It’s that time of year again..
Cold and Flu season!
Since the kids are back in school and temperatures are dropping quick you might find yourself, or a family member, with either a cold or the flu. The usual course of action for many is to pop some OTC “meds” and be on their way. However, this isn’t 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 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 were either A. Getting sick ALL THE TIME or B. Never ever getting sick, ever. This is due to your immune system being too weak to fight anything off, which leads to situation A. Or being to weak to be able to fight anything, which leads to situation B. So being right in the middle is where you want to be.
Sometimes is super easy to tell what you have. Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. Even though both 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. The flu comes on much more rapidly than a cold but still starts with a sore throat, then quickly transitions into headache, muscle aches, sore/stiffness, fever, congestion and cough. Flu symptoms can last for several weeks.
An Ounce of Prevention..
I’m going to sound a little grandma-ish here, but the best way to not even GET a cold or the flu in the first place, is to wash your hands. I know, that’s super obvious, but many of us (calling myself out here) don’t do it as often as we should. You don’t even have to get a fancy schmancy anti-microbial soap, just a regular old bar of soap will do. Just increasing your hand washing just a bit in the winter will help to prevent getting the germs inside your house and you.
When You Get Sick
Inevitably, those little germs will breach your defences and find their way into your body however. 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.
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.
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.
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! But I hope with these tips, you’ll be able to either prevent colds and the flu this year, or if not, significantly lessen the duration. And 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.