The cold and flu season is looming upon us, and has already started for some. But you don’t have to feel like a sitting duck, there are some natural ways to boost immunity and prevent colds and flu (that don’t involve getting a shot)!
As the expression goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are some tips to help you stay a step ahead of colds and flu this year.
8 Natural Cold & Flu Prevention Tips
1. Call in the Troops!
Our bodies are teeming with bacteria, in fact, according to scientists, we have 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells! And it is important for us to remember that some of those bacteria are the “good guys,” which are important not only for our digestion, but also for our immune system, and even our mental health. Studies show that probiotics are a very powerful tool in the fight against infection. So if you want to boost your immune system, increase the good bacteria in your gut. According to this article, “a healthy lower intestine should contain at least 85% friendly bacteria to prevent the over-colonization of microorganisms like E. coli and salmonella. Replenishing the healthy bacteria in our gut is especially important after a course of antibiotics – critical really – because they wipe out ALL the bacteria – good and bad. So although antibiotics can help to get rid of an infection like strep throat, they can leave your immune system vulnerable to future infections. Read The Importance of Good Bacteria to learn more.
2. Wash Up!
Whenever you put a bunch of kids together in a room, you increase the chances that viruses and bacteria can spread. One of the best ways to prevent germs spreading around is to simply wash them off! Do your kids do the ‘quick rinse’ in the sink without soap? I know a lot of kids do – they are far too busy to wash with soap. But a quick rinse with water might not get all the germs off. So hands should be washed with soap and water after using the bathroom, before eating, and after handling things in public places (ie: playground, museums, grocery stores, health clubs). But just say no to the antibacterial soaps! Studies show that use of the anti-bacterial agent Tricolsan (found in many antibacterial soaps, gels, and wipes) could be creating resistant strains of bacteria. So don’t forget to wash hands, but stick with regular soap.
3. Get Your Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sun’s UVB rays. So vitamin D levels typically drop in the Fall/Winter months when we get less sun exposure. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known for it’s role in building strong bones, but it also plays a significant role in our immunity. Some research shows that vitamin D is more effective in preventing the flu than a flu shot. So the Fall is a good time to supplement with vitamin D3. To learn more, read: Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?
4. Get Some Natural Vitamin C
Ever since Nobel prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling wrote the book Vitamin C and the Common Cold in 1970, the debate about whether or not it can help prevent the common cold has raged on. There have been multiple studies conducted on whether or not vitamin C can prevent or shorten the duration of colds and flu - with mixed results. But what is not commonly known, is that most vitamin C out there - ascorbic acid - is not vitamin C at all, but a synthetic version. And some studies show that ascorbic acid can have a negative impact on our gut flora and health, which is bad for our immune system. So I recommend loading up on vitamin c rich foods like red peppers, strawberries, oranges, and leafy greens. Another way to go is taking a whole foods form of vitamin C, such as Camu Camu powder (the camu camu berry is one of the richest sources of vitamin C). Other important antioxidants for our immune system are vitamins A, E and zinc.
5. Get your ZZZZs.
A study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night impairs the immune system. So if you have been burning the candles at both ends, your body might just put the brakes on for you - in the form of a bad cold or flu that puts you down for the count. Another study out of the Netherlands found that severe sleep deprivation caused reduced white blood cell counts. The cells, specifically granulocytes, offer broad-based immune activity. Sleep is the time when our body detoxes, repairs and renews. So if you are not getting enough sleep, you are going to be compromising your body's ability to do the important work of sweeping up free radicals and dealing with viruses. Sleep deprivation also interferes with our hunger hormones, so not getting our Z's makes us hungrier. Researchers from Columbia University also found that lack of sleep leads to an increase in poor nutrition choices, which could not only lead to weight gain, but also could compromise the immune system. Sleep deprivation is associated with a whole host of conditions ranging from slow growth in kids to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes.
6. Skip the Sweets
One of the worst kinds of foods for our immune system are sugary foods and drinks. Studies have shown that ingesting a sugary solution reduced white blood cell effectiveness by 40%, thereby reducing the body's ability to fight infection. Sweets also increases systemic inflammation in the body, and creates imbalances in our gut bacteria, which as we know are both important players in the immune system.
7. Chicken Soup is not just good for the soul.
Sometimes referred to as "Jewish Penicillin," chicken soup (especially the kind made from organic chicken bones) is very good for our immune system. Studies show that it reduces inflammation and supports our immune system. Cooking organic chicken bones over a long period of time extracts the collagen from the bones, which is helps to heal the mucosal barrier of the gut - which boosts the immune system. The longer it is simmered, the better. If you do not have the time to simmer it 24 hours, you can make your own in less time using this recipe, or I also highly recommend the organic chicken broth by The Flavor Chef - available by mail order, as well as in the freezer section of Jimbos and Seaside Markets.
8. Heal the Gut
More than 100 million Americans have digestive troubles. But you might be wondering, "what does our digestion have to do with preventing colds and flu?" A lot...everything! One of the first lines of defense against all viruses and bacteria is the health of our digestive tract, often referred to as "the gut." Our digestive tract is lined with a mucosal barrier, and in order to have a strong immune system, our mucosal barrier needs to be healthy. How do you know if your gut isn't in good shape? Well, there are the obvious digestion signs: constipation, diarrhea, IBS, GERD. But other signs can point to gut imbalances: joint pain/inflammation/arthritis, headaches, allergies/sensitivities, rashes, autoimmune conditions, anemia, thyroid issues, and a low immunity, or frequent illness. Antibiotics are extremely damaging to our mucosal barrier and bacterial balance in our gut, which ends up lowering our immunity. The downside of going on a round of antibiotics is that you can set you up for getting sick again later on. As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said, "All disease begins in the gut."
Help! I Feel a Sore Throat Coming on!
So what if you get a sore throat or feel the sniffles coming on? It is time to bring in the troops - the immune-boosting troops that is!! At the first signs of a cold this is what I do:
2. Take some natural antibacterials - load up on the garlic and oregano. Oregano oil is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial - if you catch it early enough, it can really nip a cold in the bud! I also like to take Immune Shield from Sun Warrior. Immune Shield contains ionic liquid silver and gold in a fulvic acid base. Silver is also a very effective natural anti-bacterial. If you catch it at the early stage - taking natural anti-bacterials can help to prevent a virus from taking hold, or progressing into a more serious infection.
3. Take a homeopathic cold remedy. These will help to manage the pain and inflammation, and help to drain the mucous membranes. Some can be found over the counter at your local health food store (such as UMCKA Cold+Flu, or Boiron ColdCalm), or look for a practitioner that offers homeopathic remedies. Start these at the first sign for best results.
4. Boost the Vitamin D, zinc, and natural Vitamin C. To get my vitamin C, I like to stir some camu camu powder into water or my smoothie, it is the best food source of vitamin C!
5. Make a big batch of chicken soup, or buy some organic chicken bone broth!!
6. Take some olive leaf extract. Great for prevention of colds and flu this time of year, Olive leaf is a powerful antioxidant immune support with an ORAC score of 7608. The use of olive leaf extract to support health dates back to ancient Egypt. You can buy liquid, capsules, and even a throat spray - which is great at the first signs of a sore throat, often the early stage of a cold or flu.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat. Individuals interested in any of the above supplements should speak to their doctor or pharmacist about any possible interactions with medications first.
©2013, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
A Nutritionist and Kids Yoga teacher, Sara offers programs for individuals, families and groups to transform their health. Sara also educates through her television segments, School assemblies, corporate nutrition programs, speaking engagements, and her writing. Sara has appeared on eHow, and filmed a series of kids yoga classes for Gaiam TV. Sara authored a free eBook called Cooking with Superfoods.