Everyone and their G-ma seems to have a method or cure-all for the common cold. I certainly have my favourites. I have a background in western herbal medicine so that’s my go to for natural remedies. I also believe that you need to have a healthy foundation for your immune system to be able to kick into action when needed, we are not immune from getting sick but with the proper maintenance and support your immune system can work like a well oiled machine.
Foundations (preventative medicine)
Wash your hands, often
Wipe surfaces in high traffic areas
Treatment (once you’re sick)
-dried herbs or tea blends
Vitamins & Minerals
-Lots of it!
I’m going to try to follow the KISS method here: keep it simple, stupid. I’m not going to talk about your blood blood cells or T cells, lymph nodes, lymphatic drainage or any other biological functions of your immune system or supporting system. That’s for biology class. What I am going to do is give you simple steps you can take in order to boost your immune system to help prevent getting sick, as well as, things you can do once you are sick. (Insert disclaimer here -I am not a doctor, nor am I a licensed practitioner so please follow this as a guideline and use your best judgment and what works best for your body at any given time. Also this information doesn’t replace the advice of a qualified practitioner). I have been following a vegan diet since Sept 2010, have never had a flu shot and don’t have any underlying health issues or diseases.
Let’s start with foundations, they are the steps you take before you get sick. The preventative measures that help to keep you and your immune system strong and healthy and better prepared for an acute illness like the common cold and flu.
Wash Your Hands!!
Wash them often and use SOAP!! Use any soap you want to use, I, personally, don’t care if it’s organic, anti-bacterial, scented with essential oils, homemade, liquid or bar form, whatever is right or wrong with soap, all I care is that you use it!
Another helpful tool, about 2 years ago my husband got into the habit of wiping down all surfaces in high traffic areas in our home, every day! He wipes all the door knobs on the main floor, including the front door, the stair banister, the remote controls, the key boards for computers, counters, etc, etc. I am so grateful he does this because I know it makes a difference and doing after your family is sick is too late…but should still be done, gross.
1) Eat Your Fruits & Veggies!!
I will make more detailed posts on this in the future but in light of following the KISS format, I’m going to keep it simple, stupid. The easiest and best way for your body to get the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that it needs to stay healthy is to eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, they should make up the largest food group of your overall diet. During the fall and winter the best fruits and veggies that are going to help boost your immune system are: apples, oranges, berries, dark leafy greens ie) kale, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, carrots, beets, garlic and ginger. These are just to list a few and if you’re having trouble finding fresh fruits and veggies then the next best thing is frozen, try to avoid canned fruit and veggies as much as possible. As I said with the soap I don’t care if they’re organic or local or whatever is right or wrong with buying produce these days, as long as you buy them and eat it! They are better eaten then not bought because they’re not perfect.
2) Eliminating or Limiting Dairy Products.
Dairy products are mucus forming and when you get sick this problem is compounded by your dairy intake. By reducing your intake of dairy products while you are sick, on a regular basis or eliminating them altogether you’ll notice that the severity of nasal/mucus symptoms are greatly reduced. This was the first thing I noticed when I finally stopped eating cheese!
3) Water!! H2O
There is nothing that replaces water. As soon as you add something to water it is NO LONGER WATER! End of! Those crystal light packets marketed for you to add to your water bottle and help you drink more water, don’t help you in the long run, they make you sicker and it’s a waste of money. They are chemicals that are toxic to your over all health. Just drink water. Nothing helps the body cleanse and flush out unwanted toxins naturally, then water. If you’re one of those peeps that NEED some flavour then add some lemon or lime and get over it already.
There are many benefits to partaking in regular exercise but did you know that strengthening your immune system was one of them? Well it does. Regular moderate and consistent exercise helps to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. I have been doing yoga for over a decade and overall the practice helps to strengthen the immune system, as well, there are certain asanas (poses) that help support the immune system and lymphatic drainage. Walking and swimming are also fantastic low impact activities that can be done at little to no cost to help with your overall fitness.
Consistant sleep patterns are a big part of being healthy. So much is happening within our bodies while we are sleeping. Our body has the capability to heal itself but in order to do that we need to let it and one of those ways is through proper and consistant sleep routines. The average healthy adult needs anywhere between 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep per night. When was the last time you slept 9 hours? I aim for about 8 hours. There is no replacement for a proper good night sleep but ways to help support your immune system when you’re feeling sleep deprived is by resting throughout the day with a nap or taking a moment to practice some yoga with an extended savasana. A 5-20 minute savasana (relaxation pose practiced at the end of the yoga class) can have the same effect on the mind and body as a nap.
Now you’re sick. What to do?
My first plan of attack when I start to feel a cold coming on is herbal medicine.
There’s nothing better than a nice hot cup of tea. Usually herbal, sometimes it’s just hot water with honey and lemon but very rarely will I use caffeinated teas. The tea I use depends on the symptoms I have and what tea blends/dried herbs* I have on hand. I like to stock up with *licorice tea blends for sore throats and chest colds. As well, rosehips and hibiscus for vitamin supplement and something with *echinacea and *elderberries immune support. Also adding fresh chopped garlic and ginger to herbal tea or sencha green tea can be very beneficial.
If you’re not a tea person, not to worry. There are capsules! One thing you should know is that herbal remedies do not stifle the symptoms so you might still feel crappy until they start to take effect and the length of time is greatly effected by your overall health, remember the symptoms you are experiencing is your body’s way of fighting the infection. The one herb that I always have on hand in capsule form is Astragalus. It supports and strengthens the immune system. Astragalus has low risk of side effects and no known interactions with medications*. You can use astragalus as a preventative to boost your immune system or at the onset of symptoms. For an immune boost take 2 capsules before you’re about to head to a germ filled situation like an airport, school, hospital…you get the idea. Then take 2 more before you go to bed and maybe the next morning, if needed. At the first sign of symptoms with a cold, take 2 capsules 2-3 times a day.
Vitamins & Minerals
There are a few key vitamins and minerals that I have found to be beneficial to me in strengthening my immune system. During the fall and winter we take vitamin D, I can’t believe the difference it makes in fighting the many little sniffles that tend to plague us while school is in session. Another favourite is vitamin C. We take both Vitamin C & D daily to boost immunity and during a cold I up the dose of Vitamin C. I also give my kids a multi every day, just in case.
Zinc is worth mentioning, too. Sometimes I use it only during a cold. Make sure you read the label and don’t over do it as elevated levels of zinc over an extended period can harm your immune system instead of helping it.
Rest, Rest & more Rest
Did I happen to mention rest? And lots of it!! It is very important to slow down when you are sick. I know it’s not always possible to take a day off or re-schedule your day so you can get the proper rest you need to help your immune system and body do what it needs to do but try to cut back on some things and take a day off if you can. When you are sick it’s your body’s way saying that it’s time for a break. When you’re sick is NOT the time to get a workout in or start trying to get exercise into your routine, you’re not doing yourself any favors and NOBODY wants to be around you or catch your cold. And no, yoga is NOT good for you while you’re SICK, stay home.
Ok, so I’m not sure this has all fallen into the KISS category but I did my best. There is a lot of information to go over and in the spirit of trying to keep it simple I may have left out info so please ask questions and do your own research. Certain herbs or vitamins that work for me may not work for you, there are many other choices out there. I try not to use any over the counter cold remedies like Nyquil or tylenol cold because it doesn’t work for me, I mean, they work but I would rather take things that are going to support my own body systems like nutrition and holistic medicine, rather then something that is loaded with chemicals and does more harm then good. Another benefit over the long term of using natural remedies and practicing a healthy lifestyle not only do you not get sick as often but when you do get sick, the symptoms are not as severe. That is the power of a healthy immune system.
All of the information stated above is based on my personal opinion and experience, these are the lifestyle choices, herbs, vitamins and minerals that have worked best for me and my family. By following these guidelines myself, I have greatly reduced not only how often I get sick but also the severity of the cold, which always surprises me because I’ll get hit with a cold and I seem really sick, I’m talking with a fever & aches, runny nose, maybe sore throat and after a couple cups of tea, some astragalus and rest, the next morning I feel great! We all have our tricks and methods that work for us but I hope by compiling mine together it’s clear that not one magic pill does the trick but a formula for healthy living that makes the rough patches easier. I hope you have found the information useful and can apply some or all of it into your life. As I stated above I am not a doctor, nor am I a licensed practitioner so please follow this as a guideline and use your best judgment and what works best for your body at any given time. Also this information doesn’t replace the advice of a qualified practitioner. *Always check with your doc if you are taking meds and are planning on trying any new herbal or natural supplements, even herbal teas as there may be contraindications with the type of medications you are currently taking.
Peace and love