People have been using herbs to fight infection since time immemorial, although it was not until Linus Pauling's 1970 book promoted the view that adults should take 1g of vitamin C a day to avoid the common cold that vitamin supplements were used to fight specific ailments. The book created a storm when published and was responsible far a massive increase in sales of vitamin C supplements.
This view has since been disputed by many medical people, but Joe Public still uses vitamin C supplements to ward off a cold and treat one. The majority believe that the supplement is effective, so perhaps more work is needed on this use for the vitamin. What is known is that vitamin C is a very strong antioxidant, and large doses of it can only help the body to fight the ravages of free radicals.
Today, the use of herbal remedies and vitamins to fight infections is commonplace, and the science behind their use is much better understood. Take vitamins for instance. Vitamin C, again, although promoted to avoid the common cold, is not only a strong antioxidant as previously stressed, but also has antiviral properties and is though to be useful in the prevention of viral infections. It is a very versatile vitamin, and a widely used one.
Vitamin A, and its relatives the carotenoids, are important parts of the immune system that help mucous membranes resist microbiological attack. There is generally sufficient vitamin A in a normal diet, however, so that supplementation is rarely needed, and can even have an adverse effect, especially with young children. It is primarily in developing countries that vitamin A supplements are most commonly needed, and the vitamin has been found to reduce the mortality rate through measles infections.
It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children with measles should be initially be given a high dose of vitamin A, even in developed countries, but otherwise such a supplement is rarely recommended for children. The two big killers in Third World countries are measles and pneumonia, but unfortunately vitamin A does not appear to have an effect on pneumonia. It is still a huge killer disease.
Vitamin D, long considered the Cinderella of the vitamin world, is now believed to be effective in fighting TB, influenza and HIV as well as colon cancer and the bone problems it has long been associated with. The problem with this vitamin is that it is not found in many foods, and relies on sunlight for its synthesis in the body. Recent studies have found it to clearly be associated with the immune system, to help to regulate the growth of body cells and to play an active part in the human metabolism. The argument for a vitamin D supplement, long been regarded as unnecessary, has suddenly been turned on its head. Vitamin D is now one of the chief vitamins and is under very extensive ongoing study.
Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant that has recently been found to reduce the incidence of colds and upper respiratory tract infections in older people by strengthening the body cells. Although a vitamin E supplement has hitherto been regarded as unnecessary, it now being seen as an advantage, especially in the elderly, and it also strengthens cells. Sales of vitamin E are now increasing, perhaps due to the general increase in life expectancy in the western world.
Folic acid is another vitamin that has recently found favor, and is known to protect developing fetuses from spina bifida and other neural tube defects. It is known to prevent the formation of diseases in unborn children, and a deficiency can cause a number of mental diseases including schizophrenia. In spite of this, it is still the most common vitamin deficiency in the world, and folic acid supplements are highly recommended, especially to women of childbearing age, and to pregnant women.
In addition to vitamins, many herbs have specific properties that make them ideal for fighting infections and disease. In fact there is currently an explosion in the scientific study of the medical basis for this use of many herbs. One of the most frequently used is liquorice, and the scientific basis for the use of this plant in medicine has been proved and accepted beyond doubt.
Liquorice root is still one of the most used and most important herbs in Chinese medicine, and is used extensively for urinary and digestive tract problems. It has a very wide range of uses, including the treatment of TB and diabetes as well as the more mundane coughs and sore throats.
Garlic has strong antibiotic properties, and in addition to warding off vampires the herb can be used to fight a wide variety of bacterial infections.
The complex polysaccharides found in the herb astragalus boost the immune system, and astragalus is very useful in the event of bacterial infections. A supplement can be used for a number of different infections. The same is true of echinacea, native to North America, and whose proven applications are for sore throats and the common cold. A lot of nonsense has been written about echinacea, but these uses are proven.
Another application for echinacea and garlic is in the treatment of infections such as abscesses and boils. An aloe vera poultice is also effective in drawing and soothing an abscess. Bilberry can also be used for such infections. If the boil or abscess is large, an application of vitamin E oil can help to reduce the scarring. Vitamin E is excellent for the skin, and it aids healing by preventing infection.
If you have a urinary infection, dandelion is an excellent treatment. It is also a diuretic, and gives your whole water works a great clean out. It is also a useful herbal treatment for hepatitis, and the milk from the stems is a good cure for warts. Apply it thrice daily until the wart disappears. You can make a dandelion tea by infusing the leaves or the roots.
The majority of modern medical investigation into the uses of vitamins and herbs in fighting infections is spent on ratifying beliefs, and determining the scientific basis for them. It is doubtful if new uses for herbs are being researched, but what is undoubtedly being done is work on the synthesis of the active ingredients. The cost of herbal remedies could then perhaps be reduced.