Be the change they said. I grew up in a generation where you were told to do something great, spread your word, and make movements. I think we’re beginning to see the pitfalls of that luxury with #fakenews and a readily available source of information available at anyone’s fingertips. You too! Can be anything you want. You too! Can research on your own, formulate complex thoughts and theories and then turn around and preach it as truth like wildfire. I’m all about patient empowerment and education by the way.
“Ignorance is not the greatest evil. The accumulation of poorly mastered knowledge is.” Pluto
So what does that mean right now, when fear is rampant and our understanding bleak? It means we lean in. The strongest withstanding relationships are those that turn towards each other in a time of need. Just be skeptical about what they are saying.
Here’s the nitty gritty: actually on second thought, don’t listen to me, go get it directly from the source at www.CDC.gov. Most of us are pretty up to date at this point. It’s a virus, one in which we know little about, that is highly contagious, and can grow exponentially. So STAY HOME. Be like South Korea. Don’t be like Italy.
But what about all these other theories floating around, promoted by fear?
Let’s dive into that first. It’s normal to experience anxiety and fear of the unknown, and let’s face it: This is a big bleeping unknown. A natural reaction would be to start having concerns about if you and your loved ones are doing “things right” and starting to work yourself up about what you can do to protect yourself. Although this isn’t a time for cynical jokes (albeit my nature) I can’t help but point out that if you STAY HOME and limit exposure that is BY FAR the best thing you can do to protect you and your loved ones (and this country). I think about all those patients coming to see me complaining of feeling like *bleep* but eat bon-bons and a six pack for dinner. Sure there are lots of things to take that will make you feel better or will fight a virus, but the BEST thing you can do for yourself is practice prevention. STAY HOME. And don’t eat bon-bons and a six pack.
No seriously, practice good self care. You know those limits on electronic devices parents were preaching about for their children just 6 months ago, well start practicing them on yourself. Make sure to get outside everyday, and add some movement into it. Stay hydrated, eat your greens, get 8-10 hours of sleep (if you are under the age of 60; despite popular belief it is actually normal to start sleeping less as you age). Practice gratitude… stay tuned to the Comet for this one. I’m doing a piece on how gratitude doesn’t replace emotions. Meaning we don’t practice gratitude in order to get rid of our fears and anxieties. So still feel those (bummer I know). These are the things we’ve been telling you to do for-eh-vah.
But onto the next nitty gritty: “Yeah, gotcha, but what about elderberry.” Well, I will shamelessly admit that alternative medical approaches and herbalism are my speciality. Note that. They aren’t Karen’s specialty, or your (insert MLM essential oil rep here), they are mine and all other highly trained licensed naturopathic physicians. Harsh I know. But there is a big difference between using kitchen herbs for mild ailments to understanding how the body operates biochemically and being able to sift through research on various topics. That being said! I totally empower you to take a course on epidemiology and research design if you are interested in doing this yourself. But last I checked, Karen didn’t.
But I digress, back to elderberry.
Let’s actually start off with the difference between 1. Immune Boosting (currently google’s 2nd favorite phrase after COVID-19) and 2. Immune Support (or modulation in my world).
1. Immune Boosting: this is a slightly erroneous word coined by who knows what to sell you things that you probably don’t need for something you probably don’t have. Regardless, when I say immune boosting I think of herbs, nutraceuticals, and medication that heighten the immune response in an individual. This means it promotes cytokine production. There it is. That was the new ticket word everyone is an expert on for today. Cytokines. So what are cytokines? Well, in simplicity, it is how our immune system talks to itself and the rest of the body. Kind of like how the brain produces neurotransmitters to get it’s job done; the cells of our immune system secrete cytokines to do there’s. Doesn’t sound too horrible right? It’s not. Well, until it is. For most individuals you don’t need to worry about what your cytokines are doing, especially if you are a healthy individual and doing all of our foundations of health prevention stuff (greens, water, movement, gratitude). The people that do keep track are the autoimmune population and immune compromised. And for the most part even they aren’t too concerned and here’s why.
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMOTING CYTOKINE PRODUCTION AND A CYTOKINE STORM. Needless to say, all of my autoimmune patients have had the debriefing loooooooooooong before this odd Mars conjunct Saturn conjunct Pluto thing. One needs to have a reason to be taking something, and if you don’t need to promote your cytokines, then don’t. My autoimmune patients are advised to avoid all “immune boosting” herbs like echinacea, balsamroot, and elderberry. Again- for the healthy majority, you would be fine taking these things…. But why would you take them if you don’t have anything to fight? This is a really important point that I want to roundhouse back to. Don’t take things you don’t need.
Ugh, tangents. Back to the difference between storms and promotion. A “cytokine storm” happens when one overproduces the necessary amounts of cytokines needed in order to fight an infection. Most of the research has been done in reference to graft-versus-host disease (you got a new heart and your body didn’t like it) and H5N1 influenza with acute respiratory distress. You can read more about cytokine storms and just how little we know about them here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3294426/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711683/
“Little we know about them?!?!” Yes. We’re not even clear whether the storms are helpful or harmful. But don’t let that give you anxiety, because as we roundhouse back to the main point- you’re not going to be taking anything that would be purposefully promoting cytokines unless you are fighting something. Also, this idea that taking elderberry while perfectly healthy will throw you into a cytokine storm is absurd. At the very least, you would need to ingest a *bleep* ton of elderberry and if you have spent that much time collecting them, then give us a call and we will contract with you as a wildcrafter for Salt Creek Apothecary (shameless plug in).
To date there have been no case reports of elderberry, echinacea, or balsamroot causing cytokine storms in living breathing humans. The research that is being thrown around currently has to do with the main constituent of elderberry (sambucol) and in vitro testing monitoring a few specific cytokines. And remember, cytokine production is warranted and wanted in many (most?) anti-viral actions, which elderberry does. Honestly, this needs to be a separate, longer post and discussion on how to use information collected from research in non-human trials when testing direct, individual constituents versus whole herb profiles. Hit me up if you want a telehealth visit.
Finally, point 2. Immune support (or modulating).
So what should you be doing besides long walks by yourself with a handful of spinach and 64oz of water? Well, there are some herbs and nutraceuticals that I consider to be immune modulating. Meaning that they support the immune system without forcing it to strike up arms in action. There is some interesting research coming out about medicinal mushrooms that I am all on board with. Particularly Reishi, turkeytail, and cordyceps (which is what we put in our Immune Tonic from Salt Creek Apothecary). A lot of the information out there is around cancer therapies… because that used to be our biggest concern. You can read more about them here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/
I also like our “adrenal adaptogens” like ashwagandha which grows here in the PNW as an annual. If you feel like turning towards the doomsday prepper mentality, or just really love herbalism and farming, you can buy yourself some seeds now to plant in this year's garden. We use the company Strictly Medicinals Seeds out of Oregon. Classic herbs that can be used to ease the tension like rose, which grows wild here, chamomile, and the mint family are wonderful additions to your long isolated walks. It may sound like I’m being patronizing, but the point still holds: you really don’t need to take anything out of the ordinary in order to prepare for what is to come. I am here to support you. Your community is here to support you. Treat yourself well. Get some medicinal mushrooms if you must, and start using your culinary herbs on the regular (cooking, teas, infusions, herbal baths, inhalation mists, etc.). And if you take elderberry, you’ll be just fine (but unnecessary unless you are experiencing symptoms or have had known exposure). This is my suggested daily protocol for healthy individuals looking for further support.
Dr. Kristen Acesta’s Protocol:
1 orange provides you with 100mg of vitamin C, saturation point of blood serum levels is at 200mg so eat at least 2 per day. Take a vitamin of it if you must.
3 cups of spinach (and most other leafy greens, which cooks down to about 1/2c) gives you almost 6mg of zinc, optimal doses are ~8-11mg a day. So eat 6 cups. Or take a vitamin if you must. Most flour is either fortified or has natural levels of zinc in it too, so if you are shaming yourself about carb bingeing don’t worry about it. You’re most likely still getting your levels. (And stop shaming yourself.)
Vitamin D is one thing we generally don’t get enough of, so I do recommend 2000-5000IU/d in vitamin form unless you are abiding by the long walks outside by yourself. 20 minutes of direct sunlight to your forearm produces roughly 10-20,000IU of vitamin D.
Kitchen culinary herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, nutmeg, coriander, and just about all the rest in the cupboard are helpful anti-viral and immune support.
I do like our Immune Tonic (medicinal mushrooms), but also like Paul Staments Host Defense.
Quercetin helps with histamine response and mast cell stabilization which can be found in apples and onions.
Just to reiterate this point, you can look at our American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and see their treatment protocols: https://naturopathic.org/general/custom.asp?page=Covid19Resources&fbclid=IwAR1xDdskIlcE4vEFw_FtawEY-vueNQn0C0BrNE2GBP55YmOY2rtCrc57XSw
Don’t forget to breathe. Contact me if you get questions, or better yet, schedule an appointment.
Kristen Acesta, ND
If you still have direct concerns with elderberry and want to do a bit more digging (besides the 1000 years worth of historical use in upper respiratory conditions promoting cytokine production in order to clear airways), here are a couple of journals suggesting it’s safety in both in vitro and in vivo trials and in relation to Influenza A and B:
Furthermore, herbalism is a dynamic medicine that goes beyond the confines of the symptom-cure model. Meaning that there is no one post that will direct you to an appropriate, individualized protocol. Using the wisdom of highly trained individuals in the art and practice of naturopathic medicine, alternative medicine, and herbalism is where the whole picture will be brought to light. If you are interested in learning more about the presenting picture of the current time and subsequent reflections with herbalism I encourage you to check out the registered herbalist (RH) Matthew Wood’s (free) information here: https://www.matthewwoodinstituteofherbalism.com/courses/freebies