‘Tis the season - and by that I mean it’s the season for colds and flu’s! Everywhere I go I come into contact with people who have been struck down by the latest annual bug. At least half of my friends are sick, or have been sick in just the past two weeks alone. Many of my family too are either sick, have been sick, or are just recovering from being sick with the latest bout of influenza. Yet I remain healthy, - my husband too, - spared from catching any of the latest bugs. In truth we rarely get sick, and when we do come down with something it’s never for long. The last time I was sick was February 2012 I had a mild sore throat and stuffy nose for 2 days and then it went away. Before that I hadn’t been sick with anything for nearly three years. The last time I vomited from illness I was 12 years old. The last time I had pneumonia or a bronchitis I was 14. The last time I missed more then two consecutive days of work due to illness I was 20. It’s not magic. My husband and I take good care of ourselves, and we do so all year long, and really I think it’s that, more then any other thing you could possibly do, that matters the most in the end.
When it comes to preventing colds and flu’s the secret isn’t really a secret. To stay healthy you need to build a healthy immune system. You need to feed your body a constant supply of fuel it can use. You need to nourish yourself and generously give your body the tools it needs to stay healthy. Most importantly you need to supply your body with this positive energy all year long, not just when cold and flu seasons hits. Certainly eating and living healthier during times of influenza can’t hurt, but for the most protective benefit you really need to do it all year. After all the world is full of germs, they are everywhere and they are unavoidable. They are all around you in every waking and sleeping moment, they are crawling all over your skin right now, and yet despite this you are not constantly sick. Why? Because we have an immune system that works every second to protect us against infection. If you’re not taking care of that immune system it becomes weak, and doesn’t work as efficiently. Healthy people don’t get sick, we only get sick when a germ, a bacteria, a virus finds a momentary weakness within our bodies defense system, and it’s once that weakness is found that it’s exploited and an illness takes root.
So how do you keep your immune system strong? Here are a few simple tips and tricks.
1) All of the conventional wisdom applies. Such as avoiding close contact with sick people. Staying home if you don’t feel well. Washing your hands frequently - especially when out and about. Refraining from touching your face with unwashed hands, especially when out and about. Paying particular attention to avoiding contact between unwashed hands and the eyes, mouth, nose and ears. Etcetera.
2) According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. in his book “Super Immunity” the number 1 most effective way to prevent colds and flu’s is to maintain a healthy nutrient rich diet all year long. This should really come as no surprise. People who eat a varied and healthful diet of whole plant foods are on average healthier then those who do not. Over the counter medication and antibiotics are a sad alternative to eating right with optimal nutrition while getting adequate exercise.
3) When it comes to eating right the best cold and flu fighting foods are Dark Leafy Greens - Kale, Collards, Spinach, Arugula, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Chard etc. - Mushrooms - especially shiitake and mitake - Berries - Especially blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, and Acai Berries - Onions, Garlic, and Ginger. Make these foods your best friends all year long, and if you do come down with a cold or a flu make them the only thing you eat for the duration of your illness.
4) When it comes to optimal nutrition it’s also a good idea that in addition to eating all the good foods mentioned above to avoid foods such as sugar, caffeine, processed foods and alcohol. (Meat and Dairy go without saying since this is a Vegan blog) To consume these things in moderation Is quite all right but if you’re relying on them every day or several times a day they’re not providing you any protection against the annual bugs, and they’re likely hurting your chances of avoiding getting sick.
5) When it comes to adequate exercise at least 35 minutes of motion a day are recommended. What kind of exercise you do doesn’t matter, as long as it gets you moving, and elevates your heart rate. I like brisk walks, yoga, hooping, mild weight training, and the occasional jog. Typically I spend more then 35 minutes a day on exercise but to each their own. My latest routine has been 20-40 minutes of yoga in the morning. 40-60 minutes of hooping in the afternoon. And 1-3 30-45 minute walks a day depending on weather and other commitments. On more ambitious days I also add 15-20 minutes of weights, and in warmer months one or more of those walks may be replaced with a jog or a bike ride.
6) When it comes to avoiding illness mental factors play a role as well. Making sure you get enough sleep is important. They say 8 hours is optimal but I prefer 6-7. Everyone is different. Letting go of stress is another big one. If your body is constantly under internal stress it’s less able to fight external factors such as illness. Keeping in a calm state of mind and doing daily meditation will definitely help.
7) In addition to a healthful diet as described in points 2 and 3. You may consider taking Vitamin, supplements. It’s recommenced that everyone take a daily multi-vitamin each day throughout the year. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting optimal levels of vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids. The B12 Is easy enough to get in a multi-vitamin though you can also get separate B12 pills. While the Omegas are easy enough to get from flax, chia, hemp, ans walnuts. Either whole seeds or nuts or oils. Of course you can also get Omega-3's in supplement form as well. While it's important to have optimal vitamin levels all year long, it may be beneficial to take in additional vitamins such as Vitamin D and Zinc during times of Illness. Now as far as the famed Vitamin C is concerned Dr. Joel Fuhrman states in his book "Supper Immunity" that supplementing with Large quantities of Vitamin C has only been proven to work in populations that were already vitamin C deficient to begin with. He also says that upping your intake of supplemental vitamin C once already sick does little or nothing to help fight illness. Instead he recommends eating foods that are rich in vitamin C such as citrus and berries, rather then wasting your money on pills.
8) Optimal nutrition and vitamin intake aside, nutritional or herbal supplements can also provide some benefit during cold and flu seasons, as well as all year. Elderberry Extract for instance has been shown to inhibit the growth of influenza virus as well as shorten the duration of the illness, while also enhancing antibody levels against the virus. While these studies are currently preliminary I did try Elderberry Extract back in February 2012 when I had that sore throat and I believe it worked. I felt significantly better after taking the extract and since then I have been taking Elderberry in capsule form everyday as a preventative. Most health food or herbal stores carry it in capsule form or syrup form. I've tried and liked both. Echinacea is another herbal supplement that has been shown to lessen incidence of viral infection when taken throughout the year. Echinacea, however may not help you too much if you’re already sick, but it’s fantastic as a preventative. I drink it throughout the year, but particularly if I even feel the slightest bit off kilter. Usually 1 or 2 cups does the trick and I feel right as rain again.
9) Other helpful tips to consider once you’ve already become sick are calorie restriction. If you’re sick eat less food - of course make sure the food that you do eat is the good stuff listed above. The less work your body has to do digesting food the more power it can direct to helping you fight off an illness or infection. Confine your meals to liquid ones like smoothies, fresh pressed fruit juices, soups, and herbal teas. However keep in mind that it’s not particularly wise to increase your fluid intake if you’re not also excreting a lot of fluid, - through sweat, vomit, diarrhea, urine, etc. -. Because like over eating while sick, over drinking can also tax the body by forcing it to divert resources from fighting illness, to dealing with the fluid overload.
So there you have it. Some quick and simple tips to help you avoid becoming sick during cold and flu season, as well as some tips for helping you ease any cold or flu symptoms you might contract. If you follow these simple steps you'll feel better and be healthier all year! And for anyone interested either tomorrow or the next day i'll share with you some of my favorite teas and herbal remedies that I enjoy year long as preventative medicine. Hopefully they can also be of some use or benefit to you too!
In the meantime eat and live healthfully!