Lately everyone and their uncle have come into my office with a cold or flu searching for natural options to boost their immune system.
If you are experiencing chronic colds and flus there are some foundational lifestyle modifications that can make a huge impact on your immune system. If after incorporating the below you are still getting sick more than 1-2 times a year you may need some additional support and should follow up with your healthcare practitioner for a complete assessment.
1. Avoid foods that dampen immune function
Research finds that immune function can decrease by up to 50% up to 5 hours after ingesting sugar. Limit your intake of white sugars, juices, candy and cookies to avoid their immune dampening effects.
If you are struggling with congestion and mucous, dairy may be the culprit. Dairy is very cold, phlegm producing and inflammatory. Eliminating it from your diet may be the thing you need if you are suffering from chronic congestion.
2. Get proper sleep
Sleep is when the immune system is most active and therefore most effective at fighting off infection. Without proper sleep you aren’t capitalizing on this benefit and may struggle to get rid of the infection. When we are sick our body uses an enormous amount of its energy and resources to fight off the infection. Allow your body to use its resources and energy most effectively and give in to those ZZZ’s.
3. Wash hands…but not too much
Of course it’s essential to be washing our hands during cold and flu season to limit the spread of the virus. However, we build our immune system as we age from exposure. For children this is especially important, only by building robust immune responses as children will they grow into healthy adults.
Without exposures, we don't create immune responses and our immune system doesn’t develop. Avoid over-using sanitizers, alcohol based hand washes or any product with antibacterial products within it.
4. Promote a healthy gut
80% of the immune system lives within our gut. This makes sense considering our intestine is the first line of defence against all the bacteria, viruses and fungus that come into our body with and on our food. Keeping the bacteria in the gut healthy and diverse is essential to a healthy immune system.
Foods that help support a healthy gut microbiome include;
Fibre found in fruits and vegetables and in oats
Probiotic rich foods such as natural yogurt (without additives or flavours), kimchi, keffir, sauerkraut
Foods that can disrupt and impact the gut microbiome include:
Overconsumption of gluten and high sugar foods
Additives and preservatives
5. Use botanicals to comfort and decrease the length and severity of symptoms!
If you do succumb to cold and flu season, using botanicals to limit the length and severity of symptoms can do wonders. Here are three of my favourite at home recipes.
For Sore Throat and Respiratory infections: Lemon garlic honey tea
Chop 3 cloves of garlic, place into a quart sized mason jar
Cover with boiling water
Let sit for 15 minutes
Add lemon and honey to taste
Drink hot, up to 4 cups/day
For Cough and Sinus Congestion: Castor oil chest rub
Add 1 crushed garlic clove, 1-2 tsp. of grated ginger, and 1-2 drops of eucalyptus oil to 3-4 tbsp. of castor oil and mix together
Rub the mixture on the chest and back, wrap yourself up in pjs that you don’t mind getting dirty and sleep with overnight
For Sinus Congestion: Essential Oil steam inhalation
Boil 1 litre of water and pour into a large bowl
Add in 10-15 drops of essential oil (my favourites are tea tree and eucalyptus)
Cover with wash cloth
Let the water cool for a few minutes and then lift the wash cloth and inhale the essential oil infused steam to help break up mucous and clear the sinuses
Be careful here to make sure the steam isn’t too hot!