Getting everyone through cold and flu season

5 strategies to get you through cold andI went to the doctor today for a physical – my first in years.  I was offered a flu shot and politely declined.  I have never accepted a flu shot, for me or my kids.  Instead, I pay constant attention to supporting each of our immune systems.   I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t get the shot – it’s a decision only you can make.  But here I will share with you the strategies I incorporate into our daily lives to keep our  immune systems strong enough to get us through cold and flu season.

The first thing to do is shift your perspective.

Exposure to bacteria and viruses is an important process that strengthens and trains the body’s army troops – aka, the immune system.  So, while hand washing and basic hygiene are important and prudent, staying healthy is not all about avoiding germs.  The trick is to keep your troops well “fed” and strong so that they neutralize the bacteria and viruses quickly and efficiently when they encounter them.  That way you and your children can weather this natural immune building process more comfortably.

So let’s talk about how to keep your immune system strong so it can do its job effectively.

70-80% of your immune system is housed in the lining of your digestive tract. The remainder is in your mucous membranes and  blood. This means that the long term ticket to strong immunity is tip-top digestive function. It is primarily the bacteria in the gut that communicate with the immune cells  to control immune function.  Crazy to think.  But true.  Microscopic bacteria are running the show (which you can learn more about in this video post).

So, reflect a moment on the state of your digestion. Do you suffer from chronic constipation? Do you have food allergies or intolerances? Do you experience gas or bloating? Do you have IBS or colitis? Some other things that degrade digestive bacteria are antibiotics, NSAIDs like Advil/Tylenol, cigarette smoke, stress, sugar and toxic chemicals. Are you/ have you been exposed to these?

If this is you (or your child), then the soldiers of your immune system are not as happy or efficient as they could be. You might find that you get every bug that comes around. You might find that colds stick with you for longer than they do for others, or that they aways develop into secondary infections.

Do you see the connection now?  Poor digestion = poor immune function.  The reverse is also true;  you might find you have no particular digestive issues yet you are always sick.  You too will benefit from digestive healing because poor immune function = poor digestive function.  Remember…. it’s the gut bacteria that are running the immune show.

If you are new to this idea of the gut microbiome and how important it is to your health, you’ll want to watch this short video produced by NPR.  They’ve done a great job explaining it.

So, the long term fix to fewer sick days is digestive healing.

There are several digestive healing protocols floating around that you might want to take a look at to improve your immune function. You might have heard of Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), or the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or the Autoimmune Protocol. These are blueprints to help you reduce digestive irritants, kill yeast and repopulate the gut with colonies of healthy gut flora. This is your ultimate long term solution for poor immune function.  Even taking elements of these protocols is helpful and supportive of immune function.

But perhaps you are not yet ready to go there and what you want are simple strategies to just get through this season.

Here are some short term strategies to get you and your family through cold and flu season.

Immune Booster Strategy #1: Antioxidants

Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, selenium and zinc all help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and strengthen immune function. As with all nutrients, getting them from food is best. Incorporate fresh, whole foods such as colourful fruits and vegetables, avocado, berries, greens, eggs, nuts and seeds into your diet. Sardines are a fantastic source of selenium (and vitamin D).  Here’s a video on how to get more antioxidants into the diet. The best supplement on the market to help you get this in, and the only one I recommend is this one that contains only concentrated whole food.  I have seen amazing results in immune system health by adding in this whole fruit and vegetable concentrate.

Immune Booster Strategy #2: Cod liver oil

Take cod liver oil.  Cod liver oil provides an excellent source of vitamins A and D along with some essential fatty acids. These are all nutrients that are difficult to get in high enough amounts through a typical diet and are crucial to digestive and immune health. Choose a cod liver oil that has high levels of both vitamin A and vitamin D – some companies have drastically reduced the amount of these vitamins.  Rosita is a good one.

Immune Booster Strategy #3: Fermented food/beverages

Make fermented beverages and drink them every day. Fermented beverages are easy to make and provide a fantastic source of vitamin C and probiotic bacteria. They help keep the bowels running smoothy, nourish the gut flora and are energizing. I have used water kefir and kefir soda in my family for many cold and flu seasons and have found them to be the absolute best way to ward off sickness. Here’s a recipe.  If you’re gung-ho with the ferments, try making sauerkraut or pickled carrots.  You can use the juice for salad dressings or even mix it into soups to give a citrus type taste.  Here’s more info about fermented food .

If you’re not yet ready to do the fermented thing, then consider taking a multi-strain probiotic daily. It won’t give you the vitamins, enzymes or help regulate the pH of your digestive tract like fermented food will, but it will help keep your gut microbes happy – and that’s a good thing.

Immune Booster Strategy #4: Magnesium

Take magnesium.  While magnesium it is not typically associated with immune function, it is one of the minerals that we are all likely deficient in and it is involved in over 300 different chemical processes in the body. The amount found in food is dependent on the amount found in soil, and magnesium in soil is eroding away. Magnesium can also work as a gentle laxative if you suffer from constipation (and, as mentioned above, you’ve got to get rid of your constipation if you want your immune system to function well). Chose magnesium citrate or glycinate or, better yet, use a topical magnesium oil spray for better absorption.  You can order good quality magnesium from my on-line dispensary.

Immune Booster Strategy #5: Zinc

Zinc is also used for just about every chemical process in the body. It is a great immune builder. If you eat red meat on a regular basis you are probably getting enough zinc. But it is hard to get if you are a vegetarian (pumpkin seeds are a good vegetarian source).

A few more things to do:

  • Be aware that sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria in the gut, depletes the body of mineral (particularly magnesium and zinc) and seems to paralyze the immune system for a while. So sugar and processed carbohydrates are not your friend this winter.
  • Be aware that most multivitamins made for children contain sugar (which defeats your purpose) and lack significant amount of the right kind of nutrients – the kind we’re talking about here. For your kids, consider switching out the multi for a more targeted immuno-supportive regime as detailed above.  To see my advice on picking supplements check out this post.
  • Medicinal mushrooms and certain herbs like astragalus are also excellent antibacterial agent and immune enhancers. I particularly love the Deep Immune and Deep Immune For Kids formulas made by Saint Francis Herbs and the Zinc Food Complex made by New Chapter (this one is for adults, not kids.  For kids I would suggest the zinc made by Gammadyn).  You can  order them here.
  • Vitamin C is great for the immune system.  My favourite sources are camu camu and elderberry.  Typical over the counter vitamin C is derived from GMO corn and I do not recommend it.  Again, I suggest whole fruit and vegetable concentrate like this one.

Summary for cold and flu season:

Things that Help:

Antioxidants – vitamins A, C, E, selenium, zinc; Medicinal mushrooms – reishi, shitaki, mataki; Probiotic supplements;  Fermented foods such as kefir soda; Fermented cod liver oil; Garlic; Protein

Things that Hinder:

Sugar; Chronic constipation and other digestive troubles;  Poor sleep;  Stress;  Processed foods; Toxic chemicals; Sugary multi vitamins; Undetected food intolerances

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