With all the headlines about the H1N1 flu and the excitement over the vaccine, you would think that there is nothing you can do except get your shot and pray not to get sick this year. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Considering that communicable diseases like colds and flu are highly contagious, your best bet is to prevent becoming infected in the first place.
Even if you do get sick this season, the severity and longevity of illness is highly dependent on the strength of your immune system and your body’s ability to fight off the invading virus. And if you DO choose to get the flu shot or swine flu shot, a strong immune system is a MUST to help prevent potentially serious side effects.
Low Immunity Sets the Stage for Sickness Any illness, whether bacterial, fungal or viral, shows up in individuals who are “susceptible.” Making healthy lifestyle choices during cold and flu season (and all year round) will help build defenses in your body. But there are several very easy, all-natural steps you can take to arm yourself against colds and flu.
1. Eat Probiotic Foods They say that 80% of your immune system is located in your gut—those trillions of beneficial bacteria in your intestines that help you fight disease and absorb nutrients. Keeping this population healthy and strong is arguably your strongest defense against colds, flus and other diseases.
Replenish your gut daily by incorporating wholesome fermented foods and drinks into your diet. Fermenting your own vegetables is far more effective than buying probiotic supplements or other mass-marked products that only claim to boost your immunity. Not only will keeping your gut flora healthy help protect you from disease, but it can also give you better digestion. And from yogurt to sauerkraut, there are so many ways to enjoy probiotic foods at least once a day.
2. Eat Enough Good Food Make sure you get three meals a day that include fresh fruits and veggies, and enjoy healthy snacks if you need them, so your blood sugar stays relatively even throughout the day. Stock up on raw fruits and vegetables for their antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes. The nutrition that you get from raw fruits and veggies is unparalleled. Many vitamins, including C, are antioxidants and will protect cells—including those of your immune system—from damage by toxins in the environment. Dark-colored produce (berries, kale, broccoli) tends to be higher in flavonoids, polyphenols and other antioxidants.
3. Get Enough Sleep Whatever amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning—make sure you get it! Insufficient sleep depresses the immune system, opening the door to colds, upper-respiratory infections, and other nagging ills. Consider your caffeine intake. Studies show that caffeine suppresses the functions of key immune agents, such as lymphocytes and T cells. Caffeine also robs your body of minerals and vitamins, and it dehydrates you. If you drink coffee, make sure you add an additional two glasses to your water intake per cup of coffee. A mineral supplement helps to offset caffeine’s damage, too.
4. Consume More Glutamine Your immune cells rely on an amino acid called glutamine to do their jobs. “Glutamine comes from protein foods, and if you’re not eating enough of those, your body will borrow from skeletal muscle, especially if you’re working out,” says Jose Antonio, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In one study, marathon runners who took glutamine instead of a placebo had less chance of experiencing an upper-respiratory infection after racing.
Bone broths made from grassfed beef or chicken are an outstanding source of natural glutamine, and adding a cup a day to your diet can really boost your immune health. But if you are an athlete, you may need to supplement with more. After exercising, try taking 5 to 15 grams of L-Glutamine. Your white blood cells and your muscles will thank you. When German researchers analyzed a series of muscle biopsies, they discovered that levels of glutamine decreased as the donor’s age increased, suggesting that supplementing with the amino acid now may help slow the steady muscle loss that usually occurs along with aging.
5. Get Plenty of Vitamin D The majority of adults and children in the U.S. are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, putting them at greater risk for all infections. A number of recent medical trials have demonstrated that individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin D had the highest rates of serious illness and infections.
You can get Vitamin D naturally by daily exposing your arms and face for 20 minutes in the sun, but most people need even more than this. Good sources include good old fashioned cod liver oil (my favorite brand here ), grassfed beef liver, egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens, and fatty fish like tuna and salmon. You can also buy liquid Vitamin D supplements which are very effective and easy to take.
6. Eat Mushrooms Even the inexpensive and humble button mushroom is loaded with polysaccharides called beta glucans. Numerous medical studies have shown that beta glucans can positively modulate and strengthen the immune system and prevent infections. In addition to finding it in all types of delicious, fresh mushrooms, you can also buy Beta Glucans as a supplement to take during cold and flu season.
7. Use Thieves’ Oil Generously Thieves’ oil is a 1:1 blend of the essential oils of clove, cinnamon, lemon, rosemary and eucalyptus. The blend is based on a recipe developed by a group of spice merchants in 15th-century Marseilles, France, who turned to thieving when trade was shut down due to a plague. They protected their health as they robbed the dead, sick, and dying by applying a combination of herbs, spices, and essential oils to their clothing and skin – a recipe which has since been unearthed in the British archives and used in the present day.
Thieves blend has been clinically tested and proven to be more than 99% effective against airborne bacteria (study conducted at Weber State University, 1997). It has been used to treat everything from candida and bacterial infections to toxic mold to colds and flu. I often take a drop and rub it into my hands after I use a public restroom. You can also mix several drops into a spray bottle of water, and use the spray to help disinfect surfaces around your home.
Because essential oils are made of light molecules, they are easily absorbed by the respiratory system and can be highly effective in treating sinus and respiratory disorders. I slather Thieves on my throat and chest to treat a cold, or on the bottoms of my feet to keep well, and boost my immunity all winter long. Sometimes I’ll take a drop in a cup of hot water or tea to clear my sinuses and soothe my throat.
Please note: Thieves’ oil should only be made with therapeutic-grade, organic essential oils. Please be aware that the source of the oils is important, and labeling can be misleading. Some brands of essential oil can be very toxic! DO NOT use essential oils internally or on your body unless you’re sure of their quality and safety. (Here is the reliable, quality source I use.)
8. Drink Plenty of Water Even overnight, during what amounts to an 8-hour fast, your immune reserves are being drained. Hydration becomes even more important when you’re sick. Fluids not only transport nutrients to the illness site, but also take toxins away for disposal.
When you wake up, drink water to replenish all the systems that have been active during the night. Green, black, or white (not herbal) tea is another immune-friendly vehicle for consuming water. You should be drinking, in daily ounces, half your body weight in pounds. (i.e. Body weight in pounds, divided by 2 = number of ounces of water per day.)
9.Drink your Lemons Lemon is the ideal food for restoring acid-alkali balance. Drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice in water, or adding it to tea, salad dressings (in place of vinegar), baking or cooking, helps maintain the body’s internal “climate” at a pH which supports healthy bacteria instead of the viruses and harmful bacteria which thrive in more acidic environments.
You can also use apple cider vinegar to improve your body’s alkalinity, but the taste of lemons is much more pleasant! Make a quick homemade lemonade by squeezing the juice of one lemon into a glass of ice water or iced soda water, and adding a packet (about 1 tsp.) of stevia powder. Stir and enjoy!
10. Quit the Sugar If you do only one thing to boost your immune system, eliminating sugar will do the most. You will see noticeable results in your energy levels, weight distribution, immunity and your ability to think clearly when you break the cravings and stop eating refined sugar. Many holistic nutritionists consider sugar a drug for its impact on the human body; I have known practitioners to prioritize eliminating sugar from the diet over recommending that people quitting smoking. Healthier sweeteners such as honey or stevia do exist, but I avoid artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Equal; they are more toxic than cane sugar.
Most importantly, if you are feeling “like your fighting a bug,” avoid sugar and sweet foods at all costs. Sugar is enough of an immune depressant that eating it might tip the scales against you and bring that cold or flu on full strength.