EXPOSURE TO BACTERIAS AND VIRUSES along with mental and physical stressors can all take a toll on the body and make you more susceptible to illness.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
• Cold vs Allergies vs Flu
• Flu Shot Controversy
• Stress – Immune function vs Adrenal support
• The 13 Best Cold and Flu Fighting Strategies
- Practice clean hygiene
- Hydrate yourself
- Sleep and rest
- Emergency cupboard nutraceutical supplements
- Immune boosting foods
- Botanical herbs for your health
- Contrast your shower temperature
- Go on, brush your toxins off…
- Gentle outdoor activities
- Breathing meditation
- Steam inhalations and saline pot therapy
- More soup please
- Clean up your diet and avoid sugary foods
Those little germs
Microbes are also known as microorganisms, they consist of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungus (including Candida albican) and any microscopic organism. Microbes grow especially well in warm moist environments (ie. sneezes, spit) [21, 11, 30].
COLD vs ALLERGY vs FLU
A cold can be viral or bacterial in origin, with the most common cold due to rhinoviruses . Symptoms usually last for 1 week and you should avoid interacting with people while you are contageous for the first 3 days. Typical symptoms of a common cold include:
- runny nose*
- sore throat
- slight or no fever*
- mucous (clear= allergies, white= viral, yellow= bacterial)
Sometimes symptoms of a cold can be confused with allergies. Tracking the time of the year and exposure to environmental or food allergens will help to identify the cause. In either case, supporting your immune system will be ideal. For specific allergy prevention strategies, read the following article on “Spring into Summer with Ease“.
The flu is short for influenza and is a viral infection. Flu symptoms often have a quicker onset and more severe than a common cold:
- slight sore throat
- high fever
- muscle aches and soreness*
- fatigue lasting up to a few weeks*
Viral replication peaks during rainy seasons and require a host (for example human, animal or insect) to survive and therefore are passed on between living organisms [55, 47]. The flu can cause a serious scare in over-populated areas due to its ability to rapidly spread and adapt [55, 47].
Therefore, it is especially important to practice clean hand hygiene and sneezing into a tissue or elbow sleeve to prevent spread through mucous. During changes of season and warm, wet weather is most important to strengthen your immune system to fight off invading microorganisms that are eager to grow and spread.
THE FLU SHOT CONTROVERSY
The flu shot has been a hot topic since the H1N1 pandemic, where even people with a strong immune systems were affected. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine has only been 23 percent effective against the virus (normally, the rate of prevention is about 65 percent).
This means, even if you got the flu shot this season, there is a 77 percent chance that it would not have worked and you would have still got the flu.
This low rate is due to an inaccurate estimation of the potential strain of influenza for the upcoming season. There are many potential strains of viruses that can affect humans. The scientists who create the flu shots use past data to calculate which strain will be affecting the population next. Unfortunately, this leaves room for error.
Getting the flu is not a big deal, most of the time. However, the global inter-pandemic influenza burden is estimated at 1 billion cases of flu, 3–5 million cases of severe illness, and 300,000-500,000 deaths annually, with about 90% of all influenza-related deaths occurring in adults older than 65 years and well-defined risk groups .
People who have a lower immune function (ie. elderly and immunocompromised) or high exposure risk groups (ie. children >6 months old, school teachers, healthcare worker) are at higher risk of getting the flu and potentially causing severe consequences. These are the people that the CDC strongly recommends getting the flu shot.
However, the conflict lies in the reported side effects of the flu shot. The preservative in the flu shot is known as thimerosal, a mercury derivative that have theories linking it to brain damages . The fact is, exclusively breast-fed infants are exposed to 15 times more mercury than the content in the influenza vaccine . The evidence has been unsubstantiated.
Despite the lack of positive findings, thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines at this time except for some influenza vaccines, as the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics elected to exercise the “precautionary principle .
When deciding to get the flu shot this season, please consider your current and past health status, level of stress, immune function and possible risk of adverse reactions to the flu shot in order to make an educated decision of whether or not to vaccinate.
Stress – Immune function vs Adrenal support
Physical and mental stressors can decrease the body’s immune and adrenal strength . The immune system consists of the body’s ability to combat and heal from physical stressors such as the allergies and microorganisms we just discussed. The adrenal glands are organs that sit above the kidneys and their main function is to allow the mind to stay acute and alert and allows the body to function during stressful times .
The body is capable of enduring great amounts of stress for short periods of time if it has a chance to rest and recover . Unfortunately, the current Western lifestyle consists of persistent low-level stressors with little chance to nourish our adrenal glands and rest. Although the immune system works primarily on the physical level and adrenal glands on the mental realm they function in conjunction with each other, as does the whole body as a system .
POST-STRESS COLD AND FLU SYMPTOMS
If you’ve ever come off a big project where you were getting inadequate sleep, eating an unhealthy diet and extremely stressed, you can almost guarantee that a cold or flu will develop soon afterwards.
This is because your body has been under the control of your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your stress response . Your adrenals release hormones (cortisol and catecholamines) to maintain your energy levels and turn down your immune response so that your body can focus on overcoming the stressor [22, 13]. Once the stressor is removed the adrenals can rest and your immune system comes back on.
However, because the immune system was turned down, the microbes it would have caught and removed initially have been allowed to grow. Therefore, you often get a cold or flu after a stressful period.
If your sympathetic nervous system is over-stimulated with stress, your immune system will not function efficiently . This is the same for changes in weather conditions where it takes more effort for the mind and body to cope.
Whether you’re struggling with a cold, flu or just feeling exhausted, the following cold and flu fighting strategies will help you strengthen your immune system, recharge your adrenal glands and boost your mood.
The 13 Best Natural Cold and Flu Fighting Strategies:
1. Practice clean hygiene
Preventative healthy hygiene practices are the most important way to limit spread of bacteria and viruses. Download the CDC’s “An Ounce of Prevention” brochure HERE.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Sneeze into a tissue or elbow sleeve to prevent spread through mucous
- Avoid touching your face. Especially your nose, eyes and mouth where body fluids can carry more germs
- Routinely clean and disinfect food preparation surfaces and counters
- Safely clean and prepare foods, and avoid cross-contamination with raw meats and seafood
- Avoid using antibiotics for viral infections
2. Hydrate yourself
Drinking pure H2O will help to flush out toxins in the body and promote an efficient immune system. Adding in lemon is a great way to give an added boost, read more HERE.
Water makes up 60% of the adult human body and is critical for all major physiological systems :
- vital nutrient to every cell
- regulates internal body temperature by sweating and respiration
- moistens tissues (ie. mouth, eyes, nose, gut lining, skin)
- protects the body, organs, and vital systems (ie. brain, spinal cord, fetus)
- lubricates joints
- regulates digestion and your poo
- flushes waste products from the liver, lymph and kidneys
- supports blood to carry nutrients and oxygen to cells
- supports hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis
The brain and heart are composed of 73% water; the lungs are 83%; skin is 64%; muscles and kidneys are 79%; and even bones are 31% water . Unfortunately, most people are chronically dehydrated and often confuse thirst for hunger.
Drinking 6-8 glasses (2-2.5 liters) of water a day is a foundation to your health. Yes, coffee, tea, flavored water, and foods still count towards your hydration, however clean and pure water will always dominate.
Expert tip: Use elastic bands on your glass or water bottle to help you keep track. Put 6-8 bands on your bottle first thing in the morning. As you drink 1 glass of water (approx. 1 cup) take a rubber band off the bottle and put it onto your wrist. After consuming all 6-8 glasses, add the bands back to the bottle for the next day.
Learn all about the best quality and filtration systems to ensure you are absorbing all important minerals from your water and avoiding contaminants HERE.
3. Sleep and rest
Sleep is crucial for strengthening your body (including your immune system), healing damaged tissue, mental recovery and hormonal balance. Read more if you’ve ever wondered “How Much Sleep Do I Need?“.
Often when we are sick we feel more tired. This is a clue from your body telling you to rest in order to fight off infection, heal and recover from physical and mental stress .
Healing from tissue injury and microbial insult requires an anabolic (building) state in order to deliver essential nutrients, white blood cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines (molecules to stimulate healing) to the affected area [1, 24]. Adrenaline is released during wakeful acute stress, which prevents cell division that is necessary for healing . Adequate uninterrupted sleep and a relaxed nervous system (PNS) are crucial for recovery and a strong immunity .
Mental Recovery requires sleep. Simple and complex task performances are impaired with sleep deprivation, as reflected by tests of reaction time, vigilance, attention, working memory, verbal fluency and speech articulation, language, logical reasoning, creative and flexible thinking and planning, decision making, and judgment .
4. Emergency cupboard nutraceutical supplements
Don’t run around the pharmacy or health food store trying to find the right products when they’re feeling under the weather, be prepared ahead of time.
Cupboard supplements are those that are useful to always keep on hand to help support your immune system upon first signs of a cold or flu.
Zinc lozenges can be taken as needed and are generally quite yummy to taste. They act to decrease inflammation, infections (especially skin, oral, and upper respiratory tract to limit the frequency), ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, blood glucose, and oxidative damage .
When choosing a zinc supplement, it’s important to look at the amount of elemental zinc (not the total zinc and cofactor that is bound to it), this will be specified on the labeling. For cold and flu preventions, a dose of 5-10mg daily (max of 40mg/d) is required, though people with zinc deficiencies may require more [45, 57].
Caution: superloading zinc for an extended duration will cause a copper deficiency, so avoid taking the max dose for more than 4 months and be sure to get your zinc and copper levels tested [43, 45].
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is the most well known cold and flu fighter. On top of its anti-microbial functions, vitamin C works as an anti-oxidant and stress regulator by increasing blood flow to vital organs, protecting the heart, and moderates cortisol levels . Note: Avoid purchasing a chewable vitamin C since they are often laden with sugars to make them taste sweet. As we learned earlier, sugar feeds microbes and encourages proliferation and worsening of cold symptoms.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, have health benefits by increasing the relative good: bad bacteria ratio during an infection. Health benefits have mainly been demonstrated for specific probiotic strains: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces .
However, probiotics should be used with caution for immunocompromised patients or patients with a leaky gut as there have been reports of resulting infections, sepsis, fungemia, and bacteraemia. And they should also be taken a few hours away from any antibiotic treatment .
Probiotics can also be obtained from fermented foods, such as: miso, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombusha.
N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is an antioxidant and a precursor to glutathione, a major antioxidants in lung tissue. Evidence shows oxidative stress contributes to the lung damage that may result from influenza. Supplementation with NAC during the flu season reduces frequency and severity of influenza episodes. 
A study randomized patients to receive, NAC (600 mg twice a day) or placebo for six months, beginning in October or November. Compared with placebo, NAC reduced the number and intensity of people who experienced at least one episode of influenza. During NAC treatment, there was a significant positive shift of cell-mediated immunity. 
Homeopathic immune support combinations are a safe preventative choice, especially for pregnant women, infants and geriatric patients with poor digestive functions [5, 56].
5. Immune boosting foods
Eating unpasturized honey, oatmeal, raw garlic, ginger, onions and foods containing vitamin C make for great immune strengtheners. Eat them all year round as preventative medicine.
Citrus fruits are generally high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids describe a particular chemical structure that often contributes to the bright colors of fruits and vegetables . They have properties to help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and allergies .
Manuka and kanuka honey are strong anti-bacterial agents that work inside and out. Swishing, gargling and swallowing a spoonful of non-pasturized honey in warm water is ideal for gingivitis, a throat tickle, post nasal drip, loss of voice, dry cough, or a full blown sore throats .
- You can also use honey it on a daily basis in tea, coffee, and salad dressings to get the health benefits and add a little sweetness to your day.
- It’s also an excellent external treatment for cuts or minor wounds and inflammation to the skin. It is safe for all ages, including , and their diverse anti-bacterial effects make it difficult for bacteria to build a resistance [53, 33].
Oatmeal is a great breakfast option in the cooler weather because it is warming, a good source of fiber, decreases inflammation, encourages healing, and keeps you feeling full and satisfied longer . Be sure to avoid instant oats since the B-glucan fiber is removed for fast cooking, look for gluten-free, rolled or steel cut oats that require 15 minutes of cooking [59, 63]. I make mine in a huge batch, enough for the whole week. Add in some nut milk, seeds, black strap molasses, blueberries and cinnamon for a complete breakfast meal.
- You can also take an oatmeal bath to calm inflamed skin and promote healing if you suffer from skin allergies .
- Watch a video on making oatmeal pancakes for breakfast with only 2 ingredients; oats and egg. Now the video shows egg whites only, but please don’t eliminate the egg yolk! The cholesterol in egg yolks DO NOT negatively affect heart disease and can actually contribute to lowering your cholesterol levels. For more nutrition misconception studies such as the cholesterol in egg myth, see here.
Raw garlic is a strong anti-microbial, which means it defends against bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites by attacking microbes and strengthening the body’s immune system [28, 32, 33]. Crushing raw garlic into salads and dips is a delightful way to add garlic into your diet, but you can also purchase the active ingredient ‘allicin’ in a supplemental form. Garlic also:
- Lowers high blood pressure, supports healthy cholesterol ratios and is an anti-oxidant to prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease [14, 20, 29].
- Cognitive support [4, 45].
- Anti-inflammatory effects [26, 44].
- External skin exfoliate used in combination with epsoms salt and lime juice .
- Immune modulator to fight internal and external infections and ulcers .
- Cancer prevention by working as a powerful anti-oxidant .
Ginger is a warmth generator that [2, 62]. It tastes delicious mixed with honey as a tea, candied, dried, pickled, or added to soups and savory steamed vegetables. Here are a few other benefits of ginger:
- It is commonly used as a safe anti-nausea treatment for motion sickness, pregnancy and chemotherapy treatments .
- Improves circulation, supports healthy cholesterol ratios and is an anti-oxidant to prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease .
- Increases stomach acid production for hypochlorhydria and insufficient bile production, which often presents as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), indigestion, bloating, constipation, toxin overload and liver dysfunctions .
- Decrease osteoarthritis symptoms of pain and stiffness .
- Decrease muscle pain and menstrual cramping as much as Ibuprofen .
Onions add a great flavor to your dishes and can fight off respiratory infections, irritating coughs and inflammation [29, 45].
- Learn how to fight ear infections with “Onion Earmuffs”, also feel free to add garlic oil to enhance the anti-microbial effects.
6. Botanical herbs for your health
Botanical herbs are another neutraceutical that works great for the changes of season. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Echinacea is a key herb used for bacterial infections, upper respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, recurrent candida infections and as a cold and flu prophylaxis .
- Ganoderma is also well known as reishi mushroom and as Ling zhi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is an immune modulator, decrease urinary tract infections, reduces stress by calming the mind and nervous tension, and has potent anti-cancer properties [39, 40, 44, 65].
- Astragalus is a wonderful immune activating herb that also acts as an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and can decrease allergy induced nasal congestion. On a deeper level, it has protective actions for the heart, liver, kidneys, and blood [35, 45, 66].
- Elderberry is also known as Sambucus canadensis. It is a tasty syrup that coats and soothes a sore throat while fighting off viruses targeting the upper chest and sinuses [6, 23].
7. Contrast your shower temperature
Taking contrast or alternating hot and cold showers is not only refreshing but stimulates the body’s elimination system, making you clean from the inside out.
Contrast showers allow your skin to act as a whole-body pump and lymphatic drainer. The hot water opens up your pores, releasing toxins via the skin and relaxing tension in the body. Then, cold water closes pores and pumps lymph fluid through the body’s lymphatic system and into the blood, where it can be filtered and excreted through your urine .
The ideal timing for contrast showers is 3 minutes as hot you can manage while staying relaxed (be sure not to burn yourself), followed by 1 minute of the coldest water you can handle. Repeat this contrast in temperature 2-3 times per shower, always ending on cold.
8. Go on, brush your toxins off…
Dry skin brushing flushes lymphatic waste, improves the immune system, and lowers high blood pressure—all with a 5 minute gentle massage [25, 41].
- Choose a brush with short and stiff natural bristles. They often come in the size of your palm and sometimes attached to a long handle.
- Using your brush, make small circular motions from the hands and feet up towards the heart.
Be careful not to press too deeply. The lymphatic system lies just beneath the skin. Light pressure just scratching the surface of your skin is all you need to remove the lymphatic waste. To view a video, click here.
- Ideally, perform dry skin brushing before your contrast showers.
It is especially useful for people who get sick often or who have a low white blood cell (WBC) count, high blood pressure, edema, or varicose veins [34, 41].
- As an added bonus, dry brushing will also rejuvenate the skin, diminish the appearance of cellulite, stimulates nerve endings, and increases blood circulation and overall vitality .
9. Gentle outdoor activities
Double your immune boosting power by increasing circulation with light activities and getting more natural vitamin D in the outdoors.
Intense exercise can actually further stress your immune system, so make sure you are practicing light-moderate activities to increase sweating, circulation and immune stimulation . Low to moderate exercise frequency is beneficial to decrease influenza-associated mortality .
- go for a walk in the forest
- practice light yoga, tai chi, or qi gong outdoors
- light house cleaning with your windows and doors open to let in fresh air and sunlight
Vitamin D is one of many hormones involved in the white blood cells development. White blood cells are our first line against most types of infection. Low vitamin D levels have shown an increased risk of respiratory infection and a higher incidence of influenza in the winter months compared to any other times of the year .
A double-blind trial had 208 African-American women received vitamin D3 (800 IU/d for 2 years, then 2000 IU/d for the third year) or placebo for three years . During the study, the vitamin D group reported significantly less cold and influenza symptoms .
Get more information on all the benefits of vitamin D, HERE.
10. Breathing meditation
Deep breathing, meditation, and mind-body awareness allows your mind and body to rest while strengthening your immune’s defense system.
Psychological stress and depression impairs anti-viral immune responses and activate innate immunity or markers of inflammation via effector pathways, such as the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis .
Taking full deep breaths of fresh air not only clears your lungs of CO2 residues, but also puts you in a parasympathetic state to defend against potentially harmful microorganisms .
Meditations and other mind-body therapies have been shown to reduce markers of inflammation and influence virus-specific immune responses .
11. Steam inhalations and saline pot therapy
Using steam inhalation with essential oils or saline pot therapy are effective home-care treatments for any head or sinus congestion.
Steam inhalation with additional eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender or tea tree oil have been shown to be an effective antiseptic and antibacterial solution against mucosal pathogens [16, 52].
Directions: Simply boil some water and place it in a large bowl and add a few drops of essential oils. Lean your face directly over the bowl to allow the steam to be inhaled, without your face touching the water. Place a towel over your head for steam insulation and breath deeply for 2 minutes or longer. If you notice mucous running from your nose, this is your body clearing itself, which is ideal to practice first thing in the morning and immediately before bed.
Saline Pots (ie. Neti Pot) with additional Himilayan salt, eucalyptus, hydrastis canadensis or grape seed extract (GSE) is an ideal way to clear sinus congestion. GSE has many pharmacological benefits: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimicrobial properties, however there is some controversy with the safety and contaminants of GSE, so please use at your discretion .
Directions: Fill the saline pot with warm water and your preferred solute. Lean over a sink while placing the spout in one nostril. Gently tilt your head away from the affected side as if you are pouring the pot. You will feel some pressure or resistance if your sinuses are congested. If the water does not flow out of the opposing nostril straighten your head to allow the water to drain out and try again. Take 3-5 attempts before switching sides and repeat until the pot is empty or the water flows easily from one nostril to the other on both sides.
12. More soup please
For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has utilized herbal ‘Change of Season Soup’ for strengthening the immune system and navigating physical strains during transition times of weather.
There are four main TCM herbs that build the base of the soup; feel free to add spices, vegetables and meat to this recipe:
1. Codonopsis Root– Helps tonify and strengthen “Qi” energy and helps to build Blood and nourish body fluids. It is a Spleen and Lung tonic with specific aid towards digestion .
2. Astragalus Root– The TCM functions of Astragalus is to strengthen protective defenses, strengthen “Qi” energy, nourish the Spleen, and tonify the Blood and Lungs [35, 50, 66].
3. Dioscorea (Chinese yam) Root– It’s most well known use is for management of menopausal symptoms. However, Dioscorea also tonifies and balances the Lungs, Liver and the Kidneys [6, 23].
4. Chinese Lycii Berries– Strengthen the Liver and Kidneys while supporting your defensive system and moving stagnation that accumulates in the body [31, 65].
Directions: Use equal parts of each herb (2-3 oz) added to a large pot of water or broth (~4L). Bring to a boil and then simmer for 4-6 hours. Remove the herbs and drink the broth or use as a soup base. For added flavor and nutrients, feel free to add chicken, ginger, garlic, goji berries, carrots, celery, onions, pepper, cloves and/or salt.
13. Clean up your diet and avoid sugary foods
Give your body a break from heavy chemicals, irritants and sugars to help you fight off a throat tickle and have you feeling more vibrant and energetic.
Clear out the fridge and pantry
Donate canned or processed foods (or toss/compost/recycle them if they’re no longer viable) and start re-introducing fresh produce for optimum health.
Additives can be hidden in almost every prepackaged food item. The top offending food choices and ingredients include:
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Trans fats
- Common food dyes (E133, E124, E110, E102)
- Sodium chloride
- Sodium sulfite
- Sodium nitrate/ nitrite
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) and propyl gallate
- Sulfur dioxide
- Potassium bromate
To learn more about what ingredients to avoid, read “The truth behind the 13 most feared food and product additives” and find out if you’re “Eating yourself sick“.
Also visit the Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants reported by the WHO here .
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