Infectious diseases

I’ve had a succession of patients recently – including myself – asking for remedies for the flu/sore throat/cold that’s been going the rounds. Quite often they say, ‘But I take Echinacea regularly,’ or ‘I’ve been taking vitamin C for months,’ as though that should make them immune to infections. But as we all know really, it’s not that simple.

Immunity is a complex, many-layered thing, and it responds to all sorts of stimuli, from inside the body as well as outside. Usually, there are circumstances the patient can point to: ‘I’ve been working really hard recently,’ ‘I had a row with my partner,’ or ‘I hate winter!’ are among the most popular. Nowadays, we tend not to think about ‘getting a chill’ so much, although that could just as well tip the balance. The point is that there are always factors that can knock you off balance. And – just as important – we all need to be ill sometimes.

You can use herbs like Echinacea to minimise your chances of getting ill, and to make the illness as mild as possible if you do ‘catch’ something, but you can’t avoid illness altogether unless you live in a bubble. And nor should you. Without the occasional illness, your immune system would get rusty, and more likely to overreact to things like potential allergens. Auto-immune diseases could be triggered – things like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel problems – and these are far more debilitating having a cold – or even man-flu – from time to time. So make friends with your illness. It may make you temporarily miserable, but it has long-term benefits.