Did you know that infections and immune problems during childhood can cause cardiovascular, autoimmune problems and other diseases later in life?

Research published in the 2011 edition of the International Handbook of Adult Mortality reported that poor childhood health increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis in adulthood. This should come as no surprise, since we already know that what happens in childhood, such as failing to breast-feed or childhood obesity, has consequences on health later in life.

The results of this research showed that optimal healthy aging is dependent upon maximising health throughout life, not waiting until adulthood before acting.

Healthy ageing begins in childhood

This research is supported by an earlier paper titled “Does childhood health affect chronic morbidity in later life?” which appeared in Social Science and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal. Researchers reported that childhood infections confuse the immune system, causing it to mount an autoimmune attack on the body’s own blood vessels. This results in blood-vessel lesions and hard fatty plaque deposits that accumulate in the blood vessels over many years. In the end, blood vessels become hard and blocked, and this causes cardiovascular diseases, including heart-attacks and strokes. These scientists also reported that lung infections in childhood can setup a cascade that can result in life-threatening lung conditions later in life. They reported that even some adult cancers can be triggered because of a dysfunctional vitamin metabolism precipitated by infections during childhood.

So what can you do to protect your family’s immune system and prevent infections this winter?

Pharmaceutical vs Natural

Pharmaceutical over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can be risky, and their effectiveness has been questioned in many clinical studies. The most trusted research organisation in the world, the Cochrane Collaboration has published a review that over-the-counter cough, cold and flu medicines offer no clinically significant benefit for children under the age of twelve (researchers did report they were effective for older children and for adults).

Making the situation worse, these over-the-counter pharmaceuticals do nothing to protect the immune system from attack, nor do they prevent infection in the first place. They focus on symptoms only; they don’t address the root cause of infections or immune weakness. Furthermore, these medicines are unsafe for young children: In the USA, where there is a more sophisticated adverse reaction monitoring system than in South Africa, their Electronic Injury Surveillance System-Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance program reported that 6% of all medication-related emergency room admissions were as a result of over-the-counter pharmaceutical cough and cold medicine use in children. These emergencies included heart malfunction, breathing difficulties and in some cases, death.

Natural over-the-counter products work differently to pharmaceuticals. Their focus is less on treating the symptoms, and more on treating the cause. They help to protect the immune system, fight infections and they help keep the chest clear of stagnant congestion, to reduce the risk of unproductive coughs manifesting in chest infections. Importantly, they are not associated with any of the risks of pharmaceutical cough and colds products.

Your natural winter first aid kit

A natural immune-protection protocol should be a three-pronged approach: season-long immune defence; the treatment of colds and flu if they occur; and the prevention of unproductive cough & chest congestion.

Immune defence

If your immune system is healthy and strong enough, infections should seldom occur. Therefore, even if you are healthy, you should provide your immune system with the herbal extracts and micronutrients it needs to protect you throughout winter. Strengthening or “boosting” the immune system is not enough, since if you “boost” a malfunctioning immune system that is already attacking your own body, you will make such an autoimmune attack even more aggressive. In such cases, allergies, asthma and other inflammatory conditions could be triggered. To prevent an autoimmune attack your focus should be, not only on strengthening, but also on protecting and activating (sensitising) the immune system:

  • Protecting the immune system will help prevent malfunction and autoimmune attack by providing a shield that defends the immune system’s cells from harm and resultant malfunction caused by pathogens, free-radicals and other toxins. Grape seed extract is an excellent antioxidant immune system protector.
  • Activating the immune system sensitises it for accurate and early detection of invaders. Echinacea, American ginseng, plant sterols and Wellmune® (a patented betaglucan extract from yeast cells) are excellent immune system activators.
  • Strengthening the immune system gives it a boost to more powerfully attack against viruses and bacteria. The best immune system strengtheners are vitamins A, C, D and zinc.

Colds and flu

If you develop a cold or flu, then take these natural medicines for five days, to relieve the symptoms, and to help fight infections:

  • To unblock the nose, ears and chest, soothe a sore throat, and to reduce fever, take Sambucus (elderberry) syrup for children; or Andrographis and White willow tablets for adults (White willow should not be given to children under 12 as it may cause a potentially dangerous condition in them, known as Reye’s syndrome).
  • To fight infections take Pelargonium and Sambucus syrup for children; or Olive leaf extract for adults.

Coughs and chest congestion

Coughing can help, but not if it’s unproductive. A productive cough helps expel germ-infested phlegm from the chest. However, a dry unproductive cough is only unpleasant and painful. If you have a cough, English Ivy extract will both loosen phlegm and reduce cough frequency.

This makes it ideal for both wet, productive coughs, as well as for dry unproductive coughs. English Ivy is safe for use in both adults and children.

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