By Blair Doucette, MScN, Little Sweet Nutrition
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting under the harsh fluorescent lighting of the DMV waiting for over two hours to hear that magic alpha-numeric code that means it’s my turn. Sitting here with a diverse sample population of the city of Richmond gives me plenty of time and reason to think about the winter cold and flu season. Among the classic cacophony of conversations and computerized number calling device (as well as somebody playing Beyoncé on their phone’s speaker), I hear the sharp punctuations of coughs and sniffles that really complete the ambience of the DMV experience. Much like the classic honking of a flock of geese flying south, distant and constant coughing can signal the beginning of the winter cold and flu season.
Why is the common cold so common in the fall and winter?
There are over 100 different common viruses that can cause a cold, many of which can survive on surfaces for several hours to days. Further, these viruses can sneak into your cells undetected for about a week until your body can produce the antibodies needed to kill them. This means your body is essentially a walking cold and flu-carrying machine, unknowingly spreading it to anyone you come into contact with that whole week. Additionally, as if these viruses weren’t sneaky enough, they change and mutate throughout the season. So, even
though you may have received a flu shot at the beginning of the season, or even developed an immunity to the original strain, you may still be vulnerable throughout the rest of the season.
So, what can you do to naturally protect yourself and your family this winter?
Relax, eat real food, and maybe lower your caffeine intake. The darker days of winter might be the hardest time of year to lower your caffeine intake. But consider this, caffeine, especially on an empty stomach (which is one reason why it’s important to eat real food), can put your body in an adrenaline-rich state simultaneously increasing your cortisol, which consequently lowers your body’s immune responses. So, if you’re like many of us: tired, stressed, and surviving on quick, processed foods and a constant intake of caffeine, you’re not giving your body a fighting chance this flu season.
I touched on this a bit in my fermentation post but it’s important to remember that the majority of your immune system lives in your gut and is ruled by your microbiota (gut bacteria). When bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria in your gut, of course your immune system will be compromised. Your immune system can be further negatively impacted if you have chronic digestive issues, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or allergies/intolerances. This is where probiotics can help you, not only during cold and flu season, but all year long. To introduce more probiotics into your diet, enjoy some of your favorite fermented foods (sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha) and supplement with a probiotic pill. (Sign up now for our Intro to Home Fermentation class, where you'll make your very own jar of fermented goodness!)
Herbs and Teas
Adding herbs and spices to your diet is a yummy way to boost your immune system. Garlic has a powerful set of antibiotic and detoxification properties that aid in anti-inflammatory processes. Inflammation has been known to compromise the immune system, so make sure you get lots of fresh whole foods! Turmeric is probably the best-known anti-inflammatory spice in regular use. It’s antimicrobial, warming, and tasty! Yummy curries and turmeric lattes are perfect for cold winter days! Elderberry teas and syrups have been used to fight off cold and flu seasons for centuries. This is likely due to their incredibly high antioxidant and antiviral potential. I make sure to take a few drops of a high-quality elderberry tincture every day in the winter.
As with anything, make sure the food and supplements you use to treat your winter blues this year are from quality sources and organic where possible!