Support Your Immune System to Fight Colds and Flu
How can you get through the rest of this cold and flu season season without getting sick? By boosting your immune system in three ways:
Eat Nutritious Foods. Nothing tastes better than a warm bowl of delicious soup. Homemade chicken soup is not only filling, but aids in reducing inflammation. Chicken stock helps relieve upper respiratory tract infections.
Lemons, berries, citrus and even peppers should be added to your meals this season. These rich ascorbic foods help support your immune system.
Reap the benefits of probiotics by adding yogurt to your daily routine.
Don’t forget about garlic: fresh garlic is a potent antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral food. Garlic is known to fight off respiratory infections, colds and flu viruses. A blended combination of garlic, radish, lemon juice, honey, and red onion is known to break up chest congestion. (Avoid giving this powerful mixture to children under two.)
Keep sugar-filled foods to a minimum. A high refined sugar diet weakens our ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Sugar also prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals a healthy body needs daily.
Stay hydrated by sipping warm liquids. Warm and soothing apple juice, water with lemon or honey, or even warm tea will increase mucus flow and help reduce congestion. Keep away from caffeinated beverages, coffee, and soda which can increase dehydration and work against your efforts to support your immune system.
Incorporate vitamins, supplements, herbs & essential oils. Vitamin D3 deficiency is common in winter because most of us spend less time outside. To increase your D3 level, think about taking a supplement during the winter months. Another way to increase your D3 level is by sitting indoors near a sunny window and soaking in the beautiful sunshine.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil is not only high in vitamins A, D, and omega-3 fatty acids, but also a strong immune system supporter and very beneficial to a healthy body. Incorporate some into your diet for added defense.
A probiotic supplement will help those lacking good bacteria in the gut. Good gut bacteria help in nutrient absorption and digestion and increase the body’s ability to fight pathogens, together reducing the incidence of coughs, fever, and stuffy noses.
Acerola is a berry that is extremely rich in ascorbic acid, an antioxidant known to support your immune system.
Elderberries pack powerful flu fighting benefits. Elderberry works to prevent viral infection by blocking the virus from penetrating our cells. The anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects elderberries have can reduce healing time when taken at the onset of flu. In fact, the flavonoids found in elderberry have been shown to work better than Tamiflu. Black Elderberries are known to prevent the growth of both influenza A and B viruses. And, when the dried leaves are used in herbal tea blends, elderberries can help reduce fevers.
Dried echinacea, peppermint, elderberry, and lemon balm leaves ease cold and flu symptoms, fight bacteria and viruses, and stimulate the immune system. Combine their dried leaves for a homemade blend of tea, adding hot water and raw honey to sweeten it. A member of the “mint” family, lemon balm also has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe the worst kind of headaches. Peppermint contains “menthol” which helps reduce nasal congestion and open airways. This minty herb is a great sore throat reliever.
Using essential oils can help fight off infections and support a healthy body with strong defenses. Try cinnamon bark, lemon, lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, and rosemary essential oils.
To help ear infections, place 3 drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide in the ear canal. Leave it for about five minutes, or until the hydrogen peroxide bubbling stops. Drain with a tissue and do the same thing for the other ear. Repeat every few hours if needed. The hydrogen peroxide helps kill any germs that have entered through the ear canal.
Besides washing our hands, and coughing or sneezing into our elbows, there are other actions we can take to help prevent cold and flu:
Reduce inflammation, which makes the body more susceptible to disease. (Read more in my blogs on reducing inflammation through lifestyle and diet.)
Get at least 7 hours’ sleep every night. Depriving your body of its needed sleep can affect the immune system the same ways stress or disease can. The body needs sleep so it can fight off illness.
Lower Stress. Living a life full of stress and worry can make the body more vulnerable to illness. Find healthy ways to “let off steam” and decompress.
Follow an exercise routine. Whether you prefer yoga, running, weight lifting, or kickboxing, incorporating some exercise into your weekly routine does wonders for your health and your immune system. Choose a form of exercise you can stick with for 30 minutes 2 – 3 times per week.
If you do get sick, keep these important things in mind:
Antibiotics are not effective against cold viruses.
Although Vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds, it can help shorten the duration of symptoms if taken before or at the first symptoms of a cold. Vitamin C can benefit those who are at high risk of colds from frequent exposure.
Echinacea seems to be most effective on the onset of cold symptoms, then taken for a week afterwards. Echinacea has been shown to interact with other drugs. Always check with your doctor before taking this or any other supplement.
Zinc, when taken at the onset of a cold, only reduces the length of a cold by one day. Zinc is also shown to have some harmful side effects. Always consult your doctor before taking zinc.
To relieve a sore throat, gargle a glass of warm water mixed with ¼ teaspoon salt. Sucking on ice chips can also do the trick.
Saline nasal drops are a great way to help with congestion. For smaller children, use a bulb syringe to clear congestion by first squeezing the bulb, placing the tip of the bulb in the nostril about ½ in and slowly releasing the bulb.
Adding moisture to your indoor air can also help with congestion. This can be accomplished by using a cool mist vaporizer or a humidifier.
Marie Stegner, Consumer Health Advocate and contributing blogger for Maid Brigade, is a nationally recognized healthy living and green cleaning expert. She writes for this blog so that consumers can understand how harsh chemicals and unhealthy practices can negatively affect them physically and mentally, with the hope that they will be able to make informed decisions and pursue a more green and healthy lifestyle.