Remember Louis Pasteur, the 19thcentury chemist and microbiologist known for fathering the “germ theory” (i.e. that microorganisms cause diseases)? While on his deathbed in the late 19th century, Pasteur is said to have declared, “the microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything!” Although many conventional practitioners today still blame microbes for infectious diseases, including the viral cold or the flu, Pasteur’s final theory helps explain why some people who are exposed to microbes get sick while others do not; his “terrain” describes the relative integrity of our immune systems.
Imagine your “terrain” as a well-tended garden…if you plant it in mineral-rich soil, and provide it with plenty of sunlight, water, and care, it will probably grow lush vegetation that can easily fight off invaders (insects). Plants in a poorly-tended garden, on the other hand, which don’t get much light and water, and are rooted in rocky soil, will not thrive as easily.
How we nurture our nature, then, affects our immune system strength. If we optimize our “terrain” with whole and unprocessed foods (a good rule of thumb is those containing less than 5 ingredients), rest, hydration, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and hydrotherapy treatments, our bodies will fight off infection much more efficiently.
HERE ARE MY TOP TEN COLD AND FLU PREVENTION AND TREATMENT RECOMMENDATIONS WHICH HELP SUPPORT IMMUNITY:
1. Make sure you get plenty of zzzzzz’s. It’s perfectly normal to rest and sleep more during the winter season. From a Chinese medicine perspective, movement and growth energetically slow down in the winter, so take the time you need to revive. Try for at least 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and try to fall asleep before midnight.
2. Avoid sugary / processed foods, wheat and dairy products, as these “comfort” foods can suppress the immune system in some individuals. By eating less processed food, you will hopefully consume more fruits, vegetables and other whole foods(1) like quinoa, lentils, beans, grass fed beef, or wild salmon. If there’s one dietary recommendation you choose to follow, make it elimination of refined sugar.
3. Fight microbes with microbes: take probiotics to help populate your gut with health-promoting bacteria. Probiotics help support digestion as well as your immune system. You can take them in capsule or powder form, and/or eat lots of fermented foods like unpasteurized Kim Chee, sauerkraut, and miso. Aim for at least 2 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
4. Get enough vitamin D. Our bodies need sunlight to make vitamin D, which is crucial for immune system health. Those of us living in the Northern U.S. or Canada usually don’t get adequate sun exposure during the winter months, and need to supplement. Taking 2000 IU’s a day of Vitamin D throughout the winter season is generally a safe and effective way of priming your immune system.
5. Blow your nose… that is, with the help of a Neti pot. Washing out your sinuses daily with a Neti pot will help keep your nasal passages clear of microbes. Add ¼ to ½ tsp of sea salt to the Neti pot, top with warm water, and irrigate each sinus by pouring the water through each nostril. Then, blow your nose to expel excess mucous and water. Repeat if necessary.
6. Regularly use castor oil packs. Castor oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory that, when absorbed through the skin, promotes increased circulation, elimination of toxins, and healing of organs. Double blind studies conducted by the Association for Research and Enlightenment show that castor oil packs increase the production and level of activity of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that help fight infection.
7. Engage in light exercise daily. Activities like walking, swimming, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and yoga all help support healthy immune system function. My personal favorite during the winter months is hot yoga, as this is a wonderful way to sweat out toxins while increasing flexibility.
8. Drink anti-microbial tea. If you feel run down and/or susceptible to sickness, crush 3-4 cloves of garlic, grate a piece of thumb-sized ginger, and squeeze the juice from half a lemon into 6-8 cups boiling water. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, add 1 tsp of honey and stir. Drink up to 3 cups a day to fight off an infection and soothe a sore throat.
9. Try oscillococcinum, an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy that helps prevent and/or temporarily reduce flu-like symptoms. Take 1/3 of a vial every 4 hours for 1-2 days if you feel the flu coming on. As a preventive measure, take 1/3 of a vial weekly throughout the winter season.
10. Treat your feet to warming socks. If you feel a cold coming on, thoroughly wring out a pair of cotton socks soaked in cold water. Soak your feet in hot water for 5-10 minutes, and then put the wrung-out cotton socks on. Cover these socks with another pair of dry wool socks and go to bed; the inner socks will be completely dry in the morning. Repeat for 3-4 nights. This form of hydrotherapy helps remove congestion in the head and upper respiratory tract.
It’s always good to support your body’s natural defense mechanisms; this includes fevers, which essentially cook and destroy the microbes that are making you sick. Fevers also help you build natural immunity that protects you from future infections. Many doctors suggest taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) to reduce a fever, however reducing your temperature will not help you get rid of the microbes wreaking havoc on your body. The analogy I like to use is, “would you rather cook your Thanksgiving turkey at 100 degrees for 5 days, or 350 degrees for 5 hours?” Cooking a turkey at a higher temperature makes more sense, and the same concept is true for our bodies when we support a fever to cook those nasty microbes. Please talk to your doctor first about supporting a fever, as this can be a challenge particularly with young children and the elderly.