Why Your Gallbladder is Necessary and How to Keep It Healthy
When a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery after discovering a gall stone following a gallbladder attack, I had to ask, why? It was her first gall bladder attack, and yes, they are excruciatingly painful, but to agree so quickly to surgery was deeply concerning. It wasn’t the first time that a friend or family member had rushed to have their gallbladder removed, and not all were without repercussion. In answering the above question, I feel pretty confident that it comes down to education and support. This is why after studying and teaching about this condition for over forty years I felt compelled to share the following information. Shouldn’t we be asking why there is an epidemic of gallbladder surgery and how can we take better care of this organ? It is my hope that the information contained in this article may empower you to take another look at why your gallbladder is necessary.
Unfortunately, it is not very likely that you will be encouraged to forgo gallbladder surgery by a doctor, nurse or surgeon, or that they will tell you that keeping your gallbladder is a realistic option. There are a few reasons for this and one is that the Western mechanistic model of allopathic medicine uses drugs and surgery as its main tools, and if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, all of the reference points are within the model and alternatives are rarely considered, let alone known, used or understood. If you want to learn about alternatives you will need to seek an alternative practitioner like an acupuncturist, herbalist, naturopath, or chiropractor. Medical practitioners who are serious about Integrative and Complementary medicine are also seeking out alternative practitioners in order to learn what is not being taught in medical school.
Another reason you will most likely hear from your doctor or surgeon for having a cholecystectomy is that 1 in 5 newly diagnosed patients with acute cholecystitis who do not have surgery readmit to the emergency room within about 12 weeks. Also, people who have a medical procedure to eliminate gallstones have them return 50% of the time and 80% of those return to have their gallbladder removed. Those are not bad odds considering most of those people are probably not making dietary or lifestyle changes, but it is still being used as an argument as to why you should just go ahead and get the surgery.
In my experience, the main reason most people choose to have their gallbladder removed, in addition to lack of reliable alternative information, is because most people aren’t willing to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes that would keep them gallstone free, or to follow a protocol that could help to eliminate existing gallstones. It takes time to empower ourselves with information that could help us understand what may have caused the problem in the first place and most people don’t know the right questions to ask when seeking alternatives. We also live in an instant gratification society and when it comes to physical pain, most people will take the easiest and quickest route to avoid and prevent it. This makes us vulnerable to the drug and surgery pushers who capitalize on fear and cause us to make hasty decisions that may not be in our best interest long term.
I think it’s important to note here that I am not a medical doctor and that surgery and drugs can be lifesaving. So please make your informed decisions in partnership with your health care provider. I recommend that you continue to be monitored as gallbladder disease can be serious and life threatening. The information presented here is for educational purposes only so that you can make an informed decision. I am an herbal practitioner in the Energetic Model aligned with the Wise Woman and Western European Herbal Traditions, and drawing from the wisdom of Chinese Medicine and Five Element Theory.
In Chinese Medicine, Five Element Theory is the study of relationships and organ systems are paired within each of the five elements. The gallbladder is a yang organ (hollow), paired with the liver, a yin organ (solid), and corresponds with the Wood Element. Yin balances yang and when the gallbladder is removed it sets up an imbalance in the paired organ system that causes other systems to weaken and collapse. You can live without your gallbladder, but should you? I would suggest you read the literature for yourself, especially testimonials from people who suffered long term complications and quality of life issues after gallbladder removal.
Cholecystitis, or biliary colic, is the most common type of gallbladder disease as either an acute or chronic inflammation often due to gallstones blocking the duct and causing bile to build up. Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder until the body needs to digest fats. If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts, or bilirubin, and the gallbladder doesn’t empty completely or often enough, it can harden into pieces of stone-like material forming gallstones. Two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment. For the purposes of this article I will be discussing cholesterol as they account for 80% of stones.
Gallbladder disease is more common in females, especially post-partum when estrogen levels are high. Gallstone related disease is a leading non-obstetrical cause of hospitalization in the first year postpartum. This is why I began researching this dis-ease over forty years ago as a practicing midwife. Most hormonal imbalances postpartum develop due to estrogen dominance. Birth control pills also increase risk and effect the ability of the gallbladder to contract and excrete bile.
Dietary factors are important considerations and one that you won’t see commonly discussed is vegetarian diets, which are implicated in gallbladder disease. In fact, you are likely to read that vegetarian diets can prevent gallbladder disease because it reduces the amount of cholesterol in bile and increases fiber in the diet. The fiber part is accurate, but the reason vegetarian diets are implicated is that very little bile is produced since the liver is not stimulated to produce it. This results in large fat molecules not being properly emulsified, making it difficult for lipase to bind, leading to incomplete or reduced fat absorption. Lipase is necessary for fat-soluble vitamin absorption (Vitamins K, D, E & A).
A shortage of the enzyme lipase may lead to high cholesterol. A deficiency of lipase, taurine, or lecithin can lead to a lack of bile and the formation of gallstones from cholesterol. Raw butter and cream is the highest source of lipase, with the highest source of lipase and lecithin being fertile eggs. Another cause of fat and mineral malabsorption, and inflammation, is gluten sensitivity.
One of the most important dietary considerations also happens to be the most deficient in the modern diet. It is the inclusion of the bitter flavor. When the time comes for the body to digest fats, the gallbladder contracts and pushes bile into the common bile duct that carries it to the small intestine where it aids in digestion. The bitter flavor is responsible for toning the gallbladder so that its action of contracting and pushing the bile into the bile duct is maintained. Our ancestors knew the importance of bitter, which also stimulates the production of saliva when introduced into the mouth and they included herbal bitters as part of their health regimen.
So, what are the risks of having or not having gallbladder surgery? While there is some chance of developing an infection necessitating emergency removal (5%), with a little support your body is capable of passing gallstones on its own. That said, cholecystectomy is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States according to the Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons with 1.2 million done annually and largely covered by Medicaid. In fact, cholecystectomy was the most common operating room procedure for Medicaid and uninsured stays while ranking 8th most common operating room procedure among patients with private insurance. The increase in surgeries can largely be attributed to the advent of laparoscopic surgery and the laparoscopic cholecystectomies in the early 1990s.
Bile duct injury continues to be a significant complication and is the leading cause of litigation against general surgeons. While the advent of laparoscopic procedure has substantial benefits (outpatient, quicker recovery, less pain) these did not come without risk, most notably a doubling of the rate of major biliary tract injury. Injury to the bile duct often results in additional surgical procedures, increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality.
Cholecystectomy also increases the risk of bowel cancer because without your gallbladder, bile drips continuously into the digestive system and can also cause diarrhea and may lead to higher cholesterol levels. It can leave you sticking close to the bathroom and no longer tolerating certain foods.
So when a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery, I had to ask, Why not try a simple alternative before undergoing surgery? And why not implement some simple changes that might leave you never having another gallbladder attack again?
Some people claim that a gallbladder cleanse or flush can help break up stones and empty the gallbladder, but that is not recommended here. It is good to remember that the body is naturally able to cleanse and flush itself when supported properly and that is the approach and philosophy of the Energetic Model and Wise Woman Tradition.
Our goal is to increase the amount of bile created by the liver and secondly to assist the easy passage of that bile through the liver and gallbladder. Certain herbs can bring about an increased production and flow of bile, including bitters. This may be enough to help break down existing stones and carry that debris through the duct. Recommendations below are generalized suggestions, do not include dosages and are not meant to be a complete protocol. To learn more about the liver and gallbladder, or when and how to do a flush, Please consider enrolling in Love Your Liver: Spring & the Wood Element at Five Element Academy.
Dietary & Lifestyle Recommendations:
• Increase your exercise to 2-3 hours a week to reduce risk
• Increase fresh fruit and vegetables
• Include bitter greens like romaine lettuce and dandelion
• Increase water and soluble fiber intake
• Eliminate gluten and potential food allergens, and foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. The more refined and processed food the higher incidence of gallstones. Go for high fiber, low sugar.
• Include parsnip, apple (particularly Granny Smith) radish, pear, seaweed, lemon, lime, raw butter, cream, milk, egg, avocado, parsley, barley, beets, and cucumber in the diet.
• Apple cider vinegar daily
• Use olive, coconut and flax seed oils.
• Raw, fresh pressed apple juice may soften gallstones and can help them pass.
• Acupuncture may be effective in relieving pain and spasm, reducing inflammation and volume of the gallbladder and restoring proper function. In combination with Chinese herbs, Acupuncture may be highly effective.
• Lose weight slowly if necessary. Obesity increases your risk for developing gallstones.
• Eat slowly and mindfully
• Avoid large meals
• Vitamin C can help change cholesterol to bile
• Potassium Iodide, Iodine and Seafood high in iodine (helps dissolve cholesterol)
• Fish oils and Omega 3s
• Disodium Phosphate – supports liver and gallbladder functions (Standard Process brand)
• HCL acid and pepsin
• Bitter roots like Dandelion, Burdock, Yellow Root, Yellow Dock
• Take herbal bitters daily before meals
• Drink mildly bitter teas like Chamomile
• Turmeric reduces inflammation
• Anti-lithic herbs, also known as “stone breakers” can help dissolve stones taken in tinctures or teas: corn silk, gravel root, stone root, parsley root, and enteric-coated peppermint oil.
• Spasmolytic, Chanca Piedra for relaxing smooth muscle and expelling stones
• Castor oil packs can relieve pain and can support the passing of stones.
The use of castor oil packs in aiding gallstone passing cannot be over emphasized. This and the use of bitters and herbal infusions were well known by our ancestors. It is this Wise Woman Tradition that has brought us this far and we would do well to not lose sight of it. Let your care provider know, “I’ll keep my gallbladder, thank you!” And then ask for their support and guidance to make the wisest and most informed choice.
Disclaimer: Talk with your doctor before trying to treat gallstones on your own. If you have yellowing of the eyes, fever or chills, and intense abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately.
Trauma Acute Care Surgery, Mestral C, Rotstein O, Laupacis A, et al. A population-based analysis of the clinical course of 10,304 patients with acute cholecystitis, discharged without cholecystectomy. 2012;74(1):26-30.
“There are a great many interventions that are possible with plant medicines and unlike pharmaceuticals, viruses don’t develop resistance to them.” – Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections
“So, you are an herbalist. What would you recommend as a preventative, or to help someone get over the coronavirus?”
This question is posed to me often during this challenging time of viral spread. It makes me stop and think. I have been thinking about it a lot, even before the questions started coming. It is a difficult and dangerous question for an herbalist, especially in our present political and medical climate.
The strength of herbal medicine lies in its tonic ability to restore bodily systems, and not necessarily in treating disease. A tonic is an herb that must be taken consistently over time. Herbalists do not diagnose or treat illness and disease. Our strength lies in prevention, and in health and wellness support of the body to heal itself.
That said, there is much that we can do in support of healing. Aside from everything we already know to do to prevent the spread of a virus, I would like to offer my perspective and some recommendations that may be supportive.
At the moment, the therapeutic strategies employed by Western Medicine to deal with viral respiratory infections are mostly supportive, and prevention is aimed at reducing transmission. In spite of the recent spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus is much less contagious than the measles. Seven strains of coronavirus are now known to infect humans. Four cause common colds, and two rank among the deadliest of human infections: SARS, and MERS. Covid-19 is number seven.
Because the symptoms take longer to emerge than a seasonal flu, it’s spread is more rapid. Many who are only mildly ill and not sick enough to stay home, and others who are infected but don’t get sick, will continue to spread their infection to others. Those numbers will include people who never had symptoms, or had a flulike illness but never got a test for Covid-19.
The coronaviruses have become a growing concern in infectious-disease outbreaks world-wide. Pathogenic virus infections are still the leading cause of death in humans worldwide, and as population growth continues this will become even more of a concern.
The answer is not a simple one. The main reason being the lens through which we view health and dis-ease. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees the flu, or a virus with symptoms like the coronavirus, as a wind-heat condition. Plants that reduce inflammation in the lungs and expel the virus also alleviate wind-heat, and expel wind-heat invasion. The TCM view is through the lens of relationship and interconnectedness. It is an energetic model based on natural law, where healing takes place in the context of relationship with correspondences to season, food flavor, element, color, spirit, emotion, and more. It sees the ways in which we are in relationship with viruses not as a “virulent other,” but as an essential, underlying part of life on this planet. There is no avoiding them, and they cannot be killed off without killing off every form of life on Earth.
While Western Medicine basically leaves it up to the individuals immune system, advising rest, plenty of fluids, and over the counter medications as needed, the Chinese have been developing herbal combinations with very good outcomes when compared to Western approaches.
Viruses are very intelligent life forms, even if they are argued to walk between the worlds of the living and non-living. They are masterful shape-shifters.
Covid-19 is an RNA virus and as such can alter its structure very quickly. RNA is a single-stranded molecule, the messenger molecule if you will, that is used to carry genetic information (DNA) intimately involved in the synthesis of proteins needed as the building blocks for all forms of life, including our own. Viruses have genes that alter proteins which allow it to attach to a new species. They are talking among themselves, as are all life forms on planet earth.
Viruses are very good at surviving, and at hiding from the human immune system. They can analyze the nature of immune response launched against them, and can alter the host immune defenses in order to avoid it. The ability of RNA viruses to replicate unreliably and with great genetic variation makes it very hard, if not impossible, to create a vaccine for an RNA virus. They are also very hard to treat with pharmaceuticals as they mutate the moment they encounter one. And it all happens very quickly.
“Epidemiologists have been warning, with increasing insistence, that a worldwide pandemic similar to the one that covered the globe in 1918… is due soon.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2012
In spite of the many advances in medical technology, warns Buhner, there is very little modern medicine can do to treat a widespread pandemic of deadly influenza. He goes on to explain that pharmaceutical antivirals are only partially effective and the stocks of those antivirals are insufficient to deal with a true pandemic. Buhner predicted that the system would begin to shut down, quarantines would force people to stay in their homes, and that we would survive, just as we always have.
A careful analysis of the re-created forms of the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, and its physiological damage, show that the reason the disease is so severe is that the virus creates a tremendous cascade of cytokines in the body that can become a cytokine storm. Cytokines are immunoregulatory proteins stimulated by the body’s innate immune system in response to infection. The cytokine cascade is the body’s attempt to kill off the invading pathogen. It is this overreaction, much more so in individuals with a strong immune system, that kills so many, so quickly. Susceptibility to more serve infection in older populations is primarily due to age-related physiology, declining immune systems, and pre-existing inflammations like arthritis.
Unfortunately for us, influenza viruses have learned how to use our own immune response for their purposes. They love the lungs and this is where they cause the greatest damage. Once inhaled they use the epithelial cell as a docking port and attach to lung epithelial cells with a glue-like substance called hemagglutinin. As soon as the virus is attached to the cell, it uses an enzyme called neuraminidase to alter the cell surface and trick the cell into taking it inside of itself where it can’t be found by the immune system. This is why neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu are effective when taken immediately and at the first sign of infection. Neuraminidase inhibitors inhibit the ability of the virus to enter host cells and thus stops the infection. Please see the list of herbal neuraminidase inhibitors below.
The virus also has a protection system it puts in place around itself during replication using what is called an M2 ion channel. M2 inhibitors block this process and literally stop the virus from replicating. Unfortunately, the extensive use of M2 inhibitors in poultry farms has now created resistance to them. The herb, Lomatium, is one of the most powerful M2 inhibitors known and does not create resistance (see below).
Once the virus unpacks itself and releases its viral RNA into the cytoplasm (viral budding and shedding), cells are depleted and die, and the whole process begins again in a vicious cycle. Pneumonia is when this process becomes severe with fewer and fewer functional alveoli. Throughout this process, the virus is also stimulating the release of cytokines in such a way to keep the parts of the immune system that can kill the virus suppressed for as long as possible.
In severe influenza, the infected airway cells begin generating specific cytokines, including type 2 interferon (Interferon-gamma IFN-y), which is responsible for most of the negative effects of the cytokine cascade. This is where the mortal damage occurs. The virus stimulates it, thus initiating a positive feedback loop in the cytokine process that can lead to a cytokine storm. Blocking IFN-y through the use of inhibitors has been found to significantly reduce airway infiltration of immune cells (see herbal inhibitors below).
Other cytokines are also released and inhibiting them, especially TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha) can reduce the cytokine-based inflammation that occurs during influenza, alleviating symptoms and inhibiting viral spread. Plants that inhibit cytokines that the virus stimulates will help to lessen severity and lung damage.
A factor in the vicious cycle of a cytokine storm is the release of a cytokine like protein, HMGB1, which has been implicated in sepsis-induced cytokine storms and is highly elevated in all patients who die from sepsis, including sepsis generated by influenza. The higher the cytokine levels go, the more HMGB1 is released. When HMGB1 is expressed in lung tissue, as it is during a severe flu, it causes massive neutrophil infiltration and acute lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation. Steroidal drugs, aspirin, and ibuprofen have no effect on HMGB1 levels. However, a number of herbal constituents do have a direct suppressive action against HMGB1.
To assist drainage of mucus in the lungs, the lymph nodes in the lungs begin to increase in size to drain fluids from the lungs and prevent suffocation. Supporting the lymph to assist in this drainage is essential. Herbal lymphatics are well known to assist in this drainage.
An influenza virus that stays in the upper respiratory tract is much easier to work with than a more severe infection in the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia is one serious complication, as are cytokine storms should the infection really take hold. Herbal antivirals work best to prevent these serious complications.
Antivirals work by inhibiting penetration of host cells, and preventing the virus from releasing viral proteins into the host cell interior. They don’t directly “kill” the virus, which is not “alive” in the sense that a bacterium is alive and can be killed.
While viruses don’t develop resistance to herbal medicine like they do with pharmaceuticals, many influenza strains are developing resistance to the primary pharmaceutical neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat them, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Resistance has become common to M2 inhibitors as well, especially due to their overuse in agribusiness. When oseltamivir ends up in our waterways, unaffected by wastewater treatment, it comes into contact with waterfowl and is exposed to avian influenza strains. The avian strains develop resistance, and as the avian, human, and swine strains commingle the resistance is passed on into strains that infect humans. The emergence of a highly infective avian strain resistant to all known pharmaceutical antivirals is one of the things that keeps viral researchers up at night.
The good news is that herbal medicine and herbal antivirals do not create resistance and support the body to heal without the harmful side effects. It is time to come into relationship with our medicine.
10 Herbs to Help You Fight the Flu
*See Herbal Protocol below the list of herbs to determine which specific herb to take during each phase of the flu.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture, tea, powder, capsules, or in food. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops, up to 4x/day as a tonic. As a preventative for the flu or chronic illnesses, 1 teaspoon, 4-6x/day, and for acute conditions every 3 hours. Tea: 2 oz. herb in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand 4 hours, strain and drink throughout the day. Powder: 1 tablespoon, 3x/day. In acute conditions, 2 tablespoons, 3x/day. Food: Can be added to soup stocks and immune enhancing broths (has a tendency to shred so be sure to strain well).
Uses – Active against influenza A, other viruses, and respiratory infection. Immune potentiator and modulator. Enhances spleen function (spleen deficiency). Is considered a superior immune tonic in Chinese Medicine. Normalizes white blood cell count. Useful in reversing immunosuppression from any source.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity, or side effects. Contraindicated for some people in late stage Lyme, as it can exacerbate autoimmune response. May increase effects of interferon and acyclovir. Synergistic with echinacea and licorice. Not for use in people with organ transplants.
2. Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum – not native to China
Part used – Aerial parts in flower or just before flowering.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Dried or fresh root tea or tincture. Tea: cold tea – 1 oz. dried herb in 1 qt. boiling water and let steep overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day. Take cold as a liver tonic and for mucous membranes, take hot to reduce fever. Hot Tea: 3 0z. dried herb to 1 gallon of hot water. Steep 30 minutes. Drink hot with honey, 8 oz. every 2 hours. Tincture: Fresh herb in flower, 1:2 @ 95%, 20-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. Dry herb use 1:5 @ 60%, 30-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. For acute flu or bacterial upper respiratory infections take 10 drops of tincture in hot water every ½ hour, up to 6x/day.
Uses – Reduces fever and body aches accompanying the flu. For general debility, pneumonia, cough, epidemic influenza, colds.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Mildly emetic when taken in large doses. Possible allergy due to plant being in the ragwort family (chamomile, feverfew, etc.). No known drug/herb interactions.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea, capsules, or tincture. Tea or Capsules: Root powder, 3 grams every 3-4 hours, or 1 teaspoon 3-6x/day (may be dissolved in water, taken in tea or put in capsules). Tincture: Root powder tincture, 1:5 @ 50% ¼-1/2 teaspoon 3x/day. In acute cases double the dosage.
Uses – Viral infections, especially pandemic influenza and encephalitis, respiratory infections, pneumonia, infections that affect the CNS (Lyme, meningitis, etc.), fevers, seizures, convulsions, sleep disturbances, headache, hypertension. Root tincture specific for reducing inflammation in the brain, reducing cytokine cascades initiated by viral agents.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – May interfere with the metabolism and effectiveness of drugs and herbs, increasing their uptake in the body. May increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.
4.Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis, dong chong xia cao
Part used – Caterpillar body, fruiting body.
Actions – Adaptogen, anti-asthmatic, antibacterial, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antitumor, antitussive, bronchial regulator, cardiotonic, expectorant, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immunomodulator, neuroprotective, renoprotective. TNF-a, IFN-y, cytokine inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cilia-protective. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea or tincture. Tea: Powder, 3-9 grams/day, or as high as 50 grams (2 oz.)/day for acute disease conditions, drink in warm water. Buhner recommends 3-4 tablespoons of the powder 3x/day. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, tonic dosage ¼-1/2 tsp., 3x/day. Double for active infections (1 tsp. 6x/day). Can also be infused in an alcohol liquor. The best results occur with 6 grams daily as a baseline for acute conditions.
Uses – Respiratory viral infections, CNS inflammation, unproductive or chronic cough, asthma, joint inflammation, low libido, altitude sickness, thick mucus in the lungs that will not move, tinnitus. Increases kidney strength. Tonifies the lungs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Synergistic with closporine and antidiabetic medications affecting dosage requirements.
5.Elder, Sambucus nigra – not native to China
Part Used – Ripe berries & flowers.
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, antioxidant, moderate immune stimulant. Neuraminidase, TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Increases T cell count. Cytokine modulator.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Taken as a tea, tincture, or decoction. Can be made into jams and jellies. The berries must be heated during preparation to reduce cyanogenic compounds. Flower tea: 1 oz. flowers (dried or fresh) in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand until cool, drink freely. To make an Elderberry syrup (Thea’s Gyspy Cold Care) for colds and flu please visit theaskitchen.com
Uses – Respiratory infections, and influenza.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, depending on the part of the plant you are using and how it is prepared. There are few reports of side effects. Start with low doses and work up. No known drug/herb interactions.
6.Ginger, Zingiber officinale, gan jiang (dried older rhizome), shen jiang (fresh, young rhizome)
Part used – Fresh (not dried) root (rhizome). “Baby” or young ginger can be obtained at your local farmers markets and frozen for later use.
Properties – Pungent. Dried root is hot & drying, fresh root is warm & moistening. Dispels wind-cold.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1) Taken as a fresh juice, tea or tincture. Fresh juice: ¼ cup fresh pressed juice in 8 oz. hot water to which lemon, lime, honey and cayenne may be added. Drink every 2-3 hours at the onset of a cold or flu. Tea: Use the leftover plant matter from juicing to make a tea by steeping in hot water for 4 hours, strain, drink as above. Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 in 95%, take 10-20 drops up to 4x/day
Uses – Viral infections including colds & flus, digestive aid, calms nausea, improves circulation, reduces diarrhea and stomach cramping, reduces fever through sweating (diaphoretic), reduces chills and inflammation, thins mucous, reduces coughing, pain relieving, relaxes blood vessels, synergistic with other herbs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy (emmenagogue), but the dried root can be used to ease morning sickness. May aggravate gallstones. May rarely cause gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea (usually from using dried, powdered root.) Synergistic with antibiotics, usually increasing their potency.
7. Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, gan cao
Part used – Root (3 year old roots or older).
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mucoprotective, adrenal tonic, analgesic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antispasmodic, antitussive, cardioprotective, demulcent, estrogenic, gastric secretion inhibitor, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, immunomodulator, immune-stimulant. Upregulates the production of type 1 interferon and increases T cells, which reduces the influenza severity. TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cytokine inhibitor, strongly inhibiting cytokine cascades. IFN-y modulator. Binds HMGB1 inactivating its actions in the body. Increases T cell count.
Note: As an immune-stimulant, it stimulates interferon, and enhances antibody formation. As an immunomodulant it will reduce interferon levels if they are high and upregulate if low.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as tincture, tea, infusion, or decoction. Best used in combination formulas. Tincture: Dried root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops up to 3x/day. Acute dosage for viral infections, ½ – 1 tsp. (approx. 50-100 drops) 3-6x/day (blended with other herbs) for a maximum of six weeks. Infusion: ½-1 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz. water, simmer for 15 minutes uncovered, strain, drink up to 3 cups/day. In acute conditions drink 1 cup every 2 hours. Decoction: 6 grams root powder in 16 oz. water, bring to a boil, uncovered and simmer until reduced to approx 8.5 oz., then add enough water to bring volume up to approx. 32 oz., drink throughout the day.
Note: Do not use deglycyrrhized licorice if using as an antiviral. Look for between 2.5 & 4% glycyrrhizin content. 2.5 % should render approx. 50 mg glycyrrhizin.
Uses – Influenza of all kinds, respiratory viral infections, pneumonia, and coronaviruses. Moistens the lungs and reduces coughing. Sore throats as a gargle. Eases abdominal cramping.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Long-term use can lead to numbness, dizziness, headache, hypertension, potassium depletion. This herb should rarely be used in isolation or in large doses for longer than 4-6 weeks, especially if you are pregnant. It is contraindicated in hypertension. Short term use in low doses, especially when combined with other herbs is very safe. Is synergistic increasing the potency of other herbs. It should not be used in combination with estrogenic pharmaceuticals, hypertensive drugs, cardiac glycosides, diuretics, corticosteroids or hydrocortisone.
8.Lomatium, Lomatium dissectum – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, mucous membrane tonic. One of the most potent M2 inhibitors known.
Properties – Bitter, cooling, clears-heat and dampness.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture or infusion: Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 @ 70%, 10-30 drops up to 5x/day. Acute dosage, 10-30 drops every hour. Same dosage for dry root, 1:5 @ 70%. Infusion: Cover 2 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz boiling water, cover and let steep for one hour, strain and drink up to 3x/day.
Note: Common influenza tincture blend (as recommended by Stephen Harrod Buhner) is equal parts lomatium, red root, licorice and pleurisy root. In acute conditions take 1 teaspoon, 6x/day. Have also been traditionally eaten as food.
Uses – Upper respiratory viral infections, all influenza strains including coronaviruses, pneumonia, eases coughs. Is synergistic when combined with other herbs including: red root, and licorice. May be used as a single.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity. May cause an allergic rash (1%) in some people (more commonly with fresh, not dried root), and will pass on its own within a week. Contraindicated in pregnancy. No known drug/herb interactions.
9. Red Root, Ceanothus americanus – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Lymphatic, tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, alterative, antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, and blood coagulant. Increases T cell count.
Properties – Aromatic, slightly warm, not widely used in TCM. Has a long history of use in the Americas primarily as an astringent.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3)Taken as a tincture, tea, or strong decoction. Tincture: Dry root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-90 drops up to 4x/day. Tea: 1 tsp. powdered root in 8 oz. water, simmer 15 minutes, strain. Drink up to 6 cups daily. Decoction: 1 oz. herb in 16 ounces water, cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, take 1 tablespoon 3-4x/day. Make a strong tea as a gargle for throat inflammation and tonsillitis.
Uses – Clears lymph. Useful for coughs including whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Contraindicated in pregnancy. Should not be used with pharmaceutical coagulants or anticoagulants.
10. Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea, Hong Jing Tian
Part Used – Root
Actions – Adaptogen, yin tonic, antidepressant, cardiotonic, endocrine tonic, nervous system tonic, neuroprotective. Neuraminidase inhibitor. Protects cells from hypoxia, significantly reducing lung damage. Prevents hypoxia-induced oxidative damage, increases intracellular oxygen diffusion and the efficiency of oxygen utilization. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Properties – Sweet, cooling, adaptogen tonic.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Tincture or capsules. Tincture: Dried root 1:5 @ 50%, Tonic dose: 30-40 drops, 3-4x/day. Acute dose ½-1 teaspoon 3x/day for 30 days then back to tonic dose. Capsule: 100 mg., 1-2 per day. In acute conditions up to 1,000 mg. daily. Standardized to 2-3% rosavins. Take just before meals.
Cleavers – Lymphatic with some of the same effects at Red Root. Fresh juice of the plant is best.
Echinacea Angustifolia – (Phase 1 & 2) Antiviral, found to be effective against swine origin flu. Inhibits receptor cell binding activity of the virus and strengthens protective power of the mucous membranes making it harder for the virus to penetrate.
Umckaloabo – A potentially life-saving herb. The main cause of death in an influenza virus infection is pneumonia. Learn how Umckaloabo prevents this at Wisdom of the Plant Devas.
Vitamin D3 –Vitamin D3 deficiency among ICU patients increases mortality by more than 70% compared to those who are not deficient. Dosage: 3-6,000 iu/day
Quercetin – Neuraminidase and HMGB1 inhibitor.
Zinc – Increases T-cell count. Has been shown to be active against a number of viruses and is supportive in treatment of influenza. Studies have found zinc supplementation can triple the survival rate for children with pneumonia and reduce the duration of the common cold in children and adults. Dosage: 10-25 mg./day, 25-40 during acute conditions. Works synergistically with selenium, 200 mcg/day.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil – Olbas, or Eucalyptus inhalation to reduce coughing and improve airflow.
Note: The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only. You should seek medical attention at the first signs of an infection, and be under the care of, and in communication with a licensed physician, even when you are using herbal alternatives. Be sure to disclose any herbs or supplements you may be taking. The recommendations made in this post are based on the work of, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Paul Bergner, and my own clinical experience.
Phase One – Early onset: Take at the first signs of infection, equal parts redroot tincture and licorice root extract, 30 drops, every hour until symptoms are resolved. Fresh ginger can be juiced, drink warm added to whatever liquids you are drinking. Drinking it in hot water or tea is diaphoretic helping to lower a fever. Use up to 2 oz, 2xday. Elderberry syrup as directed on label. Echinacea angustifoliainhibits the virus, 20 drops every other hour. Hold in mouth, then swallow slowly so tincture comes in contact with mucous membranes. Only useful in stage one. Lomatium tincture dosage, 20 drops every hour until condition improves. Boneset tincture or tea for body aches and fever. While some may recommend raw garlic at this stage, it may be too hot and pungent for this condition and it destroys good gut bacteria along with the bad. Learn more in Wisdom of the Five Flavors: The Energetics of Healing with Food and Herbs.
Phase Two – Moderate infection: A combination of Chinese skullcap, licorice, lomatium, cordyceps, astragulus, rhodiola, boneset, and elder. Antiviral Tincture Formula: Equal parts Chinese Skullcap, licorice, lomatium, redroot. 60 drops every hour. Immune Tincture Formula: Equal parts astragulus, cordyceps, and rhodiola. 60 drops 3x/day.
Phase Three – Severe infection: Double the dosage of Antiviral and Immune Tincture Formula.
3. Viral Infectious Disease and Natural Products with Antiviral Activity, Kitazato, Kaio & Wang, Y & Kobayashi, N. (2007). Drug discoveries & therapeutics. 1. 14-22.
4. Effects of Toll-Like Receptor Stimulation on Eosinophilic Infiltration in Lungs of BALB/c Mice Immunized with UV-Inactivated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Related Coronavirus Vaccine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135953/ J Virol. 2014 Aug; 88(15): 8597–8614. Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, et al.