Article by CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine)
None of us wants colds or flu, especially not when we want to enjoy the holiday season! Aiming to avoid flu is our best strategy, since once it takes hold, the virus can lead to lowered immunity for some time afterwards, making us more susceptible to other winter bugs and bacterial infections.
Trying to avoid the initial infection is our best strategy. Germs can live on surfaces for days, so avoid touching your face, biting your nails, or eating, without first washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and natural soap.
To put ourselves in the best condition to fight off germs, it also pays to strengthen our immune system to enhance resilience. What we eat, drink and do can either help or hinder that process.
Treat with caution
Alcohol is an immune suppressant. Caffeine, too, may dampen the immune system. Keep coffee to one per day and none after lunchtime as poor sleep from caffeine stimulation can reduce immune function. Black and green tea have less caffeine, but if feeling ‘tired and wired’ describes you, reduce tea also. There are lots of wonderful immune-boosting herbal teas you can sip instead.
Margarine and hydrogenated fats often found in processed foods both promote inflammation and cause damage which the immune system is then further taxed to repair. Avoid processed foods, and white flour foods such as cakes and doughnuts, and crisps and sweets. They use up energy and important micronutrients to metabolise. They can also have excessive sugars and/or unhealthy types of fat. Avoid added sugar and artificial colours, flavours and preservatives wherever possible. Don’t go for the ‘low sugar/low fat’ versions either, pick a natural food instead.
Foods to eat
Boost your intake of helpful vitamin C and bioflavonoids, by increasing your intake of bell peppers and seasonal citrus, kiwi fruit, Brussel’s sprouts, broccoli and guava. Organic produce has more antioxidants and other properties which support immune function.
Load up on garlic and try shiitake mushrooms, too, which are excellent for priming the immune system.
Keeping hydrated is important for healthy mucus membranes (where colds and flu originate). Bump up your intake of pumpkin, carrots and kale to boost vitamin A which also supports mucus membranes. Zinc is also super important, so put beans, pumpkin seeds and ginger on the menu.
Get healthy fats from nuts and seeds. Please note that if you suffer from cold sores you may want to reduce your intake of nuts during colds and flu as they can trigger an attack. Use coconut oil sparingly for cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is a highly nourishing oil, but use it cold, rather than for cooking.
Probiotics such as L. bacillus NCFM or L. rhamnosus GG in billions of colony forming units can also be useful, especially to support respiratory health. If taking them, take one capsule before bed, separated from any antibiotics or hot drinks. A vitamin D supplement may be advisable, particularly if you are vegan or vegetarian.
Stress is taxing on the immune system, so prioritise your mental health and happiness and make sure you get 8 hours of quality rest per night.
Gentle regular exercise has a stimulating effect on all systems so take 30-45 minutes per day of exercise that you enjoy. Your lymphatic system, which plays a pivotal role in clearing infection, relies on muscular contraction as a pump to move its contents along. Without regular exercise your body will therefore struggle to clear toxins and infectious agents. Try brisk walking, stretching or swimming. Team sports are also great and will help you beat the winter bulge.
For personalised advice, consult a naturopathic nutritionist or herbalist for a tailor-made plan to support your immune system.
By Naturopath Gemma Hurditch for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). CNM is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, with colleges across the UK and Ireland. To find out more about CNM courses, visit www.naturopathy-uk.com