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COVID-19 – The Relationship of your Nervous System to the Immune System – a Medical Herbalist Perspective

COVID-19 – The Relationship of your Nervous System to the Immune System – a Medical Herbalist Perspective

Apr 24, 2020

Joerg Mueller

The following article is not intended to replace your GP’s medical advice and – it is a personal viewpoint from a medical herbalist perspective. Please follow your current legislative measures (ie social distancing, hygiene, etc)

As I discussed in the last article, viruses have a pronounced relationship with the nervous system & the “ego” or “I-organization”.

The “I- organization” regulates the immune system – the immune system representing and protecting the boundaries between the “I” & the environment. 

What does this mean from a physiological viewpoint? 

Your body basically has 2 types of nervous systems (see graph1 below): 

The sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous system. 

In a nutshell your sympathetic nervous system is the “fight & flight type” nervous system, preparing the body for intense physical activity, but reducing your slower, more long-term regenerative body processes. Stress, fear, shock & panic initiate the sympathetic nervous system responses, which are described below. I would argue that as a society today, we predominantly live in our sympathetic nervous system, as we feel under pressure to live up to all the demands of daily life. Acute or chronic stress can trigger an overactive sympathetic nervous system, resulting in high oxidative stress. The immune system functions at its best in the parasympathetic state so when it switches to a sympathetic state, the body is vulnerable to disease. Chronic release of hormones such as cortisol, catecholamines, and neuropeptides due to stress also has a deleterious effect on the immune system, which impacts the sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.

Your parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is involved in regeneratively processes, such as muscle building, repairing the body, alongside producing hormones related to body repair & lifting mood (melatonin), stimulating the digestive organs and organs responsible for eliminating waste products of the body.

So how can we move our nervous system to a parasympathetic state?

In the waking hours, it is important to have good quality periods of being relaxed, ie disconnecting from stress & worries.
This can be done by grounding your body & mind, being aware of the present moment, and letting go.

Tea is a wonderful tool for this, as it is enjoyable, social, rehydrating, and sensory. Tea can act as a reminder for that “me” time, and herbal infusions (caffeine-free) generally support the shift into the parasympathetic nervous system (contrary to coffee which stimulates the sympathetic).

A beautiful quote by Okakura Kakuzo describes this rather poetically:

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the mundane facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order.

Effective digestive processes are only initiated when we are in a relaxed state of mind. Too often, we don’t give the necessary time and attention to our food. This also means food is not properly assimilated (the process of proper food assimilation is also important in not putting on weight) – thus the quality of food and the quality of time & attention given is hugely important.

I remember my grandparents, who always included bitter foods (or drink!) before the meal to stimulate the digestive organs. After the second world war, food was a luxury, and I remember them being consciously grateful for it – I can see this at the present time, where family life has a more central role, home-made food becoming having a more central role. 

In today's highly processed food culture, we have almost completely banned bitter-tasting foods from our menu (and its easy to include small quantities of bitters in our salad for example). 

Good quality sleep is also central for the parasympathetic nervous system to act regenerative – so anything that interferes with the length or quality of sleep should be looked at

From a herbalist perspective, we have many herbs that help to support the nervous system & help relaxation and regenerative processes

From our tea collection, I will list the 3 most relevant blends & ingredients to support the above mentioned: 

  1. I love, Organic Heart Chakra Tea (Organic)
  2. Chamomile Dream (Organic)
  3. Lemon Harmony (Organic) – we formulated this one specifically to detox, ie to stimulate the organs of elimination, such as liver, kidney & bladder)

I love Organic Heart Chakra Tea

One of my personal favourite, it is a relaxing & uplifting organic herbal infusion with soft floral tones. It also contains herbs that stimulate and support the digestive process is

Ingredients: Chamomile flower, Fennel, Cinnamon, Lemon Verbena, Rose Petal, Star Anise, Cardamon, Lavender flower

I Love - Heart Chakra

Chamomile (German) is a relaxing, soothing, slightly bitter herb. It acts both to promote digestive processes, reduces inflammation & spasm, and helps to calm an overstimulated mind with gentle pain-relieving (analgesic) qualities. Here it is important that it is of good quality (as poor quality Chamomile is very bitter and has a slight “mouldy” taste) 

Fennel is useful for urinary, digestive & respiratory complaints. As an aromatic digestive stimulant, it relieves flatulence & abdominal distension. Energetically it transforms cold in the upper digestive tract. With its additional sweet, moist qualities, Fennel is also a soothing urinogenital restorative. Like Aniseed, Fennel is also a soothing expectorant herb for the respiratory system

Cinnamon has spicy-sweet qualities with a soothing effect. Drunk hot it will act as a dispersive diffusive diaphoretic (ie making you sweat) for cold and flu onsets. It is effective for thermic conditions involving insufficient arterial circulation, in particular when it involves fatigue, debility, palpitations, and cold skin, and extremities. Clinical trials have shown Cinnamon to balance blood sugar levels

Lemon Verbena is a wonderfully uplifting, gently aromatic herb with digestive soothing & nerve-calming qualities. The lemon notes are soft and floral rather than sour. It is anti-viral and anti-bacterial in nature

Rose flower is the quintessential uplifting & relaxing herb. It has cooling, calming, astringing and decongesting qualities. As a bitter, it helps “heat in the liver”, specifically anger & irritability (from a 15th-century textbook). As a symbol for love, its scent has deeply nurturing, love-promoting and comforting qualities

Lavender has a gentle sedating action – slowing heart rate, calming the mind and soothing the emotions. Lavender flower essentially harmonizes opposites. Working through the nervous and cardiovascular system, Lavender is an excellent example of a remedy possessing the potential to both cool/sedate because of its bitter taste, and warm/stimulate because of its pungent taste. Compassion and gentleness are the keynotes for Lavender

Cardamom has warm, pungent, bitter & sweet energies that contribute to its essentially gastrointestinal stimulant effect. It is a mucolytic remedy for resolving catarrhal conditions of the digestive and respiratory systems. It has shown antiallergic actions, particularly for food allergies. Cardamom is distinguished from other spice remedies by its nervous/cerebral restorative action by uplifting the spirit

Look after yourselves & your family with good food, exercise & lots of mindfulness – now is the time…

Warm regards, Joerg Mueller, Master Teablender & Medical Herbalist (BscHons)