Updated: Oct 9, 2018
It’s that cold time of year where every second person seems to have a cold or virus. Just because someone close to you is sick, DOES NOT mean you will get sick too. While many people like to pinpoint the sick person they suspect infected them, the truth is, you only get sick if you are health compromised in the first place, and you are unable to fend off the pathogens. Exposure to a virus or bacteria doesn’t equal illness. There is a lot you can do to ward off infection, build a resilient immune system, and thrive during the colder, darker months.
Prevention Is Key
Build up your baseline health, and you'll be more resilient and able to mount a strong defense to pathogens when exposed to them. Resilience comes down to the sum of your health building habits, so the first thing you need to do to prevent getting sick is be an all star, all round performer with a lifestyle full of more healthy habits, than unhealthy ones. Think of it like a bank account, you need to put energy into your well being to be in credit, before you take money out and end up in a health debit.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to be trending towards better health, rather than constantly taxing your body. It's all about balance. Every little choice will either add or subtract to your overall health goal. Take a look at our checklist for ‘health promoters’ and 'health hurters' to see what tweaks you can make to enhance your overall wellness and longevity.
Lifestyle Basics For Immune Health
A healthy lifestyle wins out every time for building all round health. Yes we know it probably sounds boring or confusing when compared to the promise of a miracle cure or supplement, but the sum of your lifestyle habits determines your resilience to colds and flu. Here are the important basics for wellness.
Eat a healthy, nutrient dense diet (more on this below)
Get good quality sleep (read more on this topic here.)
Exercise intelligently, and move based on your daily readiness to train. Training too much, or too little will negatively affect health and immunity. To avoid getting sick make sure you are moving every day and avoiding an overly sedentary lifestyle. Avoiding too much heart rate intensity is important, particularly if the rest of these basic lifestyle factors are not where they should be for wellness. If you are sick, AVOID intensity completely in any form whether it’s high heart rate, heavy sessions, or endurance events, and instead shift into maintenance mode with a focus on boosting circulation, lymphatics and cellular health rather than robbing much needed energy from your immune system. Check out more specifics on this topic here
Manage light exposure. Sadly this is still poorly understood, but light exposure has a big impact on your circadian rhythms, and overall wellness. Too much exposure to ‘junk’ artificial lighting, especially at the wrong time of day depletes resilience, encourages you to eat more, store more fat, and makes you sick at a cellular level. Sun exposure, and especially morning light into the eyes and onto your skin is crucial to regulating your circadian clock. So get outside and look towards the sun in the morning, and aim to get sun exposure at every possible chance during the colder, darker months to build your own important hormone: vitamin D, and increase mitochondrial (cellular) health.
Manage stress. Nothing suppresses the immune system like stress (except maybe sugar and alcohol), so find ways to de-stress yourself. This might be healthy outlets for stress like workouts, fitness games, playing with kids, meditating, reading, getting a massage or just breathing. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of even 3-5 minutes of any of these activities! Read more about stress management here
Stay hydrated! In the colder months we are often less thirsty, and moving less, which is a recipe for dehydration. We need a hydrated body for optimal circulation, cellular hydration and lymphatic waste removal. This means drinking water AND MOVING. Movement is what hydrates the body, and without it the water we tends to pass straight through to the toilet, leaving us more prone to dry skin, aching muscles, bloating, swelling and pain as essential parts of our body miss they hydration that movement delivers.
Hygiene is important so do the basics like washing your hands. Avoid using antiseptic hand sanitisers which increase your absorption of toxic chemicals through the skin, and deplete your skins microbiome (bacterial community) which are important for skin health and immunity. Simple soap or essential oil based products are brilliant solutions to keep germs at bay without adding to your chemical burden.
Work on gut health – Hippocrates said ‘All disease begins in the gut’. 70-80% of our immune system is located along our gastrointestinal lining, and it’s our first barrier of defense when it comes to pathogens. If you have gut related symptoms, a history of antibiotic use, chronic infections, or suspect your gut needs help, reach out to a qualified functional medicine practitioner for assistance. A healthy gut means an acidic stomach, great enzyme production, a healthy gut lining, and a diverse colony of bacteria in the large intestine.
Reduce toxic exposure of all kinds to better help your body excrete the toxins it encounters (which is a LOT in the modern world!) Toxins deplete your body full stop. Go easy on the alcohol, sugar, vegetable oils, perfumes, household cleaners, tobacco, processed food, non organic produce etc. The more you can do the better, because we were not built to accommodate the plethora of environmental pollutants we are exposed to every single day in the modern world.
Supplement. Even IF you are eating a diverse, nutrient dense diet, you will not be getting all the nutrients you need from food alone. The food quality these days, is not what it used to be with depletion of microbes, minerals and vitamins in the soil, environmental pollutants, lack of biodiversity, and industrial farming practices. Add that with the fact many of us has compromised digestion, and you can see we need some nutritional help.
Just eat real food
There is no one diet that works for everyone, but you can be sure real, quality, un-processed food provides a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory, wholesome diet. Variety is key in order to provide a full spectrum of nutrients, and protect against nutrient deficiency and food intolerance.
Calories don’t matter, but calorie quality does. The majority of your diet should be a variety of fibrous vegetables in every colour of the rainbow, to created an assortment of nutrients, and to provide fiber for your gut bacteria to thrive. Carbohydrate amount needs vary, you can determine what amount would work best for you here. Of course avoiding or reducing major gut irritants, or inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, soy, vegetable oils, corn, GMO foods, sugar, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol will elicit ultimate health and rapid results. You can't go wrong when you just eat real food.
A healthy diet should be jam packed with nutrient dense animal products like organ meats, bone broth, seafood, shellfish, grass fed, organic or free range meat (not factory farmed, tortured, antibiotic and hormone laden supermarket meat!) It should consist of an abundance of healthy fats, and be free from toxic vegetable oils, trans fats and processed fats. Prebiotic and probiotic rich foods like kefir or sauerkraut, will boost nutrient uptake, and take your gut health to the next level.
Supplemental Help for Sickness
By the time you notice the first sign of illness creeping in, it’s likely you've already been getting sick for awhile. Bacteria and viruses replicate and spread fast, and so you must act quickly at the first sign of a cold, to reduce it’s severity or stop it completely. Here are some of our go to remedies:
Essentials oils. Diffuse, or topically apply therapeutic grade essential oils like oregano, tea tree, thyme, eucalyptus, clove, or blends like Thieves, or Onguard which are well renowned for immune boosting properties. If using these oils topically, dilute and apply to the soles of the feet, chest, abdomen. You can also add to toothpaste or mouthwash, or create spray mists to sterilise the sick bay and keep germs in check. Quality is important if you want the therapeutic benefits, a $15 bottle of eucalyptus from the supermarket won't cut it! Best place to buy pure, therapeutic grade essential oils.
Zinc plays a big role in immunity, growth and repair of tissues, and is deficient in 98% of population. Zinc lozenges are great for when you are sick, or for any oral issues like cold sores. If you are taking zinc, be sure to take a copper too to avoid worsening immunity and inducing a copper deficiency. 2-4mg of copper per day with zinc will help you avoid imbalance, or opt for brands like this one which contain both nutrients. Zinc Balance by Jarrow
Prebiotics and Probiotics are important for gut health. Probiotics help regulate what’s in the gut, and prebiotics help feed and culture a diverse ecology of beneficial bacteria. Eating fermented foods or beverages is a good idea if well tolerated, and supplementing with additional strains of bacteria or prebiotics are great when sick. 3 of my fav probiotics are Prescript Assist soil based organisms, any good quality probiotic with strains like lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus paracasei, brevis rhamnosis.
Saccharomyces boullardi is a beneficial yeast that helps prevent yeast and other pathogenic bacteria overgrowth while staking antibiotics. Beta-glucan and glucomannan are prebiotic fibers that have both shown promise in research studies for their immune boosting benefits. Read more here. Best picks below.
Prescript Assist Soil based organism Probiotic (make sure you are buying the original formula)
Fat soluble vitamins D, A, K have a synergistic relationship, and a good balance and intake helps avoid toxicity levels of A or D. Eating a teaspoon of cod liver oil a day (or the equivalent dose in capsule form) is a good preventative strategy for immune health. Most people know that Vitamins D and A are important in regulating the immune system, but not many people get enough of these nutrients on a standard modern diet. It's best to get these vitamins from food, or to get Vitamin D from teh sun, but if you must supplement, cod liver oil is the best option. Grass fed meat, fatty fish, liver, egg yolks, shellfish and grass fed, pasture raised dairy are good sources of these fat soluble vitamins, which for best absorption should be taken with fat. Our pick is Nordic Naturals cod liver oil, or Nordic Naturals cod liver capsules
Vitamin C is the go for many when fighting infections, but not many people know about the ‘bowel tolerance’ rule, and just how high a dose you can take when sick. Vitamin C reduces the incidence of and severity of colds. It’s a vitamin we must eat as our bodies can’t produce it, and it’s abundant in citrus fruits, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi, dark leafy greens etc. 500–1000 mg per day is a conservative dose for optimal function, but during times of illness higher doses are needed.
‘Bowel tolerance’ means taking frequent high doses of vitamin C until you experience gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating or loose stools. At this level, you have reached bowel tolerance, by saturating the bowel and reaching maximum absorption, and from there you back off the dosage. You’ll be surprise how high a dose you can take on sick days compared to normal days (we’ve been known to easily hit over 15-20,000mg. Liposomal C is best absorped but expensive and intravenous C is wonderful for an instant immune boost acute or chronic illness. Contraindications for high dose C are if you are intolerant or sensitive to oxalates, or have kidney stones from oxalate based stones.This is our best value vitamin C pic here, Doctors Best
Glutathione, the bodies master antioxidant is critical to immunity, cellular health and detoxification, reducing inflammation and oxidation. With preventative use many people will notice benefits, and glutathione is well researched for it’s benefits in many chronic and acute health conditions like auto-immune disease, and chronic fatigue. Glutathione, and it’s precursor N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are particularly beneficial for respiratory symptoms, both are expectorants, and help to reduce mucus and inflammation. Liposomal form is more bioavailable if you can afford it otherwise Jarrow Glutathione is a good value option.
Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) or stomach acid provides an acidic, germ killing environment in our stomach which important for immunity, and getting the full potential out of our nutrition. Hypochlorhydria, or an alkaline gut is very common these days with poor gut health, stress, aging, and a population of people using acid blockers to treat a problem caused by a lack, not excess, of stomach problem. We use this cost effective Hcl.
Charcoal, Bentonite Clay, Modified Citrus Pectin or zeolite clay all help bind to, and escort toxins out of the body. When you are sick, inflamed, stressed, have poor gut health, are generally unhealthy, or are killing of invaders,your body needs assistance to mop up the toxins produced. Most of these products assist in fast relief of symptoms, and assist the healing process. This is our favourite binder, activated charcoal.
Garlic reduces cold symptoms and longevity, as well as having antifungal and antibacterial properties. When you are sick eating garlic might not be enough, and you may need higher doses of the active ingredient allicin.
Monolaurin is an extract of coconut oil that has potent antiviral and antibacterial properties, and is used in may gut protocols to reduce pathogens and combat biofilms. Coconut oil, or Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil (MCT) are also good options to add into your sick care routine. We like this affordable monolaurin for daily maintenance and immune support.
To Antibiotic or Not?
Most people are aware of the negative effects of taking antibiotics, and thankfully these days many doctors are avoiding prescribing antibiotics, unless it's absolutely necessary. Antibiotics are one of the biggest contributors to poor gut health, and are known to have a wide range of adverse side effects. Despite growing knowledge of the poor health effects that result from antibiotics, many people resort to antibiotics regularly to fight common colds several times a year. While antibiotics are life saving in acute cases, they are overused and over prescribed, which has led to epidemics of antibiotic resistant pathogens, and damaged guts.
It's our opinion that it's best to do all of the above steps as best as possible before resorting to antibiotics. If you have to take antibiotics, check out our Antibiotic Care Plan here.
When you are sick, energy and motivation are often low. Don’t feel pressured to do everything right. Tip the scales in your favour, and help your body heal faster by remembering that the more beneficial things or health promoting habits you do, the better! Every little bit helps. When you take control of your health, you'll notice the difference!