The cold and flu season is already here and many believe that the spread of these infections are going to be worse during the harsh months of January and February. Whether flu vaccines work or not is a debatable point but we can all take charge of our bodies to protect ourselves and our families from these infections.
What causes colds and influenza?
Both colds and influenza are caused by a wide variety of viruses and yet there are differences between these infections. The symptoms of a ‘common cold’ include runny nose, congestion, cough and a sore throat. The symptoms of flu tend to be far more severe as the virus is capable of infecting the lungs, affect your joints, causing pain, and at worse causing respiratory failure.
The way that we catch a cold or get influenza is when our immune system is compromised. The viruses spread by hand to hand contact, but just because we are exposed to the virus does not mean that we will inevitably catch the infection. It is not inevitable that exposure should lead to infection.
Lifestyle factors that compromise the immune system include:
- Vitamin D deficiency – Research has confirmed that “catching” colds and flu may actually be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency. Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune system and make you more prone to contracting colds, flu and respiratory infections.
- Eating too much sugar or grains – The average person consumes far too much sugar including fructose, which can severely affect the immune system. The way this occurs is that the sugar feeds the pathogenic bacteria, fungi and numerous other micro-organisms in the gut setting up your immune system for an assault by respiratory viruses. Incidentally, most people do not realise that over 80 percent of one’s immunity arises from the beneficial bacteria in the gut which produce immune-enhancing compounds.
- Not getting enough rest – If you are not getting enough sleep, or enough restorative sleep, you have an increased chance of having a viral attack. The immune system is most effective when you are not deprived of sleep and hence the more rested you are, the quicker the recovery times too.
- Managing stress – Especially emotional stress. Some stress is important and actually healthy for the body, but excessive stress weakens the immune system and must be addressed quickly.
Conventional cold and flu strategies
Most colds tend to last for six to ten days and even the most stubborn colds tend to resolve in a couple of weeks. Influenza on the other hand tends to be shorter usually lasting up to a maximum of seven days. In most cases, how you recover is based on your lifestyle habits and not on popping over the counter medicines, which in some cases may actually hinder the healing process. Even more important is that antibiotics do not work against viruses and should only be used where there is a secondary infection arising out as a result of the compromised immune system such as pneumonia.
To further add to this, antibiotics destroy the beneficial bacteria in the gut which are responsible for producing immune enhancing compounds and hence often people, even after recovery, are more susceptible to further re-infections and I get to hear about this all the time. I am not advocating not to use medicines, merely that they should be used when there is a fever of over 102 degrees, ear pain, pain around the eye area, especially when there is a green discharge, persistent coughing especially if the mucus is green or yellow and breathing difficulties prevail.
Diets that help to eradicate colds and flu quicker
As mentioned earlier, the first thing to do is to avoid all sugars, artificial sweeteners and grains (which are converted into sugars when digested). Sugar is damaging to the immune system which needs to be optimised rather than suppressed in order to combat the infection. This also includes fructose from juices and I would recommend that you drink plenty of water, enough to ensure that your urine is light, pale yellow in colour. Water is required for every single process carried out within the body and will also help to ease nasal congestion.
Another beverage that I tend to recommend is drinking green tea. Green tea contains anti-viral components that may be helpful in preventing influenza and may aid in the healing process.
Foods that strengthen the immune system include fermented foods such as kefir (fermented milk drink), pickles, sauerkraut, organic vegetables, mushrooms, coconuts and coconut oil as well as spices such as turmeric, garlic, cinnamon and cloves.
Supplements to take at the first sign of a cold or flu
- Astragalus – I am a great advocate of the use of this safe and very effective herb, which works to increase interferon and white blood cell counts, both of which are vital for the optimal function of the immune system. White blood cells engulf bacteria and viruses and thus defend the body against infections. I tend to recommend a higher dose during an infection and a maintenance dose during the winter months. The supplement of choice is Astragalus Extract by Swanson, take one capsule twice a day during the infection and one capsule daily for preventative purposes but do not take this supplement if you have a high temperature.
- Zinc – A review of the research carried out on this important mineral states that when zinc is taken within one day of the first symptoms, it can cut down the time you have a cold by 24 hours. Whilst the review did not specify a specific type of zinc, nor the dosage, I tend to favour DynoMins Zinc by Nature’s Plus which provides a therapeutic dose in a food state for maximum absorption and hence utilisation by the body.
- Probiotics - As mentioned in the article earlier, 80 percent of one’s own immunity arises out of the gut from the beneficial bacteria that reside within it. To this end, it does make sense to proliferate the gut with these bacteria quickly and whilst there are many probiotics on the market, I tend to recommend the use of Mega Probiotic ND by Food Science of Vermont, which contains eight strains of bacteria that are protected against destruction by the stomach acids so that they can actually reach the gut and perform their numerous roles.
- Vitamin D – I have already mentioned earlier the importance of vitamin D and I would recommend D-Lux Spray 3000 by Better You, spray one spray into the mouth daily to restore deficiencies which incidentally are widespread. This oral spray delivers this dose rapidly into the bloodstream.
The crucial nutrient to help support the immune system
The immune system is unlike any other bodily system in that it involves the complex interaction between physical structures such as the thymus gland as well as complex interactions between hormones and chemical substances in the bloodstream, which ultimately result in conferring immunity. This does not even take into account the complex processes that take place in the gut where the beneficial bacteria produce immune-enhancing compounds, neither does it take into account nutritional deficiencies that may exist within the body.
The immune system relies heavily on nutrients and it is not one single nutrient that helps support the immune system, but all the major vitamins and minerals. It is for this reason that I always recommend a good multi-nutrient, preferably from a food state to ensure maximum absorption and utilisation. Supplements such as Daily Fruit & Veggie and Alive Ultra Potency Multivitamin are excellent supplements to help prevent nutrient deficiencies.