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At the end of November 2020, I was involved in organising a series of lectures offering advice and help in dealing with the covid epidemic. Several international experts spoke about the current pandemic from different perspectives, but I think the most important aspect which was discussed and relevant to everyone from a naturopathic point of view, is what we can all do for ourselves in the way of prevention.

Menpa Phuntsog Wangmo, a Tibetan medical doctor with over 30 years of clinical practice spoke at the start of the conference, saying: ‘The most important point in Tibetan medicine is to prevent!’ There is nothing new about the concept of prevention being of paramount importance in the healing traditions. The phrase 'prevention is better than cure' is often attributed to the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus and corresponds with Hippocrates most essential principle: ie to focus on encouraging individuals to promote better health and prevent them from becoming ill, through natural ‘hands-on’ means, as a part of one’s everyday lifestyle.

In the case of contagious disease, washing our hands frequently, maintaining social distancing and isolating infected individuals are all age-old strategies ... but we also need to follow a healthy diet, perform some form of daily exercise, adopt a relaxed type of breathing and also develop a good mental attitude in order to build up our immune system as a first line of defence. It is interesting to note that from the viewpoint of many ancient spiritual traditions, such as the Native American or Tibetan Buddhist perspective, the very cause for epidemics such as covid 19 are caused by the degradation of ethical behaviour, by destruction of the natural environment and disregard for the eco-system of the planet in general. Therefore, from this perspective, the only real way to reverse the causes for these types of diseases is to change the pattern of human behaviour and to start showing greater respect for each other and for the natural world as a whole. It is still not too late to change our way of life and improve this negative spiral of events if we start to reverse the process right now!

From a dietary perspective, one of the factors which has come to the forefront in recent years in the West is the vital role the gut plays in our immune system. It is very important to maintain good metabolic heat in order that the digestive system functions efficiently to process food. According to Tibetan medicine, cardamom can help build up metabolic heat, so food is absorbed better which also improves our clarity and memory. Drinking cardomom tea first thing in the morning daily is therefore considered an excellent preventative strategy in order to support the immune system. In terms of anti-viral activity, cloves and garlic are recommended for their prophylactic properties within the Tibetan medical tradition.

Dr Phuntsog suggested that oral hygiene is also vital during periods of infectious disease as the virus generally enters through the mouth or nose, so simply holding a clove bud (as a natural anti-viral agent) in the mouth when exposed to infection, can help act as a preventative. She also recommended that it is beneficial to rub a blend of essential oils (such as our new Diffusion Blends ‘Mountain Air’ and ‘Defence’ – in dilution) directly onto the neck and upper chest area to support the respiratory system. Certain essential oils (or blends) can also be applied to a face-mask so long as they are safe and non-toxic: always check safety data before using a new oil. Today, there are many excellent natural antiviral agents from across the globe: such as tea tree, fragonia, lemon eucalyptus, lemon myrtle, rosemary, thyme and ravintsara, which have all been researched scientifically in recent years.

The two diffusion blends that I have formulated specifically for their potent anti-bactericidal and anti-viral properties are ‘Defense’ and ‘Mountain Air’. The former with a fresh and uplifting, spicy-sweet aroma with hints of citrus, uses a complex synergy of tried and tested aromatic oils from around the world: Fragonia (Agonis fragrans), Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora), Cinnamon Leaf(C. zeylanicum), Bergamot Peel (Citrus bergamia), Lemon (C. limon), Cedrat (C. medica), Spike Lavender (Lavandula spica), May Chang (Litsea cubeba), Myrtle (Myrtus Communis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and last but not least Clove Bud (Syzygium aromaticum). These oils have been blended carefully to ensure they are safe for regular use and are non-irritant and non-sensitising. For example, I have chosen to include fragonia rather than tea tree oil in ‘Defence’ because tea tree oil can cause sensitisation in some individuals, while clove bud which can be toxic in larger doses, is kept at a safe level for regular use in room vaporisers. Using an electric vaporiser is perhaps the most efficient way of keeping the local environment at home or in the office free of air-borne germs on an everyday basis.

The other new diffusion blend I recently formulated is ‘Mountain Air’ with a woody-balsamic sweet scent, based on those plants which have traditionally been used in purification rituals and for cleansing the air: Elemi (Canarium luzonicum), Galbanum (Ferula galbaniflua), Atlas Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) and Black Spruce (Pice negra). Both elemi and galbanum are resinous aromatics which support the respiratory system, while the other three oils are all derived from woody plants with characteristic air-purifying properties. Juniper, for example, is a classic ingredient in the Tibetan Buddhist ‘sang’, or smoke ritual. ‘Sang’ in Tibetan has the meaning of remove, take away and purify so a person or place is cleared, cleansed and awakened. The physical ritual involves the burning of different woods and incense, which can be mixed together with many other substances such as ground gemstones. Used since ancient times, juniper was also favoured by the ancient Greeks to combat illness or epidemics and to drive away negative forces. Cedar and black spruce were used by Native Americans as part of their spiritual healing ceremonies, for purification and cleansing. All these oils also help to clear and decongest the respiratory system, promoteeasy breathing and reduce feelings of stress.

Maintaining a relaxed state of mind is central to supporting the immune system naturally. When we are stressed then the amygdala is activated which puts the body into a ‘fight or flight’ mode increasing glucose in our system ... but if this is switched on all the time it causes stress, anxiety and lack of sleep. Research at Harvard University in 2013 demonstrated that the opposite to the stress response can be activated through yoga, meditation or prayer. All these practises slow the breathing and thus can help to control anxiety or fear ... the study also suggested that meditation can help replace loss of telomerase as a natural part of ageing: so regular meditation or prayer can actually help slow the ageing process, increase cellular regeneration and keep the immune system strong.