Nobody likes to get sick. You feel terrible, you're tired, getting through your work day is so much harder, did I mention you feel terrible? Obviously prevention is important because if you don't get sick, you don't need to feel terrible and miss work or time with your family. Unfortunately, not every illness is preventable, but if you do get sick, there are some very simple things you can eat to help you feel better more quickly.
But first: Prevention. The best ways to prevent illness are:
1. Eat real foods and manage sugar and caffeine intake. When you diet is filled with foods that nourish your body, your immune system has the support it needs to function properly. It can often fight off any cooties that come your way, without you even knowing you've been exposed. Sugar and caffeine can stress, and thereby suppress, your immune system, preventing it from functioning at capacity. The #1 thing that suppresses your immune system is stress.
2. Get sufficient, good quality sleep. Sleep is when the body repairs and restores itself. Without good quality sleep, your body feels stressed (even if your mind doesn't) and therefore suppresses your immune system. Without enough sleep, you don't give your body the time it needs to adequately restore and heal itself.
3. Manage your stress. When we are stressed, our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing increase, as does our muscle tightness. These are evolutionary reactions to stress that help us escape from danger. If you are running away from a bear, your body is shunting all of your energy toward the goal of survival; processes like digestion, fertility and immunity are significantly down-regulated which is why conditions like IBS, infertility and frequent colds or infections are often caused/exacerbated by stress.
4. Handwashing. Regular soap and water will do the trick. Anti-bacterial soaps typically contain triclosan, a chemical that is also a carcinogen and has no business being on the human body. You don't need to strip your hands of all bacteria, but washing them multiple times a day during cold and flu season is a must.
5. Avoid touching your face. The points of entry for germs are our mucus membranes (mouth, nose, eyes) so if you don't touch your face, the germs have a harder time getting in.
The biggest problem with over the counter cold medications is that they just suppress your symptoms, and don't actually get you better. Symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, fever, sore throat actually serve a purpose: these are some of your body's ways of getting rid of the viruses or bacteria that are making you sick. By suppressing a fever or preventing a cough, you are actually making it harder for your body to fight off the cold or flu, and many times you end up staying sick for longer.
Consuming herbs and foods that help your body improve it's ability to fight off illness is the best way to go.
1. Garlic--Garlic is a great remedy for colds, both for immune support and for breaking up congestion. Raw garlic is ideal as it has the most potent enzymes to support immune health, dried supplements tend to be weaker. You can consume raw garlic in foods, such as salad dressing (olive oil, crushed raw garlic and some type of vinegar--I like balsamic), guacamole, hummus, salsa, on toast, etc. Here are some other suggestions. Make sure to crush the garlic first and let it sit for about 15 minutes before eating. This allows for the most potency. For garlic breath, eating parsley afterward can help.
2. Ginger--Ginger is a very common Chinese medicinal enjoyed for it's warming qualities. It is mostly known to help with nausea and unsettled stomachs. Dry Ginger is considered Hot, whereas Raw Ginger is Warm; if you tend to run cold or feel particularly cold, Dry ginger is a better option. Ginger is also a great anti-inflammatory and has anti-microbial properties to help with sore throats and fighting off viruses. I like it best in tea form. Heat water to just below boiling, then put in ginger and simmer for about 15 minutes over low heat. Remove from stove and add in the juice of 1/4-1/2 of a lemon and a tsp. of raw honey (or more if the ginger flavor is too strong). This remedy can be very soothing for a sore throat and cough.
3. Elderberry extract--This is my go-to remedy for flu and flu-like viruses. Taking 1-2 Tbsp 2-3 times daily can significantly shorten the duration of your illness as it has many anti-microbial properties. At the first signs of flu (sudden onset fever, chills, body aches, generally feeling run down), I like the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum. It is my experience that if you start taking it within 12-24 hours of initial symptoms, you can be back to health within 24-48 hours. If you miss that window, Elderberry can give you the support your body needs to get back into your life quickly.
4. Saurkraut or other fermented foods-- 70% of your immune system is in your gut, so having a healthy microbiome (having lots of good bacteria in your gut) is essential to getting and staying healthy. Fermented foods are a great source of a wide mix of probiotcs, while also containing pre-biotics which feed the bacteria to help them colonize in your gut. My favorite is saurkraut, but foods like pickled beets, kimchee, miso, kefir, coconut kefir and kombucha are also great sources. Making them part of your daily diet is a great way to prevent illness, but once you are sick, these foods can be really helpful to get you back to health. Ideally you should make your own saurkraut (there are a million recipes out there) to maintain all of the probiotics and vitamin c that is killed off when companies have to pasteurize their products to be sold in stores. But if you can't (or don't want to-- no judgement, I buy mine too), the best saurkraut/pickled products are in the refrigerated area of the produce section of the grocery store. My favorite brand is Real Pickles but there are a number of other great ones too.
5. Bone broth--Grandma's chicken soup has been a natural remedy for colds and illnesses for generations and it turns out she might have been right. The heat, salt and hydration that the soup supplies can be very beneficial for healing. Bone Broth, however, is a little different. Bone Broth draws out all of the nutrients from the animal bone, including collagen, protein and minerals. It is great support to the immune system and a great beverage to drink when you are feeling under the weather. I often recommend it to my cancer patients as it is easy to digest with nothing to chew (unless you add it in) but full of nutrition. Again, the best bone broth is made at home, and cooked for at least 24 hours (lots of recipes online). There are some pre-made bone broths, but they are often far inferior. If you know of a company that makes bone broth that you love, I'd love to hear about it!
Cold and flu season is on the horizon. Do what you can to stay healthy!
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