Over the years, we have been waging a war against invisible but deadly viruses. While our body has its way of destroying them before they could harm us, sometimes these viruses can gain the upper hand.
So, boosting our body’s natural defenses with medicines or treatments is not an overstatement. However, known chemical-based drugs intended to treat viral infections commonly have unwanted side effects on the human body.
Thankfully, nature has gifted us with potent sources of antivirals to combat the effects of these harmful viruses.
But before we engage in war, let’s get to know our enemy first.
What are viruses?
Viruses teeter between the boundaries of living and nonliving. They do not have living cells which is why they cannot be considered living things. However, they contain nucleic acids (either RNA or DNA) that make up all living organisms.
Unlike bacteria, these microscopic parasites do not thrive outside a host body. Furthermore, they cannot replicate on their own but only with the help of their host’s living cells.
How do they do that? First, the virus needs to get inside the host body. Respiratory passages such as nose and mouth and open wounds are common gateways. Inside the body, the virus attaches itself to the cell surface like interlocking puzzle pieces.
Now, it is ready to penetrate the membrane of the host cell. Once inside, the virus releases its DNA or RNA genome, integrates itself into the host cell’s genetic material, and prompts it to replicate the viral genome. The host cell then dies and the newly created virus is ready to attack other cells and the process repeats.
While antibiotics kill bacteria, only antivirals can destroy viruses. The following are natural sources of antivirals backed by science.
You may have heard about the Filipino scientists conducting research on the effectiveness of virgin coconut oil as an antiviral agent against the novel coronavirus. The coconut oil’s components, lauric acid (C12), and its derivative monolaurin have significant antiviral activity.
These fatty acids have the ability to:
- disintegrate the virus envelope;
- stop the late maturation phase during the viral life cycle; and
- hinder the viral proteins from attaching to the host cell membrane
Last month, the ethics committee approved the clinical trials on the consumption of virgin coconut oil by coronavirus patients.
Aside from its culinary uses, rosemary also offers many therapeutic benefits. Its oleanolic acid content offers antiviral properties. A lab study conducted shows that oleanolic acid is effective against viruses that cause herpes, HIV, influenza, and hepatitis.
Also, rosemary extract displayed its antiviral effects against herpes simplex-a viral infection that affects the anal region, mucosal surfaces, external genitalia, and other skin parts of the body.
Ginger contains hundreds of antiviral components such as sesquiterpenes, ajoene, alliin, and allicin in addition to many flavonoids and polyphenols.
One study conducted in India’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences shows that allicin helped inhibit the H1N1 influenza virus by “interacting its binding capacity”.
Other antiviral components also show their effectiveness against herpes, common cold, and human respiratory syncytial virus RSV. However, these components are sensitive to heat which could affect their antiviral properties.
Garlic and Onions
The organosulfur compounds found in garlic and onions like quercetin and allicin can stop viruses from attaching themselves to the host cell and even interfere with the release of genomes inside the host cell. Allicin specifically can pass through the phospholipid membrane of the host cell and can stop the virus to multiply.
Older laboratory studies show that garlic may have antiviral activity against viruses that cause influenza, Herpes simplex, viral pneumonia, and the common cold.
The sweet and holy varieties of the flavor-enhancing basil offer antiviral properties. Research shows that sweet basil extracts contain antiviral components like ursolic acid, apigenin, and linalool that can fight against enteroviruses and viruses that cause herpes and hepatitis B.
On the other hand, holy basil extract can increase the levels of immune cells, particularly helper T cells and NK cells, thereby defending our bodies from viruses. NK (natural killer) cells kill virally infected cells while helper T cells activate other immune cells to secrete antibodies and/or destroy microbes and infected cells.
The same herb that brings strong flavor to your dishes also offers potent antiviral properties. Oregano contains carvacrol and thymol both exhibit antiviral activity against several viruses.
One study shows that carvacrol can inactivate murine norovirus (the cause of stomach flu in humans) within just one hour. Another study proves that thymol and carvacrol disarm 90% of the herpes simplex virus within an hour of treatment.
Aside from its cooling effects, peppermint is also effective against several viral infections. In particular, the leaves and essential oils of peppermint contain the antiviral prowess of menthol and rosmarinic acid.
Also, polyphenols found in peppermint leaf extract exhibit potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) according to research.
Ginseng, which has been long used in traditional Chinese medicine, is indeed effective against several viral infections.
In addition, ginseng contains ginsenosides, antiviral compounds that work as an antiviral agent against norovirus, hepatitis B, coxsackieviruses, including viral meningoencephalitis.
Another study indicates that dandelion extract stopped the replication of the virus that can cause dengue–a fatal disease caused by mosquitoes.
Licorice is another popular Chinese herb that has been used for many centuries for its therapeutic benefits. Its active substances namely, glabridin, glycyrrhizin, and liquiritigenin are powerful antivirals.
Studies show that licorice root extract is effective at fighting against HIV, herpes viruses, RSV, and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
When Nature Heals
The earth is incredibly designed to take good care of its inhabitants. Even before modern-day research has begun, some of these natural sources have been used since ancient times as part of a holistic approach (that also includes a healthy diet and good sleep) to prolong human life.
Still, it is wise to ask your doctor about the safest way to consume them, especially if you want to take them as a supplement (e.g. powder, extract, juice, etc.) to avoid contraindications.