It’s that time of year again: cold and flu season! At home, school, and everywhere we go there are people around us coughing and sneezing. So what can we do to stay healthy and avoid the germies? And what to do when we do end up coming down with something?
Ideally, the goal is to prevent illness in the first place. Fortunately, there are some very simple and natural things that can help with this.
Diet - What we eat can directly affect our immune systems! By limiting sugar and processed carbohydrates, and adding plenty of fresh produce, quality protein, and healthy fats, we give our bodies the best chance at fighting off viruses and bacteria that come our way.
Supplements - A couple of things that are worth considering just for general health maintenance any time of year are a good multivitamin, a quality probiotic (I am a big fan of either the Klaire Labs brand, or Tailor Made now offers its own 100 billion CFU probiotic), and an omega supplement (either a fish oil or cod liver oil).
During cold and flu season, I like to add a little extra zinc (this can be done through supplementation or through diet), extra vitamin D (it’s good to get a baseline lab through your healthcare provider, if you haven’t had one - a lot of people in cold winter climates are deficient, but it’s a smart idea to find out for sure so that you know how much you should be supplementing, if any).
When our family is actively trying to fight off or avoid a virus, we add elderberry and some sort of immune support like ImmuniVir by Wise Woman Herbals. Just a little anecdotal story: a couple of years ago there was a week when over half of my daughter’s class was out sick with influenza. This was right before the holiday break, and I was very concerned that she would come down with the flu right before Christmas. Every morning I gave her elderberry, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, a multi, and probiotics, and I made her a nourishing smoothie for breakfast, and then I would send her in. I felt like I was sending her into battle, and in a way I was! She did not get sick - at all. Such a relief! We are obviously just one family, but this is what has been working for us.
Hygiene/Hand-Washing - This is something that can be especially difficult with little kids, but it’s so important. We need to use good hygiene during cold and flu season. Most importantly, washing our hands with simple soap and water whenever we use the bathroom, sneeze, blow our nose, cough, etc., and then remembering to cover our coughs and sneezes.
Sleep - Another lifestyle piece that often gets missed is sleep. Sleep is SO important! We need to sleep, and our kiddos need to sleep. I always tell my daughter that this is when our bodies fight the germies, and it’s true. Sleep is crucial to a healthy immune system.
Misc Lifestyle - A few other notable things would include getting some fresh air (even when it’s cold, just a few minutes makes a big difference) every day, exercising regularly, and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco or excessive alcohol, which can weaken our immune systems and leave us more susceptible to infections.
But What If I Still Get Sick?
So that’s all great, you say, but what happens when we get sick anyway? Well, we can’t avoid every illness, so here are the things I’ve found most helpful for our family when one of us does manage to catch a virus.
Most importantly: STAY HOME! Yes, please, stay home if you are sick. Keep your kiddos home if they are sick. When we are sick, our bodies need to rest, and staying home also greatly reduces the chances of spreading the illness to others.
All of the things I discussed above can be helpful, but the natural product that has received the most attention for flu treatment is elderberry. If you Google “elderberry flu” you will find all sorts of articles (many from very mainstream news sources) that discuss the effectiveness of elderberry for shortening the duration of flu symptoms. I have personally seen it work! When anyone in our home starts feeling sick, we all hit the elderberry!
Some other things to consider are bovine colostrum (available in powder or capsule form), which is the “pre-milk” and is loaded with antibodies that may help fight viruses and bacteria. Many people have reported great success with this option.
Beta glucan is another popular immune support supplement. At the store we sell this supplement in both adult and children’s doses.
Additionally, there are many herbs and plants that can be beneficial in supporting the immune system: echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus, cat’s claw, ginger, garlic, turmeric, licorice, and of course elderberry, to name a few.
For specific symptom relief, I have found a product called XLear to be especially helpful for nasal congestion. It gently relieves symptoms and in my experience it does wonders to help clear up or prevent secondary sinus infections. XLear contains xylitol, which has antibacterial properties (it is also used in a lot of toothpastes in place of fluoride, for those who wish to have a non-fluoride alternative).
For aches and pains, turmeric is great, as is arnica. I am also a huge fan of epsom salt/magnesium soaks.
For coughs, I go way old school and just use raw honey. (Not for infants, however.) A teaspoon of raw, local honey at bedtime works better for stubborn coughs than anything else I’ve ever tried, including prescription cough medicines.
Finally, for icky sore throats, I am in love with slippery elm. You may also know this stuff as an ingredient that soothes inflamed digestive tracts, but it also does wonders for an irritated sore throat.
I hope you will find some of these tips helpful. As always, check with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns. Here’s hoping you and your family stay healthy this winter!
*When not working at Tailor Made Nutrition or the Tailor Made Smoothie Shoppe, you can usually find Krista hiking with her family, practicing yoga, traveling, cooking her favorite meals, and “geeking out” about integrative health topics. Krista is writing this blog for informational purposes only, and it should not be considered medical advice.