14 May Preventing & Managing Colds & Flus this Winter
Preventing & Managing Colds & Flus this Winter
Last year, we had one of the worst flu seasons in our history, despite having one of the highest rates of vaccination. So what else can you do to prevent catching the dreaded flu? And what can you do to shorten the duration and severity if you are unlucky enough to catch it?
Using food and nutritional medicine should be considered as a prevention strategy regardless of whether you decide to get vaccinated. Here are my top 3s for looking after yourself as our days get colder and colder.
Top 3 tips for Using Foods as Medicine
The study of nutrition was summarised beautifully by Michael Pollen as “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”. Nutritional medicine can get very complicated, but if we remember these 7 words as a baseline then everything from there becomes easier.
Eating an abundance of colourful veggies daily can help to support a healthy functioning immune system. Plants are rich in nutrients, such as vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids give plants their beautiful colours, and when consumed in abundance can have therapeutic benefits, such as improving circulation, reducing allergic responses and preventing viral infections taking hold.
Veggie juices are a great way to consume a concentrated variety of nutrients, some of my favourite vegetables to juice include carrot, celery, beetroot & kale. Try to avoid adding too much fruit, as fruit is high in sugar, and when the fibre is removed, has a high glycemic load which may contribute to blood sugar imbalances. I like to add half an apple, a piece of pineapple or lemon to taste. Ginger & Turmeric can be added for extra immune & anti-anti-inflammatory support. To get the most out of your turmeric, add pepper.
The nourishing effects of soup can not be understated. There are few things that feel more nurturing than a bowl of soup on a cold day.
Making soup using a variety of veggies and using a base prepared using grass-fed beef bones or organic chicken bones can add extra nutrients to support your immune system. Chicken soup is thought to be one of our first sources of antibiotics (without the side effects of killing off the good bacteria in the gut). Traditionally chicken soup has been used to ward off infections and this is often why most families have a recipe passed down through the generations. Adding ginger, garlic and turmeric (with pepper) to your soup can further increase the antiviral and immune enhancing benefits of the soup.
By slowing down to eat and choosing to eat at the dinner table with loved ones (and no TV), digestion is greatly improved. Improved digestion can improve our immunity via improved gut health and stress reduction.
Most people are currently living in a chronic state of sympathetic nervous system engagement (fight or flight mode), however by slowing down to eat, we are allowing our bodies to switch into a parasympathetic state (rest & digest mode). Chronic stress keeps us in that fight or flight mode, which can suppress our immune systems! Reducing stress levels should start with meal times, slowing down chewing, sitting and resting and enjoying our food. Sprinkle a little bit of gratitude in the mix and watch your digestion (and immune system) improve.
Top 3 tips for Using Nutritional Supplementation
You may know by now that Vitamin D is an important nutrient for bone density; but did you also know that Vitamin D plays a role in reducing inflammation in the body, activating the immune system and may even specifically inhibit viral and bacterial infections in the body.
There is so much to understand about Vitamin D, here are just a few key points:
- Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common with up to 40% of Australians deficient!
- Taking Vitamin D without getting it tested has been suggested to be safe and effective, but getting a blood test is helpful to understand requirement.
- Vitamin D supplementation over a 6 month period has shown to reduce days off work due to respiratory infection!
- In Norway, low vitamin D status was linked to deaths caused by influenza and pneumonia
You may be asking yourself now, why are Aussies still deficient in the sunshine vitamin, despite our sunny climate? That is a great question, and possibly the reason this deficiency is so often overlooked –
- Sunscreen! Sunscreen is meant to block those harmful rays, but it can also block vitamin D absorption, so try and get some sunscreen free rays each day (10-20 minutes, stay smart and avoid getting burnt).
- Working indoors 5 days a week!
- Covering up – for whatever reason this is, if you are not getting direct sun on skin contact, you are likely Vitamin D deficient.
- Specific risk factors for certain people include, ageing and darker skin. As we age, our ability to absorb and utilise vitamin D decreases, and the darker our skin, the harder it becomes to absorb Vitamin D
Zinc is another nutrient closely entwined in supporting immunity. Like vitamin D, Aussies are commonly deficient in zinc due to the poor mineral status of our soils and in those with poor digestion, in pregnant women and in vegetarians.
Zinc can be taken throughout winter to help prevent colds, flus and bronchiolitis. It may also be taken when symptoms begin, acting as an antiviral, anti-inflammatory and reducing histamine (involved in allergies).
Zinc plays many other roles in the body, aside from supporting the immune system, so look out for these signs & symptoms that you may need to consider consuming higher zinc containing foods and / or supplementing:
- Poor wound healing and frequent infections
- Impaired taste & smell
- Cognitive issues, such as brain fog, fatigue, anxiety & depression.
If you want to increase your zinc intake using food, here are some go-tos:
- Meat and specifically liver
- Nuts, Seeds & Legumes are your plant sources
Unlike Vitamin D & Zinc, Vitamin C deficiency is pretty rare these days, however supplementing with vitamin C may still prevent the common cold from taking hold, as well as supporting immunity in those who suffer from asthma.
Vitamin C deficiency is commonly known as Scurvy; a condition we associate with first fleeters who were not able to access fresh fruit & veg. Now that fresh fruit and vegetables are available pretty much at any moment of our day, scurvy has become almost non-existant. Taking Vitamin C at doses of up to 2000mg a day, in times of high stress, has shown to reduce the likelihood of catching the common cold.
The benefits of taking vitamin C once you already have a cold are less, however in those who suffer allergies or from asthma, vitamin C (at 1000mg a day) can reduce asthma attacks and asthma induced by lung infections. Vitamin C works as a natural antihistamine in these people.
The best sources of vitamin C that are NOT oranges include:
- Blueberries & Strawberries
- Capsicum & Chilli
- Kiwi & Pineapple
- Broccoli & Kale
- Papaya (with a squeeze of lime, yum!)
Before starting to take any supplements, please consider chatting to a healthcare practitioner you trust. If you are pregnant or on other medications it is never advisable to take supplements or change your diet without guidance.
The number one thing to remember this cold & flu season, is that the greatest risk factor for catching a virus is sharing space with people who are sick. So if you do catch a cold or the flu, please stay home! If you need any further guidance, please book an appointment to see myself or another qualified naturopath.
My Gut My Immunity Naturopath, Chloe Turner.