By Kya Rawlings
Cold and flu season is here again, in full force! Whether you’re a busy student entering midterm season or hustling with that work life, no one can afford the time to get sick. Modern medicine has got you covered via the flu shot, amongst other things, however there are some natural methods that may also work in your favour. By inviting a more holistic perspective into your routine, you can empower yourself to learn from your body’s internal signals about what’s going on and how you can support yourself on all the levels of nourishment. There are a few key words to keep in mind when dealing with cold and flu symptoms. Your new best friends are going to include; antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, probiotics, antimicrobial, and in some cases antifungal. Read on for the science behind this holistic approach and learn how to better support your body and mind through this time!
Antioxidants: Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body. However, oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. This imbalance worsens when you’re sick and can become very dangerous, if not properly supported. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Eye Institute, executed a study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). Their research found a beneficial effect of antioxidant supplements and support for health. “This study showed that a combination of antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene) and zinc reduced the risk of developing the advanced stage of age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent in people who had the intermediate stage of this disease or who had the advanced stage in only one eye.” Antioxidants shuffle energy, or electrons. They keep energy flowing in a way that protects damage to cells and tissues. Basically, your body uses antioxidants to stabilize and balance those free radicals, thus protecting the body from damage caused by oxidative stress.
- Foods high in antioxidants include: blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, pomegranates, spirulina, artichokes, prunes, dark chocolate, beets, green tea, dark leafy vegetables.
- Zinc lozenges. Zinc also functions as an antioxidant and is a great regulator for the immune system. It helps to activate T-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells that help fight off infection.
Vitamin C: As mentioned above, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is also one of the greatest immune boosters of all. In Elson M. Haas, MD.’s Staying Healthy with Nutrition, he explains how Vitamin C has a role in numerous biological reactions and “is needed to support a vast number of immune mechanisms in your body” (p.139). Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble nutrient that our bodies can’t produce or store, this means that we need to obtain all of our Vitamin C exogenously through our diet. It is also among the least stable of vitamins, this means that cooking and heat can destroy much of this vitamin in foods. Raw and fresh foods are best! In the 1700’s, high percentages of sailors with the British navy and other fleets died from scurvy until researcher James Lind discovered that lemon juice could remedy this devastating and deadly disease. The ships then carried British West Indies limes for the sailors to consume daily to maintain health. It produces a positive immunological response to help fight bacteria and viruses. It also has a vital function in helping produce and maintain healthy collagen, it supports the body cells and tissues by restoring injured or aging tissues.
- Foods high in Vitamin C; citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, and grapefruits), tomatoes, bell peppers, acerola cherries, pomegranates, rose hips, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower), pineapple, papayas, berries.
- Lemon + ginger shots. This little shot is rich in Vitamin C and immune boosting ingredients, and also great for settling nausea.
Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is your body’s natural way of healing and defending itself. Infections, wounds, and any damage would not be able to heal without an inflammatory response, known as acute inflammation. In some cases, inflammation can get out of hand and can last for longer than it should, this is called chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation may have a negative impact on your tissues and organs and may increase the risk of other health problems. This inflammation response includes the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as increased blood flow and circulation to the damaged area. These responses come from our immune system.
- Anti-inflammatory foods; turmeric, leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, collard greens), Omega-3 Fatty Acids (chia and flax seeds, wild caught salmon, fish oil, avocados, olive oil).
Probiotics: Did you know that 70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut? Crazy, I know. Probiotics help boost digestive health and improve bacterial balance in your gut, thus benefiting the immune system. Happy gut, happy immune system. To make sure that our health doesn’t suffer, we need to make sure we have more “good” bacteria in the gut than “bad”, this is called symbiosis, when we have more “bad” bacteria than “good”, this imbalance is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis renders the defensive mechanisms of the immune system, non-functional.
- Food high in probiotics; plain Greek yogurt (no sugar), kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh.
A little side note on a little something equally as important: prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as little fertilizers to help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria. Basically, they feed the probiotics! When the microbes are fed properly, they promote good gut health by nourishing the gut barrier. This allows the nutrients we eat to be properly absorbed and utilized to their fullest potential. Some good team work! A study published in The Journal of Nutrition states how “the composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota can influence health and disease through its involvement in nutrition, host physiological functions, and pathogenesis of certain disease conditions. Prebiotics also increase the bioavailability and uptake of minerals […] A developing body of evidence supports a role for prebiotics in reducing the risk and severity of GI infection and inflammation.” I could go on forever about the power and importance of proper gut health but to sum up, if you are not taking good care of your microbiome, I guarantee . After all, we aren’t what we eat.. we are what we absorb!
Antimicrobial: These are natural antibiotics that do not harm the gut flora. Many antibiotics lose their effectiveness over time because bacteria can learn to live with these chemicals. The more antibiotics we use, the quicker the bacteria adjust and learn to thrive. Depending on the severity and type of sickness (pathogen) you are experiencing, you may look for agents with more antiviral or antibacterial targeting effects.
- Oil of oregano. This an effective natural antibiotic and antifungal. It has been shown to reduce the growth of several different types of bacteria. When I am sick, I put the oil into a glass with water, then chase it with some Orange Juice because it has quite the taste.
- Echinacea. For years Native Americans and other traditional healers have used echinacea to treat infections and wounds. It’s immune boosting and anti-inflammatory.
- Propolis. Bee propolis is studied to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Total package!
- Aloe Vera. Soothing and revitalizing, with antibiotic, antibacterial, and antifungal activity.
- Manuka honey. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Boosts production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. It also helps soothe a sore throat and works as a cough suppressant. Take note that the major antibacterial component in Manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect.
- Elderberry syrup. Abundant in antioxidants and antiviral properties. Helps fight colds, coughs and sore throats. Also tastes amazing!
Antifungal: The scary thing here, is that some fungal pathogens can imitate signals from our immune system. This can prevent our body from responding properly to infections when they arise. Many fungal infections infect the mucosal membranes, which protects the inside of the body from dirt and pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. There’s a lot of large mucosal membranes in the respiratory system, digestive system, and reproductive system. You can see why we have to keep these systems functioning top-notch, especially when we’re feeling under the weather.
- Foods with antifungal properties; coconut (oil, milk, or meat), ginger, garlic, onions, and clove. These foods are also a rich source of prebiotics.
Lifestyle: When taking a more holistic approach to health, we need to get our minds around the idea that it’s not just about the foods and supplements we’re consuming. You have to make sure you’re checking all your boxes!
- Slow down, rest, and sleep. Your immune system relies on sleep to be able to fight harmful invaders. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system is not able to properly protect the body from infection.
- Work on stress management. Easier said than done, I know. But when the body is constantly working in a stressed state, other body functions begin to restrict themselves including the immune system. High levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) can restrict the body’s lymphocytes (immune cells).
- Wash your hands and stop touching your face. Period.
- Try to always give your body the best quality of food, especially during this recovery time. Look for S.O.U.L. Food; Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed and Local. Go check out the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list, if you want some more guidance to know when to buy organic foods and when/what is ok to just buy conventional.
- Sweat it out at the gym. Doing low-intensity exercises (walking, jogging, yoga) can help to improve blood flow, boost immunity and metabolism to fight off infections. Strengthening your body, strengthens your immune system. Sweating is also a natural form of detoxification. If you’re not feeling up for the gym, even sitting in a hot bath, steam room, or sauna will help get that flush. Just remember to replenish yourself with fluids and electrolytes afterwards. Speaking of which…
- Drink tons of water. It’s very important to stay hydrated so that your body is able to flush out and secrete toxins. This also helps to replace the fluids you’ve lost while trying to fight off the sickness. Putting a couple lemon slices into your water bottle is an easy way to add in extra Vitamin C and electrolytes.
- Gargle saltwater. Saltwater can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria. Pink Himalayan salt is much richer in mineral content than table salt, if you’re wanting a bonus.
- Dry brushing or massages. These stimulate the lymphatic system, helping rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. They also distribute infection-fighting white blood cells throughout your body.
- Ginger baths. Putting ginger into a hot bath helps alleviate aches and cold symptoms, while promoting detoxification.
- Avoid sugar and sugary drinks. Sugar inhibits immune function.
- Dress warm when going outside. Also a no brainer.
- Diffuse some essential oils. Some good immune boosting oils; lemon, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree, clove bud, lavender, cinnamon, peppermint, oregano, and frankincense. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can put a few drops of oil into a pot of steaming water.
- Be grateful in knowing that every single cell in your body is working overtime to keep you strong and healthy.
Please keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, especially when they are dealing with their own bodies. These holistic suggestions are here to support you through the common cold or flu; this is not a substitution for medical advice. Everyone has to do what is best for them, with the resources they have at that time! No one enjoys being sick, especially because life doesn’t slow down for anyone. Despite that, instead of getting down when that bug hits, consider adjusting your perspective. Being sick gives us a moment to reflect on the value of your health and well-being, that we tend to take for granted up until we get hit with symptoms. Crazy as it sounds, getting sick is healthy! A strong, healthy body is a responsive one. Symptoms are signs that your body has detected a harmful invader and it is now responding. Every time you get sick and support your body with the right nutrients, you strengthen your immune system and help train it so that the next time it encounters that pathogen, you’ll be stronger when fighting it off.
Your body is the most expensive thing you’ll ever own, invest in it.
Banner Image Courtesy of The Wanderer Online Visual Editor Gracie Safranovich.