When I was checking out of Sprouts the other day, I noticed the cart in front of me was filled with a lot of junk food and canned items. It was literally 2 degrees outside and lots of people are sick at this time of year. It’s not that I wanted her to buy spinach and kale, let’s face it, who wants to eat THAT when it’s freezing outside. I know we want comfort foods like chili, pot pie, hot soup and so forth, but certainly junk food increases your odds for illness during cold and flu season. My first recommendation would be to to taste the rainbow.
Certain nutrients are linked with the pigment in fruits and vegetables. So the more colorful your plate, the more vitamins and minerals you’re getting. Ever wonder what gives tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit their ruby red and pretty pink colors? It’s an antioxidant called lycopene. Antioxidants may minimize the effects of free radicals, the toxins that damage cells and speed aging.
Sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, mangoes, and bell peppers probably wouldn’t make the best-tasting smoothie. Even though vitamin C claims first prize in the cold department, vitamin A is huge when it comes to enhancing immune function. After picking foods rich in lycopene, vitamin C and A your next important step is to consume more bacteria. I’m not suggesting licking public door handles, I was thinking of probiotics, the healthy kind that support your intestinal tract.
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Probiotics are very simple to include and important to your health, and yet rarely do practitioners suggest it. Your bowels are a breeding ground for trillions of microorganisms, which help the digestive system run smoothly. Your gastrointestinal tract is the primary residence to your army of immune cells. But it also hosts other organisms, some that are friendly, and some that are not.
I hope you’re not a germ phone because your GI tract contains more than 400 types of bacteria, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. An NIH National Institute of Health) study found two main probiotic strains in your gut: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These aid in digestion and a whole lot more. These probiotic strains and many others live and grow in your digestive system, which goes from your mouth all the way to your anus.
The more healthy probiotic strains (and by “healthy” I mean friendly organisms) that you have, the fewer bad bacteria there are. When you eat, toxins, prions and viruses enter you along with vitamins and minerals that nourish your body. The studies clearly show that probiotics aid your system and help you extract nutrients and reduce infectious pathogens from causing inflammatory bowel disease, gastroenteritis, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in the Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection (Oct 2014) found that mice had better resistance to the Influenza virus when they consumed the probiotic strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus. All of the mice in the control group died, whereas 40 % of the mice fed the probiotics survived. Pretty cool when you think about the low side effect profile of probiotics! There are many studies on immunity and probiotics, this one was interesting to me because it dealt with a potentially lethal virus that all of us are afraid of.
Anyone who wants regularity or has any kind of digestive concern, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, ulcers, or GERD, will benefit from them. Clinical research has shown that probiotics support your body in other ways. For example, they may prevent and treat eczema in children, prevent and treat yeast infections and UTI, prevent respiratory infections and even stimulate the body’s immune response. Probiotics don’t negate a box of Oreo’s but they can go a long way, especially if you are eating a rainbow diet.
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Certain mushrooms can be helpful too, like Maitake mushrooms which give us “beta glucan.” You can buy supplements of this at any health food store. Another mushroom that offers healing compounds is Reishi. I make a tea out of this at home. You can watch my video here to learn my recipe.
Controlling your level of stress is important because it reduces cortisol. High cortisol is dangerous to your immune system, it weakens it. If you live with constant microstressors (or major ones) then your stress hormone cortisol is going to be very high, making you more susceptible to illness. High cortisol makes you get sick easily so find outlets, exercise and do more of what makes you happy. Practice relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing, or go exercise, or take up ballroom dance. You figure out a way to decompress that’s right for you, and just do it. If nothing else, step away from the most stressful aspects of your life (whether that be your phone, your office, or a particular person). The way to help nourish your adrenals and reduce cortisol is with stress-relief techniques, as well as with adaptogens such as shisandra, ashwagandha or licorice root.
Careful what you touch. When I’m traveling I often wear my gloves to ensure that I don’t put germs from the monorail or escalator into my mouth or nose. The flu can live on a surface longer than eight hours! That means objects like door handles, railings, remote controls, light switches, and buttons on ATM machines are potential flu transmitters. Did you know that thou can contract the virus three to four days before you start to feel the first symptoms? You’re contagious before you even feel the symptoms. You have to take action at the first sign of symptoms, of either the cold or flu. Just FYI, the difference is easy to tell. A cold is wetter with more sneezing, watery, itchy eyes and phlegm. It is mostly in your head. The flu is a full-body experience with a high fever, body aches and pain and less of the wet, gross stuff.
Low Dose Naltrexone or LDN
It’s a prescription drug in a low dose that is normally used for drug addiction (in high dosages). But in low doses, this medicine can help your body make more killer cells (to annihilate the enemy). Read more on LDN here.
An article on cold and flu would not be complete without talking about rest. If you don’t rest your body you are more apt to get sick. Sleeping allows your body to repair itself, to take a little vacation you know?! So the more snooze time you can get in, the better your body will be able to handle immune system threats. You’ll also heal better. Why? Because when you sleep your body makes more fighting white blood cells (they’re called T cells) which fight infection. You’ll make more macrophages which are like the Pac-men of your immune system. The macrophage is the last thing a bacterium wants to ever see, so you want to be making more of those macrophages.
Infected! Now What?
Once you’ve been exposed, lighten your diet and eat clear broths with lots of garlic. You can try colloidal or nano silver which is a natural broad-spectrum antibiotic. You can also try natural antimicrobials like elderberry or cat’s claw.
Be mindful of others when you’re sick. Maybe you don’t have to run that errand right now? Can’t that happen in a day or two? Can you send someone else? People will push themselves because they’re not thinking and they’ll go places where they are spreading germs. If you have a weak immune system, or love someone who has a weak immune system … you tend to notice this a little bit more and it makes you mad. Why do sick people have to go shopping for clothes when they’re sneezing like crazy? I’ve never been able to figure that one out. If you must go out in public, practice extra courtesy around others. There are little things you can do. Sneeze into the crook of your elbow or even down your shirt or into your jacket and wash your hands well.
A home remedy that you can try to help with congestion and chest tightness is with essential oils. Put 1 drop each of the following essential oils in the palm of your hand:
Peppermint or Lemon (either one)
Rub your hands together, and put them around your nose and inhale the aroma. It’s going to be strong, but should help with sinusitis or respiratory problems. Careful not to get these oils too close to your eyes. You can also use an aromatizer or diffuser with these oils.
The Bottom Line
A cold is generally wetter and above the neck. With the flu, it’s a whole body, systemic thing: chills, and body aches, stuff low in the chest, joint pain, muscle pain, things like that. The flu is also usually more serious than a cold. Most people will recover from the flu after a miserable week or two, but some people, especially children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, are at risk for deadly complications. There are hospitalizations associated with it and it can be a very dangerous, virulent condition. If you’re worried and someone is sneezing or coughing around you, move away from them quickly. If you’re in an enclosed space like an airplane or bus, or an elevator and can’t move, be outspoken to protect your health. Politely offer a tissue, “I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well, but I’m worried about catching this, and I can’t afford to be ill. Can you please use this tissue?” It’s an awkward thing, but you have to ask yourself ‘Is my health worth it, or not?’ The answer is obvious, especially if you have a chronic illness or infectious disorder. It’s just a question of gathering up your internal strength to ‘fight’ for your health. And if you need further inspiration about standing up for yourself (or a loved one), take a moment to read why “I got into a fight with a doctor.”