Managing Cold and Flu Season
This is bound to be a different cold and flu season.
Not only are we going to be managing our “regular” colds and flus, we’re now needing to be vigilant for Coronavirus as well.
When we eventually get sick, the usual course of action for many is to pop some OTC “meds” and be on their way. However, this isn’t always the best approach. Those OTC medications you get at the local drug store only suppress symptoms. While that’s music to your ears when you’re in the thick of it, treating the root cause (the virus) will get you back to feeling better much faster. Plus, those medications also can have nasty side effects. Lose-Lose.
Oh- and please, PU-lease! Don’t let any doctor prescribe you antibiotics for a cold or flu. They won’t help. A cold or flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Therefore antibiotics are useless against these. (Over prescribing of antibiotics is one reason why there are so many antibiotic resistant strains of everything these days, but I digress..)
Getting Sick is a Good Thing?
Why yes, getting sick every so often is actually a good thing. Now I didn’t say all the time, that’s not so good. I mean getting a cold once every few years or so. Not multiple colds a year (even though that’s what most people get). Getting a cold every so often actually shows that your immune system is in proper working order. When I was in my Nutritional Therapy program, we learned that the unhealthy ones were the ones who never got sick. This is due to your immune system being too weak to fight.
Cold? Flu? Rona?
Sometimes is super easy to tell if it’s a cold or flu. Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. And this year we have a new one to worry about- Corona! Even though they all have similar symptoms, they vary in the specifics. A cold usually starts with that dreaded sore throat, you know what I’m talking about. That one that makes you think “CRAP. I’m getting sick”. That lasts for a few days then turns into congestion, a runny nose and coughing. Usually you’re feeling better within a week or so, hopefully. Most often symptoms stay above the neck.
Deciphering whether or not it’s the flu or coronavirus, will be harder as they have many similarities. The flu comes on much more rapidly than a cold but can still start with a sore throat, then quickly transitions into headache, muscle aches, sore/stiffness, fever, congestion and cough. Flu symptoms can last for several weeks. Coronavirus has many of the same symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath/issues breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, body aches, headache and GI distress. One of the hallmark distinctions is smell. If you’ve lost your ability to taste or smell, most likely it’s Coronavirus.
Either way, it’s a good idea to get tested for Coronavirus if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
An Ounce of Prevention..
I’m going to sound a little grandma-ish here, but the best way to not even GET a cold, flu or Corona in the first place, is to, you guessed it, wash your hands. I know that’s obvious and we’re hearing it everywhere, but many of us didn’t do it as often as we should have been. You don’t even have to get a fancy schmancy anti-microbial soap or hand sanitizer, just a regular old bar of soap will do.
Will I automatically relapse if I get sick?
Not necessarily. When we get sick with anything, a virus, bacteria or infection, we have a chance of having a relapse due to the illness. This is due to our immune system going into fix it mode to help our virus (or whatever it is). Because our bodies are primed for autoimmunity, our immune systems sometimes get confused on what it is fighting. This can lead to a relapse while we’re fighting something else. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but it can. Just another reason to take care and try to avoid being ill.
Also, being sick might bring on a pseudo-exacerbation. This is when it feels like we’re having a relapse, but actually are feeling an increase in symptoms that are already present. This often happens in the heat as well.
If You Do Get Sick:
Inevitably, those little germs will breach your defenses and find their way into your body. So let’s look at some remedies for when that happens. In no particular order:
Vitamin A & D: Best for- Prevention. Vitamin A and D work in conjunction with each other to strengthen the immune system. In the winter, many of us who are already Vitamin D deficient, get even less sun exposure than in the summer. So it makes sense that our immune systems take a hit in the winter. Studies have shown that supplementing with smaller amounts of vitamin D, like 2,000 IU, are effective for helping to prevent colds and flu, as compared to single, larger doses. Studies are also showing that Vitamin D deficiency is one of the biggest predictors in how you recover from Corona. Those who were deficient in Vitamin D were more likely to need ICU and hospital care.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): Best for- Prevention. NAC is an amino acid produced by our bodies. It can help enhance the production of one of our most effective antioxidants, glutathione. NAC can help when you have a respiratory illness by diluting the mucus produced, making it easier to eliminate. NAC can also lessen the severity of the flu. Scientist are studying the use of NAC with Coronavirus patients as well.
Probiotics: Best for- Prevention A healthy gut means a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that introducing beneficial bacteria to the gut can have significant effects on preventing colds and the flu. Specifically, three strains of Lactobacillus have been shown to be most beneficial. Lactobacillus paracasei, casei and fermentum. Individuals who introduced these showed a reduction in the number of colds they acquired.
Medicinal Mushrooms (no, not those kind): Best for- Prevention Medicinal mushrooms aren’t the kind that make you feel funny and see weird things. Medicinal mushrooms are mushrooms with specific properties that are incredibly healing to your body. And they are uber trendy right now. On top of doing a ton of other things, they can strengthen the immune system and help in responding to viruses. Chaga, Cordyceps, Reishi and Shiitake are the best for immune health.
Ginger: Best for- Prevention and Treatment Ginger is an all around powerhouse of an herb. It has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Fresh ginger has an antiviral and anti-inflammatory property that can act against viruses in the respiratory system. I personally really enjoy ginger tea whenever I’m not feeling the best. As an added boost, add raw honey to your tea.
Echinacea: Best for- Prevention and Treatment Echinacea is another herb that has been used for hundreds of years. The Native Americans used it to treat severe infections and it has strong anti-inflammatory properties. In scientific studies, it has been shown to have the same effectiveness as antiviral medications (Tamiflu). Tea, tincture or capsules will all be beneficial during a cold.
Manuka Honey: Best for- Recovery and Coughs Manuka Honey ain’t your regular grocery store honey. Manuka Honey is a type of honey from bees that feed on the Manuka Tree in New Zealand and Australia. This honey is more potent than standard honey. It is more effective than most OTC cough medications and can improve efficacy of other antiviral medications as well. MGO (methlglyoxal) is the primary active ingredient in Manuka Honey. When looking for honey at the store, the higher MGO reading, the better.
Propolis: Best for- Recovery More bee goodness! Propolis is made when bees combine the sap from trees with their own saliva and beeswax, they create a sticky brown substance to build their hives. Propolis is born! Bees actually use this as well to protect their hives from pathogens. Propolis can help to accelerate recovery from colds and the flu, and is especially useful in throat sprays.
Elderberry: Best for- Symptom Treatment and Shorten Duration Elderberry is a medicine cabinet staple in my house, and for good reason . Elderberry is another plant that has been used for years for the treatment of colds and flu. Elderberry can help to shorten colds by as much as 2-4 days. When you’re sick, that seems like a lifetime. This is usually found as a syrup or I’ve often seen lozenges too. Aim for 15 ml, up to 4 times a day. Some with autoimmune disease can find that Elderberry upregulates their immune system too much, so please take caution with this one. Try it out at small doses and see if it increases any symptoms.
Vitamin C: Best for- Shortening Duration Vitamin C is something to always be considering when thinking of keeping your immune system healthy. However, at the onset of a cold, taking higher doses of Vitamin C may reduce your cold duration significantly. Aim for 1,000- 4,000 mg daily when sick. High dose vitamin C has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Coronavirus as well.
Zinc: Best for- Shortening Duration Zinc is also very helpful for the immune system and is often not thought about as much as Vitamin D or C. However it is just as important. Zinc is best taken at the beginning of a cold, in the first 24 hours, to significantly shorten the colds duration. Aim for at least 30 mg to be helpful.
Getting sick is the worst! And this year it can bring a lot of fear and anxiety. I hope with these tips, you’ll be able to either prevent getting a cold, flu or Corona. But if not, hopefully this helps to significantly lessen the duration.
Don’t forget, everything else you do counts too. The amount of sleep you’re getting, the stress relief and the nutrient density in your food. All of these together will help to strengthen your immune system the best.