Here we find ourselves again, knocking on winter's door and entering what some refer to as "cold and flu season". Most of us in the alternative healthcare world have a common philosophy about how the rest of the world views the winter months, and that is (in a nutshell):
So- let's crack open that nutshell and learn more about what we can do to keep our families and ourselves healthy through the winter!
The first thing you need to know is that maintaining a healthy immune system is the key to protecting your body against most diseases. Our immune systems work hard every day to kill any foreign invaders that may cause illness. If the immune system is over stressed or under supported, it will not be working at it's best!
So... how do you create a STRONG, healthy immune system?
There are many ways to assist your body in having a robust immune system; we will just highlight the major ones that have been shown in studies to be effective against influenza.
- Exercise: Regular cardiovascular exercise — walking, biking, aerobics — boosts your immune system, increases circulation through vital organs and makes immune cells circulate through the body more quickly, so they are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 times (or more) a week is recommended for optimal health.
- Hydration: Your body cannot carry out normal function, including immune function, if it is not properly hydrated. Half your body weight in ounces is the minimum recommended amount of water per day. Coffee, soda, juices, and teas do not count toward that amount! Also, humidify your home. Flu bugs love cold, dry air. If dry heat blasts all winter long in your home, find a way to humidify. It’s good for your protective mucous membranes and it may discourage bugs that somehow get into your home.
- Sleep: Adequate sleep helps guard against infection. Sleep deprivation disrupts immune function and increases levels of proteins in the body associated with inflammation. Research shows that people who sleep less than seven hours per night have a three times higher risk of catching a cold than those who sleep for eight hours or more. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night; children and teenagers need nine to 10 hours.
- Good Hygiene: Washing your hands frequently is your first and most effective line of defense against illness! Other tips include: clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces regularly, sneeze and cough into tissues instead of your hands, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Diet: When it comes to nutrition, a healthy diet that includes a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats and whole grains will help build a strong immune system. Taking a daily Multivitamin such as our Immune Multi can make a difference in immune system strength. Dietary supplements can complement your regular diet if you have trouble getting enough nutrients, But they are not meant to be food substitutes. Nothing will replace the benefits of a healthy diet.
- Probiotics: These “friendly” strains of bacteria found in yogurt and available as supplements can help stimulate the immune system. In adults, taking a daily supplement containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu. Probiotics may also be useful in preventing colds and flu in children. A study found that healthy children, aged 3 to 5, who took probiotics during the fall and winter suffered significantly less fever, coughs, antibiotic use, and missed less school days.
- Vitamin C: There has been more research done on the immune-boosting effects of vitamin C than perhaps any other nutrient. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. A minimum of 1000mg a day is recommended. During a period of illness, work your way up to about 6-9 grams a day for optimal results, increasing over the course of a week or more as diarrhea may be the result if you take too much at once.
- Trace minerals: Zinc/selenium/iodine are the three major immune supportive minerals. A high-quality zinc supplement can be very helpful for preventing diseases like the flu and pneumonia, as well as for the treatment of these diseases if you already have them.
- L-Lysine: L-lysine plays a particularly important role in the immune system. It is involved in the development of antibodies and has important antiviral properties. L-Lysine inhibits the proliferation of viruses and strengthens the body’s connective tissue, providing a barrier against bacteria and viruses.
- Vitamin D3: Your body synthesizes Vitamin D from SUNSHINE! If you are not able to get 30 minutes of sunlight per day, supplementation is recommended. In doses of 2000-5000 Vitamin D3 acts much like a hormone in the body as well as it helps to increase certain white blood cells that fight viral infections.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A in doses of 50,000-200,000 IU short term 4-6 weeks has been shown to be very effective against viral infections including the flu, and is safe for children and adults. ***NOTE: Vitamin A should not be taken at these doses by pregnant women as it will cause birth defects and possible abortion. Beta Carotene is an organic compound that your body converts to vitamin A, and does not carry with it the risk factors of liver damage and birth defects that an isolated vitamin A supplement does. Good sources for Beta carotene include orange vegetables like pumpkins, squash, carrots, yams, mangoes & papayas, as well as green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. A natural Beta Carotene supplement can also be a good, safe source of vitamin A.
*** Our Immune Multi contains all of these recommended immune-boosting probiotics, minerals, vitamins and amino acids!
What weakens your immune system?
This is probably common sense, but let’s cover the major offenders just to be safe.
- Dehydration: As described above hydration is very important in fighting infection.
- Sedentary life style: Several systems in your body rely heavily on you being active, if this is not possible for some reason; other therapies such as Constitutional Hydrotherapy can be utilized.
- Standard American Diet: Fast food and most processed foods are void of nutritional value; that is, they bring hardly anything to the table in terms of boosting the immune system or amplifying your health. Not only are much of these foods made from genetically modified foods, but they also contain a slew of immune-suppressing ingredients. Avoid foods that are high in sugars, simple carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives.
- Carbonation: Carbonation binds calcium in the blood stream thus temporarily decreasing the amount of available calcium for the biochemical cascades that it is needed for for healthy immune response.
- Tobacco use: The chemicals in cigarette smoke are an ongoing source of damage to cells throughout the body, and your immune system must continually work to fight off this damage. Smoking causes inflammation in areas related to your immune system that make your immune system less effective in fighting all types of infections. Smoking also, by causing inflammatory changes in your lungs, diverts your immune system from fighting infections elsewhere.
- Alcohol use: High doses of alcohol suppress the ability of the white blood cells to multiply, reduce the ability of white cells to kill germs, and produces an overall nutritional deficiency, depriving the body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients. One drink (the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounces of hard liquor) does not appear to bother the immune system, but three or more drinks do. So celebrate the holidays moderately!
- Vitamin & Mineral deficiencies: There are many vitamins and minerals (some are listed above) that feed various biochemical pathways that directly and indirectly feed your immune response.
- Stress: When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, and long-term stress affects blood pressure, digestion and other body systems negatively. Adopting a regular practice of meditation, prayer, breath exercises or mindfulness can be very helpful to reduce stress.
- Multiple medications: Pharmaceutical medications are sometimes necessary, but when you are taking medications because of the side effects of other medications something needs to change. There have been a few studies that have shown polypharmacy (many medications) causes the body to burn through vitamins and minerals faster. This may cause your immune system to be directly affected. Please visit your primary care physician or a licensed Naturopathic doctor and discuss with them about weaning or eliminating some less necessary drugs from your regimen.
So, you've got the basics down, but what happens if you get sick? What do you do then?
- Constitutional Hydrotherapy: Constitutional Hydrotherapy is the act of alternating hot and cold cloths on the chest and upper back to increase circulation and immune system function. We have found it to incredibly effective for shortening the duration and severity of many illnesses. For more information about how constitutional hydrotherapy works, as well as instructions on how to apply this treatment, contact us for more information!
- Homeopathic Ocillococcinum: Oscillococcinum has been shown in clinical trials to help reduce the severity and shorten the duration of flu-like symptoms. Unlike other flu medicines, Oscillococcinum does not cause drowsiness or interact with other medications. Oscillo works best when taken early, so it’s helpful to keep it on hand. Take Oscillo at the first signs of flu-like symptoms.
- Ginger bath: Ginger has been known traditionally as a very useful and safe herb to use in many remedies for everything from digestive upset, to soothing cold, flu and respiratory infection symptoms. Soaking in a hot bath with 1 tbsp ginger powder (or fresh grated ginger) is an ayurvedic remedy that warms the body, increases circulation and opens the pores. It can be used to safely and effectively to ease symptoms and boost immune system function.
- Bio Defense: Formulated as a natural antibiotic, virucide, fungicide & germicide, Bio Defense is an excellent formula for fighting illness, especially in the early stages. Bio Defense may reduce fevers, boost immune system function, stimulate circulation, and enhance elimination of toxins. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, his “herbal antibiotic” will not kill the body’s natural probiotics and friendly bacteria. During a period of illness, we recommend 1 capsule every hour until symptoms subside. Once symptoms subside, continue taking 2 capsules 3 times per day for another 2 weeks.
- Propolis Plus: Similar to Bio Defense, our Propolis Plus formula was created to fight disease and boost immune function, but it is in liquid form and it tastes great so children can take it without problems! During a period of illness we recommend 1/2 dropper each hour until symptoms subside, then 1 dropper 3 times per day until symptoms subside.
- Flu Buster: Studies have found that elderberry eases flu symptoms like fever, headache, sore throat, fatigue, cough, and body aches. One study found that elderberry could cut the duration of flu symptoms by more than 50%. Our Flu buster contains elderberry syrup, along with blood cleansing and immune boosting herbs to kick flu symptoms fast! During a period of illness we recommend 1/2 dropper each hour until symptoms subside, then 1 dropper 3 times per day until symptoms subside.
- Essential Oils: Essential oils are the highly concentrated essences of aromatic plants. Several essential oils have antiviral and antibacterial characteristics that can boost your immune system. For maximum effectiveness, diffuse them in your home and/or office twice a day for 15-20 minutes as a preventative. Our Spice Traders, Immubuild and Respiratory Combat essential oil blends are formulated to kill viruses and boost immune function. Rub Immubuild on the spine daily or diffuse to prevent disease. Spice Traders on the chest, neck, spine and feet or diffused in the air help boost immune function and fight disease during illness periods. Respiratory Combat is formulated for fighting tough respiratory viruses. Rub on the chest, neck and feet or diffuse in the air.
As we have implemented these practices into our family wellness routines, we have discovered that our homes have encountered illness far less than we used to. May you also have an illness-free winter and abundant health!