viruses and toxins, as well as boosting cell regeneration in the liver.
Green Tea: the high antioxidant levels contained in green tea have been shown to greatly support liver function, and even dissolve unhealthy fatty deposits in the liver. Green tea can be an excellent support when going into or coming out of an illness such as a viral attack, if liver health and function is a concern going into an illness, or just to help re-set and restore a healthy liver that has been dealing with extra viral load.
Licorice Root (Osmorhiza) has been shown in studies to be protective and beneficial to the liver in many ways due to it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Licorice root has some contraindications, and can react poorly with certain medications, so as always, with any plant, do your research before you use it, and make sure it’s not going to interact poorly with something you are taking and cause more problems than good. That being said, licorice root is a powerhouse, and if no contraindications are present, it is an excellent choice for liver support during a viral storm as it has profound anti-viral and immune boosting properties as well.
There are many more herbs I could go into, as most plants that have powerful antioxidant properties (of which there are hundreds) can be very beneficial to the liver. But for the sake of length I will end our liver supporting herb list there.
Non Herbal Liver Support
When talking about liver health, it’s also important to mention some support for this detoxification process, in the form of binders as well. Bitter herbs are supportive of healthy chemistry in the liver, proper bile production and flow, and other key functions, while binders address an immediate problem of the liver filtering out more than it is able to flush via the digestive tract, particularly the large intestine. Binders include, but are not limited to things like:
Below I will list a few of the pro’s and con’s of each of the binders above.
The upsides of this binder are: it is extremely cheap, is very readily available, and has been used for thousands of years in one form or another. The “activation” of the charcoal refers to how small the particles are ground, which creates more surface area than larger particles of charcoal would, and thus allows for more absorption. The downside of activated charcoal is it shows no restraint in what it absorbs, and can just as easily absorb nutrients as toxins. Because of this, charcoal is best used sporadically, not daily, and is not recommended for use in people who are suffering from malnutrition. Another downside is it can cause constipation, which can be counterproductive when you are trying to use the bowels as a means of eliminating toxins.
The perks of bentonite clay are: it is very easy on the digestive system, and can even help with some symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, chrones disease, diverticulitus, and other chronic bowel conditions. Like activated charcoal it is also quite readily available. The downsides are, like activated charcoal, bentonite clay can also absorb other nutrients in the gut, but seems less likely than charcoal to absorb meaningful levels of nutrients, according to some studies. Like activated charcoal, it can also cause constipation when used in large doses, or over a period of time. The other downside of bentonite is sourcing can be a factor that needs to be considered. Because clay comes from the earth, ground can be contaminated with chemicals or other harmful substances, and if the clay is harvested from these areas, it can be contaminated as well. Source your clay wisely, don’t just grab the cheapest option, and you should be fine.
Enterosgel is a product made in Russia, that is made from silica. It used to be really hard to get your hands on and took weeks or months to arrive from Russia, but is now pretty readily available in the states. The packaging is still all in Russian, which weirds some people out, but you can find all the information about it in English online on their website.
The downside of Enterosgel is the price/availability. It is not outrageously expensive, although due to supply issues the price varies from month to month and year to year sometimes. The average cost at this time is aprox $.75 per dose, which is significantly higher than something like activated charcoal. So while it may not be something you want to take every day, (and you really shouldn’t need to take any binder daily outside of an acute situation) it’s also not out of the price range of most people when it comes to an emergency poisoning, or a period of needed detoxing.
The pro’s of Enterosgel are that it absorbs by molecular weight, rather than just absorbing everything in its path like charcoal. Because it has a specific quite narrow range of molecular weights that it absorbs, this results in Enterosgel NOT absorbing medications, nutrients, etc. Most toxins, poisons, etc are within the molecular weight that it readily absorbs, and so it can safely be taken with medications which is a huge advantage in certain situations. And this also makes Entersogel ideal for anyone suffering with malnutrition as well. I highly recommend homesteaders have some Enterosgel on hand as it has amazing uses for digestive health, liver health, poisoning, and many other situations.
Our liver is truly one of the most valuable organs we have for fighting off a viral threat, and maintaining a healthy immune system, and as I mentioned before, continuous liver support through diet and consumption of bitter herbs is vital for maintaining proper liver function in a society that continues to pollute the air, soil and water with pesticides and chemicals. Setting up a habit of consuming healthy liver nourishing foods on a regular basis is by far the best option for maintaining proper liver function during a viral or bacterial attack on the body. But even if you don’t already have healthy liver practices in place, in the event of a viral attack, supporting your liver via the herbs and binders above can greatly reduce negative symptoms as well as help protect your liver from potential damage that can result from an immune attack.
Hopefully this gives everyone some proactive ways to help your liver operate at its healthiest level possible, and help your liver recover from stressful seasons. If you start implementing any of these healthy strategies into your life please let me know in the THJ Telegram group its always fun and interesting to hear what others learn and notice as they work with these herbs and their bodies.
Simple Tincture Recipe
Fill a quart Jar 1/3 full of fresh roots or herbs OR Fill jar 1/4 full of dried roots or herbs.
Fill remaining jar space with 80 proof to 100 proof food grade grain alcohol. You can use vodka, whiskey, rum, or whatever alcohol you have on hand. Just make sure it is at least 40% alcohol. (80 proof)
Seal the Jar, and label with all contents, and the date you started your tincture.
Place the jar in a cool, dry place such as a pantry or cupboard.
In 6-10 weeks, strain contents of jar through a fine mesh strainer or piece of muslin cloth.
Compost plant bits that you strain out, and place strained tincture into a glass jar, and use as needed.
Tinctures made in this way will keep their efficacy for a minimum of 2 years, and many will last closer to 5 years.