Tis the season to discuss the ever so un-sexy topic of cold and flu prevention. A lot of us skip over these posts as we glide through Facebook or other forms of social media. “I feel fine, I don’t need that.. Im on the hunt for the newest superfood that will shrink my waistline in 7 days”. Well, Im here to tell you to listen up for a minute, because the moment you start to feel that ache, phone your mom, pour your soup in a cup and collapse on the couch watching Netflix, you’re going to wish you read this.
So, we all know what the flu entails – typically it is a miserable 3-5 days of high fever, deep aching and other cold symptoms. Trust me, once it hits, all you want to know is how to get rid of it. I’ll shed some light on a few helpful tips for building your immune system and enhancing prevention.
I thought long and hard (not really, maybe 20 seconds) whether or not I should share a bit of insight on the flu vaccine. Im generally not a very controversial doctor, nor do I shout my professional opinion from the roof tops, without being prompted. However, knowledge is power, and you deserve to be informed.
The influenza virus is an altering and ever-evolving strain which comes around during the fall and winter months. Many doctors fear the outbreak because historically, yes, it has caused a lot of damage and multiple deaths. The greatest risk today generally is pneumonia, which can lead to complications in vulnerable populations.
The main reason some refuse the vaccine is because of its reported lack of efficacy (about 50% on good day), and that it contains a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal, a neurotoxin, along with a host of other preservatives which increase the shelf life and strength of the vaccine.
Now, let me be clear – I understand why certain populations receive this vaccine. These would include those with heart disease, diabetes, asthma or an immune-compromised condition, and the flu vaccine can be used as a safety measure. Also, if you are a health care worker or care for children under the age of 6 months, you may be required to receive the shot, and I understand that.
That being said, if you are otherwise generally healthy, getting the flu shot or not is really a matter of personal preference. Either way, there are a number of things that you can do to build and strengthen your immune system in an attempt to prevent the illness.
Important things to remember as the winter months roll in:
Hand hygiene & hugs!
It is as simple as it sounds, hand washing with good old fashion soap and water goes a long way to prevent disease. In fact, heading for an antibacterial soap can do more harm than good. These products are loaded with chemicals that increase the risk of creating resistant bacteria. They also over-dry and crack the skin, which eases the transmission of viruses. If you feel the need to carry a sanitizer, switch to a lavender essential oil. A few drops will act as a natural hand sanitizer, and smell delicious! Oh and guess what.. giving a hug instead of a handshake has been shown to prevent the spread of common viral infections. So, its fine to drop the formalities, and bring it in.
2. Food is your best medicine.
Stock your kitchen with whole, seasonally available fruits and vegetables. Try and avoid or eliminate sugar, gluten and processed foods, as these dramatically decrease immune function. We need our immune systems to be thriving and working for us, not against. Begin your mornings with a smoothie full of goodness (chia seeds, cinnamon, almond or coconut milk, avocado, berries and a clean protein powder). This starts the tone of your day with powerful anti-inflammatory foods and a boost of antioxidants. Follow this up with lunches and dinners packed with nourishing soups, colorful salads and dark leafy greens and veggies. This will keep your system loaded with flu-fighting phytonutrients.
3. Take your vitamins.
There are a few nutrients that are crucial for optimizing immune function, with vitamin D3 and zinc being the most important. Our zinc and vitamin D status is highly correlated with our immune function. A naturopath can assess your zinc status in office, and the vitamin D can be performed through a simple blood test. Please keep these critical nutrients on your radar as the cold weather approaches.
4. A healthy gut = A healthy immune system.
Guess what? 70-80% of our immune system actually resides in our digestive tract! We are born with 9 trillion good bacteria, this number takes a beating overtime with high dose antibiotics, hormonal imbalances, strong medications, poor lifestyle and dietary habits etc. When this number drops, one thing you will notice is increased frequency of illnesses every season. If this sounds familiar, consider a high-quality probiotic to keep your gut in great shape.
5. More water please!
Staying well hydrated is crucial for flu prevention. Parched mucous membranes are more susceptible to inflammation and irritation. Once this occurs, not only do the membranes lose its primary function as a barrier against infection, they actually work to promote bacterial and viral replications. Inflammation breads inflammation. Sticking with fresh water and herbal teas are your best bet.
6. Hopped up on herbs.
There are several herbs out there that can be used preventatively to boost the immune system and prevent infection. A few of my favourites include:
Ashwagandha – which can be taken daily to relieve stress (explained in my previous blog) and optimize immune function.
Elderberry syrup (recipe below) – which is delicious and excellent for specifically preventing flu and upper respiratory infections.
Fresh ginger & garlic – load your system up with these spices. They are natural immune boosters and have antiviral, antibacterial properties.
7. Sleep! I think I mention this in every post…
I cannot stress this one enough. Your nervous system, stress hormones and immunity are highly interconnected. We need our bodies to rest and repair over night. Optimally, sleep 7-8 hours each night, and turn off electronics at least an hour before bed in order to pull down your cortisol, and prepare yourself for a deep rejuvenating sleep. In addition to sleep, stress management is a key factor in a healthy immune system. Find moments throughout the day to decompress, take a few deep breaths and re-charge. Maintaining that inner sense of calm and diving into a deep sleep nightly will work wonders in keeping your system balanced and strong during the flu season.
In a large pot, combine:
1 cup of dried elderberries
4-5 cups of filtered water
2 Tbsp of fresh ginger
1 tsp of ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Bring to a boil and then simmer until liquid has reduced by half. Strain the excess liquid from the pot. Add half a cup of manuka or organic honey to taste (also, antibacterial and antiviral). Store in a glass jar & refrigerate.
Adults: 1-2 Tbsp every 3-4 hours
Children (older than 2): 1 tsp every 3-4 hours
Please do not rely on this syrup if you are experiencing the following:
Shortness of breath, cough with sputum (brown, yellow or green), chest pain, high fever (above 39), dizziness or lightheadedness, severe earache or have existing medical issues such as, heart disease, diabetes or pulmonary disease.
Best wishes for a healthy winter :)