We see a lot of patients who find themselves endlessly sick over the winter months, and often this constant stream of illness spills out over into spring and the rest of the year. There are many factors that can impact on immune system function and if it is a problem for you it is best to see a naturopath, and chat with your doctor, about investigating why you're getting sick so often, however there are some simple things you can do to beat those niggling winter colds and flu.
Generally, we think it's important to get down and dirty and expose yourself to a variety of bacteria/viruses/microbes as this is the best way to trigger your immune system and get it functioning at is best. BUT when you are finding yourself sick with back to back illnesses and passing things back and forth between family members, it's a sign that the cycle needs to be broken. Some simple methods for breaking that germ cycle include:
- Changing your toothbrush! Think about it, you've been sick with a sore throat, runny nose and all that business and every day you've been brushing your teeth with the same infected toothbrush, pushing those germy germs back into your mouth and throat! Our tip is to change your tooth-brush at the first sign of sickness, change it again as your symptoms disappear and then change once more a week later just in case.
- Wash/change anything that your mouth comes in contact with. Similar to the toothbrush tip, washing things that your mouth comes in contact with, like your drink bottle with hot soapy water can help to prevent reinfection. Consider changing lip glosses and lipsticks too.
- Wash your hands! You don't need any fancy antibacterial soaps, just regular soap and warm water will do the trick. Washing your hands should take about as long as singing 'happy birthday' twice, try singing along next time you wash and see how long you are actually taking.
- Clean taps and surfaces that you come in contact with during and after being sick. Again, you don't need to use harsh chemical or fancy cleaners. Hot, soapy water and antibacterial agents like white vinegar and essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus and peppermint will totally do the trick without subjecting yourself and your family to any nasties.
2. Increase your consumption of immune enhancing/anti-inflammatory/anti-bacterial foods
We strongly believe in food as medicine, there are some powerful foods out there that can do our body so much good. We know it's hard to stay on top of these things when you're feeling sick, but incorporating a few of these gems into your day-to-day diet, and upping when you're sick could make a world of difference:
- Ginger: a potent anti-inflammatory, antimucolytic and carminative herb, incorporating ginger into your diet is fairly easy. Fresh ginger can be finely chopped and added to stir fries and curries, and it can also be added to juices and smoothies. Keep good quality, organic ground ginger on hand for adding to homemade chai, teas, baked treats and meals when you don't have the fresh stuff
- turmeric: another incredibly potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich herb. Like ginger, the fresh stuff can be finely chopped and added to cooking, or chucked into juices and smoothies. Turmeric paste or powder is also very handy to have on handy to add to cooking or make into 'golden milk' latte.
- Onion: a potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial/microbial and antioxidant (super high in the potent antioxidant rutin) that you can incorporate into your diet, the easiest way being to add onion to main meals. Another simple way to get onion-y goodness into your when your feeling sick is to slice an onion, place in a bowl and cover with honey. Leave to soak overnight, the next day straining the juices into a jar (discarding the flesh). Add the onion/honey juice to teas or hot water, or eat off a spoon regularly throughout the day. The antibacterial/microbial combination of the onion juice and honey will help to fight off whatever nasty you're battling.
- Garlic: similar to onion, garlic is a potent antibacterial/microbial food. We recommend adding a minimum of 4-6 cloves of garlic to main meals, if you find this a bit much, you can slowly increase the amount over time. You can also finely chop garlic, mix with honey and eat off a spoon when feeling sick. Or make a 'sick' tea containing the juice of one lemon, 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped, as much cayenne pepper as you can handle and some grated ginger, and 200 ml of boiling water; allow to steep for 5 minutes and drink/eat the whole lot. Have 1-2 per day while your sick and it will really help to tackle colds/flu
3. Boost your nutrition through the diet
Following on from the above, good nutrition is so important for keeping your immune system functioning at its optimum. There are a plethora of nutrients that are helpful, but the ones that are top of the list include:
- Zinc: found in oysters, animal protein, dairy products, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spinach, cashews and mushrooms
- vitamin C: found in citrus, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruit, red and green capsicums, parsley, strawberries
- Iron: found in animal protein, parsley, kale, spinach and other leafy greens, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds
- protein: meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains
- bioflavonoids: red capsicum, citrus, onion, buckwheat, broccoli, tropical fruits like papaya, mango and pineapple
If you're seeing a bit of a theme with these nutrients, then you are right! The key to getting all those immune boosting nutrients is a bright, colourful and varied diet.
4. Love ya guts with pre and probiotic rich foods
When we're sick, our gut bacteria can become disrupted and the balance between beneficial and not so beneficial bacteria can get out of whack. This can have an impact on our immune system function and make us more susceptible to illness. Regularly eating pre and probiotic rich foods can help keep this balance in check. Prebiotic foods feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut and probiotic foods actually contain the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut.
- Prebiotic foods include: slippery elm, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onion, garlic, legumes and oats
- probiotic foods include: yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, fermented products, tempe, kombucha, kimchi, sourdough and miso
5. Get some sleep
This is a pretty tricky one! We need sleep to help our bodies rest and regenerate overnight, and broken or reduced sleep can massively impact the way our immune system functions. Some of us can get the quality and quantity of sleep that we need, however others aren't so lucky.
If you're a parent, like us, with children who don't sleep, like us, then you're going to find this next to impossible. Having said that, if you are struggling with how your kids sleep and are open to it, ask for help! You never know what advice you may get, it could be something simple that you overlooked, a routine that needed tweaking etc, and before you know it you could be getting the sleep you so desperately need.
If you aren't getting enough sleep and its something you can change yourself, then please do. Go to bed early a few nights a week, limit screen time before bed and keep your phone out of your room (or at least away from you bed). If getting enough shut eye if a problem that you can't fix yourself, consider seeing a naturopath to help get you on the right track.
6. Stay hydrated
This can be a tough one when sick, I personally hate drinking water when I've got a cold. What I do like when I'm sick though, are hot teas and broths, and this is the easiest way to get more fluid into you. Think homemade chicken broth or miso soup, herbal teas (things like peppermint, chamomile, ginger, turmeric, rosehip are great for colds/flu), warm lemon, honey and ginger. Sip on these regularly throughout the day and you're well on your way to flushing out toxins and upping your hydration.
If you're struggling with constant bouts of sickness during winter and beyond, its time to make your health a priority. Give these tips a go, and if they don't set you on a path of less sickness, perhaps its time to book a consult with us.