Winter. Is. Here. At least for those of us below the global waistline. And often with winter comes all manner of bugs, setting our immune system into action and a strengthened relationship with our onesie and snuggle pillow.
The sniffles have set in – and you may consider some at-home remedies, conjuring images of Nan’s chicken soup, or a throwing back a bottle of Echinacea. And you know what? Both of these have their merit in bolstering our immune function!
Too often we reach for the cold and flu tabs, drag ourselves out of the house and solider on. But first and foremost, we must honour the need for rest.
Embrace the snooze
Only when we sleep can our immune system operate optimally to protect against and rid the body of deleterious pathogens. This in part due to the relationship to stress (due to immune-suppressing action of stress hormones), and rest at night meeting the circadian rhythm (associated with increased sensitivity to detecting infectious bugs and supporting long-term immune function).
In addition to getting decent rest (before, after and while unwell), here are some handy hints you can undertake in the comfort of your own home. The aim is to boost immune resilience, relieve symptoms, and keep those lurgies at bay!
When needing to relieve congested sinuses, create your own face steamer acts as a decongestant. In a large bowl, place steaming hot water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Place a towel over your head and put your face in front of the rising steam (just don’t get too close – it can burn!). Breathe deeply.
Bath or shower
If you’re feeling achy, try soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts for at least 20 minutes. Full of magnesium, these salts have relaxant properties to offer. But if you’re with fever, have a lukewarm shower or bath to bring the temperature down.
Get moving outside
Fresh air and sunlight are associated with boosting immune resilience. Get out for a gentle walk, and also boost mood and circulation.
Food as Medicine
In 2L warm water (not hot, but warm – this is important), have generous amounts of fresh lemon juice (at least two lemons), with ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, crushed garlic clove and a wee pinch of cayenne. All quantities added to taste – but the more, the better!
Why is this blend so deliciously great for the flu?
- Lemon is excellent for the gut and full of Vitamin C.
- Ginger can assist ease a sore throat, digestion and is good for the circulatory system – as with the cayenne!
- Cinnamon and turmeric are both contain potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agents.
- Garlic is a superstar in fighting infections.
Note: There is the option to add a small amount of honey to this tonic, but remember, honey is considered a free sugar – so use sparingly, and only in the short-term. If using, choose good quality raw or manuka varieties as these boast antibacterial properties, while the minimally processed sugar in the honey can replenish energy being used to fight the cold.
Have slivers popped like pills, or put into a warm bone veggie or bone broth. Slice or crush garlic and let sit for 10-15 minutes before consuming or placing in broth. This allows the powerful active constituent allicin to be formed and ready to undertake its antibacterial Kung Fu.
Slippery elm powder
To soothe a sore throat, mix 1tsp of slippery elm powder into ½ cup of water and gargle. If you cannot handle the taste, mix a little raw or active manuka honey*.
Rich in zinc and other healing nutrients, broth easily digested and warming to boot. These qualities are what made good old chicken soup for the sniffles so good! Ensure you use free-range, grass-fed and organic bones where possible, as these are far higher in helpful nutrients, and without antibiotic treatment that could compromise the health of our guts.
Immune loving nutrients
Key nutrients to boost intake of are zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, D and E.
Fabulous foods to stock up on include citrus, carrots, sweet potato, pineapple, ginger, turmeric and garlic, as well as plenty of greens and protein. Create meals that boast plenty of leafy greens and fresh herbs, as well as contain whole, lean proteins in the forms of legumes, nuts, seeds; wild or free-range, grass-fed meats; and sustainably caught fresh fish.
Healthy, whole food fats such as avocado, olives, coconut and olive oils, nuts, butter, and eggs contain vitamins D and E and anti-inflammatory properties, which are great for immune response and function, and decreasing chronic inflammation.
Ensure intake of antioxidant-rich food is up for enhanced defence against infection! Anti-oxidant rich foods include berries, green leafy vegetables, pumpkin carrot, leeks, onions, garlic, sprouts, herbs, spices – the list goes on. Eat an abundance of fresh whole plant-based foods, and you are onto a good thing.
Keep fluids up, and drink at least 2L of water – more if having fevers.
Avoid processed and congesting foods
Food and drink to avoid for these times include added and free sugars, processed and artificial foods, alcohol, and dairy. If you suspect any intolerances to foods, no matter how minor, avoid these at this time too. Your immune system is under enough pressure battling the flu!
Just eat real food and rest
So much of the health and function of the immune system will be helped by having a diet largely comprising of real, anti-oxidant rich whole foods, full of seasonal vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, lean protein and some complex carbohydrates.
By limiting processed food and added sugars, and instead consuming mostly real whole food – especially plenty of fibre – we help build healthy gut flora, our best friends in fending of sickness!
When needing extra nutrient boosts, in winter include more soups, with added herbs and spices for nutritional power. In summer, home made smoothies are a great way to cram nutrients from fresh herbs, leafy greens and fresh spices like ginger and turmeric root.
Ideally, we want to avoid taking pills that cover the symptoms enough to encourage you to troop on with your day (though sometimes, we understand, you simply must). If your condition worsens beyond a head cold, your temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius, or if you are coughing up green coloured mucus, seek medical attention from your healthcare practitioner for personalised treatment.
And with all that, let’s re-iterate that REST is the most important task of all! It sounds obvious, but consider how much your body does for you, each and every day, in keeping you well and alive. So give it a helping hand in battling the bad bugs, and nourish yourself with good food and get back to bed.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)