Coughing, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose, watery eyes,
muscle aches and pains, fatigue.
It’s that time of year again!
Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to keep our immune systems strong to prevent us from getting sick this season. Giving the body what it needs to function at its optimal best and keeping a constant supply of nutrients in the body will help ensure we can resist any pathogen we might encounter. Every year I see the same well-meaning advice; wash your hands, don’t touch your face, sneeze into your sleeve. While these are some helpful tips, let’s take things a few steps further!
Although there isn’t one singular food or nutrient that will provide an instant boost to your immune system, developing the habit of eating a balanced, healthy diet with a large variety of nutrient dense foods will help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. It’s also important to avoid substances and factors which suppress immune function like refined sugars, processed food, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, lack of exercise and poor digestion.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
With Halloween just around the corner and an abundance of sugary treats everywhere, many people often get sick this time of year due to overloading their systems with refined and processed sugars. Multiple studies have shown that sugar compromises the immune system by decreasing neutrophil activity (cells in the immune system that fight infection and pathogens). Sugar also makes our bodies more acidic, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses to thrive.
• Use lower glycemic sweeteners in your baking this season, like stevia or coconut sugar.
• Replace heavily sweetened and processed candy and sweets with fruit or homemade, low sugar treats.
• Try baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon, zucchini banana muffins sweetened with apple sauce or homemade pumpkin spice oatmeal cookies.
• Kale, zucchini or apple chips and baked chickpeas make delicious and nutritious snack options.
Increase Your Consumption of Whole Foods
Limit your consumption of refined, processed and prepackaged foods and replace with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, which contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other phytochemicals that help support the immune system.
• Aim to eat at least 5 different nutrient dense foods a day. Start by having a fresh, homemade vegetable juice or green smoothie in the morning and a large, colourful salad or veggie soup at lunch.
• Add veggies to whole grain pasta, try roasted root vegetables, spaghetti squash pad thai, asparagus soup, sautéed kale with garlic, veggie stir-frys, sweet potato burgers.
For those of us living in North America, shorter days means less exposure to sunlight and greater odds of suffering low vitamin D, which can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and lowered immunity.
• If you can’t spend at least 20-25 minutes in direct sunlight each day, try supplementing with vitamin D3.
• Increase your consumption of vitamin D rich foods like fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna), eggs and mushrooms.
• Use full-spectrum lighting.
Multiple studies have shown vitamin C is capable of reducing the duration of the common cold. Vitamin C is best taken in conjunction with other antioxidants and bioflavonoids, as isolated vitamin C supplements may actually act as a pro-oxidant in the body.
• Vitamin C is best consumed from whole food sources like lemons, limes, red peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, papaya and leafy greens like kale, spinach and swiss chard.
• Avoid orange juice, eat the entire orange instead! Despite what many of us have grown up to believe, orange juice is not the best source of vitamin C since both glucose and vitamin C have the same receptor sites for absorption. Orange juice is a concentrated form of sugar. Higher levels of circulating blood sugar means less vitamin C will enter the cells. Therefore, it’s best to eat the entire orange, which contains fiber and slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, allowing more vitamin C to be absorbed.
• Camu camu berries are an excellent source of vitamin C, containing 60 times more vitamin C than oranges! Dehydrated camu camu powder can be found in many health food stores and are an excellent addition to any smoothie.
Foods rich in beta-carotene are converted to vitamin A in the body, which is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin A is especially important to help keep the mucous membranes that line the nose and throat (one of the body’s first lines of defense), healthy and functioning properly.
• Enjoy foods such as dark green and orange fruit and vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, pumpkin, spinach, collards, kale, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, asparagus, peas, peppers, plums, cantaloupe, mangoes and peaches.
• Rev up the immune enhancing power of these foods by combining them with garlic, onions and turmeric in soups and stews! Have you tried our Ginger Carrot Parsnip Soup yet?
Sulfur Containing Foods
Sulfur is required for the synthesis of glutathione (the body’s natural antioxidant), which helps to support detoxification pathways.
• To strengthen and support the immune system during cold and flu season, try increasing your consumption of sulfur-rich foods such as: broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, kale, bok choy, leeks, spinach, okra, shallots and eggs.
Garlic and Onions
Aside from their sulfur containing component, garlic and onions both possess natural antibiotic and anti-microbial properties. Use them in your everyday cooking to keep cold viruses at bay.
• Use daily in meals by adding fresh garlic and onions to soups, salads, pasta sauces and stir-fry recipes.
• For acute cold and flu symptoms, crush one clove of garlic on a spoon, cover with manuka honey and swallow with a tiny amount of water twice a day.
• For extra immune system protection, try combining fresh garlic, onions and ginger in recipes for an increased synergetic effect!
Probiotics support the immune system by improving digestion and absorption of nutrients and by reducing inflammatory responses in the body. They are also important during and after a round of antibiotics to replace the beneficial bacteria in the gut that is destroyed during antibiotic therapy.
• Supplement with a high quality multi-strain probiotic.
• Consume cultured and fermented probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha and unsweetened yogurt.
• Prebiotics, which are indigestible forms of dietary fibre that triggers the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract are also supportive of a healthy immune system. Foods that act as prebiotics include whole grains, bananas, apples, onions, garlic, honey, green beans, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, oats, chicory, flax seeds, burdock and dandelion root.
Stress Reduction and Relaxation
Studies have shown that ongoing stress can make us more susceptible to illnesses. Reducing the amount of stress in your life and improving your ability to cope with stress can help improve the immune system. There’s evidence that when you put your relaxation skills into action, interleukins (leaders in the immune system response against cold and flu viruses) increase in the bloodstream.
• Try deep breathing exercises to lessen the effects of stress.
• Practice guided imagery, meditation or yoga.
• Listen to your favourite music, go dancing, spend time with good friends.
• Enjoy a warm bath with lavender or clove essential oils at the end of a long day.
Regular exercise appears to have the ability of being able to jump-start the immune system and can help reduce the frequency of colds and flus. With exercise, the number and aggressiveness of certain immune cells, such natural killer cells, increase by as much as 50% to 300%. If you exercise regularly, this increase can help make the immune system more efficient at destroying intruders that cause illness.
During the winter months, take advantage of the wonderful activities the cooler weather can bring.
• Explore walking or biking on park trails, rake the leaves
• In colder weather try ice skating, tobogganing or skiing, build snowmen
• Indoor activities: listen to music and dance while doing house chores, take the stairs instead of the elevator, run or walk in place while watching t.v., take a dance class, join a mall walking program
Cold and Flu Recovery Diet
What if you’ve already caught a cold or the flu and want to recover faster?
Follow these diet and lifestyle tips to boost your recovery.
Oil of Oregano
Numerous studies have shown oil of oregano to be a potent antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. Remarkably, it accomplishes this without promoting the development of drug resistant viruses and other problems often attributed to the use of standard antibiotics.
• Oil of oregano drops can be placed under the tongue or added to a tiny amount of water.
• It also comes in capsule form and as a mouth spray.
Ginger has been used for thousands of years as a natural treatment for colds and flu around Asia.
• A soothing ginger tea can be made to help clear nasal congestion and is helpful for relieving nausea and vomiting associated with the flu.
• Honey added to ginger tea can be used for reducing coughs and sore throats.
A long time remedy to soothe an irritated throat and reduce coughs.
• A cup of warm almond or rice milk milk mixed with honey before bed is effective for relieving night time cough.
• Crushed garlic covered in honey can help sooth a cough and reduce the duration and severity of a cold or flu.
Turmeric, an orange-colored spice native to India, is part the ginger family and has been a staple in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cooking for thousands of years. In has been used throughout history as a condiment and healing remedy in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to clear infections and inflammation in the body.
Turmeric has potent anti-microbial properties to help the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses and acts as a potent pain reliever.
• Add to soups, stews, stir-fry or smoothies.
• For acute pain, mix 1/2 tsp. of turmeric to one cup of almond milk with 1 tsp. honey.
• Turmeric also be purchased in capsule form.
Zinc is important for a healthy immune system and is needed by the human body to activate T lymphocytes. It’s can also help prevent a cold or flu virus from reproducing and is useful in relieving respiratory symptoms and sore throats.
• Zinc supplements and lozenges are available in most health food stores or pharmacies.
• Food sources include: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, kelp, legumes, lima beans, pecans, whole grains, alfalfa, cayenne, parsley, sage, chamomile, chickweed, dandelion, fennel seed, milk thistle, wild yam, eggs, liver, and oysters.
• Zinc supplements should not be used if one has a fever, as it is not properly absorbed in the presence of a fever.
There have been over 300 scientific investigations into the immune-enhancing effects of the echinacea purpurea root. Unlike traditional antibiotics or natural herbs that kill bacteria directly, echinacea works indirectly by stimulating the body to produce more infection-fighting white blood cells. It may also stimulate the release of interferons, one of the body’s most potent infection-fighting weapons which prevent bacteria and viruses from reproducing.
There are many proprietary blends of echinacea that have been developed which contain other immune enhancing herbs.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract was originally developed as an anti-parasitic, but studies quickly showed that it had the ability to inhibit the growth of not only parasites, but fungi and over 800 types of viruses and bacteria. The active ingredients of grapefruit seed extract contain extremely potent compounds that are useful in killing strep, staph, salmonella, E. Coli, candida and herpes.
Available in liquid form, you can gargle with a few drops of it diluted into water to help alleviate a sore throat or it can be taken in capsule form.
Both an adaptogen (a substance which increases the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning) and an antiviral, this herb has been shown to stimulate and raise white blood cell levels, which are vital for fighting infection, thus helping to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms related to the common cold and flu viruses.
Named for the hook-like thorns that grow along the vine of this medicinal plant, compounds found in this potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory herb naturally boosts the immune system and possesses anti-bacterial and antiviral properties. In clinical studies, cat’s claw has shown useful for fighting symptoms of a cold, helps to relieve pain and inflammation and provides protection against pneumonia.
The high antioxidant, antiviral properties of elderberry extract is useful for treating coughs, colds, flu, tonsillitis and bacterial & viral infections . It is also recommended for upper respiratory tract infections and headaches associated with the common cold and helps to promotes sweating, which can help break a fever.
Dealing With a Fever
Allowing a low-grade fever (Up to 102° F) to run it course may actually be beneficial. An elevated temperature is the body’s way of fighting infection.
• Stay Hydrated. Replace fluid loss by drinking water, herbal tea, fresh juices and broths.
• Get plenty of rest.
• Take a cool sponge bath.
• If fever rises above 102°, consult your health care provider.
Beneficial Herbs: Elderberry, catnip, yarrow, feverfew, ginger, echinacea
Homeopathic Remedies: Belladonna, aconite nappellus
Whether you’re looking to strengthen your immune system to protect yourself from catching a cold or the flu this season or you’re already fighting something off, the following tips will help support your immune system and allow your body to recover faster.
• Follow a whole foods diet, low in sugar and processed food
• Avoid nutritional deficiencies, getting adequate vitamin C, D, beta-carotene
• Consume sulfur containing foods
• Add garlic, onions and ginger to your meals on a daily basis
• Maintain healthy digestive and intestinal health
• Stay hydrated
• Get adequate sleep
• Exercise, walk or stretch daily
• Practice stress reduction techniques
• Laugh, sing, dance, play, eat heal love ♥
* Before taking any vitamin or herbal supplement, consult your primary health provider and ask your pharmacist to check for drug/herb interactions.