Back to school after lockdown? Boosting immunity

Should we, shouldn’t we? Do we, don’t we? What if?

As conversations and news reports are focusing almost exclusively on a move to lockdown level three and beyond, allied to this is the contentious issue of the re-opening of schools. If you’re a parent of children of school-going age, there’s a good chance you are questioning whether to send your child to school.

“Parents are rightly concerned about any increased exposure to illness or infection, especially for children who have underlying health conditions such as asthma,” says Joan van Wyngaard, a pharmacist at Nativa where Linctagon is manufactured.

“While parents may be anxious about a return to school, some who need to return to work have no choice but to send their children back to school. Furthermore, online or remote learning is not equitably accessible for all children. Even if children are working remotely, many find it limiting. It can be stressful on learners who thrive in a real classroom environment. Although schools are taking several precautions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their learners and staff, there is still so much uncertainty about “getting back to normal” and by necessity, parents are being ultra-cautious. Any additional measures that individuals can take that will add a greater element of protection are worth considering,” she says.

Focus on immune system

With the imminent onset of winter which brings seasonal upswing in cold and flu cases, there is a renewed focus on keeping healthy. According to van Wyngaard, central to this is maintaining an optimally functioning immune system. Therefore, many people are increasingly looking to how best to strengthen their vital natural defence mechanisms.

A healthy diet, exercise, limiting stress and getting enough sleep all contribute to the functioning of the immune system. However, few South Africans are aware of a small plant indigenous to South Africa which is believed to have strong immune boosting properties. Pelargonium sidoides, a humble shrub that grows abundantly in the Eastern Cape and Lesotho grasslands, is a medicinal plant native to South Africa. Its common names include Umckaloabo and South African Geranium. It has been in the spotlight over the last few years regarding its proven potential to boost the immune system. In fact, the root extract of Pelargonium sidoides has been used for centuries by traditional healers as a tonic to boost immunity but also as a therapy for bacterial and viral infections of the lungs and is used worldwide in a myriad of cold and flu remedies.

Van Wyngaard says doing all you can to keep your immune response as strong as possible should be an important consideration all year round, especially in autumn and winter when colds and flu are more widespread and even more so now in these unprecedented times.

Basic hygiene practices

back to school

“At the forefront of disease prevention methods are the all-important steps of handwashing, avoiding contact with sick people and practicing good hygiene practices which are now commonplace among all South Africans, but we should be adhering to this all year round. Generally, your immune system is designed to defend us against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it does fail, allowing germs in and making you sick,” she says.

Van Wyngaard says the idea of being able to boost our immune systems has been the subject of much scientific study over the years, and there is evidence that nutrition and other lifestyle measures can influence our immune system and our susceptibility to infectious diseases. “Researchers are continuously exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on our immune response, as well as whether the use of herbs and supplements could have any beneficial effect.”

The Pelargonium sidoides plant

Van Wyngaard explains that pharmaceutical biologists have been studying the Pelargonium sidoides plant in an attempt to describe its immune boosting properties and its mode of action. Particularly how it guards against the development of infections, finding that it has remarkable anti-infective properties. Over 20 clinical studies about one particular extract of Pelargonium sidoides have been conducted globally involving more than 9 000 patients, including both adults and children.

“In a nutshell, Pelargonium extracts boast proven efficacy in three ways: firstly, preventing pathogens from adhering to cells, secondly fighting viruses and thirdly by stimulating the immune system to hunt down invaders,” she says. “It’s South Africa’s homegrown fighter and we like to call it another weapon in our arsenal to help boost the immune system.”

This is more easily understood when you look at how we get sick in the first place.
Our respiratory systems have complex natural defence mechanisms. When someone with a viral infection coughs or sneezes nearby, microbes or pathogens can enter the nose or mouth. They can then be trapped in mucous and tiny hair-like structures called cilia in nasal passages and airways. This is called adhesion. Our natural filtration system will attempt to clean the air entering our lungs. Pelargonium sidoides has been shown to increase the frequency with which these cilia beat, essentially sweeping the airways clean more often. This further strengthens our primary defences against invading particles. This is of particular importance as the increased frequency of the cilia could potentially prevent pathogenic particles from entering deep lung tissue.

Pelargonium sidoides also act as an expectorant, assisting the body to expel contaminated mucous. During an infection, this could once again reduce the number of microbes accessing the airway.

Furthermore, researchers have also pointed to the viral suppression effects of Pelargonium extracts and the benefit this could have in preventing enveloped viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza virus and coxsackie virus from binding to host cells.

Several clinical trials have looked specifically at the broad-spectrum antiviral activity of Pelargonium and its ability to stimulate the immune system. Research has shown that even low doses influence human white blood cells. It causes the release of powerful natural antiviral factors called ‘interferons’, which interfere with the replication of viruses. Clinical trials also show that Pelargonium extracts exhibit antibacterial properties. This is particularly relevant to complications arising from infections especially in older and immune compromised patients.

“Generally, Pelargonium extracts, available in over the counter colds and flu products, have been shown to inhibit “sickness behaviour”, and assist with the alleviation of symptoms which in essence means that even if you do get sick, you should feel better faster,” van Wyngaard comments.

back to school

At this time of the year, and especially when we are all especially concerned about keeping healthy and supporting the immune system to fight disease, make sure that you’re looking after your children’s physical wellbeing. Ensure that they follow a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Get them to exercise regularly, and focus on maintaining a healthy weight. Also ensure that they get a good night’s sleep. Most importantly, remember to always to practice good hygiene and social distancing.

Go to for more information.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about more ways to boost your immune system.

This unregistered medicine has not been evaluated by SAHPRA for its quality, safety or intended use


Read more: Lockdown Health: How to boost immune function

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