Have you ever noticed why people that really look after themselves are often the ones who get sick a lot? Different people are born with a different constitution – some people are genetically more ‘hardy’ and some people are more sensitive. I fall into the latter camp, which is one of the reasons why I find it so easy to eat well. I know how crap I feel when I don’t. Whatever camp you fall into, there are plenty of things you can do during the cold and flu season to give your body extra support. Here are my top tips:
1. Look after your gut health.
Your gut provides the main barrier between you and all of those viruses. If your gut is working effectively, the bacteria or viruses should pass through without entering the blood stream, decreasing your chance of infection. Gut health is not a quick fix or a one-time only solution. You need to take care of your gut health every day. Forever. Probiotic foods give you a good dose of healthy bacteria, which can help protect against the unhealthy bacteria. Probiotics help you digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of your colon and support your immune system[i]. Try adding foods like fermented sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha or a quality yoghurt (not Yoplait) to your plate everyday. A probiotic capsule can give you extra support during cold + flu season or if you’re travelling to countries with dodgy hygiene. There are so many different varieties that it’s best to ask a naturopath for the most appropriate for your needs.
2. Check for deficiencies.
Nutrient deficiencies can compromise your immune system, so if you keep getting sick it may be worth getting tested. The nutrients most influential on the immune system are: zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium, Vitamin D and the B vitamins (particularly B-6, B-9 or Folate, B-12).
3. Vitamin D
V D supports your ability to fight off viruses and bacterial infections so its important to replenish your stores all year round. There have been multiple cross-sectional studies that associate lower levels of vitamin D with increased infection[ii]. Try and get some sun on your skin even during the winter months.
4. Get on board the home remedy train:
- Virgin coconut oil - has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. While it's not as effective as antibiotics on bacterial infections, it is a good thing to add to your diet for viral infections or when you feel a sore throat coming on[iii].
- Elderberry – A study published in the Journal of International Medical Research found that when elderberry was used within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms, the extract reduced the duration of the flu, with symptoms being relieved on an average of four days earlier[iv].
- Ginger – has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect against viruses, bacteria, parasites and even cancers[v]!
- Bicarb soda + lemon – this has no evidence to support the claim, however, when I feel like I’m going down and want to do something to support my body, I mix 1 tsp bi-carb soda with the juice of half a lemon and a little hot water. Tastes awful, so it must be doing something right?!
5. Use essential oils
Oils such as oregano, ginger, myrhh, frankincense to boost your immune system and alleviate the symptoms associated with the common cold.
6. Reduce your sugar and alcohol intake.
Consuming too much sugar curbs your immune system cells that attack bacteria. This lasts for a few hours after consumption and can allow bacteria to take hold. Consuming too much alcohol (more than 1-2 standard drinks a day) can promote inflammation and reduce your immune function. Interestingly, moderate alcohol consumption (330ml of beer or one glass of wine for women) showed to actually reduce the number of colds in a number of surveys[vi].
7. Get plenty of rest.
If you find it more difficult to get out of bed in the morning during the winter months, it’s for good reason. We are mammals and our bodies are designed to rise and sleep with the sun. You don’t need to fight nature by continuing your busy schedule during the winter months. It’s ok to hibernate you know. Plus, when you have a little bubba waking you up before sunrise, you’ll fantasise about days of rest! Read more here.
8. Drink water all day long and flush the bastards out!
Any immune boosters (apart from probiotics) should not be used for extended periods of time. After a couple of weeks, give yourself a break. If you become pregnant, essential oils should be avoided as they will pass through the placenta to your fetus. Your growing bub does not have a mature elimination pathway to remove these so they can build up in their system.
[i] How to boost your immune system. https://draxe.com/how-to-boost-your-immune-system/
[ii] Vitamin D and the immune system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
[v] Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
[vi] Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Adaptive Immune System. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590616/